One good thing happened in the Republican primary recently, and it's not that Sarah Palin was put permanently out to pasture. I'm calling this weekend the end of the Mormon wars. Mitt's been accused of belonging to a non-Christian cult. I don't think it will stick anymore.
In terms of the religious landscape in the US, the charge that Mormonism is a cult says much more about the accusers than about Mormonism (it's not a cult, in the academic sense of the term). For my readers, you should note that most of the folks who call Mormonism a "cult" make the same charge against Roman Catholics. It means "not-us."
Are Mormons Christians? Mormons claim a revelation that is largely based upon, but also does claim in part to surpass, the revelation of God in Christ. What is of interest is that the story of Joseph Smith is tightly lashed to the wilderness narrative characteristic of the early days of the United States. In this sense it is an example of a riff on Christian belief that takes this "new country" as a visionary starting point.
Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich weighed in on the "is Mitt Christian" question on Face the Nation this morning. Gingrich seemed to think Mitt fell under the Christian umbrella, Cain was trying hard to be inclusive in tone, but non-committal on the question. In my book, Mormonism is non-standard, a variant form of Christianity. Cain's demurral this morning -- he's usually way out on a limb -- is fair enough.
Does it matter? For the purposes of his proposed leadership of this country, the differences between Romney's Mormonism and the Christian mainstream are about as important as the question of whether Jesus had brothers and sisters or not -- a real issue, for some, but one with zero impact on public policy. Romney's been in public life for years, and it seems that the notion that his faith informs a broad social conservatism that would be very similar to mainstream Republicans has been a consistent theme. As would be the case with most religions, there are Mormons and there are Mormons. Religions all have wacky currents, but the thing about Romney is that he is, above all, genetically non-wacky.
I'm not a Romney fan. What I do admire, though, is that he has brought to the discussion a pretty cool head in handling the religion question, which could be a real service -- a reset point? -- for the Republican party. He neither apologizes nor dwells on the mud being thrown. The arguments against his candidacy based on religion are bunk and will increasingly, one can hope, marginalize those who mount them.
Does Mitt Romney secretly wear funny Morman underwear? Could it be any stranger than the "mainstream" thongs -- huh, guess that makes them Christian -- in Victoria's not-so-secret display at the mall?
Bedtime reading: Andrew Sullivan draws attention to a piece in Salon by Alan Lightman, on the question of God in an age of scientific method. It is a response to Dawkins and friends, and makes several helpful distinctions.