Governor Romney’s Mormon religion is back in the headlines.
The Values Voter Summit in Washington this weekend left no doubt about it: The Mormon issue is back.
A Texas pastor’s inflammatory remarks here — calling Mormonism a “cult” — thrust Mitt Romney’s faith into the center of a 2012 campaign overwhelmingly focused on the economy. It was a transparent attempt by Baptist minister Robert Jeffress, a Rick Perry supporter, to drive a wedge between Romney and evangelical voters.
Governor Romney responded with a call for civility.
Rather than answering Jeffress directly, Romney came to the summit on Saturday and rebuked another hardline social conservative: Bryan Fischer, a controversial official at the American Family Association who has disparaged Mormonism, as well as homosexuality, Islam and more.
“We should remember that decency and civility are values too,” Romney said Saturday. “One of the speakers who will follow me today has crossed that line, I think. Poisonous language doesn’t advance our cause.”
It was a careful response that allowed Romney to criticize a detractor of his faith without inviting a lengthy public conversation about Mormonism.
A response such as this sheds no light on whether Governor Romney’s Mormon religion is relevant to what sort of president he would become; civility can be good, but not to the extent that it preempts the discussion of matters of political significance. Since we are looking for a president rather than an instructor in theology, and since the principal distinctions drawn have been purely doctrinal, they appear to be irrelevant to whether he should become the president. Governor Romney should address this and related matters.
Attorney General Holder once called for an “honest discussion” of race, apparently having in mind instead a dishonest one-way communication about White “racism.” That hasn’t turned out well. We need rather more candid discussions of the intersection of religion and politics than occurred concerning the intersection of race and politics. That obviously involves discussion of both religion and politics and the implications of one for the other.
Religion has been an important if not central part of American life since the country began. Are the religious heritage of the United States and her remaining commonly accepted religious beliefs that affect what we as a nation want and do relevant to how the United States responds to these and other foreign and domestic situations? I think they have to be if we are to survive.
What is a Christian? This seems a reasonable starting point when considering whether particular religious beliefs are or are not Christian. It may well be presumptuous for an Agnostic non-Christian to attempt to define Christianity, but here goes. As I understand it, the basic doctrinal aspects of Christianity as set forth in the Apostles Creed and elsewhere involve belief in only one God; that Jesus, His only son, was born on Earth to a virgin (or at least to a young woman); that He died to atone for our sins, was resurrected and ascended to Heaven to sit on the right side of God, the Father Almighty and the Maker of Heaven and Earth, from whence He shall eventually come to judge us. Christianity also involves belief in the Bible as the literal or at least metaphoric Word of God and in the Holy Trinity — God in three persons, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Blessed Trinity, “which wert and art and evermore shall be.” There are also many non-doctrinal, morality based, concepts which most Christians share — for example, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, turn the other cheek and do not covet your neighbor’s wife. Many substantially predate Christianity, believed to have been given to Moses as the Ten Commandments or thought to have been taught by pre-Christian priests and philosophers; they can’t be claimed as exclusively Christian. Presumably, Deists, Pantheists and Polytheists would not legitimately claim to be Christians even though some share these moral imperatives.
Unitarians? Adlai Stevenson, who ran unsuccessfully in 1952 and 1956 as the Democrat Party candidate for President, was a Unitarian. His
grandfather Stevenson was a Democrat and a Presbyterian, while his maternal grandfather, W.O. Davis, was a Republican and a Unitarian. Adlai used to say jokingly, that he was a born politician; he had taken his politics from the Stevenson and his religion from the Davis side of the family.
. . . .
He attended Sunday School in the old Unitarian Church, where he recited the credo that was as close as Unitarians came to dogma: “In the love of truth, and in the spirit of Jesus, we unite for the worship of God and the service of man.”
I can recall no particular political significance being attributed to the doctrinal aspects, as distinguished from the Librul social policy aspects, of Governor Stevenson’s religion.
As the name suggests, Unitarians do not accept the central Christian doctrinal notion of the Trinity and some reject the divinity of Jesus. Comparing a Unitarian and a Methodist hymnal will reveal many similar hymns, sung to the same music but with quite different words. Here is a popular Christian version of the Doxology:
A Unitarian-Universalist version of the Doxology became,
From all that dwell below the skies
Let faith and hope with love arise.
