Several Jewish friends have contacted me this week to get my reaction to the latest broadsides leveled at my church by Evangelicals, this time from two pastors speaking at the annual Values Voter Summit. My reaction to these comments is to publicly thank the pastors for reminding everyone that what a regional ADL director once told me remains true: Many of yesterday’s anti-Semites are today’s anti-Mormons.
In remarks made to reporters after introducing Texas Governor Rick Perry to the gathering, Dallas-based Baptist Pastor Robert Jeffress called the LDS Church a “cult” and stood by his comments in a sermon this morning, saying that he had a responsibility to warn people about the “false religion” of 14 million people, including presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman. The good pastor also answered “No” in his on-the-record comments when asked whether Mitt Romney was a Christian.
Given that this is the same pastor who claimed that Oprah Winfrey is doing the work of Satan, the news media largely failed to jump on what I think was his most revealing statement at the press conference: “Every true, born again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian.” I guess no Jewish politician will ever get Jeffress’ blessing if he’s running against Christians. This is in the same spirit as the pastor’s laughable assertion a few years ago that “Mormonism, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism ... lead people to an eternity of separation from God in hell.” He has also stated that the Catholic Church represents the “genius of Satan.” If LDS Christianity has run afoul of Pastor Jeffress, it looks like we’re in good company: 14 million Mormons + 1.5 billion Muslims + 14 million Jews + 850 million Hindus + 1 billion Catholics, all condemned by the 10,000 members of Jeffress’ megachurch in Dallas.
Mitt Romney’s speech at the summit was inexplicably followed by that of Bryan Fischer, a senior official with the American Family Association (and former senior pastor) who is one of the most prominent bigots on the American political scene. Just before the summit, he delivered a speech asserting that the First Amendment does not apply to Mormons because they are not Christians (he’s said the same thing about Muslims). Why was he not asked whether it applied to Jews? I think we all know what his answer would have been.
I honestly believe that the reason many of these Evangelical leaders devote considerable time and effort to criticizing and maligning LDS Christianity is because they view it as a threat. Based on both anecdotal evidence and statements made by some Evangelical pastors, it appears that more Evangelicals convert to the LDS Church, at least in the United States, than members of any other faith. With spiritual leaders like Jeffress and Fischer, it’s not hard to understand why.
Like most Mormons, I don’t really care what Evangelicals think of our theology. I don’t believe that they are the arbiters of who is a Christian, and bigoted pastors like Jeffress and Fischer come across to Mormons as presumptuous, self-anointed blowhards. When they call down hellfire upon the heads of Jews, Mormons, and most of the world’s people unless they accept Evangelicalism’s Jesus, Mormons find it hard to take them seriously. We simply don’t care enough about their doctrines to respond in kind.
However, I do think that our friends in the Evangelical community could do a little more to emphasize similarities in our belief systems rather than differences, especially when speaking to fellow Evangelicals. Hugh Hewitt, a prominent Evangelical talk show host and attorney, is very friendly to Mormons and has built many bridges to the LDS community. It was therefore a little painful to hear him remind listeners during an interview earlier this year with an LDS apostle that he had previously told another apostle “we don’t agree on anything theologically.” How about the Ten Commandments? The Bible as scripture? Support for Jews? Belief in God? Belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ? God’s Grace? Charity? To me, it was as if a Conservative rabbi, prior to interviewing an Orthodox colleague on the radio, had inserted the disclaimer that they didn’t agree on anything. I’m willing to bet that if Hugh Hewitt and the apostle had written down all of the religious principles that they believed in, at least 90% would have matched.
This is a free country, and Evangelicals are free to apply whatever religious litmus test they want to politicians seeking their votes. If they don’t want to vote for Mormons, that’s fine. I would have no problem voting for a candidate of a different faith if he or she shared my values. However, I do take comfort that, from an LDS perspective, pastors who preach intolerance are directing their remarks to both main divisions of the House of Israel, Jews and Mormons. There is no doubt in my mind who will ultimately prevail.