The Riddle of Romney’s Religion

OPINION: Once upon a time, electing a president who didn’t have a Judeo-Christian background was a non-starter for most evangelical Christians. Not anymore. Should Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith matter?

CULT OR CULTURE?: Is the growing tolerance of Mitt Romney’s faith among evangelical Christians a sign of theological maturity or political desperation? (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

“We’re electing him to be our Commander-in-Chief, not Pastor-in-Chief.” That’s how one Christian woman recently defended her support of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney in a Facebook comment.

It has been curious to observe the about-face that many formerly doctrinaire evangelicals have taken when it comes to the subject of Governor Romney’s religion. For most evangelical Christians, the Mormon faith has commonly been viewed as an unorthodox, non-Christian religion. Even the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which once characterized the Mormon religion as cultic, recently deleted that wording from its website. This has got me to thinking more about the relationship between politics and faith.

In The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, Carl F.H. Henry, one of the principal architects of the modern evangelical movement, called conservative Protestant Christians to abandon their otherworldly stance encouraged by the liberal-fundamentalist controversy of the 1920s and to actively engage society from an orthodox Christian worldview in order to redeem our culture from the chaos of the times. Though his message initially was met with stiff resistance from older evangelicals, Henry’s message was warmly received by the younger ones who went on to positively impact society from a distinctively Christian worldview.

Since 1947, when Henry’s influential book was first published, until now, evangelicals have increased their sophistication in articulating the gospel message of salvation in Jesus Christ and in their analysis of social problems and corresponding solutions. Evangelicals subscribe to a high view of Scripture and have always maintained that all true knowledge is divine in origin and is complementary to the Word of God. As a result of this conviction, they have boldly and confidently entered into all the realms of social engagement that previous generations affected by the impact of fundamentalism were reticent to enter. One of these areas has been the political arena.

The engagement of the political arena by orthodox Protestant believers is not new; from colonial times until the present, Christians have been at the center of much of the contested issues in American life. What evangelicals brought to the table was a clear commitment to the Bible, personal conversion, and social engagement. Evangelicalism sought to bridge the chasm opened by the focus of fundamentalists on evangelism to the exclusion of social witness and the focus on social justice by liberals to the exclusion of personal conversion. While evangelicals have always leaned towards the right politically, they have always done so with a theological articulation for that leaning. Plainly put, most evangelicals are convinced that the Republican Party is more compatible with the Christian faith than the Democratic Party.

While I am not surprised that most evangelicals heartily endorse the Republican Party given its explicit commitment to religious liberty and its stated support for certain moral positions congenial to conservative social ethics, I must admit that I am a bit disturbed by the implications of the current evangelical support for Mitt Romney. While aspects of my own sociology tempt me to critique this support for his candidacy, my main contention is theological.

I am concerned about the theological implications of Christians committed to a certain view of Scripture and of orthodoxy wholeheartedly endorsing a candidate who is a member of a religious tradition whose doctrine compromises both. I am not saying that it is inherently wrong for a Christian to vote for a secular candidate or a member of another religious tradition; after all, we do live in a post-Christian, secular, pluralistic democracy. What I am saying is that Christians have an inherent responsibility to wrestle with the implications of the teachings of Scripture, the witness of the Christian tradition, and sober theological reflection when doing so.

Simply put, Mitt Romney’s membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints matters. Maybe not enough to automatically invalidate him as a viable candidate, but it does matter. The reasons are obvious, almost all evangelicals have asserted that the the Mormon religion is not in fact a legitimate Christian denomination and is in fact a heretical sect. By contrast, as far as I know, no credible evangelical has ever stated that the United Church of Christ, the denomination in which President Barack Obama received his religious formation, is an illegitimate Christian tradition. (A bent for liberation theology and a progressive stance on certain social issues is not a disqualification for Christian orthodoxy.)

