"The fact is that Mitt Romney is a Mormon, and many of our people are very, very uncomfortable about voting for a Mormon, as I am," said Steve Strang, an influential Pentecostal publisher, in a conference call with pastors last week. "I supported somebody else in the primary. But, hey, we have no option."
Strang was addressing participants in Pulpit Freedom Sunday, an annual challenge to IRS rules on churches' political activity. While arguing that the government regulations had the effect of silencing ministers, he also cited Mormonism as one reason that clergy haven't more forcefully urged congregants to vote this year.
"The Mormons are good, God-fearing people in their own way," Strang said. "We have to be sure our people don't stay at home."
Last month, more than two dozen prominent evangelical leaders issued a statement emphasizing that the values spelled out in the GOP platform against abortion, gay marriage and other policies were more important than an individual politician's religion. Christians generally do not consider Mormonism part of historic Christianity, although Mormons do.
Evangelicals make up about a third of voters who are registered or lean Republican. Some Republicans have estimated that a significant number of Christian conservatives have not been voting in presidential elections, and they have focused on getting them registered. But that effort has a new wrinkle this year: Romney is the first Mormon nominee for president from a major party.
As Strang was getting out the vote last month, the news editor of his best-known magazine, Charisma, wrote a column calling Mormonism "bizarre" and a "Christianesque cult." Another columnist called Mormon doctrines "creepy and (with apologies to Mitt Romney) demonic."
Janet Parshall, a veteran Christian broadcaster now with Moody Radio, invited on her show Tricia Erickson, a former Mormon turned born-again Christian and author of Can Mitt Romney Serve Two Masters? The Mormon Church Versus the Office of the Presidency of the United States of America.
Parshall effusively praised Mormons for their dedication to family and compassion for others. She spoke fondly about working with Mormons in Washington. "When we would fight for pro-family issues, boy I tell you, we'd be able to do that with our Mormon friends because they shared the same kinds of values that we did," Parshall said. But she said there was a need to point out "what is biblically correct and what is not." In the ensuing interview, Erickson went on to call Mormonism blasphemous and to describe rituals inside Mormon temples, which are for Mormons in good standing only, as "silly," "bizarre" and "violent."
Southern Baptist leader Al Mohler and other academics took up the issue in a discussion last month at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the flagship training ground for future leaders of the nearly 16 million-member denomination. Called "The Mormon Moment? Religious Conviction and the 2012 Election," the speakers went to great lengths to emphasize that religion should not be a consideration when voting.
Russell Moore, a theologian and a seminary dean, said a candidate's religious outlook should be examined specifically for "whether or not the person is going to be able to work for the common good." But he and others warned that supporting a candidate for president does not mean accepting his faith.