SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ The Rev. Al Sharpton toured Mormon facilities Monday and dined privately with a church elder 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 of Sharpton's visit. ``We want him to know what the church does, what its work is.''
Sharpton made the trip after generating criticism during a debate 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 situation.''
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.
He has not apologized to Romney but called for a ``dialogue of reconciliation.'' Romney has said Sharpton's comment could be construed as bigoted. Officially, the church will not comment on Romney's campaign and maintains a position of political neutrality.
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.
Salt Lake City is the world headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with a temple and other properties covering several downtown blocks.