Evangelical commentator and president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Dr. Albert Mohler Jr. responded to the controversy surrounding Dr. Robert Jeffress’ comments that Mormonism is a “cult” and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is not a Christian.
Instead of describing Mormonism as a cult, Mohler said the religion is a “rival worldview” when compared to Christianity.
“Mormonism is not historic biblical Christianity. It should not be confused with Christianity,” said Mohler Monday in the audio segment, The Briefing, posted on his website. “Mormonism is a rival worldview. Mormonism has its own claim of authority.”
The prominent evangelical leader went on to explain why Mormonism is not part of orthodox Christianity.
“The first thing we need to know about Mormonism in terms of why it is not historic and biblical Christianity is that it claims a necessary revelation after the scripture – coming about 18 centuries after and that’s central to Mormon identity,” Mohler said.
“The more you know about Mormon theology, the more you come to understand its contrast with historic biblical Christianity. The god of Mormonism is not the monotheistic God of the Bible. The role of Jesus Christ in Mormonism, is not the role of the redeemer who then, on the basis of his propitiation for sins, makes possible the justification of sinners by faith, instead it’s a very different understanding – both of the human problem and of the solution.”
The Romney-Mormon controversy was reignited Friday during the Value Voters Summit in Washington, D.C., where Jeffress introduced Texas Governor Rick Perry to the crowd of about 3,000 conservatives gathered to hear the major GOP contenders speak. In an interview with reporters afterward, the Dallas-based Southern Baptist megachurch pastor made comments that questioned the validity of Mormonism to claim it is part of Christianity.
“Rick Perry is a Christian,” Jeffress said. “He’s an evangelical Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. Mitt Romney’s a good, moral person, but he’s not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. It has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of Christianity.”
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Soon afterward, the Perry campaign attempted to distance itself from the comment made by Jeffress, and in a one-sentence statement said, “The governor does not believe Mormonism is a cult.”
On Sunday, Jeffress appeared on Fox News to defend his comments.
“I do believe Mormons are good moral people, but they’ve never been considered a part of mainstream Christianity,” said Jeffress. “When I’m talking about a ‘cult,’ I’m not talking about a sociological ‘cult,’ but a theological ‘cult.’ Mormonism was invented 1800 years after Jesus Christ and the founding of Christianity. It has its own founder, Joseph Smith, its own set of doctrines and even its own book, The Book of Mormon, in addition to the Bible. That by definition is a theological cult. That’s all I was saying.”
Jeffress explanation did little to quell the controversy surrounding the issue. Political pundits, including Bill Bennett, criticized his comments as “bigotry.”
Liberal talk radio host Leslie Marshall, in a comment made on The Arena, said, “Some believe that attacking Mitt Romney's religion is ineffective and a waste of time. They're wrong. Whether it be a gross lie like the Swiftboat Veterans put into play, or nasty mud-slinging attacking individual's personal character or even color, polls and moreso election results show that these tactics are effective. Ever hear of President Kerry?”
During Jeffress’ interview on Fox News, he said, “Religion is a very much part of the discussion and defines who we are.”
“I am a pastor first and when asked as a pastor about what is considered to be false religions, I have to tell the truth as a pastor regardless of how unpopular it might be,” Jeffress said.
Many of the GOP candidates issued statements in response to Jeffress’ comments. But Atlanta businessman Herman Cain and Rep. Michele Bachmann did not directly respond to the issue. On CNN's "State of the Union" program Sunday, Bachmann did say, "This is so inconsequential as far as this campaign is concerned. To make a big issue out of this is ridiculous."
And on the same show, Cain said, "I'm not running for theologian-in-chief. I am not going to do an analysis of Mormonism versus Christianity for the sake of answering that. It's not going to boost the economy.”
Fuller Seminary President Richard Mouw wrote in a CNN column Sunday that he would not classify Mormonism as a “cult,” but he also hesitated to call Mormons Christians, resisting from giving a yes or no answer by saying it was a “complicated question.”