A prominent evangelical Christian leader took a strong public position Sunday in opposition to fellow evangelicals who recently attacked Mitt Romney for his membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which they called a “cult” and “non-Christian.”

Writing on CNN’s Belief BlogRichard J. Mouw, president of the Fuller Theological Seminary, says he “begs to differ” with those who say that “to cast a vote for (Romney) is to promote the cause of a cult.”

“We evangelicals and our Mormon counterparts disagree about some important theological questions,” Mouw continued.  “But we have also found that on some matters we are not as far apart as we thought we were.”

Mouw has studied cults and taught about them.  He said their hallmarks include a distaste for engaging in “serious, respectful, give-and-take dialogue with people with whom they disagree.”  They also do not promote scholarship.

“But Brigham Young University is a world-class educational institution, with professors who’ve earned doctorates from some of the best universities in the world,” Mouw continued.  “Several of the top leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have PhDs from Ivy League schools.  These folks talk admiringly of the evangelical Billy Graham and the Catholic Mother Teresa, and they enjoy reading the evangelical C.S. Lewis and Father Henri Nouwen, a Catholic.  That is not the kind of thing you run into in anti-Christian cults.”

“While I am not prepared to reclassify Mormonism as possessing undeniably Christian theology,” he continued, “I do accept many of my Mormon friends as genuine followers of the Jesus whom I worship as the divine Savior.”

Mouw has been noted for preaching Christian civility in public discourse, and is the author of “Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World.“  He speaks with conviction of the need for dialogue and discussion instead of rhetoric and name-calling.

“Those of us who have made the effort to engage Mormons in friendly and sustained give-and-take conversations have come to see them as good citizens whose life of faith often exhibits qualities that are worthy of the Christian label, even as we continue to engage in friendly arguments with them about crucial theological issues,” Mouw concluded.  “Mitt Romney deserves what every politician running for office deserves: a careful examination of his views on policy and his philosophy of government. But he does not deserve to be labeled a cultist.”

_______________________________________________

For the past twelve years, a group of Evangelical scholars has been meeting regularly with their LDS counterparts to discuss topics that have long divided Mormons and traditional Christians.  This dialogue has been led by Richard Mouw of Fuller Theological Seminary and Robert Millet of Brigham Young University.

In the following video, Richard Mouw updates a gathering of evangelical churchmen and their Mormon guests on the progress of that dialogue.  My LDS readers in particular will find the words and manner of this fine Christian gentleman truly refreshing.  Notice also the gracious and gentlemanly manner of the minister who welcomes the audience and introduces the program.

Richard Mouw broke ranks with other evangelical Christians when, in 2004, he participated in “An Evening of Friendship” at the Salt Lake Tabernacle.  The meeting was attended by a capacity crowd of evangelicals and Latter-day Saints who heard a powerful sermon on the divinity of Jesus Christ by internationally acclaimed Christian philosopher Ravi Zacharias.  But in a brief introductory address, Mouw observed that “friendship has not come easily between (evangelical Christians and Latter-day Saints)” and offered a candid apology for evangelicals who “have often misrepresented the faith and beliefs of the Latter-day Saints.”

Mouw was subsequently criticized and even condemned by some evangelicals for his conciliatory message and for participating in an ongoing dialogue with Mormon leaders.

For 12 years, Mouw and BYU Professor Robert Millet have co-chaired a private dialogue of about 25 evangelicals and LDS scholars, exploring a variety of “key theological issues” between the two groups.