Friday, November 24, 2006

Evangelicals, Mormonism, and a Mitt Romney Presidential Run

Richard John Neuhaus has an excellent piece in First Things about whether or not Mormonism is Christian. He ultimately concludes that Mormonism is like Islam: it is derived from Christian and Jewish content and contains imagery and language of those two faiths, but is distinctively different:

Asking whether Mormonism is Christian or Mormons are Christians (a slightly different question) is thought to be insulting. "How can you ask that," protests a Mormon friend, "when we clearly love the Lord Jesus as much as we do?" It is true that St. Paul says that nobody can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). But that only indicates that aspects of Mormon faith are touched by the Holy Spirit, as is every element of truth no matter where it is found. A Mormon academic declares that asking our question "is a bit like asking if African Americans are human." No, it is not even a bit like that. "Christian" in this context is not honorific but descriptive. Nobody questions whether Mormons are human. To say that Jews, Muslims, or Buddhists are not Christians is no insult. It is a statement of fact, indeed of respect for their difference. The question is whether that is a fact and a difference that applies also to Mormonism.

[snip]

A closer parallel might be with Islam. Islam is a derivative of Judaism and Christianity. Like Joseph Smith, Muhammad in the seventh century claimed new revelations and produced in the Quran a "corrected" version of the Jewish and Christian scriptures, presumably by divine dictation. Few dispute that Islam is a new and another religion, and Muslims do not claim to be Christian, although they profess a deep devotion to Jesus. Like Joseph Smith and his followers, they do claim to be the true children of Abraham. Christians in dialogue with Islam understand it to be an interreligious, not an ecumenical, dialogue. Ecumenical dialogue is dialogue between Christians. Dialogue with Mormons who represent official LDS teaching is interreligious dialogue.

Hat tip to The Corner, which is having a lively discussion on the subject. One of the denizens of that blog, Kathryn Jean Lopez, is a proponent ofMassachusettss Governor (and Mormon) Mitt Romney running for President in 2008.

I think that secular conservatives do not really understand how evangelicals relate to Mormons and whether or not they will support Romney in the same way that they supported George W. Bush's campaigns. They see both as advocates for traditional concepts of family values and breeze past real and serious doctrinal differences.

Now I'm not a political conservative, but I am an envagelical, and the idea of Romney or any other Mormon become President gives me the creeps -- and in a way that having a Jewish President (Go Joementum!) doesn't.

Why? Well, I think that we American evangelicals have long seen Mormonism is a historically new phenomenon; a heresy that could be eventually stamped out and the right order returned. Having a Mormon President would mean accepting Mormonism as a permanent fixture of American life. It would be as though the early Church councils had signed a peace treaty with Gnostic or Arian heresies and accepted vast swaths of Christendom as permanently heretical. Voting for and electing a Mormon would be a way of signing an armistice with this insidious heresy.

All of this may seem irrational and probably is, but voters give support through rhetoric, money, and ballots for emotive reasons as well as intellectual ones. Regardless of any logical arguments against this line of thinking, a candidate who gives evangelicals theological heebie jeebies is unlikely to win their support.

10 comments:

Jonathan said...

I agree with you that Mormonism is heresy. However, if a president were Mormon, it wouldn't bother me. Nor would it mean that the historical Christian orthodox faith had been compromised. Having a Mormon as president would not mean that we have accepted their heresy. We do not vote on a candidates' theological convictions when they run for president. I actually like Harry Reid - because he is a pro-life Democrat -- even though he is a Mormon.

Joel Thomas said...

This seems to be the same view that many evangelicals advanced against John F. Kennedy. On the surface, the concern put forth was that Kennedy would follow orders from the Pope. But beneath that was a deep-seated bigotry against Catholics. While some may genuinely not want a Mormon as president on the theory it would lead to acceptance of the religion as a valid faith, my suspicion is that most who would decline to support such a candidate would have prejudice at the root of their opposition. Many evangelicals considered Catholicism to be a heresy such that Catholics were not Christians.

Having both the Bush and Cheney first and second couples as United Methodist certainly hasn't added to the popularity of the UMC.

When I vote, I look to who best would lead the country according to my assessment of issues, values and leadership qualities. I have a hard time seeing that being a Mormon would interfere with these matters.

jim H said...

Here is a link about Mitt Romney and Mormonism. There is more to it than most people think:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2sG8CnxesY0

Anonymous said...

Bill Clinton's brand of Christianity give you the heebie-jeebies? It should.

Mitt Romney is a good man, regardless of what you think of his Church.

Keith Taylor said...

Joel,

Did the term "evangelical" really even exist in the 1960 Presidential campaign?

and I have another question, what exactly is an evangelical? I am not trying to be argumentative, I am serious in asking the question. I mean, are we not ALL commanded by the Lord to be evangelists when we became Christians? If that is the case, then shouldn't all Christians be evangelicals? or is there a difference between an evangelical and an evangelist?

I do not consider the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to be a legitament Christian Church, but I only wish that the UMC had 1/100th the zeal for evangelism and spreading the true Christian faith that the Mormons do.

John said...

It may be completely unfair and bigoted of people to refuse to vote for a Mormon candidate. But that doesn't mean that they won't. And when a party decides who to support for a Presidential run, it must take these views into account if it wants to win.

When Adlai Stevenson was running for President, one of his aides said, "Governor, every smart person in America is going to vote for you." Stevenson replied, "That's not enough -- I want to win."

So does the GOP want to win in 2008? If so, running Romney may not be a smart choice.

Keith Taylor said...

John,

Is it unfair and bigoted of me if I chose not to vote for man or woman simply because they are a mormon, or a buddhist, or a muslim, etc., etc.? Seriously.

In my view, a persons values are just as important as thier intellect. Since I am a Christian, I believe that my Christian faith is the only real something of value that I hold. I may be stupid, I may be ingnorant, but my Christian faith is the rock of my salvation, nothing else.

If I want a good leader, I obviously want someone who is smart, intelligent, able to lead, a problem solver, etc, but if they can't get it right on their relationship with God, isn't everything else second?

I mean, is it bigoted of me to refuse to give the keys to White House, to person who puts his faith in a church that teaches that Christ and Satan are literal brothers and that God the father was once a man and that we shall all be as God?? Is it wrong to deny that power to a person who thinks that Joseph Smith dug up a set of gold plates, translated them into the "book of morman" for a profit, started a church for a profit, and then the plates "vanished". I mean, if that is what he puts his faith in, in spite of 2000 years of Christian faith to contrary, do I really want that and is it bigoted to veto that person on those grounds?

John said...

Keith, I am not necessarily in disagreement with you. Observe the second word of my comment: "may".

John said...

I mean, is it bigoted of me to refuse to give the keys to White House, to person who puts his faith in a church that teaches that Christ and Satan are literal brothers and that God the father was once a man and that we shall all be as God?? Is it wrong to deny that power to a person who thinks that Joseph Smith dug up a set of gold plates, translated them into the "book of morman" for a profit, started a church for a profit, and then the plates "vanished". I mean, if that is what he puts his faith in, in spite of 2000 years of Christian faith to contrary, do I really want that and is it bigoted to veto that person on those grounds?

Being a Mormon does require pretty astounding gullibility.

Dan Trabue said...

I wouldn't want Romney as president and I think Mormonism is a bit silly, but that's not why I wouldn't want him as president.

I think it would be an interesting choice for traditional "conservative" evangelicals if he were to be the candidate.

Myself, I'm much more bothered by a warring Quaker being elected (Nixon) than an observant Mormon.