COLUMN: Leave baseless accusations out of the political arena
A pastor of a Baptist megachurch, Robert Jeffress, said Friday that presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is not a Christian and is a member of a cult.
I’m mildly amused by Jeffress’ remarks, because I see many parallels between his evangelical Christianity and the Latter-day Saints. Both religions have a huge numbers of followers. The Southern Baptist Convention has 16.2 million members, according to the 2009 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, while the Mormon church has more than 14 million members, according to its website. Both religions’ members profess belief in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and both religions emphasize mission work and family.
In fact, under the theological and scholarly definition, cults are merely offshoots of a major religion considered different enough to be in its own category. From some perspectives, evangelical Christianity could be viewed as this kind of cult. But Jeffress clearly meant the more popular definition of cult: that of a harmful, manipulative small group based around “crazy” religious beliefs that presents a real danger to its adherents. I certainly wouldn’t claim his beliefs fall under this category, but it's equally hard to see how Romney’s do.
I am not amused by the incorrect personal attack on Romney. As a person of faith, I find Jeffress’ remarks offensive. I grew up in an area with a large LDS population, and though I am not a member of the Mormon church, many of my close friends are.
I have a tough time connecting the large, diverse group of Mormons I know with Branch Davidians or Jim Jones’ Kool-Aid-drinking followers. No Mormon I know blindly follows his or her church — at least, no more than any evangelical I know. Just like most Protestant and Catholic churches, the Mormon church has many members who believe what they are told and just as many who decide their beliefs for themselves.
It would be one thing if Jeffress had attacked Romney’s stance on issues, but attacking his faith is as wildly inappropriate as attacking a candidate’s race or gender. If Romney’s religion informs his views, ask about his views. If Romney’s religion confuses you, ask about his religion.
Romney is open to these questions. “The blessings of faith carry the responsibility of civil and respectful debate,” he said in response to Jeffress’ accusations.
If you have questions about the Mormon faith, I’m sure members of the OU Latter-day Saint Student Association would be willing to discuss their faith if you are willing to converse civilly and respectfully.
Baseless accusations and vitriolic speech have no place in our political arena — they only drown out useful debate about policies and positions. If Jeffress insists on contributing to the public political conversation, his future remarks must be factual and respectful.
Kate McPherson is a journalism sophomore.