The controversy first flared on October 7th when the Reno News and Review published an interview with Pastor John Reed of Sonrise Church in Reno. Sharron Angle had listed Sonrise Church as her church in her legislative bio while serving in the state legislature, so it is understandable why her opinion would be of interest. During the News and Review interview with Pastor Reed, he held forth on a number of religious issues. But then Pastor Reed started excluding the views of some Christians or Christian faiths from legitimacy, including Mormonism (broken into two paragraphs to improve readability):
“His [Senator Reid's] religion’s a cult,” Pastor Reed said. “The Christian community—all the Christians, theologians and scholars, all recognize that, that Mormonism is a cult. 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 multi-millionaire 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.” He suggested Reid has made secret promises to the LDS church.
Since an estimated seven percent of Nevada residents are Mormons, the Angle campaign reacted quickly. On October 7th, Angle spokesman Jarrod Agen issued a statement. "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. Sharron has not been a member of this other church for over six years, and her former pastor in no way speaks for Sharron. Sharron believes that all citizens have a right to worship freely and practice their faith without persecution, discrimination and ridicule", wrote Agen in a statement.
However, Pastor Reed partially rebutted Agen's statement, saying that Angle had been a member of his church for over a dozen years, and for the past year had also held membership in the Fellowship Community Church in Reno. Pastor Reed also confirmed that he was quoted accurately in the article and stood by his statements about the Mormon religion. The pastor said he was surprised that Angle, whom he described as the perfect candidate, was attempting to distance herself from him and his statements about the LDS church. Fox News reports that the main reason Angle switched to the Fellowship Community Church was at the behest of her husband, who wanted to attend a church where he could hold a more prominent volunteer position.
Harry Reid's campaign said they would not accept a "canned non-responsive statement" and demanded that Angle directly respond to her former 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. Even the Anti-Defamation League got involved, calling Pastor Reed’s remarks "bigoted" and characterizing them as an affront to the Mormon faith and the broader community.
Finally, on October 11th, Sharron Angle personally disavowed the pastor's remarks herself. But since most Mormons tend to be conservative, this could put them in a quandary. Do they vote for an actual Mormon whose politics they don't like, or do they vote for a Southern Baptist whose politics they prefer, but who was tied to an anti-Mormon church? Recent polls show the Angle-Reid race to be a nailbiter. An auto-dial Rasmussen poll showed Angle edging Reid, 50-46, just within the margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points, CNN/Time had Angle up, 42-40, and Fox News 49-46.