Richard John Neuhaus has an excellent piece in First Things about whether or not Mormonism is Christian. He ultimately concludes that Mormonism is like Islam: it is derived from Christian and Jewish content and contains imagery and language of those two faiths, but is distinctively different:
Asking whether Mormonism is Christian or Mormons are Christians (a slightly different question) is thought to be insulting. "How can you ask that," protests a Mormon friend, "when we clearly love the Lord Jesus as much as we do?" It is true that St. Paul says that nobody can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). But that only indicates that aspects of Mormon faith are touched by the Holy Spirit, as is every element of truth no matter where it is found. A Mormon academic declares that asking our question "is a bit like asking if African Americans are human." No, it is not even a bit like that. "Christian" in this context is not honorific but descriptive. Nobody questions whether Mormons are human. To say that Jews, Muslims, or Buddhists are not Christians is no insult. It is a statement of fact, indeed of respect for their difference. The question is whether that is a fact and a difference that applies also to Mormonism.
A closer parallel might be with Islam. Islam is a derivative of Judaism and Christianity. Like Joseph Smith, Muhammad in the seventh century claimed new revelations and produced in the Quran a "corrected" version of the Jewish and Christian scriptures, presumably by divine dictation. Few dispute that Islam is a new and another religion, and Muslims do not claim to be Christian, although they profess a deep devotion to Jesus. Like Joseph Smith and his followers, they do claim to be the true children of Abraham. Christians in dialogue with Islam understand it to be an interreligious, not an ecumenical, dialogue. Ecumenical dialogue is dialogue between Christians. Dialogue with Mormons who represent official LDS teaching is interreligious dialogue.
Hat tip to The Corner, which is having a lively discussion on the subject. One of the denizens of that blog, Kathryn Jean Lopez, is a proponent ofMassachusettss Governor (and Mormon) Mitt Romney running for President in 2008.
I think that secular conservatives do not really understand how evangelicals relate to Mormons and whether or not they will support Romney in the same way that they supported George W. Bush's campaigns. They see both as advocates for traditional concepts of family values and breeze past real and serious doctrinal differences.
Now I'm not a political conservative, but I am an envagelical, and the idea of Romney or any other Mormon become President gives me the creeps -- and in a way that having a Jewish President (Go Joementum!) doesn't.
Why? Well, I think that we American evangelicals have long seen Mormonism is a historically new phenomenon; a heresy that could be eventually stamped out and the right order returned. Having a Mormon President would mean accepting Mormonism as a permanent fixture of American life. It would be as though the early Church councils had signed a peace treaty with Gnostic or Arian heresies and accepted vast swaths of Christendom as permanently heretical. Voting for and electing a Mormon would be a way of signing an armistice with this insidious heresy.
All of this may seem irrational and probably is, but voters give support through rhetoric, money, and ballots for emotive reasons as well as intellectual ones. Regardless of any logical arguments against this line of thinking, a candidate who gives evangelicals theological heebie jeebies is unlikely to win their support.