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On eve of ‘Justice Sunday,’ Mohler stands by comments after criticism from U.S. senator

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Illustrating that an April 24 gathering of religious conservatives is drawing national attention, Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar is asking James Dobson to distance himself from seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr. for calling the Roman Catholic church a “false church.”

Dobson and Mohler, though, are saying it should not be surprising that Catholics and evangelicals disagree on theological issues in light of the Protestant Reformation more than four centuries ago. But Dobson and Mohler note that Catholics and evangelicals agree on a host of cultural issues.

The exchange comes two days before Christian conservatives gather at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., for “Justice Sunday” — a rally in which conservatives will call on the Senate to end the filibustering of President Bush’s judicial nominees. The rally will be shown to churches nationwide via the Internet and Christian television. Dobson, Mohler, Charles Colson, Tony Perkins and retired Judge Charles Pickering are scheduled to speak. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist will deliver a taped message.

The rally is being held as Republicans in the Senate gear up for a possible rule change that would stop judicial filibusters with a simple majority vote.

Pro-family leaders charge that the judicial filibusters have targeted people of faith and have been anti-Catholic. Salazar and other Democrats have hotly disputed that assertion, and Salazar himself sent a letter April 21 to Focus on the Family’s Dobson.

“I have not encountered any feelings of anti-Catholicism from any of my fellow Senators on either side of the aisle,” Salazar, a Catholic, wrote. “… In contrast, I understand you are helping lead the effort on a national telecast against Democrats in the United States Senate with Dr. Al Mohler, among others. In March of 2000, Dr. Mohler said, ‘I believe that the Roman church is a false church and it teaches a false gospel. And indeed, I believe that the pope himself holds a false and unbiblical office.'”

Salazar called on Dobson to “repudiate” Mohler’s comments and to distance himself from those who “serve to divide the world’s Christian churches against one another.” At a news conference Salazar also called Focus on the Family’s tactics “un-Christian.” Focus has run advertisements pressuring senators — including Salazar — to stop filibustering nominees.

In response to Salazar’s letter, Dobson released a statement calling Mohler a “valued member” of Focus on the Family’s board of directors.

“It certainly shouldn’t come as a surprise that Protestants and Catholics have significant theological differences that date back to the Reformation,” Dobson said. “However, it should also be clear that Focus has expressed deep appreciation to the Catholic church for its unwavering defense of the sanctity of human life, the institution of traditional marriage, and other fundamental moral issues, and that we will continue to do so. That hardly qualifies us as ‘an un-Christian movement’ that would ‘defend immorality,’ as you alleged in your news conference.”

In a statement April 22 Mohler said his views mirror the facts of church history. Mohler serves as president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

“My statements reflect nothing more than classic evangelical theology,” Mohler said. “Anyone who is shocked that evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics disagree on fundamental theological doctrines is simply unaware of four centuries-plus of church history. I can’t really believe that Senator Salazar is completely ignorant of the fact that evangelicals and Roman Catholics hold such disagreements.

“Not only do evangelicals hold concerns about the Roman Catholic Church, but the Roman Catholic Church, even in writings by the newly elected Pope Benedict XVI, make the same point clear from the other side.”

Mohler added that he and millions of other evangelicals agree with the Catholic Church on issues such as abortion, euthanasia and the integrity of marriage.

“The real anti-Catholicism at stake here is the use of code language by senators who oppose President Bush’s nominees,” Mohler said. “When former Alabama Attorney General William Pryor is opposed because of his ‘deeply held personal beliefs,’ that is authentic anti-Catholicism. Mr. Pryor simply believes what his church teaches — something that assuredly cannot be said of several liberal U.S. senators. Sen. Salazar’s statements about me are evidence of political panic. His ‘divide-and-conquer’ tactic will not succeed. His claims are evidence of either gross manipulation or abysmal ignorance. Only he knows which is the case.”

The Justice Sunday rally will begin at 7 p.m. Eastern and is scheduled to be broadcast live on SkyAngel and on tape-delay on FamilyNet (at 8 p.m. Eastern). It also is scheduled to be broadcast on the Salem Radio Network. It can be viewed live on the Internet by registering for free at www.frc.org. By registering individuals also can learn of radio stations and churches in their area carrying the simulcast.

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust