Mormons vs. evangelicals: It's more complicated than 'political allies, but theological rivals'

The fact that there are major theological differences between Mormons and evangelical Christians isn't exactly breaking news.

In fact, the Religion News Association stylebook entry on Mormons notes, "Because of their extra-biblical scriptures and beliefs about God and Jesus (they reject the Nicene Creed, for example), Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches do not regard Mormons as Christian."

But last week's death of Thomas S. Monson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, put those differences back into the spotlight.

In a 700-word news report headlined "Evangelicals And Mormons Are Political Allies, But Theological Rivals," NPR contrasted President Trump's warm statement after Monson's death with leading evangelicals' negative words concerning the Mormon leader's LDS faith:

Trump's own faith is not a centerpiece of his political identity. But those two faith communities — Mormons and evangelicals — have historically been the religious groups most closely identified with the Republican Party, and they have long aligned on such culture war issues as same-sex marriage, gender roles, transgender rights and abortion.
However, those shared political views do not translate to a theological alliance. In contrast to Trump's warm remembrance, many evangelical leaders responded to Monson's death with unsparing criticism of the LDS teachings he represented.
"False religion is a judgment from God, and Monson's life is a testimony to the enslavement that false religion brings," wrote James White, the director of Alpha and Omega Ministries in Phoenix and the author of 24 books on evangelical theology.
Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., was similarly harsh, using the occasion of Monson's death to highlight what he called "the great distinction between biblical Christianity and Mormonism."
"Should we consider the Mormon Church ... as a Christian denomination?" Mohler asked in his daily podcast. "No, we should not. It simply fails every major test of historic Christian orthodoxy."

Overall, NPR did a nice job — particularly for a quick-hit daily news report — of hitting a few high points of why Mormons and evangelicals often align politically but not theologically,

I do wish NPR had noted more clearly this big theological distinction: Mormons' contention that "all authentic Christianity vanished by the 2d Century and God needed to restore the authentic faith and church authority uniquely through American founder Joseph Smith Jr."

Also, NPR could have been more precise and explained how Mormons and evangelicals diverged — in terms of support for Trump — in the 2016 election.

From the NPR report:

Members of the LDS church were among the president's most dependable supporters. Exit polls showed more than 6 in 10 Mormons voted for Trump in 2016 — second only to white evangelical Christians as the U.S. religious group most supportive of his candidacy.

Certainly, that is accurate. But it fails to acknowledge the significant decline in Mormon support for the Republican presidential candidate, while white born-again/evangelical votes for Trump — at 81 percent — actually topped those given Mitt Romney in 2012, John McCain in 2008 and George W. Bush in 2004.

In other words, there was a 20 percentage-point difference in how Mormons and evangelicals voted in the 2016 election, as opposed to those groups voting basically the same in previous presidential contests. That's a significant change, right? 

Yes, Mormons and evangelicals come down on the same side of many culture-war issues. However, the headline description of Mormons and evangelicals as "political allies, but theological rivals" might be a bit too simplistic for the Trump era. 

Agree? Disagree? By all means, feel free to leave a comment and delve into the journalistic and media coverage issues.

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