As Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney continues his drive to win his party’s nomination, Mormons worry they could face a barrage of negative scrutiny, much like that which engulfed President Barack Obama’s former church on Chicago’s South Side four years ago.

And there is disagreement among Mormons on how aggressively the faithful should defend their faith in the context of a political campaign.

So far, church officials in Salt Lake City have cautiously approached invitations to debate critics of the faith, discuss Romney’s candidacy or talk about “The Book of Mormon,” a hit Broadway musical.

Yet some Mormon volunteers and scholars have jumped into the fray, eager to stave off attacks when church officials take the silent approach. They don’t want to see their religion vilified by people who don’t know much about the faith or those with political agendas.

“It’s impossible to counter all of them,” said Jana Riess, a Mormon author who has organized a conference about the church and politics at Columbia University in New York. “It’s like playing whack-a-mole. But the tenor of the debate has reached a new level of urgency.”

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