(Photo: Reuters / Joshua Roberts)
A spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had some strong words for an evangelical who suggested Mormons should not serve as President of the United States.
Michael Otterson, head of public affairs for the LDS church, released an open letter to Warren Cole Smith, an evangelical journalist and associate publisher of WORLD Magazine, saying his argument that Mormons should not occupy the country's highest office is "unreasonable, un-Christian and untrue to American ideals."
"I admit, I’m struggling just a tad with your logic that the very fact of being a Mormon disqualifies a person from high public office," Otterson wrote in the letter, featured on The Washington Post's On Faith blog.
"That would be news to Senator Orrin Hatch, who has served his country and constituents for 34 years. And to Senator Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader – one of the most powerful positions in government."
The Mormon spokesman released the letter Tuesday in response to a May 24 posting by Smith. The evangelical journalist wrote on the website Patheos why he would not support Mitt Romney, a Mormon, for president.
Smith noted that while the "prevailing wisdom" says that Romney's Mormonism will not be or should not be a factor in the election, he believes that's wrong.
"His religious worldview will be vital to his governing philosophy, and will ultimately be the issue that undermines his candidacy," he wrote.
He went on to say that Mormons hold false beliefs and have "idiosyncratic views of history." Placing a Mormon in the White House "would serve to normalize the false teachings of Mormonism the world over. It would also provide an opening to Mormon missionaries around the world," he added.
"[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," Smith concluded.
Calling the arguments "profoundly disturbing," Otterson found Smith to be bringing up "old stereotypes" and perpetuating "unfounded fears."
"Who decides, Warren, that one religion is acceptable and another 'false and dangerous'? Do you? Does the church that you attend? Since you aren’t calling for Mormons to be legally barred from the highest office in the land, is your idea just to effectively marginalize Mormons and make it impossible for them to run for office?" Otterson posed.
He then pointed to the constitutional provision that forbids a religious test for political office.
"What it seems you would like me and six million other Mormons in the U.S. to do is concede a fundamental right granted to all Americans because we don’t fit within your definition of what is theologically acceptable. Fortunately, that’s not what the Constitution says, and it’s not what America teaches."
He noted that Mormons have been serving "most capably" in national government for over a century. But he emphasized that his letter was not about any particular candidate, noting that the LDS church is neutral in party politics.
"[W]hoever might be elected, I expect the judgment that this nation and history will eventually render about him, or her, will have little to do with where they worshipped on the Sabbath," Otterson wrote.
According to a Pew Research Center survey, released last week, 68 percent of Americans said it wouldn't matter whether a presidential candidate was Mormon or not.
Evangelicals were least likely to back a Mormon for president, with 34 percent saying so.
Many evangelicals consider the LDS church – which has around 6 million members – a cult that preaches a false gospel. Despite theological differences, some prominent evangelicals have come out defending a Mormon's right to run.
When Romney first ran for the GOP nomination in 2008, Southern Baptist leader Richard Land said he does not believe Mormonism disqualifies someone from being president. Mark DeMoss, founder of an evangelical public relations firm, went further to aid in Romney's campaign that year and is doing it again this year.
DeMoss said he doesn't agree with applying a religious test to the highest position in the U.S.
As for Smith, he has already revealed that there's no chance he will be backing Romney.
"A false religion should not prosper with the support of Christians. The salvation of souls is at stake," Smith stated in his earlier posting. "For me, that alone disqualifies him from my vote."
In addition to Romney, another Mormon has entered the presidential race this year – former Utah governor Jon Huntsman.