Posts tagged with: latter-day saints

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, December 20, 2007

One element that came out in the aftermath of “Romney’s religion speech,” an event highly touted in the run-up and in days following, was the charge that Mormonism is essentially a racist faith (or at least was until 1978), and that in unabashedly embracing the “faith of his fathers” so publicly (and uncritically), Mitt Romney did not distance himself from or express enough of a critical attitude toward the official LDS policy regarding membership by blacks before 1978.

One example of a person who raised this concern quite vociferously is political analyst Lawrence O’Donnell, who as a guest on the McLaughlin Group on the episode immediately following Romney’s speech, said this of Romney (among many other things):

Here’s the problem. He dare not discuss his religion. And he fools people like Pat Buchanan, who should know better. This was the worst speech, the worst political speech, of my lifetime, because this man stood there and said to you, “This is the faith of my fathers.” And you and none of these commentators who liked this speech realize that the faith of his father is a racist faith. As of 1978, it was an officially racist faith. And for political convenience, in 1978 it switched and it said, “Okay, black people can be in this church.”

Mitt Romney was 31 years-old in 1978 when the LDS church altered its policy toward “priesthood” membership for black males, citing a new revelation. You can check out the entire exchange between O’Donnell and the other members of the McLaughlin Group panel here:

It seems to me that Pat Buchanan misses O’Donnell’s point in the exchange. Buchanan cites scandalous examples from Christianity’s past, such as the condoning of slavery for 1,500 years, in effect to say that all religions have their problems, and that doesn’t mean that we associate every historical evil from a religion’s past with its contemporary adherents. But what O’Donnell’s charge is meant to show is that folks like Pat Buchanan and other Christians are inclined to judge their tradition’s own past, and pronounce that such and such a practice was an objective evil and upon reflection ex post facto, incompatible with the fundamental beliefs of their faith.

From O’Donnell’s perspective it’s precisely this criticism that is lacking in Romney. As Byron York puts it,

But now, Romney is faced with the simple question: Was the church policy before 1978 wrong? This morning, he wouldn’t say, and it might be difficult for him, as a former church leader, to get out in front of the LDS leadership on that. And he certainly can’t cite McConkie’s advice to forget everything that was said before 1978. Given all that, it’s an issue that’s likely to pop up over and over again.

It did pop up on Romney’s Meet the Press interview with Tim Russert the following Sunday morning:

Part of Romney’s defense is his claim that his family’s practices point to their beliefs about race in America: “My dad marched with MLK.” Now there’s controversy surrounding that claim. (more…)

Blog author: jarmstrong
Monday, May 21, 2007

Commentators call it “The Religion Test.” What does it mean when the Constitution says there should be no religious test for holding office in the United States? Historically it has plainly meant that no candidate, be they a Quaker, a Baptist, a Pentecostal or a Mormon can be barred from office because of their religion. The question is once again on the table with the serious candidacy of Mitt Romney for the presidency. And many who are concerned about Romney’s faith are evangelicals. There is a strange joining of prejudice here as the secular left seems to agree, to some extent at least, with some in the religious right.

It is fair to ask a candidate where they stand on school vouchers and abortion questions but what about their interpretations of the Bible? Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate, recently challenged some of Joseph Smith’s more outrageous doctrinal beliefs by suggesting that he was obviously a “con man.” Since Mitt Romney is a Mormon Weisberg wants to know if he really believes what Smith taught since if he does then Weisberg does not want him to run the country. Christian commentator and talk-show host, Hugh Hewitt, calls this kind of response “unashamed bigotry.” Is it?

Romney himself speaks of people using “caricatures that pick some obscure aspect of [one’s] faith . . . and assume it was the central element.” Make no mistake about it, many evangelicals are uncomfortable with voting for a Mormon. The issue intrigues me since the last time we had this kind of discussion was in 1960 when evangelicals were not yet ready to vote for a Roman Catholic. My own pastor told us that a vote for Jack Kennedy was “a vote for the papacy.” That was enough to scare many of the faithful into a vote for Nixon even though they were Southern Democrats.

Mormonism is viewed as a cult by many Christians. I am not thrilled with the common use of the term cult but I am firmly persuaded that Mormonism is not orthodox, confessional, apostolic Christianity. In 2001 the Vatican even ruled that Mormon baptism was not Christian baptism, an interpretation I also share. But should this matter in our choice of a president?

Very simply put, I think it all depends on the particular person. In Romney’s case he is the only one of the front-runners who is still married to his first wife and who has a role-model family. But what a person is, his actions and views, matter deeply with regard to his capacity to lead and serve, or at least they should. Does a Mormon have the intellectual seriousness to lead the country? Some in the secular left think Romney cannot pass such a test simply because he is a Mormon. Hugh Hewitt warns evangelicals that this kind of bias is double-edged and points at them just as much as at Mormons. Theology, Hewitt insists, must not become a “test” for the oval office.

