A Southern Baptist leader said that he believes Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will lose the South Carolina primary to Newt Gingrich simply because Romney is a Mormon.
The Rev. Brad Atkins, the recently elected president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, said to local media that Romney’s religious beliefs may concern voters.
"In South Carolina, Romney's Mormonism will be more of a cause of concern than Gingrich's infidelity," said Atkins, who also serves as pastor of First Baptist Church of Powdersville, in a Patch article.
Atkins also said that while conservatives can “pray their way through the issue of forgiveness toward a Christian,” they “will struggle to understand how anyone could be a Mormon and call themselves 'Christian.'”
Some Baptist clergy of South Carolina are more divided on the matter of supporting Romney.
“I believe that Newt Gingrich has a better chance of winning the South Carolina Primary for a plurality of reasons,” said Keith Richardson, lead pastor of First Baptist Church of Barnwell, S.C., in an interview with The Christian Post.
“I believe that SC is a conservative state and as governor of Massachusetts, Governor Romney campaigned and governed as a moderate, and that many conservatives in South Carolina will find his conversion to conservatism a little too convenient.”
Despite the favorable opinion of Gingrich, Richardson also said, “I simply do not believe that Romney's Mormonism is a relevant factor.”
“He may indeed have a better chance,” commented Pastor Sam Catoe of Park Street Baptist Church of Columbia, regarding Gingrich’s chances.
Catoe, who along with Richardson head a church affiliated with the SCBC, also added that he was “voting Romney because his values are closer to mine than Gingrich.”
Since beginning his campaign to become the Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has had much controversy surrounding his Mormon faith. Some in the evangelical community consider Romney’s Mormon beliefs to be an issue of concern, while others do not.
In October, evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church of Dallas declared that Romney is not a Christian and Mormonism is a cult.
But evangelical leader Chuck Colson advised that Christians should not refuse to vote for a candidate simply because he or she is a Mormon, but rather they should look at the candidate’s values.
A poll conducted by NBC News and the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion in early December had Gingrich beating Romney 41 percent to 21 percent.