He said vs. he said in Colorado Springs

ted haggardThe pre-election story of the day, of course, is about the stunning allegations by a former gay male escort against the Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and pastor of the 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs. Haggard has stepped down from both posts, pending investigations.

The Colorado media are all over this story now, which broke in classic he said-he said fashion in high-profile settings in local radio and television. This is, however, a national story. After all, not that long ago Time chose Haggard as one of America’s 25 most influential evangelicals (and Catholics who “vote” like evangelicals, whatever that means).

The next stage? Accuser Mike Jones — a weightlifter, trainer and massage pro — has offered to take a lie-detector test on live radio. He also says he has some evidence in the form of voicemail messages and envelopes from “Art,” the man he realized was Haggard when he saw him interviewed on the History Channel.

Jones said he timed his bombshell to hit Haggard and religious conservatives before Colorado votes on two pivotal measures linked to homosexuality. In a talk-show setting, Jones was allowed to say pretty much whatever he wanted to say. Here is a sample from the Colorado Springs Gazette:

On Peter Boyles‘ show Thursday, Boyles announced Jones would take a polygraph test Friday morning. Jones told Boyles his evidence consisted of “various voicemails that he has left me. Even if the voicemails didn’t even mention sex, let’s just say that, why would he be contacting me period?”

Jones said Haggard’s fantasy was for Jones to arrange for a group of “young college guys … around 18-22. He would love to have an orgy,” he said.

Jones said the two got together at least once a month. At first, he said, Haggard claimed he was from Kansas City. “As time went on, the calls started coming from Colorado Springs,” he said.

An early story in The Denver Post by Eric Gorski, Felisa Cardona and Manny Gonzales includes this interesting passage. Note the reference to Jones playing the voicemail recording, but refusing to reveal “the topic” of the recording.

So the Post people heard a recording, but the words on the tape were so vague that they could not determine what “Art” was saying? Here’s that part of the story:

Today, Jones showed the Denver Post an envelope addressed to him from “Art,” a name Jones says Haggard used — sent from an address in Colorado Springs. Jones said the envelope came to him with two $100 bills inside. Jones also played a recording of a voicemail left for Jones from “Art.” Jones refused to reveal what the topic of the voicemail was about because there could be legal problems and he wants to consult with an attorney.

“They want to protect the sanctity of marriage and I am trying to figure out what that means because they are not doing a good job,” Jones said of anti-gay marriage proponents. “To have someone in such a high profile position preaching against them and doing opposite behind other people’s backs is hypocritical.”

It would seem that Jones is going to need evidence of some kind to make his charges stick. But does that matter a few days before an election?

There will be a tsunami of coverage tomorrow. Please help us find the reports that focus on the evidence, rather than mere words of the accuser.

Meanwhile, here is a statement (PDF) from New Life Church. And here is a link to the KUSA-TV interview with Haggard.

Stay tuned.

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Katie Couric speaks her mind on modesty

Katie Couric speaks out!

“Plunging necklines and navel-bearing tops” are not appropriate for Halloween, says Couric. In her “Katie Couric’s Notebook” segment Monday night, the CBS Evening News anchor lashed out against the “$5 billion Halloween industry” for marketing “sleazy” costumes to girls. What’s interesting is that this came from an “Only On the Web” videocast. As far as I know, this segment never made it on over-the-air television.

Embedded in this post is the YouTube version of this clip. Apologies for the 15-second ad that comes before Couric’s 60-second musing. If you don’t want to watch the clip, here is the heart of Couric’s message about sleazy Halloween costumes:

Some will say these getups are a sign of women’s confidence about their bodies, but what message are we sending our girls when today’s costumes only reinforce a larger cultural message that they already see in magazines and in ads: that women get more attention by wearing less?

Couric cites the New York Times piece that tmatt blogged about Sunday as the source of her frustrations (her source could also be this NYT piece, but it’s hard to say since they are both behind the money wall).

Couric’s rebellion against the “larger cultural message” is an interesting development. I am not a regular viewer of the evening news, so I would not know if she has directed her news crew to do real news stories on this subject of female modesty. But note the target of Couric’s wrath. It’s not the individuals who dress up as sex witches, it’s those darn marketers and advertisers. Oh, and it’s also the industry’s fault.

