We all do it -- we say things we probably shouldn't and do so out of ignorance. I know I do it -- I'm as guilty as the next person. So, I do have some empathy for Mike Huckabee's little blunder -- when he suggested he doesn't know much about the Mormonism of his key rival in Iowa -- Mitt Romney. But you still have to wonder about his question: "Don't they believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?" Gov/Rev Mike has since apologized for the remark, but you do have to wonder if the way it was posed didn't have just a bit of malice to it. I mean Jesus and the devil as brothers?
But this question whether meant pejoratively or not is symptomatic of a general lack of understanding of other faith traditions. Actually Stephen Prothero has suggested that believers don't know much about their own faiths, so it's no wonder they know little about others.
Mormonism is an enigmatic religion that leaves most Americans bewildered by seemingly odd practices (some of which are no longer countenanced -- like polygamy). The seeming secrecy of their Temple rites also adds to the mystery. Like I've said before in this blog, Mormon doctrines hold no attraction to me -- but it would be helpful to speak knowledgeably if one is to speak. And the reality is that whatever you make of their unique doctrines, Mormons are not a threat to the integrity of the American way of life. Indeed, I don't think that if Mitt Romney were to become President that this would lead to an influx of Americans into the LDS church -- any more so than Kennedy's Catholicism or Carter's Baptist faith.
I must commend Laurie Goodstein for a nice succinct NY Times article that lays out some of these distinctive beliefs. She lays them out in a way that is not condescending or judgmental -- but in doing so, she encourages us to check things out before we speak (good advice I need to heed)
And if you're interested -- I still think that Jan Shipp's Mormonism (University of Illinois Press) is still the best introduction to the Mormon church and faith.