WASHINGTON – Is Mormonism the fourth Abrahamic religion? The head of the Southern Baptist Convention's political arm discussed the idea this week during an interview regarding presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Dr. Richard Land, president of the SBC's Washington-based Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said on the TV show "Political Capital" with Al Hunt that he considers the Mormon Church to be the fourth Abrahamic religion.
"Judaism being the first, Christianity being the second, Islam being the third and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints being the fourth," said the prominent Baptist leader.
Although his consideration of Mormonism being an Abrahamic faith could be seen by some as a promotion of the religion typically considered a cult by Christians, Land clarified that he views Mormonism "in the same sense" as he looks upon Islam – as another religion.
"Joseph Smith would play the same character in Mormonism that Muhammad plays in Islam," Land noted, referring to the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, or Mormonism.
The question of whether Mormonism can be considered part of the Christian family has not only drawn attention from adherents of both faiths, but also non-believers because of its implications on the presidential race.
Interest has particularly soared after Romney's successful bid for the endorsements of several evangelical leaders in South Carolina, as well as his win at the Values Voter Summit in Washington last week.
Yet Romney still faces staunch opposition from some evangelicals because of his Mormon ties.
Recently, the pastor of a prominent Texas church decried the notion of considering Romney a Christian.
"Mitt Romney is a Mormon, and don't let anybody tell you otherwise," said Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, according to the Baptist newswire EthicsDaily.com. "Even though he talks about Jesus as his Lord and savior, he is not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. Mormonism is a cult."
Similarly, Bill Keller of LivePrayer.com also called Mormonism a cult and "totally inconsistent with biblical Christianity."
"If you are a true follower of the Bible and believe what God says, it basically says that those who follow other Gospels – false Gospels and false religions like Mormonism – are going to die, be lost in their sins and go to hell," said Keller to The Christian Post.
The ministry leader voiced concerns that a Mormon president would attract attention to the Mormon Church and give it credibility.
"In doing so it is going to lead people into these false beliefs and ultimately die in their sins," Keller warned.
As pointed out recently by Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. – president of the SBC's flagship seminary, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. – Mormons believe the church was corrupt after the death of the apostles and became the "Church of the Devil."
Thus, Mormons reject the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed – which are based on the Bible and were agreed upon by the ancient Christian churches as statements that true believers should affirm.
Furthermore, Mormons claim that it was not until the 19th century that the Prophet Joseph Smith restored the true church. This "true church" was given the keys to the Kingdom and the authority of the only true priesthood.
In addition, the Book of Mormon, although about Jesus Christ, contains a different Jesus than traditional Bibles who is "not the only begotten Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, or the one through whose death on the cross we can be saved from our sins," Mohler noted.
"Here is the bottom line," the Baptist theologian had expressed in an online debate this summer hosted by the Web site Beliefnet.com. "As an Evangelical Christian – a Christian who holds to the 'traditional Christian orthodoxy' of the Church – I do not believe that Mormonism leads to salvation.
"To the contrary, I believe that it is a false gospel that, however sincere and kind its adherents may be, leads to eternal death rather than to eternal life," he wrote.
During this week's "Political Capital" show, fellow SBC leader Land echoed Mohler's comments, noting that "[m]ost evangelicals, certainly the ones I know – the polls show more than half – do not believe that Mormonism is an orthodox, Trinitarian, Apostolic, traditional Christian faith."
Meanwhile, another Baptist, Phil Roberts, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently emphasized the need to evangelize Mormons.
"Unless we take the Gospel to them (Mormons) and are active about sharing the truth of Jesus Christ with those caught up in error and untruth and a reconstructed false gospel, their destiny is one of separation from the Lord Jesus Christ," said the former interfaith witness expert and leading SBC critic of Mormon teaching, according to Ethicsdaily.com.
Mormonism was formally listed under "cults and sects" by the Southern Baptist Convention, but was newly categorized among "newly developed religions" on the North American Mission Board apologetics page.