But last time I checked, the industry and the marketers will offer what sells. And these sleazy costumes are certainly selling. And it goes beyond Halloween. So who is really at fault for what Couric says is an inappropriate cultural development? And why is this only a Halloween issue? We know you are serious about this subject, Katie, but could you get your notebook out again and do a more serious, in-depth report on what is happening to the self-image of American girls and women?

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Too correct for beers

PrestonJones2The cover copy for the November Wired invokes the giddy atheist triumphalism of John Lennon’s “Imagine”: “The New Atheism: No Heaven. No Hell. Just Science. Inside the Crusade Against Religion.”

Theistic readers of Wired may be relieved to know that contributing editor Gary Wolf’s report of 7,000 words does not deliver on the cover’s double-barreled marketing copy, especially on its promise of “Just Science.” Wolf repeatedly expresses misgivings about the certitude and belligerence of what he calls the New Atheism. (In a revealing MP3 interview on Wired‘s website, Wolf describes his beliefs as a matter of temperament: “I find that when I’m among religious people I tend to think of myself as an atheist, but among the atheists I tend to think of myself as religious.”)

Wolf devotes his first three paragraphs to comparing New Atheism with revivalist preaching:

My friends, I must ask you an important question today: Where do you stand on God?

It’s a question you may prefer not to be asked. But I’m afraid I have no choice. We find ourselves, this very autumn, three and a half centuries after the intellectual martyrdom of Galileo, caught up in a struggle of ultimate importance, when each one of us must make a commitment. It is time to declare our position.

This is the challenge posed by the New Atheists. We are called upon, we lax agnostics, we noncommittal nonbelievers, we vague deists who would be embarrassed to defend antique absurdities like the Virgin Birth or the notion that Mary rose into heaven without dying, or any other blatant myth; we are called out, we fence-sitters, and told to help exorcise this debilitating curse: the curse of faith.

Wolf profiles the three heaviest hitters of New Atheism, beginning at the most belligerent end of the spectrum (Richard Dawkins), moving to Sam Harris, then closing with Daniel Dennett, who is kind enough not to shatter children’s faith in Santa Claus:

He is a renowned philosopher, an atheist, and the possessor of a full white beard. I suspect he must have designed this Father Christmas look intentionally, but in fact it just evolved. “In the ’60s, I looked like Rasputin,” he says. Children have come up to him in airports, checking to see if he is on vacation from the North Pole. When it happens, he does not torment them with knowledge that the person they mistake him for is not real. Instead, the philosopher puts his fingers to his lips and says conspiratorially: “Shhhh.”

As Wolf talks with Dawkins and Sam Harris, and makes a Sunday pilgrimage to The Center for Inquiry West near Hollywood, he describes the social challenges of being a vocal atheist: Is it possible to be a New Atheist without becoming a nuisance to people who believe in God? We hear Dawkins equate theism with belief in a “Flying Spaghetti Monster,” which says more about Dawkins’ taste for caricature and contempt than about whether Dawkins’ atheism stands on a solid foundation of science.

Wolf performs an efficient critique of Dawkins’ notion that New Atheism is in the same place as the gay-rights movement was a few decades ago:

When atheists finally begin to gain some power, what then? Here is where Dawkins’ analogy breaks down. Gay politics is strictly civil rights: Live and let live. But the atheist movement, by his lights, has no choice but to aggressively spread the good news. Evangelism is a moral imperative. Dawkins does not merely disagree with religious myths. He disagrees with tolerating them, with cooperating in their colonization of the brains of innocent tykes.

At The Center for Inquiry West, Wolf retreats from the room when a guest speaker “starts to recite the names of atheists who may have contributed to the television program Mr. Show With Bob and David between 1995 and 1998.”

Other Wired contributors provide brief profiles of four other well-known atheists: Greg Graffin of the punk band Bad Religion (who recently collaborated with history professor Preston Jones on the book Is Belief in God Good, Bad or Irrelevant?; Penn & Teller (the latter breaks his frequent silence to deliver this battle cry: “Atheists are saying, ‘All right, we’ve had enough’”); and Warren Allen Smith, author of Who’s Who in Hell.

