The essay below first appeared in September of 2007 in anticipation of the ‘08 election. This version is updated for 2011.
Would you vote for a Mormon for President? Under the right conditions, I would.
By now, the name Mitt Romney is at least vaguely familiar to most of us. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, is running for President and is a Mormon. So far, his fund-raising efforts have been fruitful, and the discomfort of many Republicans with the alternatives has kept Romney in a strong position in the polls. Though his chances of being the Republican nominee are smaller now that Rick Perry has entered the race, an eventual Romney nomination is far from impossible.
Some pundits claim the Christian Right will never allow that to happen. In their view, evangelicals view Mormonism as a cult and anyone associated with Mormonism as an embodiment of evil. One pundit, who happens to be a Mormon, wrote the following:
Everyone knows that Christian evangelicals hate Mormons so badly that if they had to choose between a bribe-taking, FBI-file-stealing, relentless-lie-telling, mud-slinging former first lady, and a Mormon ex-governor who doesn’t lie, who’s still married to his first wife, and who supports the entire Christian evangelical agenda, they’d still rather die than vote for a Mormon.
Is he right? More importantly, should he be right? I for one would vote for the Mormon Romney over any liberal Democrat likely to seek office, and I’d do so with only brief hesitation. Before you brand me a nutcase or a heretic, consider the following factors behind my thinking.
Mormonism’s worldview derives from Christianity’s
Sometimes incomplete information is worse than no information at all. (What if you know the guy two seats away from you on an airplane has a gun, but you don’t know he is an Air Marshal?) But when it comes to the big ideas that form the framework of a person’s worldview, every bit of truth is powerful and important. Being partly right is far better than being entirely wrong.
So when it comes to running a country, a Mormon candidate is not even close to the worst-case scenario. Consider what most Mormons believe. They believe there is one God (at least only one that matters in this part of the universe). He is the creator and moral authority over the human race. Human beings ought to be honest, kind and just. We will answer to God at the judgment. In addition to these basics, Mormonism holds that the Bible is very important, that the traditional family is very important and that marriage is sacred.
In short, Mormonism shares with Christianity the belief in a mighty God who expects clean living from His creatures.
Gospel-believers understand that all other religions are false religions
All who believe the gospel see Mormonism as a false religion. As a Baptist and a fundamentalist, I share that view. Mormonism ultimately fails to deliver on its most fundamental promise: eternal life with God’s blessing. The Bible is clear that eternal life is available only through faith in the fully-God, fully-man Jesus Christ apart from any trust in our own works of righteousness. But the fact that Mormonism denies this truth doesn’t make it unusual. Every religion but Christianity denies it. By default, those who claim no religion deny it as well.
To some, Mormonism is particularly spooky because “it’s a cult.” But should we care one way or the other about the spookiness factor? What determines the eternal efficacy of any belief system is whether it holds to the biblical gospel of grace. Mormonism doesn’t, but that puts it on par with Council-of-Trent Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Judaism.
So if evangelicals can be comfortable with candidates who embrace the Judeo-Christian worldview, why can’t they back candidates with a Judeo-Christian-Mormon worldview? When it comes to the gospel, the only difference between Mormonism and many other false systems is that Mormonism hasn’t been around as long.
Do we really believe that a good works-based religion (“cult” if you like) that spun off Christianity and shares several of its tenets is worse than the liberalized versions of Baptist, Episcopal, or Catholic, which have a lower view of human life, a lower view of the institution of the family, a lower view of the Bible and an even murkier view of who God is?
In any case, given our highly specific understanding of what a true Christian is, it’s unlikely that we’ll have one to vote for in 2012. Just by the law of averages, most candidates for high office will not be persons with a genuine faith in the biblical gospel of grace.
Not all non-Christian belief systems are equal
Compare what Mormonism gets right to the belief systems of several other likely presidential candidates. Many candidates have a vaguely high regard for religion in general. That is, they believe that Christianity and faiths like it are helpful in driving people toward ideals like kindness, peace, fairness and love. But they do not hold that any religion is actually true in the sense of being factual in any exclusive way.
Some candidates speak often of God but believe in a God who is nonpersonal. (God is all that is good in the universe, or worse, simply all that is in the universe.) These also tend to believe that if God is a personal being, He has no moral or ethical requirements for the human race that He has gone to the trouble to reveal. These leaders are quite comfortable joining in prayers and public religious rituals but recoil in horror whenever a religion claims to posses exclusive truth about God or forgiveness. They do not believe the Bible can be a source of any kind of certainty about right and wrong in the world.
Such candidates are left with a purely pragmatic process for arriving at moral beliefs. What seems to be helpful? What seems to advance human civilization (as though “advance” could have any meaning without a moral authority to tell us which way is forward)? For the worst of the lot, the only moral calculation is “What seems to be the social trend?”
Though a Mormon’s beliefs ultimately derive from the “apostles” in Salt Lake City (limited somewhat by a synthesis of the Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, The Doctrine and Covenants, and the Bible), a Mormon believes right and wrong are revealed and did not evolve by chance through the clash of social forces.
The Mormon articles of faith uphold religious freedom and the independent authority of government
Anyone who grew up as I did is naturally apprehensive about the idea of a Mormon in the White House. Won’t he try to force everyone to become Mormon? Won’t he be under the control of the authorities in Salt Lake City? Will he try to weaken orthodox Christianity?
The Mormon articles of faith, and Mormons’ history of taking them seriously, should be reassuring. Article 11 maintains the freedom of individuals to “worship how, where, or what they may.” And Article 12 acknowledges the need to honor, obey and “be subject” to civil authority. Mormons believe Joseph Smith wrote these articles himself, and everything I’ve seen suggests Mormons take the articles as seriously as their well-known belief in the sanctity of the family.
Mormonism is also no longer monolithic. Because it’s been around for a while now and views individual revelation as an ongoing phenomenon, it has dissenters in its ranks. Unlike the followers of, say, the Watchtower Society, it’s not uncommon to hear Mormons offer mild criticism of their own church. Mormons are not brainwashed automatons, acting in lockstep with a secret puppet master in a Utah temple.
I’m not a fan of Mormonism and would prefer to have a non-Mormon president. I’d also love to live in an America that attaches much greater value to its Christian roots and in which a large majority prefers to have a Bible-believing Christian in the White House. But we don’t live in that America. So the question is, what kind of human being makes for a good president for the America we have here and now? We shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss any candidate who has a strongly Bible-influenced view of right and wrong.
As for this particular race, I’d love to see a Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio or Scott Walker jump into the race, then miraculously dominate and win the nomination. But if the ballot in 2012 is Romney vs. Obama, I think the choice is obvious.