By Helen Kennedy, New York Daily News
NEW YORK -- The Rev. Al Sharpton escalated a battle with GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney Wednesday, demanding the Mormon explain his youth in a church that began accepting black people only 30 years ago.
"He should explain to Americans whether he believed for half his life that God created people unequally," Sharpton said. "He needs to come clean and say what he believed and when he believed it."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints banned black people from the priesthood -- to which all devout Mormon men are ordained -- until 1978.
Since then, the church has actively battled perceptions it is racist and sought converts in Africa.
Romney's campaign pointed to the candidate's comment last week about his reaction three decades ago upon hearing the policy had changed.
"I pulled over to the side of the road and literally broke down. It was so important to me to see that change in my church," Romney, 60, told NBC.
He also said his father marched for civil rights with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The kerfuffle between Romney and Sharpton began Monday when Sharpton and atheist writer Christopher Hitchens staged a theological debate at the New York Public Library.
Attacking religion, Hitchens mentioned that a candidate belongs to a church that preached racial segregation until recently.
Sharpton said, "Those that really believe in God will defeat him anyway."
Sharpton says he meant believers, not atheists, would defeat Romney.