Wolf’s report reminds me of Al Craig, who lives in Colorado and — like Dennett — could easily pass for Santa. I met Al in the early 1990s, when I was working within the Christian subculture and found myself missing good arguments about ideas. I attended a Great Books discussion group in search of such discussions. On my first night at Great Books, Al cheerily described himself as “a former born-again” who was an agnostic bordering on an atheist. I called him later that week, and he has been one of my dearest friends ever since. Al and I have argued about faith every time we’ve spoken, repeating ourselves to the exasperation of my wife and our mutual friends, but our affection for each other has always been clear. One reason we enjoy each other so much is that we both care enough about religion to consider it worth a lively argument.

On a grander scale, G.K. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw would hold public debates about faith and then retire to the nearest bar for beers. The ideologically hardened atheism that Wolf describes does not seem to have much room for sharing beers with mere theists, which renders it less interesting, less culturally engaged and less likely to persuade many God-fearing souls to join the secular cause.

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Hollywood missionary? Oh, really?

2crouchpicThank you, thank you, to all the readers who made sure that I knew about the Los Angeles Times news feature by William Lobdell and Stuart Pfeifer about Matthew Crouch and his Gener8Xion Entertainment, which is one of the most controversial players in the emerging Contemporary Christian Cinema industry.

I saw the piece when it came out earlier this week, but it has taken me a few days to put into words what was nagging me about this story, which had one of those killer headline packages: “Deep pockets fuel his Hollywood crusade — Tax-free donations from his parents’ Trinity Broadcasting Network fund Matthew Crouch’s religion-themed movies.”

Here is a sample of the story, which uses the new film One Night With the King as its news hook:

Matthew Crouch, 44, could use a box-office hit. Of his first three movies, none has turned a profit, although his 1999 movie, an apocalyptic thriller called “The Omega Code,” is credited by some for showing Hollywood the potential of Christian-themed films, leading to such hits as “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and “The Passion of the Christ.” Crouch’s small, publicly traded company is struggling, having lost nearly $3.7 million last year, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Even so, Crouch’s ties to his parents’ cash-rich ministry — which operates the world’s largest religious broadcasting company — may help explain why he never had to take a vow of poverty. He owns a Hollywood Hills mansion. He and his wife, Laurie, have eight vehicles, including a $240,000 Bentley Arnage.

. . . In many ways, Crouch and his company, Gener8Xion Entertainment, are Hollywood anomalies. He hasn’t had to look further than his parents — with their tax-free donor base and worldwide television reach — to bankroll and market his movies. In other ways, the stereotype of a Hollywood producer fits snugly. Friends and foes describe him, by turns, as charismatic, arrogant, charming, ruthless, visionary and greedy.

The bottom line here is that some people in Hollywood are trying to take the Christian movie market seriously and Crouch is the kind of guy who, for many Hollywood players on the cultural left, symbolizes that market and its customers. The Times piece is very, very negative and makes it perfectly clear that Crouch — who did that Christian press-relations thing and refused to do an interview — has made all kinds of enemies, including some people who used to be his friends and employees.

It’s a damning picture, and the facts appear solid. There are many colorful details, including an evangelistic-movie screenwriter who was arrested not far from Hollywood “on suspicion of soliciting a child for sex over the Internet and attempted child molestation.”

Then there was Gener8Xion’s vice president of marketing, Sean Abbananto:

His prior industry experience was as an actor in several adult films, including “Erotic Fantasies III.” Abbananto, who had no marketing experience, said he was upfront about his past.

“The thing I enjoyed about Matt and Gener8Xion is that stuff didn’t bother them,” said Abbananto, who now runs a Christian ministry. “They were more interested in what you’re doing now, as opposed to what you did then.”

In a statement, TBN said that Crouch was unaware of Abbananto’s previous work.

But like I said, something about this story bothered me. Something was missing.

First of all, everything boils down to one question: Is Crouch a good choice to symbolize the traditional Christian presence in the Hollywood marketplace? Is his the right face to pin on that valid story?

EXERBS9I would say he is not typical, in lots of ways. We can see this by paying attention to who is not quoted in this Times story.

The story features secular players who distrust or detest Crouch. So be it. It also quotes a few positive people who clearly work for Crouch or are still working with him. So be it.

