On Wednesday, Mike Huckabee apologized to fellow presidential candidate Mitt Romney for having asked a New York Times reporter, “Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the Devil are brothers?” The former Southern Baptist pastor also said that he “thinks” Mormonism is a religion but doesn’t know much about it. How much did Huckabee learn about the Mormons in seminary?
It depends on which classes he took. When Huckabee was at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in the mid-1970s, Mormon theology was probably taught alongside that of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in a course on cults and sects. It might also have been a small part of a survey course focused either on comparative religions or missions. But Huckabee didn’t have the opportunity to take a lot of classes—he left his seminary after a year to work for televangelist James Robison, and then became a full-time pastor five years later.
Today, Southern Baptist pastors tend to be most familiar with the religions of competing parishes. In Virginia, this would include Presbyterian and Episcopalian faiths, and in the West, Mormonism. Thirty-five years ago, a pastor who didn’t learn about Mormonism in seminary might have gotten some information from the Southern Baptist Convention, which put out material on how to deal with sects and cults. Evangelicals had grown concerned with the spread of Mormonism in the 1960s and 1970s, as figures such as George Romney, governor of Michigan and Mitt Romney’s father, gained prominence. In response, some religious leaders began highlighting the differences between Mormons and evangelicals, and inserting anti-Mormon rhetoric into sermons and denominational presentations.
Bonus Explainer: How did Huckabee become a pastor if he spent only a year at seminary? You don’t need a master’s in divinity, or even ordination, to serve as a pastor in the Southern Baptist faith. Some scholars estimate that at least half of all Baptist pastors don’t have a formal theological education. (This is partly related to the denomination’s heavy emphasis on biblical authority and personal experience.) Each Southern Baptist church is autonomous and picks its own pastor. A committee of lay leaders will review résumés, listen to candidates preach at other churches, and then invite the final choice to meet the congregation and deliver a sermon “in view of a call” to serve. (Black congregations may invite more than one person to this final round.) Church members elect the pastor they like best.
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Explainer thanks R. Alan Culpepper of Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology, Gary Ledbetter of Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, Bill Leonard of Wake Forest University Divinity School, and Glenn Miller of Bangor Theological Seminary.