When George Romney-former American Motors CEO, cabinet secretary, governor of Michigan, and Mitt Romney's father-ran for president in 1968, the candidate told reporters: "I am completely a product of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints." Four decades later, Mitt Romney isn't speaking quite as bluntly. But the 2012 presidential candidate is serious about his Mormonism, leading to serious discussion among evangelicals about whether they're willing to support a Mormon for the highest office in the country. Here are two views . . .
Yes to a Mormon | by Timothy Lamer
On Sept. 14, 2001, three days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush entered the pulpit of the National Cathedral and gave the country some idea of his religious beliefs. Seeking to comfort the nation, Bush assured Americans that "the Lord of life holds all who die and all who mourn." He finished his speech by saying, "As we have been assured, neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, can separate us from God's love."
Readers may recognize that last quote as a paraphrase of Romans 8:38-39. They may also notice that Bush left out five key words that end the passage: "in Christ Jesus our Lord." The speech and subsequent statements clearly implied that Bush did not believe faith in Christ is necessary for salvation. It turns out that President Bush, a favorite of evangelicals, was in public life a universalist. This observation provides some context for evangelicals as we consider whether to vote for a Mormon-such as Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman-for president. It shows that making sound theology a requirement for our vote will often leave us without any candidate to support.
Christianity, we should remember, is not designed to win popularity contests. A presidential candidate trying to appeal to the majority is unlikely to espouse crucial facets of a religion whose Messiah is a "stone of stumbling and a rock of offense" (1 Peter 2:8) and whose adherents are told to expect the world's hatred (John 15:18-19). Presidents seek to unite people; Christ came to divide them (Luke 12:51). Unbelievers, moreover, seem to be acceptable biblically to serve in public office. When Paul wrote Romans 13-which commands obedience to civil government-pagans were the chief government officials in Rome. This suggests that unbelievers can serve God's purpose for government, and that evangelicals, in good conscience, can vote for a non-Christian if he's the best-qualified candidate for president.
But is Mormonism a special case? Is it particularly disqualifying, as opposed to, say, the nominal Christianity that so prevails in America? Mormons deny the Trinity (which by itself makes false their claim to be Christians), but so have legions of mainline Protestants for decades. Mormons add to Scripture, but mainline Protestant luminaries subtract from it by dismissing the parts they don't like. At least Mormons still oppose abortion and same-sex marriage; many mainline churches don't have that going for them anymore.
The most persuasive argument against considering a vote for a Mormon is the idea that it could help spread Mormonism. The religion of Joseph Smith is so finely tuned to the desires of fallen man (you can become a god in the afterlife!) that it's amazing Mormonism hasn't grown faster. If having a Mormon in the White House would give cultural cachet to a false religion, then that might be a reason-the only one I can see-for evangelicals to vote against him on religious grounds.
No to Mitt | by Warren Cole Smith
Mitt Romney, along with every American, is free to believe whatever he wants, and religious belief-whether benign or bizarre-should not prevent anyone from running for public office. But that doesn't mean voters shouldn't take a candidate's religious views into account. Indeed, a person's religious beliefs tell us a great deal about both a candidate's character and the core principles that inform his governing philosophy. When we evaluate candidates for public office, religion matters-and should.
As for Romney (or Huntsman), I start with the understanding that Mormonism is not orthodox, biblical Christianity. If this understanding is true, then promoting Mormonism is promoting a false religion. So the real question is whether supporting a Mormon for president promotes Mormonism. My answer to that is yes. Electing a Mormon to the world's most powerful political office would dramatically raise the profile and positive perception of Mormonism. That is why I cannot in good conscience vote for Romney, despite agreeing with him on a good many social and fiscal issues.
Some argue that we elect a president, not a preacher, but this argument fails to account for a president's "bully pulpit." He is a preacher, apologist-in-chief for the American Vision. In this vital role, worldview matters. We have a right to expect the president to project a vision consistent with the beliefs, values, and ideals we've long held as a country.
I sometimes hear the related argument that we don't ask an airplane pilot his religion, only that he can fly the plane. But we do ask airplane pilots their religion-at least indirectly. A theologian friend is fond of saying, "There are no postmodern airplane pilots." He means that pilots do not merely push levers and twist knobs. They have a core set of beliefs and values about how the universe operates. They believe in the physical laws of the universe. Their behavior in the cockpit directly connects to their beliefs about the world.
Romney's strategy has been to talk about "values" and dodge questions about religion, as if they were somehow unrelated. He hopes that as America accepted John Kennedy's Catholicism, so too will America accept his Mormonism. But Kennedy gave a famous speech to the Houston Baptists about religion that explained his views and calmed concerns. Romney's problem is that if he really believes what the Mormon Church teaches, he dare not make that speech. The American people will say, "Really? Are you kidding me?" Or, if he says he doesn't believe what the Mormon Church teaches, fellow Mormons will feel betrayed and even those who have trouble with the Mormon Church will nonetheless wonder about a man who can't stand up for his own.
Yogi Berra famously said, "Predictions are dangerous, especially predictions about the future." That said, my prediction is that for Romney these problems are insurmountable and will ultimately bring down his bid for the presidency.