But there are many different Christian organizations active in Hollywood these days. There are believers who are, in fact, quite well known, and they often speak openly about film and faith. Where are the folks from Act One? Where are people from Fuller Seminary, City of the Angels Film Festival and Reel Spirituality? Where are the faculty members from Biola University, Azusa Pacific University or the Los Angeles Film Studies Center (a program linked to the Washington Journalism Center, where I teach)?

Where, for X-ample, is Ralph Winter? Where is Randall “Braveheart” Wallace? How about Scott “Exorcism of Emily Rose” Derrickson (pictured here)?

Either one of two things happened.

It could be the reporters at the Times did not know about these people and organizations, which means they accepted Crouch as a typical Christian in Hollywood without even doing a simple Google search, which would say something very bad about the newspaper’s editors. Or it could be that Times people tried to talk to folks in the Christian mainstream and these artists and scholars simply refused to be quoted in a story about Crouch. That would say a lot about Crouch.

I would love to know what happened. I’ll ask around, next time I’m on the left coast.

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Covering shallow arguments

LetterToNationHow does a reporter write a balanced profile of a guy who thinks that anyone who believes in God is an idiot and “that religion is the root of all evil”?

The ever-edgy Washington Post‘s Style section took on “Atheist Evangelist” Sam Harris in a lengthy profile Thursday that reads like a ping-pong match where one player refuses to do anything but swing as hard as he can at the ball without regard for his accuracy. The other player, who really doesn’t want to play in the first place, does his best to engage himself in the match, but his opponent continuously slams the ping-pong ball back, preventing a real match from taking place.

To say the least, I am guessing that Harris would not like the mission of GetReligion.

In reading the piece over a couple of times, I am left wondering whether Harris, the author of Letter to a Christian Nation and The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, can fashion a decent argument against religion. Which is, I guess, the point:

There are really just two possibilities for Sam Harris. Either he is right and millions of Christians, Muslims and Jews are wrong. Or Sam Harris is wrong and he is so going to hell.

This seems obvious whenever Harris opens what he calls “my big mouth,” and it is glaringly clear one recent evening at the New York Public Library, where he is debating a former priest before a packed auditorium. In less than an hour, Harris condemns the God of the Old Testament for a host of sins, including support for slavery. He drop-kicks the New Testament, likening the story of Jesus to a fairy tale. He savages the Koran, calling it “a manifesto for religious divisiveness.”

Nobody has ever accused the man of being subtle. Harris is straight out of the stun grenade school of public rhetoric, and his arguments are far more likely to offend the faithful than they are to coax them out of their faith. And he doesn’t target just the devout. Religious moderates, Harris says in his patient and imperturbable style, have immunized religion from rational discussion by nurturing the idea that faith is so personal and private that it is beyond criticism, even when horrific crimes are committed in its name.

“There is this multicultural, apologetic machinery that keeps telling us that we can’t attack people’s religious sensibility,” Harris says in an interview. “That is so wrong and so suicidal.”

sam harrisThere are few serious arguments to work with here. Part of me wonders why the Post decided to pursue this story, but there is interesting material here and Harris has an interesting life story. Then again, if Harris weren’t taking on religion, would anyone care for his shallow arguments about a subject that is rich and substantial?

One part of the piece that I felt was appropriately highlighted is Harris’ attack on religious moderates. The idea that religious moderation provides cover for extremists is in a way honest and refreshingly clear. The only thing missing was a response from another genuine atheist. (The article quotes a retired religious studies professor saying that the “country needs a sophisticated attack on religion,” and that “pushing moderates into the same camp as fanatics … seems like a very crude mistake”).

“I could have told you what is wrong with religious dogmatism on September 10th,” [Harris] says. “But after 9/11, I realized the role that religious moderation played in providing cover for fundamentalism.”

Reporter David Segal quotes various religion and theology professors on Harris’ belief system (can you call it a set of beliefs?), but near the end of the piece Segal gives us a hint of his own conclusion:

Of course, if religion were merely failed science, it would have been supplanted by real science centuries ago. But it has survived and thrived through a revolution in our understanding of the solar system as well as our bodies and our minds, which suggests that it offers something that deduction, data points and reason do not.

All in all, Segal does a solid job poking and prodding a thinker who offers little substance but plenty of style. There are obviously more significant and thoughtful atheists out there, but few can be compared to Evel Knievel.