Let beauty, truth and good be sung
Through every land by every tongue.
There are other, slightly different, versions. Faith in whom or what is not clear, but it can probably mean faith in man, in a supreme being or both. Are Unitarians Christians? Through perhaps interesting definitions of Christianity some would say that they are or at least that some Unitarians might be despite the rejection of the Trinity.
Black Liberation Theology? President Obama for many years attended the Reverend Mr. Wright’s Trinity United Church in Chicago where Black Liberation Theology, said to be a subset of Christianity, was preached; the Reverend Mr. Wright was long his principal religious adviser and mentor; one of his most memorable references to God was “God damn America.” Hate, rather than “Christian love,” seems to have been a principal factor. This was not likely often sung by a Black Liberation Church choir:
Many voters were put off by the Reverend Mr. Wright’s rants. After they became public knowledge, Senator Obama “threw him under the bus,” much to the Reverend Mr. Wright’s displeasure. It would have been inexpedient for Senator Obama to have remained steadfast because his election would have been substantially in doubt.
To what extent did Senator Obama adhere to the Reverend Mr. Wright’s beliefs and to what extent does President Obama now? Did he like the music and appreciate the religious teachings? What parts? Did he reject the harsh racial stuff? What parts? Did he adhere to the doctrinal aspects of those beliefs, or to something else more important to how he would, could and would want to behave as the President? Candid explanations from Senator Obama back then would have been useful in understanding President Obama now. This article at Huffington Post (yes, Huff ‘n Puff) suggests that
Perhaps the virulently anti-Semitic and anti-Israel preachings of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., who was Obama’s pastor for nearly 20 years, officiated at his wedding, baptized his children, gave him the title of his book, The Audacity of Hope, and served as his “sounding board” and spiritual mentor, have had more of an influence on Obama’s world view than people realize.
Explanations from Governor Romney, similar but not identical to those not given by Senator Obama of how his church has shaped his own political policies would be no less helpful.
Mormons? Mormonism is politically important because Governor Romney, a current leader of the pack for the Republican nomination, is a Mormon. Reactions adverse to his religion have generally been based on doctrinal differences from Christianity. I do not recall any challenges being voiced to his devotion to the United States based on Mormon religious doctrine. This was performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir:
Here are the portions of thirteen Mormon Articles of Faith that seem, to me, most divergent from widespread Christian doctrine.
Articles of Faith
5. We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.
7. We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.
8. We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.
10. We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.
Some appear to be consistent with more or less traditional Christian beliefs, some not. I rather like this one:
11. We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
The inconsistencies seem fairly clear but variable depending on one’s own subset of Christianity. To the extent that there are inconsistencies, they appear to be of a doctrinal nature, not much impacting on what Governor Romney would do, could do or would want to do as the President.
It is argued here that Mormonism is a false religion because some of its doctrines are inconsistent with Christian doctrine and that, therefore, a Mormon should not become the President of the United States. The author claims,
On such essential doctrines as the Trinity and the role of Jesus in salvation, there are major differences between orthodox (biblical) Christianity and Mormonism. But the real problem is that Mormons believe and teach an American history that is in many particulars completely unsubstantiated and in others demonstrably false. Mormons believe that the “lost tribes” of Israel actually ended up in America, and that Jesus visited America and these tribes during his incarnation. These are just a few of Mormonism’s highly idiosyncratic views of history.
As to the Trinity and the role of Jesus, Article 1 of the Articles says, “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” How commonly understood, or significant, in mainstream Christianity is any difference between this Article and the concept of the Trinity? The article continues,
Placing a Mormon in . . . [the Presidential bully] pulpit would be a source of pride and a shot of adrenaline for the LDS church. It would serve to normalize the false teachings of Mormonism the world over. It would also provide an opening to Mormon missionaries around the world, who could start every conversation: “Let me tell you about the American president.” To elect a Mormon President is to advance the cause of the Mormon Church.
