Although they've had any number of opportunities to do so, Mike Huckabee and his wife, Janet, haven't exactly tried to withdraw Mitt Romney's Mormonism as a wedge between the former Massachusetts governor and the GOP's evangelical base. Asked earlier this month whether he thinks Mormonism is a cult, Huckabee said: "I'm just not going to go off evaluating other people's doctrines or faith." Asked a few days later whether Mormons are Christians, the candidate's wife said: "You're going to have to ask them about that."
It has been a sort of passive-aggressive ploy so far. But in an interview set to run in the New York Times Sunday, Huckabee dumps the passive part. Asked again whether he views Mormonism as a religion or a cult, Huckabee says, "I think it's a religion. I really don't know much about it." Then he asks: "Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?"
A spokeswoman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints tells the Associated Press that the question Huckabee posed is usually raised by those who wish to smear the Mormon faith rather than clarify doctrine. And indeed, a Google search on the subject shows the devil-as-Jesus'-brother claim to be a staple of attacks on Mormonism by those who view it as something other than Christianity.
That having been said, the question -- whatever the merits of asking it -- isn't exactly unfounded. The June 1986 edition of Ensign, the "official magazine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," explained the answer this way: "On first hearing, the doctrine that Lucifer and our Lord, Jesus Christ, are brothers may seem surprising to some -- especially to those unacquainted with latter-day revelations. But both the scriptures and the prophets affirm that Jesus Christ and Lucifer are indeed offspring of our Heavenly Father and, therefore, spirit brothers. Jesus Christ was with the Father from the beginning. Lucifer, too, was an angel 'who was in authority in the presence of God,' a 'son of the morning' ... Jesus was Lucifer's older brother."
In the Mormons' view, Ensign explained, Jesus "sustained" God's plan for salvation "and his part in it, giving the glory to God, to whom it properly belonged. Lucifer, on the other hand, sought power, honor, and glory only for himself ... When his modification of the Father's plan was rejected, he rebelled against God and was subsequently cast out of heaven with those who had sided with him ... We can only imagine the sorrow of our Heavenly Father as he watched a loved son incite and lead a rebellion and lose his opportunity for exaltation. But we can also imagine the Father's love and rejoicing as he welcomed back the beloved son who had valiantly and perfectly fought the battles of life and brought about the great Atonement through his suffering and death."
What we're imagining: A debate in which the two leading GOP presidential contenders go at it over whether Jesus and the devil are brothers, whether Adam and Eve were real people and whether women should "graciously submit" to their husbands. If Romney really believes that "freedom requires religion," and if Huckabee's faith actually "drives" his decisions, it just could be the most important debate of the year.
Update from the Improbable Explanation Department: The Huckabee campaign says that the "full context" of Huckabee's exchange with the Times "makes it clear that Gov. Huckabee was illustrating his unwillingness to answer questions about Mormonism and to avoid addressing theological questions during this campaign."