Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sharpton visits Salt Lake

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Rev. Al Sharpton toured Mormon facilities
Monday and dined privately with Russell M. Ballard after drawing
criticism two weeks ago for remarks about Republican presidential
candidate Mitt Romney.

"He's simply here to learn more about us," church spokesman Mike
Otterson said. "We want him to know what the church does, what its
work is."

Sharpton was debating with an atheist author when he said: "As for the
one Mormon running for office, those who really believe in God will
defeat him anyways, so don't worry about that; that's a temporary

Sharpton, a Pentecostal minister who urged the firing of Don Imus
after the radio host's racially insensitive remarks, said his words
were taken out of context. But he immediately called elders of the
12.5 million-member church to apologize.

Monday, on a live broadcast of his radio show from a church-owned
broadcast center in Salt Lake City, Sharpton said he respects Mormons
as Christians and believers. He called any perceived friction between
himself and the church a "fabricated controversy."

"Whatever differences I have with their denomination or religion had
nothing to do with my respect of their faith," Sharpton said.

Officially, the church will not comment on Romney's campaign and
maintains a position of political neutrality. Church leaders consider
the flap over Sharpton's comments closed but appreciated his apology
immediately afterward, Otterson said.

On the air, Sharpton said he and Elder M. Russell Ballard, of the
church's governing board of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, met
over dinner Sunday night and "talked very little, if at all" about the
comments. Instead, Sharpton said, they discussed shared concerns and
places where their faiths can work together.

"This is not politics," Sharpton said. "This is about what you
fundamentally, firmly believe. I did not want to leave it as 'we got
past an issue.'"

The dinner was followed by a tour Monday morning of church facilities,
including a humanitarian aid center from which the church distributes
clothes, food and medical supplies around the world.

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