. . . .
A Romney presidency would have the effect of actively promoting a false religion in the world. If you have any regard for the Gospel of Christ, you should care. A false religion should not prosper with the support of Christians. The salvation of souls is at stake.
. . . . If Mitt Romney believes what the Mormon Church teaches about the world and how it operates, then he is unfit to serve. We make him our President at great peril to the intellectual and spiritual health of our nation.
The essential arguments of the linked article are (1) that Christianity is the one true religion while Mormonism is a false religion and (2) that a function of the presidency is to advance the doctrinal precepts of the “one true religion.”
These arguments, if accepted, would impose upon the President a new obligation, that of Defender of The One True Faith. The title of the English monarchs has included the phrase Defender of The Faith since 1521 with a brief hiatus between 1530 and 1544. By prohibiting the establishment of a federal religion, the First Amendment rejected that sort of thing. The President must support, rather than abandon, and must be dedicated to, defending the basic principles upon which the country was founded.
I consider Governor Romney a “RINO,” and there are other candidates I prefer. If he becomes the nominee, however, I shall support him as best I can and vote for him; the alternative is probably the reelection of President Obama.
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Members of “The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints,” (to use their official title), do not believe in the same exact things that I believe in. So what? I have known many LDS adherents, and although I may think their beliefs strange or even incorrect, I agree that their 11th Article of Faith is indeed in keeping with the 1st amendment.
I have lived in the “New Zion” as they call the valley in Utah containing the only area where there is an LDS majority in the US that I’m aware of (from Ogden, through Salt Lake City, and down to Provo). Although they attempted to proselytize to me on numerous occasions, they were NOT “impolite” about it; the fact that my own faith informs me, allowed me to ask THEM (the missionaries-in-training) many questions instead. Other than that, my family and I were pretty much ignored.
One fact that many people who have not lived in such a community do not understand, is the extent that the LDS church tries to not only minister to your soul, but also occupy you and family’s “leisure” time. It is hard to describe, but generally, the LDS families of my neighborhood were just too busy with their own lives, to pay much attention to us.
Again, I ask you, so what? What is WRONG with that? Unless some of these commenters are afraid that they (or their children) are not strong enough in their OWN faith (whatever it may be) to withstand the sincerity of the LDS missionaries?
Thank you for your mostly decent comment on my faith. I do not live in Utah, and have never had the privilege to visit. I am originally from the middle of NY state. I grew up in a very small village. My father was Jewish and a physician from NYC. My mother was protestant, and she came from a rural area near Cortland, NY. I grew up in her church. When I was seventeen, I had the opportunity to be an exchange student in Argentina. I felt that the original church, set up by Jesus Christ, was not found in my mother’s religion. I prayed to know the truth. I expected to find it in the Catholic church, because I was in Argentina. However, I met the LDS missionaries in the city of Corrientes, Argentina where I was living. I knew that what they told me was true, and I had felt that I had heard these things before. I was baptized when I returned home. I was eighteen, and it was the best thing that I have ever done. That was in 1965. My husband joined the church, and we were blessed with two wonderful children. Our son served, as a missionary, in the Idaho, Boise mission from 2001-2003.
My husband, and I, now live in the White Mountains of NH. We can, or cannot, engage in church activities, in our leisure time. I think that people don’t understand that our religion is not just a Sunday activity. It is part of our being. People tend to congregate with people of common interest and goals. We are not too busy for others, and anyone is welcome to our activities.
Thank you for your time,
Miriam Feldstein Case
Mormonism is clearly a heretical cult judged by the doctrines of the early church, since it rejects the orthodox Trinity. Moreover, it is close to Gnosticism in its claims to exclusive new revelations in their Book of Mormon. It has developed some very bizarre beliefs over the years that contradict both Judaism’s Old Testament and the New Testament. [Roman Catholics also have a second stream of revelation in their Tradition.]
However, there are many liberal/modernist versions of mainstream US Christianity which are at best sub-orthodox and at worst eclectic/agnostic, rejecting many of the doctrines of the Nicene Creed as passe. Voters can’t assume that any candidate is orthodox today unless he or she confirms exactly their allegiance. Unfortunately, Romney would not get the support of many orthodox Christians if they knew what his ‘church’ really taught, so he’ll stay away from giving any personal details. They may vote for him on other grounds though, like the unacceptability of Obama’s policies.