The groundswell of evangelical support for a Romney candidacy seems peculiar — not so much because of what evangelicals are saying, but because of what they have said about Barack Obama’s beliefs in the past, and what they are not saying about Mitt Romney’s now. Despite President Obama’s public confession of his Christianity on numerous occasions, many still question the veracity of his faith, calling him a “closet Muslim” or pointing to his support of same-sex marriage. But do they practice the same degree of scrutiny when it comes to Governor Romney’s beliefs? As a friend of mine recently said, “What’s worse, altering the definition of marriage, or redefining the nature of God?”

It’s something to think about.

About the author, Kenneth L. Harrell Jr.

Kenneth L. Harrell Jr. is a graduate of Calvin College, where he majored in Philosophy and Religion. He is currently a staff worker at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. An avid reader, especially of works on race and theology, he is working to hone his craft as a Christian thinker and writer. He resides in southeastern Ohio with his wife, Mona, a college instructor in the humanities.
  1. If there had been no Nicene Creed or Emperor Constantine, Catholic and Protestant theology would be quite similar to Mitt Romney’s In fact, there would likely be no need for the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) to restore Jesus Christ’s church. Mormons’ theology is based on New Testament Christianity, not Fourth Century Creeds. For example, the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) views on Baptism, Lay Ministry, the Trinity, Theosis, Grace vs. Works, the Divinity of Jesus Christ are closer to Early Christianity than any other denomination. And Mormon teenagers have been judged to “top the charts” in Christian Characteristics by a UNC-Chapel Hill study. Read about it here:

    http://MormonsAreChristian.blogspot.com/

    According to a 2012 Pew Forum poll of members of the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) 98 percent said they believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and 97 percent say their church is a Christian religion. They volunteer 7 times as many hours as does the general population, according to a 2012 University of Pennsylvania study. Mormons have a better understanding of Christianity than any other denomination, according to a 2010 Pew Forum poll.

    11 of the signers of the Declaration of Independence (including several presidents) were non-Trinitarian Christians, as is Mitt Romney, who is as faithful as the most devout Founder. How
    long has it been since we had a president who attended church every Sunday?

    Contrast Mitt Romney’s faith to that of Barack Obama: Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who was the Obamas’ pastor for twenty years, says “it is hard to tell if Barack Obama converted from Islam to Christianity”. Wright says “church is not Barack’s thing” .

    • Even without a creed, the reading of the bible, and then comparing it to the doctrines of the LDS church, one will come up with two different viewpoints for who God is – and our relationship to God.

      The mormon interpretation of the bible leaves little doubt that they believe the bible is not the standard for theological truth. They just don’t believe what the new testament has revealed about God’s love for us. They only like to dwell on the Old Testament’s view of obedience and sacrafice.

      Their’s is a religion based solely on works where the individual’s journey to salvation is a result of their own works and merit.

      It’s definitely not christian.

      • Orin
        That’s not quite accurate that the LDS doctine teaches that we are saved solely on works alone. It’s a combination of faith, works, and grace. All three are needed. First we may have to define works. Works are the things you do to emulate Christ. An example could be trying not to swear when a thumb is hit by a hammer. But since we sometimes we swear when the thumb is hit, then the atonement comes into play as we repent and we repent thru faith that our sins can be forgiven thru the atonement of Christ. As James teaches faith without works is dead and that faith is demostrated thru works. As we repent and grow closer to Christ and our actions become one with his then we can return into his presence. Hope this helps on the LDS point of view of works, faith, and grace.

  2. I agree that Mitt Romney’s faith matters. Evangelicals should not allow politics to muzzle our theological critique of Mormonism. I believe the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is indeed a heretical sect. I have said as much to Mormon friends and to Mormon missionaries visiting my home.

    I do not question President Obama’s Christianity. Speculating about the President being a closet Muslim is as foolish as believing that, in the creepy chant of the far left, “9/11 was an inside job.” Overly speculative theories appear across the political spectrum, but I doubt that most thinking evangelicals take these theories seriously.

    I intend to vote for Mitt Romney in two weeks, for these reasons:

    No government has any business compelling Christian-owned institutions (from Tyndale House Publishers to Hercules Industries to the nearest hospital owned by a Catholic order) to provide abortifacient drugs in its health insurance plan. Pregnancy is not a disease and abortion is not a cure. President Obama implemented this policy, and Mitt Romney has pledged to reverse it.

