On October 11, 2011, the Associated Press carried a news story about a conservative Christian minister's condemnation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), also known as the Mormons. The Rev. Robert Jeffress, minister of the First Baptist church in Dallas, told news reporters that presidential contender Mitt Romney is "not a Christian," and called Mormonism a "cult."
Jeffress has refused to back down from his statements. He believes it is his duty as a minister to let people know the supposed truth about alleged "false religions," such as Mormonism. "Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Mormonism are all false religions," he declared.
The implication for voters is clear. Jeffress supports Rick Perry for President. The pastor is saying that U.S. voters should not elect anyone who is not a "true" Christian. Therefore, Romney or any other Mormon is unfit for the presidency.
This sounds like religious bigotry. In fact, it sounds like the same bigoted nonsense directed at the "alleged" Muslim, President Obama. Tea bigots and others still maintain that Obama--a Christian--is a Muslim, and therefore, not to be trusted as the Commander in Chief.
Still, others claim that Jeffress' stance is not an example of intolerance. On the contrary, the Bible warns believers against following false prophets. (Is that redundant?) They would agree that Jeffress is only doing what he is called to do.
This might be so. However, the Bible often condones and encourages reprehensible behavior. The text has passages condoning patriarchy, slavery, genocide, and numerous other crimes against humanity. Only someone that believes that the Bible truly is the "Good Book" could fail to see what a colossal mistake it is to defend all of its teachings.
Could it be that the LDS Church is simply, to use a biblical idea, reaping what it has sown? After all, it was not until 1978 that the church ended its rule that Blacks were not permitted full participation in the church. (One has to wonder why the immutable, infallible God of the Mormons waited until several years after fallible human beings gave the world the civil rights movement to discover the error of his ways.)
The Black anthropologist (and atheist) Joel Augustus Rogers was highly critical of Christianity. He was especially critical of Mormonism. Rogers spoke to Mormon missionaries and other practioners of the religion. He noted that Mormons believed that Blacks could not get to Heaven because of their race. (For more on Rogers and Mormonism, see Michael McBryde's article in my book, African-American Humanism: An Anthology, Prometheus, 1991.)
In the early 1990s, the LDS Church appeared to have made inroads in Ghana. However, then-President Jerry Rawlings started learning more about the Church's racist past. Eventually, the Ghanaian Broadcasting Corporation did an expose of the Church, and the Mormons were pretty much banished from the country.
In other African nations, the LDS Church has been frowned upon. Yohannes Gebregeorgis, former head of the Ethiopian Humanist Organization, has been critical of Mormon missionaries in Africa. In my book, The Black Humanist Experience: An Alternative to Religion (Prometheus, 2003) he wrote that Mormons and other religious groups "are infecting the minds of young people with their pie-in-the-sky and reward in the afterworld nonsense." (p. 103) (Gebregeorgis won a CNN Hero Award in 2008. He heads the literacy organization, Ethiopia Reads.)
Despite the Church's critics, the faith is growing rapidly throughout the world, including Africa. In any case, it is no more a cult than is the Nation of Islam (NOI). Adherents of the NOI believe that Master Fard was God in human form. They believe in an extraterrestrial Mother Plane (complete with baby planes), etc. Still, the NOI is embraced by many influential Muslims throughout the world. They still worship Allah, assume Arabic names, make the pilgrimage to Mecca if they can afford it, etc. Similarly, the LDS Church has many teachings that do not conform to mainstream Christianity. Yet, they embrace the Bible, consider Jesus to be their savior, etc.
Religion and polticis always makes for a dangerous concoction. It can certainly be valuable to know a candidate's religion or worldview. However, it is bigoted (and unwise) to judge someone as unworthy of political leadership simply because he or she allegedly worships a "false" God.
Interestingly, Jeffress did not raise any objections to any particular Mormon practices. If he would have said that, as a practicing Mormon, Romney is sexist or patriarchal, for example, that would have been relevant. However, no matter how irrational or old-fashioned the beliefs of a church might be, ultimately, people have to be judged on what they actually do. After all, most people compartmentalize their beliefs on some level. For example, one can believe in the Bible without believing that alleged witches should be stoned to death.
Generally speaking, in politics, people from all but the most thoroughly bigoted and dangerous religions or philosophies should receive a fair hearing and be judged on the content of their character, and not whether they have the One, True Religion. Religious bigotry should have no place in politics or anywhere else.