Sharron Angle's penchant for oddball comments and questionable assertions (see her latest
on the alleged threat in the U.S. posed by Islamic law) has already caused enough problems in her close-fought bid to take Democrat Harry Reid's Nevada Senate seat.
But now explosive statements about Mormons by Angle's longtime pastor are causing the Republican candidate and Tea Party champion more headaches as her campaign enters the home stretch.
Pastor John Reed of Sonrise Church in Reno, a non-denominational, evangelical-style church where Angle was an active member for many years, calls Mormonism a "cult" and Reid, the majority leader and a Mormon, "a powerful person in a cult" whose position should "alarm" people.
Nevada has the fourth-highest concentration of Mormons of any state, with 7 percent of the population, and Mormons and their GOP-leaning social conservatism are sure to be crucial to an Angle victory.
The sentiments expressed by Reed may also portend complications for Mitt Romney, who is also a Mormon
, should he pursue the 2012 Republican nomination, as expected. Apart from Glenn Beck, who has found greater acceptance among conservative Christians than probably any other Mormon (though few realize
he is Mormon), Mormons often face suspicion for their beliefs.
Reed's comments -- published on Thursday in an interview
with columnist Dennis Myers of the Reno News & Review -- reflected the more explicit form of that Christian suspicion, as Reed said Mormonism has "kooky" beliefs and that the church employs hit squads to "kill" lapsed members.
Reed also compared Angle to Snow White: "There's no dirt," and added: "The dirt's on Harry Reid, you know -- the whole Mormon thing. I could tell you the junk about Mormonism and the weird things that go on."
Reed also said this of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), the formal name for the Mormons:
"The Christian community -- all the Christians, theologians and scholars, all recognize that, that Mormonism is a cult," Reed continued. "I have books in my library on cults, and it lists Mormonism right there with all these bizarre cults. Well, there must be a reason. I mean, here a member of a cult is one of the most powerful people in the United States. Doesn't that alarm you?"
"And his allegiance is to Salt Lake City. Something is up with that. Something's weird. But nobody touches that...Harry Reid's allegiance is to Salt Lake City."
"The Mormon church is rich, powerful, they do illegal things. They do secretive things. They've got all this money. They own American businesses. There's weirdness going on there. Churches are not multimillionaire organizations like the Mormon church. You know, there's some weirdness with that, but nobody questions it, nobody asks one question to Harry Reid and says, 'Tell us about your faith. What does a Mormon believe?' Ask him about the holy garments that he wears that protect him from evil. Isn't that kooky? Ask him about getting his body parts anointed by oil. Isn't that kooky? Ask him about when he goes to the temple and he gets baptized for dead people. Isn't that kooky? Ask him about the hit squad of the Mormon church and why they need people to kill Mormons that go against them. Isn't that controlling? Ask him how they shun people, then they get their family members to disown them and divorce them if they dare leave the Mormon church. Isn't that cultish?"
"I mean, I could go on and on. The Mormon church is a cult, and Harry Reid is a powerful person in a cult, and nobody even questions it."
In a follow-up interview
with The Associated Press, Reed stood by his comments:
"What I am saying is what most Christians believe and know," he told the AP. Many Christians note that Mormonism, which was founded by Joseph Smith in 1830 and has its headquarters in Salt Lake City, is outside mainstream Christianity
because it rejects the classic doctrine of the Trinity and has its own sacred texts and views on the afterlife.
Harry Reid's campaign naturally jumped on the pastor's comments. "These disturbing and hateful expressions of extreme religious bigotry from Sharron Angle's spiritual adviser should alarm any Nevadan that believes in religious freedom and the separation of church and state," said Reid campaign spokesman Kelly Steele.
And Angle's campaign quickly sought to limit the damage. "As a Christian, Sharron shares the same values with other active Christians, including those of the Latter-day Saints community. Sharron has the utmost respect for followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and she strongly disavows any disparaging remarks against them," said Angle spokesman Jarrod Agen.
Her campaign also distanced herself from Sonrise Church and Pastor Reed, saying she had not been a member for more than six years.
But up to this year, Angle listed Sonrise as her church on her website, and Pastor Reed said Angle sang in a contemporary Christian band at the church. She taught Sunday school for more than a decade until her husband urged her to switch to a different church earlier this year where he could hold a more prominent volunteer position, he said.
"She asked if she could come back and visit," Reed said. "She was very sad to leave us."
Angle now attends Fellowship Community Church in Reno, another conservative
, evangelical church where Sharron and her husband, Ted, are listed as one of the couples who host a weekly home Bible study group. Ted Angle is also listed as a deacon
Whether the latest controversy will turn out to be Angle's version of Barack Obama's Jeremiah Wright problem remains to be seen.
The furor could also conceivably help Angle, since surveys show
that Americans are less likely to vote for Mormon candidates than any other groups except for Muslims and atheists. And Republican evangelicals are less likely than any other group to say they would support a Mormon. So maybe Angle will find the issue rallies her base.