Mitt, Mormons, and Evangelicals: the Elephant in
By Bob Waldrep
presidential election is upon us and both parties are making a final
push to win the hearts and, more importantly, the votes of the
"undecided". Before the votes are cast, conservatives need
to have an honest discussion about Mormonism. This topic should be
front and center in the discussion but is being intentionally ignored
- the "elephant in the room" you might say - perhaps, in
hopes that it will just go away.
First, let's be clear, the elephant in the room is not
simply the fact that Mr. Romney is a prominent member of the Mormon
Church, which many Christians identify as a religious cult. Granted,
for many Republicans and independent conservatives, such as myself,
who typically lean Republican this has become a touchy subject -
certainly, some still struggle with voting for a Mormon. Typically,
those of us in this group also find it just as difficult voting for
Should a Christian Vote for a Mormon?
I see this struggle regularly when, just as with the
Romney candidacy in 2008, I am asked: "Do you think a Christian
should vote for a Mormon for president"? You may also have been
asked this question; or, maybe you have asked it of others.
Personally, I don't think there is a right or wrong
answer to this question when it comes to the collective Christian
community. The bottom line is this is an issue of conscience that
each of us must answer for ourselves. However, when discussing this
we must also remember that no one is precluded from political office
- even the presidency - based upon their religious persuasion.
Having said this, as Christians, I do not believe our
vote should be cast at the expense of the gospel. As I expressed last
year in the article, Faith and Politics:
"...being a Christian candidate does not guarantee
one is the best candidate any more than the Christian surgeon is
automatically the most gifted surgeon to operate on one's child, or
the Christian dry cleaner is the best one to get the spot out of your
new suit...The underlying concern then, as it is now, is not so much
that Mr. Romney is a Mormon. It is the simple fact that, in promoting
his candidacy, the essential beliefs of the Christian faith are being
altered so a candidate can be presented as Christian; regardless, of
what he truly believes."
The Elephant in the Room
When I wrote those words, Romney had not yet won the
Republican nomination and most evangelicals were solidly in the camp
of one of the other Republican candidates. My concerns centered on
misconceptions regarding Mormonism that were being caused by the
Romney campaign whenever evangelicals and the press raised concerns
about his Mormon faith. It was obvious his campaign strategy was to
ignore the questions and attempt to posture the Mormon Church as
Christian - a strategy long used by the Mormon Church in responding
to its critics and one that was somewhat effective in his 2008 run.
Now that Mr. Romney has secured the Republican
nomination, many who supported other candidates have thrown support
to his campaign. From personal experience, these supporters clearly
understand his being a Mormon can be a negative. As such, some seek
to minimize his Mormonism - a few going so far as to try and paint
Mormons as being part of the Christian community of faith.
It is one thing for Mormons to claim theirs is a
Christian Church - I expect this of them; it is quite another when
evangelicals, who know better, also try to portray it as Christian or
try to qualify it with phrases such as: "somewhat",
"similar to", "in the same camp with", etc.,
Christianity. Therein is the problem - the elephant in the room, one
Mitt Romney meets with Billy Graham
In over twenty years of researching, writing, and
speaking on new religious movements and pseudo-Christian groups, such
as the Mormon Church, I cannot ever recall a time when Christians -
Evangelicals, in particular - were trying so hard to not call one of
these groups a cult, or as being outside the Christian faith. Perhaps
this is best illustrated by the recent actions taken by the Billy
Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) in removing any reference from
their website to the Mormon Church being a cult after Billy and
Franklin Graham met with and endorsed Mr. Romney.
Is the Mormon Church a Cult?
Where it had once labeled the Mormon Church as a cult,
the BGEA now poses the question on their website, "Can an
Evangelical Vote for a Mormon?" The conclusion reached by the
author, Franklin Graham, is yes. As I have previously pointed out, I
do not disagree with his answer. However, I do think this is the
wrong question to be asking. The more important question is, "In
order to make a candidate more appealing, should an evangelical
voting for a Mormon try to make the Mormon Church appear Christian,
or more "Christian-like"; rather than identifying it as a
cult, or as non-Christian?" [Editor's note: The BGEA has not
said the Mormon Church is not a cult, they have simply removed
references to it being a cult from their website. See our article:
"Does the BGEA Still Label Mormon Church a Cult?"]
question, some evangelical leaders have become less outspoken in
their concerns about Mormonism from fear they may negatively impact
Mr. Romney's chances of being elected. BGEA chief of staff, Ken Barun
pretty much admitted this stating, "We removed the information
from the website because we do not wish to participate in a
theological debate about something that has become politicized during
Interestingly, during the last presidential
election, I don't recall any such concerns being expressed about
"politicizing" Mr. Romney's faith when Evangelicals had
other options in the Republican primary. During that campaign, Romney
was regularly asked to comment on those beliefs held by his Church
that many Christians believed put it outside the bounds of the Christian
faith. When responding to such questions, the candidate and his
campaign generally deflected them by asserting he is running for
commander-in-chief, not chief theologian. Fair enough. I understand
that, as a politician, he would not want to answer those questions.