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Quiet return of the pink elephant

PinkElephantIt isn’t news when the officially edgy Style section of The Washington Post prints a lengthy feature story that opens like this:

In October 1993, after the ban on gays in the military was replaced with a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, three Oklahoma congressmen said they wouldn’t hire an openly gay person onto their staffs. Then-Rep. Jim Inhofe (R) told the Tulsa World: “I would not appoint a gay person in that type of leadership position.”

That declaration sent a ripple of fear across a certain set on Capitol Hill. A small, bipartisan group of staffers huddled and formed the Lesbian and Gay Congressional Staff Association, which now has a confidential e-mail list of more than 200. And a frustrated aide contacted the Tulsa World and gave an anonymous interview.

I’m gay, he told the newspaper, and I’m on Inhofe’s staff.

However, for those who are watching the Washington newspaper racks closely for clues as to who is going to get blamed for GOP losses on election day, it is probably more important that The Washington Times quietly stuck a story on the bottom of page one (at least that’s where it was on the print edition delivered in the Baltimore area) that began like this:

One of the inescapable facts of the scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley is that three key people who had some of the earliest clues about the congressman’s advances toward teenage boys are, like Foley, gay.

Jim Kolbe, a Republican congressman from Arizona, received a complaint from a former page in 2001 or 2002 that Foley had sent the boy e-mails that made him uncomfortable. Jeff Trandahl, the House clerk in charge of the page program, was so concerned about Foley’s behavior several years ago that he reported it to Kirk Fordham, Foley’s chief of staff.

Kolbe, Trandahl and Fordham are openly gay. The question of who knew what, and when, has roiled the uneasy peace between the Republican Party and its cadre of gay staffers, who don’t welcome the spotlight. It also has raised the question: Were Kolbe, Fordham and Trandahl trying to downplay the Foley issue to protect a fellow gay Republican?

If you clicked on that link, you may have noted that this story was not written by reporters at Times. That is interesting, to say the least. You would expect a local byline on a story on page one on such a hot topic, especially since the Times — on its national political beats — often functions as an open window into the thinking of GOP strategerists.

Also, there are no hints that the newspaper has the document that folks in this town halfway expect to see in print before election day, which would be the alleged list of alleged gay GOP staff members that may or may not be circulating via email inside the Beltway.

In other words, the Times has not produced its own pink elephant story yet. Wait for it.

This may, in fact, be the strategery that GOP leaders have chosen — tense silence. Meanwhile, this story by Bill Adair and Wes Allison of the St. Petersburg Times does include a helpful summary of the talking points among top evangelical leaders (So this is why our social-issues agenda keeps being put on the GOP’s back burner) and gay Republican leaders (Hey, gay GOP staffers were the only people who tried to warn folks at the top about what Foley was up to with the pages).

It is hard to imagine that this story will vanish in the days ahead, especially if the goal of the people pushing it is to get cultural conservatives depressed so that they won’t turn out at the polls. Like I said, wait for it.

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Beginning, or end, of religion news?

clinton esquireI’m not sure this is quite the direction I want to see religion coverage veer in mainstream media, but I have to admit that I enjoyed The Dallas Morning News’ “Take our ‘Faith of the Famous’ quiz” feature this weekend. I also learned a few things and, I have to admit, this funny little celebrity feature does show how wacky the modern religious marketplace has become in what I call the age of Oprah America.

The piece, such as it is, was written by Los Angeles freelance writer Sarah Price Brown, who confesses — in writing — that the celebrity quiz idea was lifted from religion writer Tom Schaefer of The Wichita Eagle in Kansas.

Here is the setup:

From Hollywood stars to politicians to pro athletes, the rich and famous live their lives in plain view. But the public usually knows more about what an actress wore to the Emmys, what speaking gaffe an elected official made, or how many points a superstar scored in a game than it knows about what the prominent and powerful really think.

The famous are cultural icons, after all. They’re symbols that stand for something larger than themselves. But they’re also human, with their own thoughts and beliefs about religion, spirituality and the meaning of life. How much do you know about the faith of the famous?

