'Conservative Prots' vs. LDS baptisms?

Guess what? Mitt Romney remains a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Meanwhile, he also remains the odds-on favorite to be the GOP candidate to run against President Barack Obama.

Thus, news consumers should brace themselves for waves of stories focusing on Romney and the millions of traditional, Trinitarian Christians who disagree with him on the nature of the Godhead and a host of other theological subjects. Some of these people will decide not to vote for him, for reasons both religious and political.

At the same time, it is highly unlikely that we will see waves of coverage of the millions of voters -- religious, non-religious, whatever -- who disagree with Romney on a host of subjects linked to marriage, family and related issues in moral theology. Many, if not most, of these voters will decide not to vote for Romney, for reasons both religious and political.

Here's my journalistic question: Why is a big story when people reject Romney because of his religious views on the Trinity, but not a major story when people reject his religious views on, let's say, the sanctity of unborn human life?

Just asking. In other words, are there religious/political tests on both sides of our elections?

This raises more questions for journalists trying to plan campaign coverage: How many GOP voters will reject this Mormon man because of religious issues? How many Democratic voters will reject him because of issues that are linked to his faith? Of these two camps, which will be larger than the other. Just asking.

I do know one thing for sure. Lots of journalists are laboring under the false impression that the whole "are Mormons really Christians" debate is limited to evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant sanctuaries.

Consider this passage at the top of a recent Associated Press sidebar on this issue, as seen in The Washington Post:

Like traditional Christians, Mormons consider the Bible sacred and view Jesus as savior.

However, Mormons do not share the concept of a unified Trinity that is part of historical Christianity. They believe that God has called new apostles and prophets and that revelation continues as it did in ancient times, which does not conform to mainstream Christianity. The LDS church also teaches that God has a physical body and that human beings can eventually become like God.

But for conservative Protestants, the Bible alone is the authoritative word of God and the innovations of Mormon teaching are heresy. They do not recognize baptisms by the Mormon church and decry the secrecy surrounding some of its sacraments. Only church members in good standing can enter Mormon temples, where families are sealed, or united, so their relationships can continue in the afterlife.

Stop that wagon right there.

As is the case with any report on Mormon theology, there are all kinds of fine points to debate in these lines. Take, for example, the statement that Mormons believe that "human beings can eventually become like God." Based on statements in LDS scriptures, many Trinitarian Christians would insist that Mormons have -- at least in the past -- taught that believers can literally "become gods." That's the kind of fine point that causes endless debates. For Mormon critics, "exaltation" is a key word.

That debate will continue, whether journalists want it to or not. However, as I described earlier, that theological debate may affect a surprisingly small number of Romney votes (compared with, say, gay rights).

No, the clear error in that Associated Press passage is found in the statement that for "conservative Protestants" the "innovations of Mormon teaching are heresy," leading them, for example, not to "recognize baptisms by the Mormon church."

You know, there they go again, all of these pesky evangelical/fundamentalists folks.

Truth is, the Vatican also rejects non-Trinitarian baptisms and, thus, Mormon baptisms -- Mormon baptisms of both the living and (by proxy) the dead. The oh-so-blunt document is right here.

Question: Whether the baptism conferred by the community The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, called Mormons in the vernacular, is valid.

Response: Negative.

The Supreme Pontiff John Paul II, in the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, approved the present Response, decided in the Sessione Ordinaria of this Congregation, and ordered it published.

From the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 5 June 2001.

+ Joseph Cardinal RATZINGER


Catholics and conservative Protestants are not alone in making this judgment. In a recent poll (click here), a surprising 48 percent of clergy in the more liberal mainline Protestant denominations shared this view.

This does not make this point of view right or wrong. It does mean that journalists must realize that it's wrong to imply that only "conservative Protestants" have problems with core doctrines in the Mormon faith -- to the point that they believe people baptized as Mormons must be baptized again in order to become traditional, Trinitarian Christians.

Editor's note: Yes, yes. I am aware that many Episcopal clergy do not require Mormons to be re-baptized. Let's not veer off into discussions of this fact in the comments pages, OK?

IMAGE: Baptism font in a Mormon temple.

Please respect our Commenting Policy