Fla. Evangelicals: Mormons Not Christian but Romney Is OK

Most evangelical Republicans in Florida believe that Mormons are not Christian, but they also find Mitt Romney an acceptable nominee for the Republican Party.

According to a recent NBC/Marist Poll in Florida, 62 percent of evangelicals likely to vote in Tuesday's primary say that members of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints are not Christian. Only 40 percent of the full sample believe the same.

When asked who they would vote for, more evangelicals chose Romney (34 percent), a Mormon, than any other candidate.

Additionally, a majority of evangelicals said Romney would be acceptable (59 percent) or acceptable with some reservations (25 percent) as the Republican nominee. Only 14 percent said Romney is not acceptable, which is within the 3.8 percentage point margin of error for the full sample (11 percent).

Though the LDS Church claims to be a Christian church, most pastors agree that LDS theology departs too far from Christianity's core teachings to be considered part of the Christian church.

As a result, many have wondered whether Romney's Mormon faith would prevent him from gaining the support of evangelicals, who make up an important voting bloc in the Republican Party.

Some evangelical leaders have said that Christians should not vote for Romney when there is a suitable Christian on the ballot. Robert Jeffress, pastor of a Dallas megachurch, made this claim when he endorsed Texas Governor Rick Perry at the Values Voter Summit in October.

Other evangelical leaders took issue, however, with Jeffress' remarks, arguing that what matters in a presidential nominee is that they are competent and share your values.

For instance, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Executive Editor for The Christian Post, wrote an October editorial making this case.

"Christianity has objective, theologically defined parameters which Mormonism has clearly moved well beyond," Land wrote.

Land also said though that this fact alone should not prevent someone from voting for Romney.

"If a voter agrees with Gov. Romney on the issues and believes in his competency, then will he or she vote for him over a less competent opponent or one whose policies the voter does not share? One would be hard pressed to find a good reason for a voter not to vote for Gov. Romney in such circumstances."

Similarly, popular evangelical author Chuck Colson criticized Jeffress in a radio address and Christian Post interview in mid-October.

"I want to say this to every Christian listening to my voice: Let's stop criticizing candidates for their religious convictions," Colson said.

The NBC/Marist poll results suggest that the views of Florida evangelicals are more in line with Land and Colson than Jeffress.

In an interview with CNN, Joel C. Hunter, pastor of a megachurch near Orlando, Florida, said that Florida evangelicals are "more open" to the idea of a Mormon president, than, perhaps, evangelicals in other states.

"Our nature, of being a fairly mobile state, with a lot of tourism and a lot of transcultural and transnational interaction really makes us boundary spanning, rather than sticking to our own affinity groups," Hunter said.

The NBC/Marist poll of 3,141 Floridians was conducted Jan. 25 through Jan. 27. The sample included 682 likely Republican primary voters, which were used for the cross-tabulations cited in this article.

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