    Redefining marriage matters, both for the national culture and for the church. To contrast the redefinition of marriage with Mormon’s redefinition of God is a matter of category confusion. We do not elect the President of the United States to teach us about the nature of God. Nor do we elect the President to settle the debate about marriage, although any President plays an important role in the discussion. President Obama and Gov. Romney have committed themselves to opposing sides in this debate. Christians may vote accordingly, in keeping with their differing priorities.

    Voting in the presidential election is not a referendum on which candidate’s understanding of God is more orthodox. It is a national referendum on who should lead the executive branch of our government for the next four years. Honorable evangelicals such as John W. Montgomery have said they cannot vote for Mitt Romney precisely because he is a Mormon. I respect the reasons for their choice, but I think being a responsible citizen often requires making difficult choices.

    I recognize the paradox of voting for a Mormon because I believe his policies will be friendlier to orthodox Christian teaching on abortion and marriage. I hope that Christians who vote for President Obama will likewise recognize the paradox that our brother in Christ is frequently at odds with orthodox and historic Christian teachings on innocent human life and God’s purpose in marriage.

  3. Pingback: 19 October 2012 | MormonVoices

  4. Oh brother. Another one of these articles. Yes, you can label mormons as “illegitimate” and “heretical” if you like, but in doing so, you are making a subjective judgment of what constitutes true Christianity based on post-New Testament councils and creeds.

    If one strips away the creedal lenses and looks at what the Bible says about subjects such as the Trinity and faith vs. works, it is a collection of statements by different authors at different times writing under different circumstances and often with different theological viewpoints that are anything but clear and definitive, but you have to take off your Nicaean lenses first.

    You should try an experiement similar to Descartes and strip away everything you think you know about the Bible and look at what it says without any pre-existing notions about orthodoxy. The truth is you draw authority for your ingroup/outgroup labeling on councils of men that occurred hundreds of years after the Bible was written. That’s your right, but at least be honest about it and acknowledge it.

    “But the Bible clearly says…” Uh, no. It’s doesn’t say it clearly. The authors of Biblical gospels and epistles could have settled all such theological questions by simply stating the exact nature and substance of the Trinity, for example, but they didn’t. A group of bishops decided the matter (by vote) several hundred years later…sort of. Turns out they couldn’t quite agree on that formulation either, hence the great schism.

  5. I have not studied enough concerning the Mormon faith to come down on one side or the other as to whether they are heretical or not. I will say this. I would rather have a Mormon who will take a Biblical stance than a Christian who won’t. President Obama’s stance on abortion and gay marriage is anti-biblical. To my knowledge, Governor Romney has taken the biblical positions on these issues.

    It may seem troubling/perplexing to some how evangelicals can support a Mormon. It seems more perplexing to me how Christians can support a candidate (Christian or not) who takes such anti-biblical positions.

  6. Obama is a mere mortal who lies because, well, that’s what mortals do. Romney thinks he is a junior varsity god, and he lies because he thinks that we wouldn’t understand the truth. To gain an existential understanding of the cult that produced Mitt Romney, and to get your socks scared off, read The Assassination of Spiro Agnew, available in paperback and e-book on Amazon:

    http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=…search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=The+Assassination+of+Spiro+Agnew

    Its unwilling, part-Mexican Mormon assassin dramatizes the Mormon superiority complex, manifesting it as racism, sexism, jingoism and an anti-federal government temperament. His research in the new library reveals ominous similarities between Islam and Mormonism. The spiritual power behind the cult, which is not the Holy Ghost, acts out.

    “With a clarity of language and vision unsurpassed in contemporary American prose, Steven Janiszewski’s Assassination of Spiro Agnew takes us into a U.S. mazed with madness and Mormonism and all things Utah, a U.S. that was then and still is. Do we need a novel, even as brilliant as this one, about a young man on a divine mission to assassinate the Vice President because he is too liberal? Yes, now more than ever. Readers, welcome to a masterpiece.”
    Tom Whalen
    http://www.tomwhalen.com
    Read The Assassination of Spiro Agnew.