The problem, of course, is that the list is full of silly but famous people and a fair share of serious but famous people, and it is very hard to read the quotations featured in the test and then figure out who said or did not say what. Consider this frightening example:

“I don’t have to worry about what people think of me, whether they hate me or not. People hated on Jesus. They threw stones at him and tried to kill him, so how can I complain or worry about what people think?”

Karl Rove
Tom Cruise
Terrell Owens
Snoop Dogg

And all the people said: “Whoa.”

Or how about this one?

“Probably because of my failings and mistakes in life I’m a much bigger believer in redemption. … I’m much more of a believer in a loving God, a personal God. I’m much less inclined in every way to believe in a vengeful God.”

Robert Downey Jr.
Willie Nelson
John McCain
Bill Clinton

Check it out. Has anyone seen any other novelty features of this kind featued in the news pages of a major newspaper or magazine?

Personal note: No way that I’m telling anyone my score on this confounded thing.

Personal No. 2: I will happily change the photo, if it offends. It is interesting that the old St. Bill image drew such a strong response, since I think we have run it in the past. I found it with a simple Google search for “Clinton” and “saint.”

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Filling that gods-shaped hole

Christus statue temple square salt lake cityAs we slide closer and closer to election day, some political reporters are looking ahead to 2008 and the status of “value voters” and the evangelical vote.

This keeps leading people to Mitt Romney, of course, and the M word.

But reporters are still afraid to talk about the real issues here. They keep pointing at the wrong doctrines. Here’s a Los Angeles Times story from earlier in the week that shows what I mean.

So, reporter Elizabeth Mehren, why are evangelicals so worried about Romney’s faith? Here is a scene on the non-campaign trail in Iowa:

… Romney faces a potential obstacle that has not confronted a presidential hopeful for almost 50 years. As a devout Mormon — and a onetime bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — Romney adheres to a faith that makes many Americans uncomfortable. Not since John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, sought the White House in 1960 has the religion of a potential president been an issue. A recent Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll found that most religious barriers to high office had crumbled, but that 35% of Americans would not vote for a Mormon president.

. . . Since he announced in December that he would not seek a second term as governor, Romney has campaigned in key primary states — steadfastly decreeing that his faith was a private matter. He deflects most inquiries by stating that Jesus Christ is his savior. A favorite Romney quip is that in his church, “marriage is between a man and a woman and a woman and a woman.”

This laugh line, and his reluctance to delve deeper into his beliefs, only add to the mystery of a faith that many Americans associate with polygamy — although that practice has long been outlawed by the church — and with customs such as marrying people after they have died and converting the dead.

I have heard lots of traditional Christians discuss this issue and I have never heard anyone discuss polygamy. Maybe it’s the crowd I run with, people who’ve read a lot of religious history, but what I hear people talking about is the very nature of God in Mormon theology.

They are worried about a P word, but it’s not polygamy. It’s polytheism. (Click here for a flashback to my own interviews with top Mormon leaders on this topic.) The P word then leads to the big concept that the press is going to have to face — the E word.

That word is “exaltation,” and its concept that what man now is, the God of this creation once was. Thus, there are many worlds, creations or spheres that have their own gods (and the gods have many wives) who are humans who have evolved to divinity. Click here for a typical evangelical Protestant discussion of this conflict.

That’s going to be a tough one to handle in a press conference when it comes up. Romney needs to open that question up on his own turf, on this own terms and, to use that old Washington phrase, “hang a lantern on his problem.”

Mehren almost gets to this issue, via an itnerview with the Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals. Sure enough, he uses the word “cult” in a doctrinal sense of the word.

“We evangelicals view Mormons as a Christian cult group. A cult group is a group that claims exclusive revelation. And typically, it’s hard to get out of these cult groups. And so Mormonism qualifies as that.” In addition, Haggard said, evangelicals do not accept Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith as a prophet. “And we do not believe that the Book of Mormon has the same level of authority as the Bible,” he said.

When Romney says that he accepts Jesus Christ as his savior, “we appreciate that,” Haggard said. “But very often when people like Mormons use terms that we also use, there are different meanings in the theology behind those terms.”

And there you have it. Mormons and traditional Christians are often using the same words, with different definitions. And then there is the big divide and that is the word “exaltation.” Mehren’s story is better than most I have seen on this topic so far, but it still has a gods-shaped hole in it.

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