Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Okay, for starters, I have no political problem voting for a Mormon candidate for office. In fact, if I was faced with a choice between an atheist candidate who would do the right thing and a Christian candidate who would do the wrong thing, then, in principle, I would vote for the atheist candidate without blinking. As Gene Veith has recently reminded us, Luther once said, "I'd rather be ruled by a smart Turk (Muslim) than a stupid Christian."
So when someone like Robert Jeffress, a Dallas pastor and Perry supporter, made this an issue the other day, it really complicated things politically, even for people like me. The problem lies in connecting together the question "Should I vote for Mitt Romney since he is a Mormon?" and the completely different question "Is Mormonism Christian?"
What we need here is de-linkage. The two questions have little to do with each other: the answer to one should have little to do with the answer to the other. Unfortunately, it may be too late, practically speaking, to make that distinction.
The answer to the second question, "Is Mormonism Christian?" is: No, of course it's not. Unfortunately, this question has been sort of muddled by the use of the word "cult." Is Mormonism a cult? Sure it is. So is Methodism, Lutheranism, and Pentacostalism--and Catholicism. Cultus is a Latin word that means "worship" or "form of worship." Is Mormonism a form of worship? Yes it is. So are all Christian sects, Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic.
As Pastor Jeffress himself rightly pointed out, he was using the term in a modern evangelical religious sense to mean "non-Christian sect," and not the sociological sense of a culturally deviant and dangerous religious group a la Jim Jones. But it still muddies the waters, maybe hopelessly.
What Jeffress was really saying was that Mormonism was not a Christian sect. He was right here too. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, Christianity is defined as "the beliefs of the apostles." That is its original and still dispositive meaning. Those beliefs were refined and extrapolated by the seven ecumenical councils, the last of which was the Council of Nicea, which produced the Nicene Creed, the greatest and most definitive statement of Christian belief. A few of us would add a few more councils, here, but that's a different issue.
So the answer to whether Mormonism is Christian is easy to decide: Are their beliefs consistent with the beliefs of the Apostles as they were expressed in the New Testament and as they were articulated in the Nicene Creed? And the clear answer is "No."
If you take any cardinal doctrine of Christianity and ask whether the Mormon Church unconditionally accepts it, the answer is "No." The Atonement. The Resurrection. The Virgin Birth. The unique deity of Christ. They may have beliefs that sound similar, but just a little scratching under the surface shows they do not accept these beliefs as historically defined by the Church.
Heck, they're not even monotheistic.
That doesn't mean they're not good people, or that they ought to be culturally marginalized, or that any one of them can't be president. It just means that they are not within even the broad definition of the Christian Church.
All that being said, if voting for Romney for president is going to require culturally that we all say nicely that his religion is Christian, then a cultural problem is created that affects my political decision. It gives the political position, which is otherwise unproblematic, a negative cultural consequence.
This wouldn't be Romney's fault. It will be the fault of people like Pastor Jeffress, even though he's right about Mormonism.