ABC Examines Mormonism; Sawyer Can't Let Huckabee Comment Go

Diane Sawyer and other "Good Morning America" journalists offered a surprisingly substantive look into religion on Thursday's edition of the ABC program. The show featured a three part, 12 minute-plus series of segments on Mitt Romney, Mormonism and his faith's relationship with evangelical voters.

The discussion wasn't perfect, certainly. GMA co-host Diane Sawyer simply couldn't let go of her discomfort in regards to Mike Huckabee's use of the phrase "Christian leader" in a recent Iowa campaign ad. On November 27, she wondered if the spot might have "crossed a line" and called it "heavy-handed." On Thursday's program, while talking to the Southern Baptist Convention's Dr. Richard Land, Sawyer pointedly noted that "many people thought [the ad's point] was unmistakable, what he was doing. Do you think that was fair?"

On balance, however, ABC and "Good Morning America" should be commended for providing viewers with a serious look at religious and spiritual issues. In the second segment, reporter Dan Harris discussed "Mormonism 101" and went over five questions that Americans may have about the faith. Among the topics mentioned where the background of Joseph Smith, the fact that some evangelicals don't consider Mormonism part of Christianity and polygamy. (Harris pointed out that the Mormon church banned the practice in 1890.) Sawyer interviewed Dr. Land, plus talk show host and frequent GMA guest Glenn Beck, a Mormon, about how evangelicals view the faith. Getting into specifics, she asked Beck whether Mormons believe that the Bible itself is incomplete without the Book of Mormon.

A transcript of the three segments, which began at 7:18am on December 6, follows:

7:18

ROBIN ROBERTS: But we first want to tell you about the stakes being very high this morning for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who is preparing to deliver a major address about the Mormon faith tonight. The big question, will he be able to ease voter concerns about his religion? John Berman is in Texas and has a look ahead to tonight's big speech. Good morning, John.

JOHN BERMAN: Good morning, Robin. The Romney campaign is setting the bar very, very high here. They released photos of Governor Romney practicing the speech, much like the President does for the State of the Union address. They say he wants to do nothing less than elevate the level of debate about religion and politics in this country. They say he will discuss the role of faith in God and society and he will say that both faith and God have a role in government but he says he will not be bound by his Mormon religion. He says in the speech, "When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office that oath becomes my highest promise to God. If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A president must only serve the common cause of the people of the United States." Now if people are looking for him to explain the specific doctrines of his faith, the Mormon religion, they will be disappointed. He says he will not explain or discuss them. He says no candidate should have to be a spokesman for his religion. Robin?

ROBERTS: All right John, thank you very much. A lot of people eager to hear what he will say, Mitt Romney, later this morning in his speech.

DIANE SAWYER: That's right. And we'll have more in our next half hour. Evangelicals versus Mormons. What about this debate? Is it real? We're going to join it, coming up next.

7:36am

ROBERTS: Now to more on Governor Romney's speech later today where he will address his Mormon faith. Just last night, we learned that the co-chair of Senator Fred Thompson's campaign in South Carolina called the very doctrines of Mormonism, quote, "very unusual to the point that they're almost unbelievable." So what is it about this religion that raises so many questions? Dan Harris, you've been really looking into this, Dan.

ABC GRAPHIC: Mormon 101: 5 Big Questions

DAN HARRIS: Yeah, it's a fascinating story. Good morning, Robin. Mormonism was born right here in America. And it's now one of the planet's fastest growing Americans. But many Americans don't know much about Mormonism. So, this morning, we're going to answer five very common questions. First, who was Joseph Smith? He was the founder of Mormonism. At age 14, in 1820, he claimed that God and Jesus visited him near his home in upstate new York. Smith claimed he was restoring the true church of Jesus Christ, a claim that angered a lot of Christians. He was killed by an angry mob. Which leads to the next question, are Mormons Christian? Mormons argue emphatically yes. But there are real differences. Mormons, for example, believe the book of Mormon, which Joseph Smith claims to have translated from golden plates he found near his home is equally as holy as the new and Old Testaments. They also believe God is a man of flesh and bone and has a wife. And Mormons believe Jesus will return not only to Jerusalem, but also to Missouri. I've met evangelical Christians who travel from around the country to Utah, specifically to convert Mormons.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Your Jesus is the brother of Lucifer. He cannot save you.

HARRIS: Why do you come?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I love Mormons. I want, I want to see them have forgiveness of sins like I do.

HARRIS: And what's at stake?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Their eternal soul, their eternal, eternal salvation.

HARRIS: How do Mormons treat minorities and women? Until 1978, black men were not allowed to join the priesthood. And women are still not allowed to do so. Why don't Mormons drink alcohol or coffee. They don't believe in artificial stimulants. Mormons are believers in clean living. When we went to an official church event recently, we were asked to sign this paper promising not to smoke or drink on church premises. Finally, perhaps the most common question about Mormons is do they practice polygamy? Many Americans are familiar with the polygamists on HBO's "Big Love." But the people who engage in plural marriages these days are generally members of Mormon splinter groups. The main-line Mormon church outlawed polygamy in 1890. In fact, the Mormon church has gone through an extraordinary transformation since its early days as, essentially, a renegade religion. Today, it is very much in the mainstream. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which many of us have heard of, performs at presidential inaugurations. There are Mormons in Congress and plenty of Mormon celebrities like Gladys Knight and Donny and Marie Osmond, just to name a few.