Commander-in-Chief or Theologian-in- Chief?
now that he is the nominee, I hear many of my fellow conservatives
and evangelicals saying the same thing when questioned as to how they
can vote for a Mormon, or in defending their support of Romney before
a question is even raised. It typically goes something like this, "I
know he's a Mormon but I am not voting for a theologian-in-chief, I'm
voting for a commander-in-chief". Sounds logical, right? Of
St. Louis Dispatch: Popularity
of this term evidenced in cartoon reference to
Santorum as "Chief Theologian"
How does a politician knowing and discussing what they
believe about their own faith translate to their running for
theologian-in-chief? The fact of the matter is many of our Presidents
could clearly articulate the beliefs held by their Church. Not one of
them is recognized in the recordings of history as holding the
"mythical" office of Theologian-in-Chief. Obviously, the
Romney campaign (as does many Christians) recognizes the negatives
his Mormonism holds for Christians and wants to avoid any discussion
about its teachings. Let's just be honest about it.
The facts are: Mr. Romney is a life-long member of the
Mormon Church who has served as a Mormon missionary, has fulfilled
all the requirements to enter into the Mormon Temple (something the
vast majority of Mormon Church members are not allowed to do) and has
held several key leadership positions in the Church. Do we honestly
think voters are expected to believe he did all this without learning
anything about what the Mormon Church teaches?
I agree we are not electing him to be our country's
theologian-in-chief, but I do expect him to be honest in answering
questions about his faith, even if the answer truthfully is, "I
don't know". More importantly, I think the general public
expects Evangelicals, (whether we support him, or not) to be just as
open about what the Mormon Church teaches as we were prior to his
winning the nomination.
Must the Mormon Church Be Legitimized to Elect a Mormon?
It should come as no surprise that a few weeks ago the
Mormon Prophet announced the age for serving as a Mormon missionary
was being lowered to 18 for men (formerly 19) and 19 for women
(formerly 21). Regarding this, Mormon Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland told
a news conference, "The Lord is hastening this work and he needs
more willing missionaries." (Salt Lake Tribune, 10-6-12)
According to the Tribune, the Church is counting on a
dramatic increase in missionaries (currently over 58,000 worldwide).
It appears the Mormon Church is anticipating much greater openness to
and growth in their Church. I think we might safely conclude that,
whether Mr. Romney wins this election or not, the Mormon Church has
benefited positively from the campaign. One can't help but wonder if
perhaps that is, at least, part of the reason for the perceived need
for more Mormon missionaries.
point out why we must be mindful that, in trying to diminish any
negatives of Mr. Romney being a Mormon, we may also be legitimizing
the Mormon Church. Once we have rung that bell it will be hard, if
not impossible, to un-ring it. Giving one's support to, or casting
one's vote for a Mormon, should not mean we should no longer tell the
truth about what the Mormon Church believes and teaches. It is never
wrong to point out error, especially when it comes to a group that
proclaims a false gospel.
A Shadow of Things to Come?
Here is the bottom line, this election may be indicative
of what we can expect in future races. It may be that the days of
having a "Christian" option will be much rarer. As such, we
may not have the Christian candidate as a default option. Our vote
will have to center on common ground other than faith. This will be
new territory for those who grew up with the Christian political
movements. It is certainly new for us in this election.
In such a new paradigm, we must learn that we don't need
to "Christianize" our candidate. Rather, we must promote
him, or her, on the basis of the issues we hold in common, despite
our religious differences. If we support Mr. Romney, then promote his
candidacy on the basis of why he is the best man for the job. And,
when questioned about his faith, let's be open and honest about it;
for, it is what it is.
Christians, we know the governance of our nation is important;
however, advancing the Kingdom of Christ should have much greater
significance. As we vote, let's do as conscience dictates, for the
good of the nation. And, as we campaign, let's make sure we do no
harm to the future advancement of the Kingdom.