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Associated Press
Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney addresses an audience during a campaign stop at Robies Country Store, in Hooksett, N.H., Monday, Oct. 10, 2011.

LAYTON — A long-time Utah evangelical pastor is parting ways with some of his national colleagues when it comes to opinions about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Reverend Myke Crowder, pastor of Christian Life Center in Layton, one of the largest evangelical congregations in Utah, took issue with Dr. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of the 10,000-member First Baptist Church of Dallas, for his remarks last week during the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., in which he said that the LDS Church is a non-Christian cult.

Rev. Crowder, a member of the executive council of the National Clergy Council, doesn't see it that way.

"As an evangelical, born again, Bible believing Christian, and a pastor with more than 25 years' experience living with and ministering among a majority Mormon population, I find the comments by Pastor Jeffress unhelpful, impolite, and out of place," Rev. Crowder indicated in a statement issued over the weekend. "I've been around long enough to remember when independent Baptists wouldn't pray with Southern Baptists, when fundamentalists called Southern Baptists compromisers and liberals, when Southern Baptists wouldn't keep company with Pentecostals, and when Pentecostals wouldn't keep company with Catholics. That wasn't helpful to anyone. Insulting Mitt Romney adds nothing to the conversation about who should be president. We're picking the country's chief executive, not its senior pastor."

Rev. Crowder said that his experience in Utah among Mormons "has been overwhelmingly positive," theological differences notwithstanding. "If you believe in and support the Constitution, there's no religious test for office, nor should there be," he wrote. "We're looking for the best president and commander in chief. Let's let the political process make that selection, and the churches make the selection on the best theologians.

"In my opinion," Rev. Crowder concluded, "Pastor Jeffress owes an apology to Mitt Romney and all other Americans he's offended through his unkind and irresponsible remarks."

Still, Rev. Crowder noted that "evangelicals and Mormons have big differences when it comes to theology." An overwhelming majority of American Protestant pastors think those differences are significant enough to consider those who embrace LDS beliefs non-Christian, according to research conducted by LifeWay Research last year. LifeWay Research, an element of LifeWay Christian Resources, surveyed 1,000 pastors and asked them to agree or disagree with this statement: "I personally consider Mormons (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) to be Christians." Seventy-five percent of the pastors surveyed said they disagree with that statement.

Another member of the local clergy, Pastor Travis Mitchell of Sandy Ridge Community Church, said the question of Christianity is not one that can be answered with big, sweeping generalizations.

"That is an individual question," Pastor Mitchell said. "I am not God and do not know anyone's heart.

"This is the same reply I would give if someone asked me the question: are Baptists or Lutherans Christians?" he continued. "Again, it is an individual question. I don't know if someone understands the greatness and glory of Jesus and the perfect, sufficient, and finished work that he accomplished through His death and resurrection. Only through personal conversations would I or anyone else get a sense of whether or not a person has come to terms with their own inability to do anything good or righteous in the sight of God, along with being called a child of God. That comes only through embracing God's costly offer of his grace through faith alone in Jesus."

However, Pastor Mitchell acknowledged that the question of whether or not LDS doctrine is Christian is "easier to answer" because "you are no longer dealing with what is in an individual person's heart, but you are dealing with doctrine." And in that context, he said, "Mormonism would not, as of now, fall into the category of historical Christendom, which the local LDS leaders that I consistently engage with at least recognize. Hence the need, from a Mormon perspective, for a restoration of God's truth. Yet if the top leadership of the Mormon Church wants to be considered as a part of Christendom, then key doctrinal issues must be reexamined, which is my prayer."

EMAIL: jwalker@desnews.com