David S. Reynolds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Like Mormons

David S. Reynolds, a professor of American studies and English at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, is the author of “Mightier Than the Sword: ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ and the Battle for America.”

According to a CNN exit poll of South Carolina Republican primary voters, Newt Gingrich, a thrice-married Catholic, won twice as much support from evangelical Protestants as Mitt Romney, a Protestant. And among voters for whom religion meant “a great deal,” 46 percent voted for Mr. Gingrich and only 10 percent for Mr. Romney.

This is the second evangelical-heavy state Mr. Romney has lost. With a third, Florida, next on the list, it’s important to consider the often antagonistic skepticism that many evangelicals have of Mr. Romney’s brand of Protestantism: Mormonism....

Many evangelicals assert that Mormonism denies the divinity of Christ and is therefore not a branch of Christianity. But the Mormon belief is that Jesus was the first-born child of God and a woman, and that humans can aspire to share his spiritual essence in the afterlife.

What’s more, if a belief in Christ’s divinity were used as a test of our politicians, many past American leaders would fail abysmally. Most of the founding fathers — including Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine — endorsed deism, which sees Jesus as a very good human being, not part of the godhead.

It was precisely the founders’ religious tolerance that, over the years, has given rise to many new denominations and sects — particularly during the so-called Second Great Awakening, the 19th-century period of religious revivals that energized existing churches (including the Baptist and Methodist churches, bulwarks of today’s Bible Belt) and yielded new ones, including the Mormons....

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