As much as he may be trying to downplay it, Mitt Romney’s Mormonism continues to be a factor in his campaign for the Republican nomination. As an evangelical Christian, who find himself fairly regularly aligned with the “Christian Right,” I wanted to illustrate some ideas that play into a Christian’s view of Romney and the likelihood evangelical leaders and everyday voters could rally behind him if he is the GOP nominee.
I want to present some facts from our perspective and then talk about what evangelical Christians can do better in relation to his candidacy.
1. Mormonism is not Christianity: I understand that for many this is difficult to understand, especially for those on the outside of Christianity. Ace and Allah, two prominent conservative bloggers who are atheist/agnostic, do not see why Christians cannot simply accept Mormons as part of our religion.
The reasoning is, don’t Mormons belief and worship Jesus, isn’t that what you do? The answer is a qualified “yes.” Muslims revere Jesus as one of the prophets. Many other religions hold Jesus in high regard. None of that makes them Christian and it doesn’t make Mormon’s Christian either.
Here is one of many charts detailing the differences between Mormon doctrine and traditional Christian teaching. I will not get into all the differences, but some of the main objections are the addition of another book to the Bible, the belief that God is actually an elevated human and that we can one day attain god status and be worshipped ourselves by peoples of other planets, the belief that God had sex with Mary in order to produce Jesus, who is one of God’s many children, another being Satan and Mormon teaching also says that we are saved and made right with God in part by our good works and obeying Mormon teaching. All of these doctrines run contrary to what Christians believed and have believed.
Mormonism is, and has always been, defined as a cult because while they use Christian language and accept the Bible, they make additions to it and teach things contrary to it. They are not a separate religion, like Islam or Buddhism, because they take the foundation of Christianity and then twist certain teachings and add others to create their faith.
What evangelicals can do better: I think much of the argument that I have seen, centers around the word cult. It comes across as a pejorative and many believe it is meant as a insult instead of a separator between the two religions. It may benefit Christians to refrain from using the word when speaking in a political manner because of the images it conjures up for some. Southern Baptist leader Richard Land may have indicated a shift in terminology when he recently referred to Mormonism as “the fourth Abrahamic faith.” It delineates, but does not denigrate. We may see more of that in the future.
2. Christianity is a religion not a political movement: Many people that are quoted in the numerous media stories on the divide between Romney’s Mormonism and evangelical Christianity are average people, local pastors, who are speaking from a religious standpoint, not a political one. They see the question as a religious one and answer it as such. However, it is possible for me to say “Mormonism is a cult” and “I will vote for a Mormon for president.” Those two statements are not incompatible.
You see numerous evangelical, even fundamentalist, Christians lining up to support Romney because of the shared social values between Mormonism and Christianity, between themselves and Romney. The biggest Romney supporter on the right side of the blogosphere is the evangelical Hugh Hewitt. Many evangelical leaders have come out in favor of Romney, including Mark DeMoss and Jay Sekulow. Others have indicated they would whole-heartedly support him if he wins the nomination. See here and here.
Even the very article and quote that started Ace and Allah’s post about evangelicals and Romney, comes from someone seems to be giving Romney supportive advice on how to spin his religion to Christians in the South. Rep. Bob Inglis understands that Mormonism is not viewed as Christianity. Romney has to accept that fact and then move beyond it, especially when dealing with evangelicals.
A top academic official at Bob Jones University voiced the opinion of many Christians when he said, “We’re not electing a pastor — we’re electing a president.”
What evangelicals can do better: Continue to make it clear that view of Mormonism is a religious issue not a political one. Those who would be able to support a Romney candidacy should explain that those who have said they could not support Romney for president because of his faith are in the minority and do not speak for all evangelical Christians.
3. The media is making this a larger issues than it is. It always strikes me as so odd that non-social conservatives see the liberal media bias when they report on Iraq, taxes, government spending, the environment, and every other conservative issue, but fail to recognize the distorted way the media reports on evangelical Christianity.
The media, largely centered in New York, LA and DC, tend to view evangelical Christians as aliens. The live in bubbles isolated from us. They may run into a fiscal conservative on occasion, but many will never interact with conservative Christians unless it is for a story that reads as if the reporter is observing a strange creature through bars at a zoo.
I should not have to make this clear, but it seems it is needed: Virtually everything you see reported from the media about evangelical Christians and their politics is false. For one they don’t understand us and how our faith plays into our politics and secondly, they shape the story in such a way as to be as harmful as possible to conservatives – that includes playing up small differences into huge stories.
Are there some evangelical Christians who would not vote for Mitt Romney because he is a Mormon? Yes, but there are some evangelicals who wouldn’t vote for anyone but kook third-party type candidates. Will millions of evangelicals stay at home or vote third party if Romney is the nominee? No, even those who may say they could not vote for Romney now will be forced to reconsider if it comes down to him versus Hillary.
What evangelicals can do better: We can attempt to remind our fellow conservatives that the media doesn’t like us either. Conservatives cannot let the media take minor differences and push them between us as wedges. Both sides should be a little bit more humble in their dealings with one another.
Evangelicals need to remember that we are not the only ones voting in the GOP. Our values are important and should be represented, but we cannot expect secular conservatives to not vote for a candidate based on purely religious reasons. Secular conservatives need to remember that while much of the money for campaigns comes from Wall-Street fiscal-cons, much of the campaign volunteers and votes comes from the evangelical Christians. Neither one of us can achieve anything if we simply take our ball and go home over minor differences.
Conclusion: While the vast majority of evangelical Christians will not and cannot support Mormon teaching, the vast majority of evangelical Christians can and will support Mitt Romney if he is the eventually GOP nominee.