CNN did not challenge Southern Baptist Convention's Land with website's listing of Mormonism as cult

››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN

Discussing Mitt Romney's "Faith in America" speech, CNN's Colleen McEdwards said to the Southern Baptist Convention's (SBC) Richard Land, "I mean, let's face it, some people go as far as saying Mormonism is a cult." At no point during the interview, however, did Land acknowledge or McEdwards point out that the SBC lists the Mormon church as a "Major Cults/Sect[] in North America" or that an SBC group uses Mormonism as an example in highlighting four of the six characteristics it uses to answer the question, "What is a Cult or Sect?"

While reporting on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's "Faith in America" speech, during the December 6 edition of CNN's Your World Today, host Colleen McEdwards asked Richard Land -- who she said "is with the Southern Baptist Convention [SBC]" -- "Did he [Romney] explain enough about the Mormon faith, though, to satisfy those evangelical voters, particularly in the state of Iowa, all of these upcoming primaries and caucuses, who do feel nervous about the religion?" McEdwards added, "I mean, let's face it, some people go as far as saying Mormonism is a cult." Land -- president of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission -- responded, "I'm one of those evangelicals who do not believe that Mormonism is an orthodox with a small 'o,' Trinitarian with a capital 'T' faith. In the lead-in you talked about what they believe about God the father and God the son and that's clearly not orthodox. But they certainly deserve equal standing under the law." At no point, however, did Land acknowledge or McEdwards point out that the North American Missions Board -- the SBC's domestic missions agency -- includes "the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [LDS]," on its list of "Major Cults/Sects in North America" or that the Missions Board uses LDS as an example in highlighting four of the six characteristics it uses to answer the question, "What is a Cult or Sect?"

From the December 6 edition of CNN's Your World:

McEDWARDS: We want to bring in a religious leader who says that Romney's speech was important for his campaign, but even more important for America. Richard Land is with the Southern Baptist Convention -- that's the largest Protestant denomination in the United States -- and he's written a book called The Divided States of America [Thomas Nelson, April 2007]. Richard, it's great to have you here.

Now, I understand that you actually argued for Romney to go ahead and do this and that you were looking for a real Kennedy-esque kind of speech, a kind of moment where he really laid it out there. Did you get what you were you looking for here?

LAND: Yes, I think we did. I met with the governor at his invitation, October 2006. About a dozen evangelical leaders met with him at his home and he said, "OK, what do I need to hear?" And I said, "Well Governor, I think that your Mormon faith is not an absolute deal-breaker with evangelicals, but you've got to close the deal. Only Kennedy could convince enough Protestants to vote for a Catholic, and only you can convince evangelicals to vote for a Mormon." And so I encouraged him to give this kind of a speech. I even gave him a copy of the Kennedy speech and I said, "You know, in your own words, you need to do this kind of a speech." And so, I'm glad that he's done it. I do think it's more important for the country, even than it is for Governor Romney, to be reminded in this kind of a high-profile speech, about our rich heritage, our religious freedom, and religious pluralism and diversity. And I thought he did a magnificent job.

McEDWARDS: Did he explain enough about the Mormon faith, though, to satisfy those evangelical voters, particularly in the state of Iowa, all of these upcoming primaries and caucuses, who do feel nervous about the religion? I mean, let's face it, some people go as far as saying Mormonism is a cult, certainly that it doesn't deserve equal standing with Christian faiths.

LAND: Well, first of all, I think that he would have made a mistake had he talked about Mormonism. Kennedy spent not one sentence talking about Catholicism, or seeking to describe it or defend it. That's not appropriate, in my opinion, in a presidential campaign. He defended the right of a Mormon to run for president. And, look, I'm one of those evangelicals who do not believe that Mormonism is an orthodox with a small "o," Trinitarian with a capital "T" faith. In the lead-in you talked about what they believe about God the father and God the son and that's clearly not orthodox. But they certainly deserve equal standing under the law. And the fact that a person is a Mormon should not disqualify them from running for public office. We have a constitutional prohibition against a religious test for office and after all, we're voting for a commander in chief, not a pastor in chief.

McEDWARDS: Is the elephant out of the room though, now, Richard, do you think for evangelicals? Or are there still other issues here? I mean, his record as a governor, for example, has been called into question. Some conservatives think he's too liberal. His flip-flop on abortion: He once said it should be legal and accessible in the United States, and then said no, he changed his mind about that. Is there too much to overcome here?

LAND: Well, it depends on the evangelical. It depends on the socially conservative Catholic whether it's too much to overcome. I do think those questions about his record are legitimate questions that deserve to be in a political campaign. I don't think that his individual doctrinal and theological beliefs deserve to be in a campaign. And I think to the extent that he needed to address them, he addressed them. He said, I will not use the presidency to promote my particular faith. I'll deal with everyone equally. And the Mormon church's authority over me ends with church affairs. It doesn't have anything to do with my performance of my office, if I'm the president. And it would not interfere with my oath of office. Those are the two biggest concerns that I've heard from evangelicals, and he straightforwardly addressed them today, as President Kennedy did in 1960 when he said that he would be guided by his conscience and no external threat would cause him to do otherwise.

McEDWARDS: Richard Land, we have to leave it there. Thank you so much, some early reaction there from you. We really appreciate it, Richard.

LAND: Thank you.

Posted In
Diversity & Discrimination, Religion, Elections
Stories/Interests
Mitt Romney, 2008 Elections
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