After igniting a firestorm over his arguments on why he won't vote for a Mormon for U.S. president, evangelical journalist Warren Cole Smith is responding to criticism, including claims of bigotry.
"First of all, the word 'bigot' is an ideologically charged word," he said on Patheos.com on Thursday. "I have trouble taking the charge seriously, and little motivation to defend against it. If my ideas are false, then expose the falsehood."
In a three-page posting last month on Patheos.com, Smith made the case that "a vote for [Mitt] Romney is a vote for the LDS Church." While evangelicals and Mormons may have similar stances on social issues, Smith disagreed with the notion that religious beliefs don't matter in a presidential candidate.
"His religious worldview will be vital to his governing philosophy, and will ultimately be the issue that undermines his candidacy," he wrote. And Mormons hold to false teachings, he noted.
"[C]ertain qualifications make a candidate unfit to serve. I believe a candidate who either by intent or effect promotes a false and dangerous religion is unfit to serve," he added. Plus, placing a Mormon in the White House "would serve to normalize the false teachings of Mormonism the world over."
Smith's posting drew critics, including the head of public affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Michael Otterson called Smith's logic "unreasonable, un-Christian and untrue to American ideals."
In response, Smith reiterated his position that electing a Mormon president would be "a tremendous step toward normalizing Mormon beliefs."
"As an evangelical Christian who believes that Mormonism is a false religion, I think it only makes sense that I would not want to be a part of any effort – either intentional or not – that would spread a false religion," he said in the new interview with Patheos.com.
At the same time, he affirmed Article VI, Section 3 of the Constitution that states, "[N]o religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."
"What this means, and what I affirm, is that Mitt Romney or anyone else has the right to run," he stated.
When he says he's not going to vote for Romney, he maintains that he's not imposing a "religious test," but rather simply holding the belief that "a person's religious views tell us a great deal about what a person's governing philosophy will be."
Smith addressed what he sees as the point of controversy in the whole debate.
"I believe a candidate who either by intent or effect promotes a false and dangerous religion is unfit to serve. I struggle to understand how anyone could disagree with that statement," he contended.
"Where the disagreement occurs is my further assertion that Mormonism is false and dangerous and that a Romney presidency would promote Mormonism."
He acknowledged that some evangelical Christians would disagree with him on this point and would say that a Romney presidency would not promote Mormonism.
But he added, "I respectfully disagree, and I think the stakes are too high – people's souls – to play around in the gray areas and hope we got it right."
The journalist noted that he doesn't think it's a bad thing for Americans to take religion into account when electing a president. And millions of Americans do, he pointed out.