ROBERTS: Osmond family. Exactly right. And still so many questions surrounding this. And people want to know, of course with Governor Romney. Thank you, Dan, so much. And up next, how important is Mitt Romney's faith to his presidential campaign? Does, does it matter at all? We'll have a provocative discussion straight ahead. Come on back.

7:43

DIANE SAWYER: As we said earlier, Mitt Romney is tackling this morning questions of religion and politics. And we're going to tell you a little bit of what he is saying this morning. He is saying, "If I am fortunate enough to become your president, I will serve no one religion no one group, no one cause, no one interest. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. Any person who has knelt in prayer to the almighty has a friend and ally in me." And, of course, governor Mitt Romney is a Mormon. And this is considered a make or break speech. Particularly in Iowa, where there is a lot of skeptical and voting evangelicals. Well, to talk about this, joining us now two men who will be in the audience during Romney's speech, president of the Ethics and Religious Community of the Southern Baptist Convention, Richard Land. Good morning to you.

DR. RICHARD LAND (Southern Baptist Convention): Good morning.

SAWYER: And also somebody familiar to all of su, syndicated radio host, author of a new book, "An Inconvenient Book," and a Mormon himself, Glenn Beck. And good morning to you.

GLENN BECK: Good morning, Diane.

SAWYER: Alright. First question to the two of you. As we know there are polls that show a quarter to a third of Americans say, say, admit they are troubled by something about Mormons and 25 percent of Americans, 36 percent of evangelicals, say they will not vote for a Mormon to be in the White House. This is my question to you and I'll start with you, Dr. Land. Is he changing? Does Mitt Romney changing [sic] with these words the way these people are going to feel?

LAND: I think he'll change some minds. I've been encouraging the governor for over a year to give a speech about this issue. And to try to do what John Kennedy did in 1960. John Kennedy came to Houston and gave a magnificent speech in which he said I'm not the Catholic candidate for president, I'm the Democratic Party's candidate for president. And he said what should be important is the vision I believe in for America, not my faith. I think that the governor needs to give a speech in which he can close this deal for many, many, many people. I don't think that his Mormonism is a deal breaker for most Americans. But only Mitt Romney can close the deal in the same way that Senator Kennedy was the only one that could close the deal.

SAWYER: But, Dr. Land, let me ask you a yes or no question. Do you consider Mormons Christians?

LAND: No, I do not. I think if you look at their doctrine of God the Father, and their doctrine of God the Son, their doctrines and covenants, which is one of their sacred texts, says, as man now is, God once was, and as God now is, man may become. Catholicism, eastern Orthodoxy. No historic Christian faith would say that about God the Father.

SAWYER: Okay, let me bring in-- Glenn Beck, is the speech today going to get it done? And you respond.

BECK: Well, first of all, let me just say to Richard, I love you, but, Richard, Jesus and I are going to be having a couple conversations today because Jesus is my savior and I happen to be Mormon. But with that being said, when the media decides they're going to ask Orrin Hatch or they're going to ask Harry Reid about their religion, and what role it's going to play, you let me know. This is the biggest non-issue I've ever heard. First of all, why are we going to a candidate and asking about religion? Who cares? If you really -- America, you really want to know about Mormons? Believe me, ask a Mormon. You won't be able to shut 'em up about it. Seriously. They'll send the bikes and everything else.

SAWYER: Well-- But let me ask you, Glenn -- just tackle this with Americans out there asking some of these things that you hear about. Okay, Jesus will come back, but come back to Missouri, that Mormons believe in -- you can tackle all this -- that Mormons believe that Mormon, that the Latter Day Saints are the true church and the Book of Mormon really is the completed version of the Bible. What about all this?

BECK: Here's -- Diane, here's -- I mean, here we go in 40 seconds. I'm not the defender of the faith by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm a relatively intelligent man. First of all, the pilgrims came here because they thought New Jerusalem was going to be set up in America. Read their own diaries. The other is -- well, I'm sorry, the other one was --?

SAWYER: The question of the completed Bible is the Book of Mormon, that the Bible's not complete?

BECK: Yeah, if you look at the way the Bible was put together it has been edited over and over and over again. It doesn't mean that it is not -- it is not, itself, the word of God. We absolutely believe it's the word of God. Here's what -- here's the way -- Mormons believe on other faiths. And I think we should all kind of adopt this kind of a view. We all have puzzle pieces. And if everybody would stop guarding their one puzzle piece and say this is the only true picture, we would be a lot better off. Because we'd be able to look at each other's pictures and see how they fit together and say, oh, my gosh, what a full, rich picture of, of God.

SAWYER: Dr. Land, one final comment from you. As we know Governor Mike Huckabee had an ad out in Iowa in which you saw across the screen "Christian leader" and many people thought that was unmistakable, what he was doing. Do you think that was fair?

LAND: Well, look, Governor Huckabee can answer for himself. But I think it's important for us to note that we're voting for a commander in chief, not a pastor in chief. And I don't think that a presidential candidate's faith should be an issue unless he chooses to make it an issue. And if I were governor Romney, I would make the same kind of statement that Senator Kennedy made when he was running for president. I am not the Mormon candidate for president. I hope to be the Republican Party's candidate for president. Judge me on my record. Judge me on the issues.

SAWYER: I got to stop you here. Come back, do more, want to talk about this!

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org