As the Republican voting moves South, with primaries in South Carolina on Saturday and in Florida on Jan. 31, the religion of Mitt Romney, the front-runner, may be an inescapable issue in many voters’ minds. In South Carolina, where about 60 percent of Republican voters are evangelical Christians, Romney, a devout Mormon and a former bishop in the church, faces an electorate that has been exposed over the years to preachers who teach that the Mormon faith is apostasy. Many evangelicals have numerous reasons, other than religion, for objecting to Romney. But to understand just how hard it is for some to coalesce around his candidacy, it is important to understand the gravity of their theological qualms, notes The New York Times. “I don’t have any concerns about Mitt Romney using his position as either a candidate or as president of the United States to push Mormonism,” said Rev. R. Philip Roberts, president of a Southern Baptist seminary in Kansas City, Mo., and author of Mormonism Unmasked. “The concern among evangelicals is that the Mormon Church will use his position around the world as a calling card for legitimizing their church and proselytizing people.” Mormons consider themselves Christians, as denoted in the church’s name, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Yet the theological differences between Mormonism and traditional Christianity are so fundamental, experts say, that they encompass the very understanding of God and Jesus, what counts as Scripture, and what happens when people die. On the most fundamental issue, traditional Christians believe in the Trinity: that God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all rolled into one. Mormons reject this as a nonbiblical creed that emerged in the fourth and fifth centuries. They believe that God the Father and Jesus are separate physical beings, and that God has a wife whom they call Heavenly Mother. The Mormon Church also says that in the early 1800s, its first prophet, Joseph Smith, had revelations that restored Christianity to its true path, a course correction necessary because previous Christian churches “had corrupted the faith.” Smith bequeathed to his church volumes of revelations contained in writings used only by Mormons: The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. Traditional Christians do not recognize any of those as Scripture. Another big sticking point concerns the afterlife. Early Mormon apostles gave talks asserting that human beings would attain godhood and inherit their own planets—language now regularly held up to ridicule by critics of Mormonism.

Other news:

  • Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum received a major boost to his campaign on Saturday as a result of being endorsed by a group of the nation’s leading evangelical leaders. Now voters and candidates are wondering what will happen as a result of the group’s endorsement. “Everyone was invited here under the premise of, ‘Would you be willing to drop your support for someone if the group is able to reach a consensus on one candidate,’ ” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins explained. “Given the outcome, I think you see what the answer to that question was for the overwhelming majority of attendees.” Perkins assumed the role as the group’s spokesperson and held a teleconference at the conclusion of the Saturday meeting that took place in Texas. “What I did not think was possible—is possible,” Perkins told reporters. “This group of Christian conservatives, after three rounds of voting, has endorsed Rick Santorum as the GOP nominee and hopefully the next president of the United States.” The Texas gathering has been the result of much speculation over the last two weeks when invitations were first extended via e-mail to about 150 Christian leaders to discuss the election at the ranch of longtime Christian activist Paul Pressler. As reported by The Christian Post, some on the list did not attend this weekend’s meeting for fear that a consensus would not be reached. However, one of those who still asked not to be identified was thrilled at the group’s endorsement. “I believe the group made a wise choice in selecting Sen. Santorum. I am excited at the prospect of what may happen prior to next Saturday’s South Carolina primary.”
  • Four leading education organizations have released national sex-ed standards that encourage fifth-graders to be taught about sexual orientation and eighth-graders to learn about gender identity and the morning-after pill, but many say the recommendations infringe on parental rights, reports Baptist Press. The nonbinding standards by the National Education Association and three other groups are billed as the “first-ever national standards” for sex-ed in schools, and they provide detailed suggestions for what students should learn by second, fifth, eighth, and 12th grades. From a social conservative’s standpoint, nearly every page of the recommendations has something controversial. Although the recommendations are non-binding, the NEA and the other groups hope they catch on with schools. Others, though, are hoping schools simply ignore them. “In a society where adults are sharply divided on how to address these issues, it makes no sense whatsoever for groups like the NEA to tell our children how they should think,” said Bob Stith, the Southern Baptist national strategist for gender issues and representative of the convention’s Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals. He added, “The reality is that it has the potential to create serious conflicts between parents and children. If children are taught values that are in direct opposition to the biblical values of their parents, those parents would be put in an adversarial position with their own children. This is just simply not a healthy approach.”