The interesting thing here is that Romney’s role models for going forward have to be Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy, who both argued for a deeply felt religious faith that did not need to be tightly defined. Romney, following Ike’s approach, has said, “I think the American people want a person of faith to lead the country. I don’t think Americans care what brand of faith someone has.” Ike once said, “our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”

We call this kind of faith civil religion. It has absolutely nothing to do with real Christian faith or the proper role of the church and its missional relationship to the kingdom of Christ. But it seems to have a limited role in our particular society, so long as it doesn’t turn faith into sheer mush and nonsense, which it can and sometimes has done. In our present context, where a growing percentage of folks want no mention of faith in public at all, there is a place for such civil religion to counterbalance the secularist assault on the freedom of faith expression. But in the end civil religion will never profoundly shape or change the nation. It is a kind of cultural expression of general religion that makes it possible for all faith, including real faith, to be expressed in charitable and civil ways. It is nothing more and nothing less as I see it.

There are two Buddhists and a Muslim in the U. S. House of Representatives now. Americans are clearly more diverse than ever before. I personally think it is time to retire the “religion test” as a litmus standard for the presidency. It is not time, however, to retire the character test. These two questions are not necessarily related. How will a man act when faced with broadly moral questions that determine his leadership? I hope that question always remains on the table but increasingly I think it is also being lost. Maybe this debate will put it back on the table in a positive way.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

In a plenary address a couple weeks back to the Evangelical Theological Society, law professor and journalist Hugh Hewitt spoke about the religious affiliation of political candidates and to what extent this should be considered in the public debate (Melinda at Stand To Reason summarizes and comments here). In advance of his forthcoming book, A Mormon in the White House?: 10 Things Every Conservative Should Know about Mitt Romney, Hewitt used Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney as an example as to why evangelical Christians should not withhold their votes for a particular presidential candidate purely based on theological disagreement.

In the intervening time, the so-called “Mormon question” has received a great deal of media attention. (Hewitt says that yesterday was “a day of interviews about and with Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.”) Here’s just one example, Time magazine’s story, “Can a Mormon be President? Why Mitt Romney will have to explain a faith that remains mysterious to many.”

A number of people, including Glenn Reynolds, have wondered about the potential hypocrisy in examining Romney’s Mormonism so closely, while apparently giving a free pass to politicians like Harry Reid. But for Hewitt, the appropriate treatment of a Mormon politician would look more like the reception Reid has gotten than the scrutiny that Romney has gotten.

Hewitt’s argument goes like this: if the long knives are brought out by Christians to attack Romney on the basis of his religious commitments, it won’t be long before secularists attack Christians on similar grounds. This is a sort of “all who draw the sword will die by the sword” argument, and it is one that is shared by “Evangelicals for Mitt,” who note that most of the objections to Romney’s fitness for the presidency are on theological matters that are “absolutely irrelevant to the presidency.”

David French of “Evangelicals for Mitt” does address one of the questions I had coming out of the Hewitt talk, which was whether Hewitt’s claims that the religious and theological commitments of candidates should be off-limits was true for practitioners of all religions (or even strands of individual religions). French writes, “Let me be clear: I am not saying that theology is never relevant. When theology dictates policy, it is fair and proper for a voter to take that theology into account.”

These are not the types of theological issues to which evangelicals are taking offense, however. Says French, “The questions we receive deal with the Mormon view of the Trinity, the Mormon doctrine of salvation, the Mormon view of the afterlife, etc. Not only are these questions not relevant to the presidency (though certainly relevant if the Governor were applying to be your pastor), by even attempting to inject them into the debate evangelicals play a dangerous game. Do we think we can reject a candidate for theological reasons and then cry foul if the media or political opponents attack our own theology?”

This distinction between theological positions that bear directly on matters of public policy and ones that do not may indeed be helpful in distinguishing when it is appropriate to discuss faith commitments ad hominem. It would certainly seem to distinguish Romney’s Mormonism from, say, an Islamo-fascist faith which would attempt to impose and enforce Sharia law with government coercion.

Moreover, disqualification of Romney simply on the basis of his Mormon faith is a mark of a theocratic tendency which holds that only Christians are fit to rule. An apocryphal saying attributed to Martin Luther is his expression that he would “rather be ruled by a wise Turk than by a foolish Christian.” We’ll get to more of what Luther actually did say about Islam in a bit. But for the moment, let’s reflect on how this sentiment bears on the conversation.

The idea is essentially that the office of government can be rightly exercised by those who from the Christan perspective hold heretical theological views. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The state possesses its character as government independently of the Christian character of the persons who govern. There is government also among the heathen.”

Acknowledging this truth does not mean that it is of no consequence whether the politician is or is not a Christian. It may simply be of no political consequence. “Certainly the persons who exercise government ought also to accept belief in Jesus Christ, but the office of government remains independent of the religious decision,” says Bonhoeffer.

Back to Luther. (more…)