Don't ask me why, but I'm on the email list of several extreme Christian fundamentalist groups. And lately I've received a couple of warnings from them: watch out for Mitt Romney. He's a Mormon.
On Thursday, Romney is scheduled to give (finally) what's being called his "Mormon Speech." Romney recently said, "I can tell you I'm not going to be talking so much about my faith as I am talking about the religious heritage of our country and the role in which it played in the founding of the nation and the role which I think religion should generally play today in our society."
No one really wants to hear Romney expound on the history of religion in the United States. The issue is whether he can persuade conservative conventional Christians that he, as a Mormon, is as good a Christian as they (and Mike Huckabee) are. Why is he delivering such a speech just weeks before the Iowa caucus? Obviously he and his advisers have decided he has no choice, especially with Huckabee, the former Baptist minister, surging in the polls in the Hawkeye State.
There are Christians who consider Mormonism a heretical cult, but there's no telling if the fundamentalists who are gunning for Romney will have any influence on GOP Iowa caucus-goers, a relatively small slice of Iowans dominated by social conservatives.
One outfit called Godvoters.org has put out an email decrying Romney.
It notes that
At the core of Mormonism is the belief that Jesus and Satan used to be human blood brothers in a distant planet - Jesus behaved well according to Mormonism and became a deity in our planet system, while Satan behaved badly and became the devil. Moreover, Mormonism teaches that good conduct as per Mormonism in this life will enable Mormons to become God in a different planet system someday, just like Jesus a generation ago.
A religion which teaches that Jesus - our perfectly pure and holy God and Lord - is the blood brother of Satan - the perfectly evil and sinful creature - is an abomination, and the idea that a creature can become the Creator is precisely what turned Lucifer, the angel of light, into Satan, and is therefore Satanic by nature.
How significant is this group? Its website claims five dozen "bible-based" churches in Iowa are working with its effort to have all the presidential candidates answer a questionnaire that includes such queries as "Do you believe only those who obey Jesus as their master will go to heaven?" and "If you had to choose between God and country, which would you choose?"
Godsvoter.org declares, "Christians are not interested in a history lesson from Governor Romney....Neither are we interested in a sound bite commercial on Mormonism. What we want to hear and what will put our votes into play in his favor is a sincere, unequivocal and genuine repudiation of Mormonism." It wants the former governor of Massachusetts to answer these questions:
1. "Do you believe that Jesus and Satan once were human brothers as Mormonism teaches?"
2. "Do you hope to become God someday as Mormonism teaches that you can become?"
3. "If not, will you at this time renounce Mormonism and sever all ties to it?"
Romney sure ain't going to walk away from his church, and this organization has "fringe" written all over it. But the issue is whether such sentiments are creeping through the GOP electorate in Iowa. Remember, it was a bunch of nobody creeps in South Carolina in 2000 who spread a series of false rumors about John McCain (he had sired a child out of wedlock, he had been brainwashed in Vietnam, his wife was a doper) and who sank his campaign. A similar sort of crusade is not impossible in Iowa. Via emails and whispers, anti-Mormon fundamentalists need only sow doubt among tens of thousands of Iowans to tilt the election.
In the face of that, can Romney's speech create a theological firewall? Perhaps--if it's a helluva speech.