  • Mississippi Judge Tomie Green is stepping in to block some of the controversial pardons recently made by former Gov. Haley Barbour, reports CBN News. As governor, Barbour was a star in the Republican Party. But even his biggest supporters are now questioning the 215 pardons he handed down to criminals during his finals days in office. Some were convicted murderers and now the victims’ families are angry and speaking out. “This has been a lot of pain and heartache for us, for all the families that go through this,” said Betty Ellis, the mother of murder victim Tammy Ellis Gatlin. Judge Green is temporarily blocking 21 of the pardons Barbour issued, saying the inmates failed to file timely public appeals. Mississippi will investigate the others. “It appears from my preliminary review that the vast majority of them would probably be illegal pardons,” Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said. In a statement, Barbour pointed out that nearly 90 percent of the individuals were no longer in custody, and the pardons will clear their records, allowing them to “find gainful employment or acquire professional licenses, as well as hunt and vote.” So far, four convicted murders have been released.
  • A pro-life organization has a novel strategy to reach out to a woman who is thinking of aborting her baby. The plan consists in handing out a “night at the movies” that includes free popcorn, candy, and a DVD. The strategy has already saved the lives of 445 babies, says the group. Bella HERO, a nonprofit organization, views it as their mission to provide for free what they call the “powerful, life-changing” film Bella to any pregnancy care center that wants it. The program, launched in 2008 by Jason Jones, the producer of the awarding winning film, has as its goal to give the pro-life movie to any woman with an unplanned pregnancy to help her make what the pro-life organization calls “the most important decision in her life.” The film, released in 2007, is a story about how reaching out in a loving way to someone in a difficult situation can give them hope. “What the movie does is touch the women where we can’t,” saiys Tracy Reynolds, program director of Bella HERO in an interview with LifeSiteNews. “It really shows her what her opportunity would be either to be a ‘mom’ or to ‘choose adoption’ and give that child a home.” Reynolds compared the film to a “mega ultrasound,” which allows a pregnant mother to see the possibilities in choosing life.
  • Hamas prime minister in Gaza said Sunday that the militant group will never give up its arms, its territory, or its claims on Jerusalem on behalf of the Palestinians, reports haaretz.com. Ismail Haniyeh spoke to a cheering crowd of 5,000 in the Tunisian capital Sunday. He predicted difficult days ahead for Israel, which is grappling with how to respond to the Arab Spring, a series of popular uprisings that began in Tunisia a year ago. “Israel no longer has allies in Egypt and in Tunisia, we are saying to the Zionist enemies that times have changed and that the time of the Arab Spring, the time of the revolution, of dignity and of pride has arrived,” AFP quoted him as saying to loud cheers. “We promise you that we will not cede a single part of Palestine, we will not cede Jerusalem, we will continue to fight and we will not lay down our arms,” he said. “To Tunisia we say: ‘It is us today who are going to build the new Middle East.’ “
  • A 16-year-old Rhode Island girl and self-described atheist has won a legal battle against her high school over a prayer banner displayed on campus, with a federal court ruling Wednesday that the Christian mural, erected more than 50 years ago, has to be removed, reports The Christian Post. The banner’s removal is a reflection of “what true American values are,” says Jessica Ahlquist, who attends Cranston High School West in Cranston. The teen insisted that the banner had no place in the high school and that church and state had to remain separate. “When I saw it there, I knew it didn’t belong,” Ahlquist told reporters, according to The Associated Press. “And every time that I saw it, it was a reminder that my school wasn’t doing the right thing and that my school didn’t necessarily support me and my views.” Meanwhile, the city’s attorney Joseph Cavanagh Jr. said the prayer banner will be covered up, while the school committee decides whether to appeal the ruling. Michael Traficante, a committee member, said he was “extremely disappointed” in the ruling. “What’s ironic is this banner has to be removed because one individual after 50 years believed it to be offensive because of her disbelief in any religion,” he stated. The city argued that the banner had no religious significance and was part of the school’s history. It was given to Cranston High from the class of 1963, the first to graduate from the school. Former student David Bradley, now in his 60s, wrote the prayer banner, which calls on students to reach their academic potential. However, it begins with “Our Heavenly Father” and ends in “Amen.”