Can a Christian vote for a Mormon?

Governor Mitt Romney of MA

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Mitt Romney’s Mormonism has been put into the campaign spotlight once again. Per the NY Daily News:

The Rev. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas was introducing Perry to conservatives at the Values Voters Summit when he dissed Romney, saying that, as a Mormon, he isn’t really Christian and, thus, isn’t competent to run the country.

“I think Mitt Romney’s a good, moral man, but those of us who are born again followers of Christ should prefer a competent Christian,” Jeffress told the crowd in Tiffin, Iowa.

Romney is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormons.

“Rick Perry’s a Christian. He’s an evangelical Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ,” Jeffress said. “Mormonism is not Christianity. It has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of Christianity.”

There are a lot of troubling things with this statement by Rev. Jeffress. To start with, the world “cult” is often thrown around loosely in Christian circles. If you define “cult” in the harsher sense as “a quasi-religious organization using devious psychological techniques to gain and control adherents” then I’m not quite sure Mormonism qualifies. If Jeffress means “a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious” then I think his criticism hits the mark. Mormons do have some rather weird beliefs that do not mesh with orthodox Christianity, such as the doctrine of divine progression, that God has a physical body and lives on the planet Kolob, etc. However, how this exactly is all relevant to Romney’s candidacy is a bit hard for me to follow. Mormonism might be theologically out to lunch in the sense that its teachings are unorthodox and its claims are based on fables, but it doesn’t follow that all of their beliefs and ethics are therefore untrue.

For example, if I understand the Mormon view of humanity correctly, God the father used to be a man on another planet. The father god progressed into Godhood by living after the laws of the God on that planet. He then came to this world with his wife (a goddess?), and that they had billions of spirit babies in heaven. These children include the entire human and angelic race on earth, from Jesus to Lucifer to me and to you. All of our memories of that pre-existent state in heaven are erased at our birth. Therefore, human life is a sacred gift and elective abortion is grounds for being dismissed from the church.

Now, that is an odd theological view of humankind, but nonetheless it serves as their basis for being pro-life, which I think is a correct ethical belief. Someone else who may have no faith at all might simply believe simply read an embryology textbook and find out that human development begins at fertilization and come to the same conclusion as the Mormon, that abortion is wrong. The point is that people can hold true beliefs that are derivative from that faith but can be defended as true separately of it, and that includes people whose faith we might think is pretty “out there”.

What is important is not how Mr. Romney derives his beliefs, but what his real beliefs actually are and how they are relevant to the presidency. As far as I can tell, Mormons like most theists (and even many non-theists) hold that human life is precious, that morality is objective and binding, that all have certain natural rights etc. One’s theological beliefs should not decide whether one is fit for the presidency, but their qualifications to actually do the job in question. I think that attacking a person’s credentials to be president based on their faith is wrong, and only serves to further the unfortunate stereotype that Christians are illogical bigots.

(In case any of you are wondering, I have no dog in this fight. I am undecided and probably will remain so up until the time of the primaries. I did not vote for Mr. Romney in 2008.)

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Who’s Afraid of a Christian Extremist?

westboro baptist church and me

Image by Burstein! via Flickr

A friend of mine recently shared that he was as afraid of Christian extremists as he was of Muslim extremists. This is a common view; American Christian extremists are viewed as a group of bigoted, intolerant people who would see the majority of Muslims as terrorists and homosexuals as a grave threat to society.

The most extreme variety of so-called American Christian extremists would be the unfathomably bizarre nut-balls from the Westboro Baptist Church.  While I don’t think anyone takes Fred Phelps and his band of lunatics seriously, when prominent ministers publicly said that the earthquake in Haiti or 9/11 was God’s judgment, people were rightly outraged. Or in more recent news, there were the comments of Rep. Peter King about Muslims, which I think is what justifiably upset my friend.

But should we really fear a true Christian extremist? Well, no. I would argue that the people who take radical positions of hatred aren’t real Christians, no more than the so-called Christians who burned suspected witches at the stake or pillaged and raped during the Crusades.