Any one can find out what the Church really teaches. They need to go to Mormon.org. Asking one, who practices other religions does not find out the truth by asking their pastor, priest, etc. If you want to find out how to play the piano, you do not go to a teacher of mathematics unless they also teach piano.
My own view is that orthodox Christianity requires belief in Christ as the divine and human Savior and Son of God, with the consequent belief in God as Trinity, Three divine persons in One Godhead (the Apostles and the Nicene Creeds). Mormonism is polytheist, or henotheist at best, recognizes a trinity of three Gods, –and denies that God is immaterial–as well as a prophet, Joseph Smith, who has to restore Christ’s failed work and brings new revelation, new Scripture and an alternate priesthood, etc.. There is so much new and different in Mormonism that Christians cannot honestly recognize them as one of the family. To put it simply, Mormons are as much Christians as Christians are Jews: a common background but incompatible divergences.
That being said, I agree that the important point is how that Mormon faith would influence Romney’s service as Chief Executive under our Constitution. I cannot see, from his history in government, how it would do so negatively. If he were a Muslim, for example, it would be a whole nother story. Orthodox Islam recognizes no distinction between religion and the state.
As well, if you read the life and opinions of Presidents Jefferson and Adams, just to name two, orthodoxy was not their strong point.
As a member of The Church of Jesus of Latter-Day Saints for forty seven years, your points are not all true. We do not believe that Christ’s mission failed. The Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ. The atonement is explained many times in the BOM. The Bible, and BOM, complement each other. The philosophy, of the trinity, was not part of the original church and truthfully makes no sense. The apostasy was prophesied throughout the Bible.
You cover adequately the issue of Mormon and Christian doctines. But a believer in Mormonisn must, of necessity, it would seem to me, believe also in the truth of the story of the founding of Mormonism. According to that story, one Joseph Smith, a man known by his neighbors to be a flimflam artist, one who spent his days seeking buried treasure using majic stones carried in a hat, was visited repeatedly by an angel called Moroni, who loaned to him a set of gold tablets from which he copied the book of Mormon. When asked to produce the tablets he said that Moroni took them back. Smith and his followers were kicked out of every frontier town they tried to settle in, not for no good reason. So a modern man who continues to believe this hooey, and who has a clear record of changing his stance on numerous issues to suit the constituency he is wooing at the time, might seem to be a true follower of the original flim flam man.
Thanks for your comment, Steamboat.
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Christianity in short is the belief in the Bible as God-breathed which more or less means inspired. To believe that we are doomed because of our sin and the only way to reach atonement is by acceptance of the gift that Jesus left us in his death on the cross, and subsequent resurrection from death. It is also widely considered a qualification that the Bible cannot be added to, and that our faith was established by Christ himself and not by a man. It is a fulfillment of the Jewish faith and thus inseparable from the Old Testament or Torah. The belief that Israel is God’s chosen people is also necessary to be congruent with the Bible. Mormonism, as well as a number of other religions that call themselves a segment of Christianity fall short on this in the ways you described above, which then is labeled as a cult. People give too much power to the word cult. There are many different levels of cults in the world. Some are very dangerous, some we consider just misled with good intentions. The strong reaction to the word cult is because it is thought of only through the specter of the destructive cults, although in the past I would argue Mormonism itself has been destructive in some ways. Bottom line is, the person’s faith is only important in that it is one of a great many issues that make up that candidate. It is not something anyone is saying to establish an official government litmus test to keep the person out of office, but rather a test of an individuals to see if that person can in good conscience vote for that person over another candidate. You gave a good example that holds true even for those that believe the most that Mormonism is a cult would still hold true. Mitt Romney vs Barack Obama would be an easy decision for any conservative Christian for Mitt Romney, but he is a RINO, and there are more conservatives that do hold traditional Christian values. So, its just another way to make the decision added for those of us that are Christian. Just like any other issue is one of many.