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“Mr. Romney should avoid using language that blurs fundamental differences among religious traditions”

April 9, 2007

Kenneth Woodward in the New York Times:

Mr. Romney must be sure to express himself in a way that will be properly understood. Any journalist who has covered the church knows that Mormons speak one way among themselves, another among outsiders. This is not duplicity but a consequence of the very different meanings Mormon doctrine attaches to words it shares with historic Christianity.

For example, Mormons speak of God, but they refer to a being who was once a man of “flesh and bone,” like us. They speak of salvation, but to them that means admittance to a “celestial kingdom” where a worthy couple can eventually become “gods” themselves. The Heavenly Father of whom they speak is married to a Heavenly Mother. And when they emphasize the importance of the family, they may be referring to their belief that marriage in a Mormon temple binds families together for all eternity.

Thus, when Mr. Romney told South Carolina Republicans a few months ago that Jesus was his “personal savior,” he used Southern Baptist language to affirm a relationship to Christ that is quite different in Mormon belief. (For Southern Baptists, “personal savior” implies a specific born-again experience that is not required or expected of Mormons.) This is not a winning strategy for Mr. Romney, whose handlers should be aware that Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals know Mormon doctrine better than most other Americans do — if only because they study Mormonism in order to rebut its claims.

Especially at Regent University, Mr. Romney should avoid using language that blurs fundamental differences among religious traditions. Rather, he should acknowledge those differences and insist that no candidate for public office should have to apologize for his or her religious faith.

Finally, there is the question of authority in the Church of Latter-day Saints, and of what obligations an office holder like Mr. Romney must discharge. Like the Catholic Church, the Mormon Church has a hierarchical structure in which ultimate authority is vested in one man. But unlike the pope, the church’s president is also regarded as God’s own “prophet” and “revelator.” Every sitting prophet is free to proclaim new revelations as God sees fit to send them — a form of divine direction that Mormon missionaries play as a trump card against competing faiths.

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