But Mason noted that "Judeo-Christian" phrase's implicit nostalgia for a pre-1960s America -- before the rise of religious pluralism and church-state lawsuits -- resonates with many Mormons.

DeMoss said Romney has consistently talked about Judeo-Christian values since launching his first White House run six years ago.

For instance, Romney wrote in his 2010 book No Apology that Americans' "respect for life" is "the product of our Judeo-Christian heritage, which teaches that we are created in the image of God."

Romney also argued that "our Judeo-Christian heritage" is "central to America's rise to global leadership" in a May commencement speech at Liberty University. But he also noted that his Mormonism and the graduates' evangelicalism are "different faiths."

The admission was a theological step back from Romney's first White House run, when he tried to woo evangelicals by portraying himself as one of them, said John-Charles Duffy, a scholar at Miami University in Ohio.

"He spoke of Jesus as his 'personal savior,' an expression more characteristically evangelical than Mormon," Duffy wrote recently in the online journal Religion & Politics. "He professed his faith in the Bible as 'the word of God' without mentioning the Book of Mormon."

As Duffy notes, the move backfired.

"When he goes around and says 'Jesus Christ is my Lord and savior,' he ticks off at least half the evangelicals," Richard Land, the former head of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, said back in 2007.

On the other hand, Judeo-Christian rhetoric suits evangelicals, said Perkins. "It's less of a religious denomination or sect, than a description of our past history and heritage. You don't have to be a born-again Christian to fall into that category."

But some evangelicals remain reluctant to label Mormonism "Judeo-Christian." Land, for example, calls Mormonism "the fourth Abrahamic religion" after Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all of which trace their roots to the Hebrew patriarch.

Ben Witherington, a professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky, said the Latter Day Saints doctrine of ongoing revelations makes the faith a "moving target."

"The real problem is that Mormonism is evolving. It's hard to pin down," said Witherington. He noted that the church renounced polygamy in the 1890s and opened its priesthood to blacks in 1978.

"It's very hard to know what Romney means by 'Judeo-Christian values,'" Witherington said. "I have to be agnostic about it until he spells it out."

c. 2012 Religion News Service. Used with permission.

Publication date: September 30, 2012