Before you cry foul, this is not me falling into the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. (I love saying that in an outrageous, Groundskeeper Willie-like Scottish accent. Try it.)  Actually, the fallacy being committed is on the other side, and that is the fallacy of equivocation. It’s easy to fall into in this case, allow me to explain. There are “Christians” (scare quotes!) who are really nominal Christians – they might believe in God and say some of the right things, but often they don’t even believe the core tenants of the Christian faith. These are often people who equate being Christian with being American, or going through certain religious rituals when they were a child. Then there is the biblical definition of a Christian, given by Jesus himself. Jesus said –

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

A true follower of Jesus is a person who will be continually growing into a life of self-sacrificial love. Moreover, we see in the Bible that Jesus and Paul continually warned believers about false brethren; wolves in sheep’s clothing, people who claim the name of Christ and yet deny Him by their works.  We are told that “by their fruits ye shall know them” and that “he that hates his brother is a murderer, and no murderer has eternal life abiding in him”.  Now this isn’t to say that real Christians haven’t opened their mouth and said something regrettable, but a true Christian living in fellowship with their Master will be filled with regret when they act unkind and will try to make amends.

So what does a real ‘born again’ Christian extremist look like? Someone who took Christ’s teachings to the extreme – which according to the Bible centers in on preaching the gospel to all nations, self-denial and loving your neighbor – would produce someone like a Mother Theresa, William Booth, George Müller, or a William Wilberforce. In other words, they would be a selfless person with praiseworthy ethical standards. (Of course not every Christian is expected make philanthropy their vocation, but a Christian will try and be a person of genuine love no matter where they are.)

Often I hear people say they don’t want Christians legislating their morality. In this day in age, they seem to especially apply this to sexuality – abortion, pornography, homosexuality, etc. But this is question begging when you think about it; for it assumes that secularism is correct, and moreover that secularism is a morally neutral view. The American type of Secularism that’s popular now basically says that only what the hard sciences prove is true, and your personal beliefs should be kept out of the public square. This view makes everything but what is supposedly scientific relative.

But these two views, scientism – the belief that only the sciences give us truth; and moral relativism- that idea that that an individual’s beliefs are relative and there is no absolute moral truth – are horrid philosophies to build a society on. There are a number of reasons I say that, but for the sake of time I’ll give you two reasons why that is: They’re logically self-refuting, meaning they don’t pass their own test. The statement “no statements are true unless they can be proven scientifically”, is self-refuting insofar as it can’t be proven scientifically, and “everything is relative” becomes a relative statement; it might be true for you, but not for me. No one consistently lives this way.

So there really is no morally neutral legislated morality, for all legislation is a group of people “pushing off their morality” on you and I – from speed limits to where are tax dollars go.  People who you say that you shouldn’t push-off your views on others basically are saying they want you to adopt their view while hiding under a guise of false neutrality. Everyone on Capitol Hill is working to legislate their morality.

Furthermore, Christians are largely the ones who championed causes dealing with child labor, public schools, inequality, the civil rights movement, etc. Many of the positive reforms America has experience are a result of true radical Christians, people like Martin Luther King, who awakened the conscience of a nation of the self-evident truths that it founded itself upon – “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.

Today many Christians often apply these self-evident truths to a number of arenas – such as with the lives of the unborn. I’m not here to get into an abortion debate, but a Christian working to banning various abortion procedures is not wanting to legislate their morality anymore than the left-wing feminist who thinks that every woman has a right to electively have an abortion. They are both guided by certain philosophical reasons and should be allowed to debate their views in the public square. Neither should be dismissed out of hand because their views are allegedly “unscientific”, or are supposedly religious and should be held privately. Sadly, we can’t even begin to have any sort of reasonable discourse with this sort of thinking, yet all too often it’s the christian who is the one being charged with being narrow minded.

Anyway, that’s my all over the place rant. What I said doesn’t reflect the views of my friend to my knowledge, I honestly don’t know their views very fully, but I respect his point and can see where he’s coming from. Anyway, his comments triggered some thoughts and now they’re out there on the interwebs for all to see. The takeaway: Welcome extreme Christianity, but beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.