Is Governor Romney a Christian and Does It Matter?

October 12th, 2011

By Dan Miller

Governor Romney’s Mormon religion is back in the headlines:

The Values Voter Summit in Washington this weekend left no doubt about it: The Mormon issue is back.

A Texas pastor’s inflammatory remarks here — calling Mormonism a “cult” — thrust Mitt Romney’s faith into the center of a 2012 campaign overwhelmingly focused on the economy. It was a transparent attempt by Baptist minister Robert Jeffress, a Rick Perry supporter, to drive a wedge between Romney and evangelical voters.

Governor Romney responded with a call for civility:

Rather than answering Jeffress directly, Romney came to the summit on Saturday and rebuked another hardline social conservative: Bryan Fischer, a controversial official at the American Family Association who has disparaged Mormonism, as well as homosexuality, Islam and more.

“We should remember that decency and civility are values too,” Romney said Saturday. “One of the speakers who will follow me today has crossed that line, I think. Poisonous language doesn’t advance our cause.”

It was a careful response that allowed Romney to criticize a detractor of his faith without inviting a lengthy public conversation about Mormonism.

Mitt RomneyA response such as this sheds no light on whether Governor Romney’s Mormon religion is relevant to what sort of president he would become; civility can be good, but not to the extent that it preempts the discussion of matters of political significance. Since we are looking for a president rather than an instructor in theology, and since the principal distinctions drawn have been purely doctrinal, they appear to be irrelevant to whether he should become the president. Governor Romney should address this and related matters.

Attorney General Holder once called for an “honest discussion” of race, apparently having in mind instead a dishonest one-way communication about White “racism.” That hasn’t turned out well. We need rather more candid discussions of the intersection of religion and politics than occurred concerning the intersection of race and politics. That obviously involves discussion of both religion and politics and the implications of one for the other.

Religion has been an important if not central part of American life since the country began. Are the religious heritage of the United States and her remaining commonly accepted religious beliefs that affect what we as a nation want and do relevant to how the United States responds to these and other foreign and domestic situations? I think they have to be if we are to survive.

What is a Christian? This seems a reasonable starting point when considering whether particular religious beliefs are or are not Christian. It may well be presumptuous for an Agnostic non-Christian to attempt to define Christianity, but here goes. As I understand it, the basic doctrinal aspects of Christianity as set forth in the Apostles Creed and elsewhere involve belief in only one God; that Jesus, His only son, was born on Earth to a virgin (or at least to a young woman); that He died to atone for our sins, was resurrected and ascended to Heaven to sit on the right side of God, the Father Almighty and the Maker of Heaven and Earth, from whence He shall eventually come to judge us. Christianity also involves belief in the Bible as the literal or at least metaphoric Word of God and in the Holy Trinity — God in three persons, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Blessed Trinity, “which wert and art and evermore shall be.” There are also many non-doctrinal, morality based, concepts which most Christians share — for example, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, turn the other cheek and do not covet your neighbor’s wife. Many substantially predate Christianity, believed to have been given to Moses as the Ten Commandments or thought to have been taught by pre-Christian priests and philosophers; they can’t be claimed as exclusively Christian. Presumably, Deists, Pantheists and Polytheists would not legitimately claim to be Christians even though some share these moral imperatives.

Unitarians? Adlai Stevenson, who ran unsuccessfully in 1952 and 1956 as the Democrat Party candidate for President, was a Unitarian. His

grandfather Stevenson was a Democrat and a Presbyterian, while his maternal grandfather, W.O. Davis, was a Republican and a Unitarian. Adlai used to say jokingly, that he was a born politician; he had taken his politics from the Stevenson and his religion from the Davis side of the family. …

He attended Sunday School in the old Unitarian Church, where he recited the credo that was as close as Unitarians came to dogma: “In the love of truth, and in the spirit of Jesus, we unite for the worship of God and the service of man.”

I can recall no particular political significance being attributed to the doctrinal aspects, as distinguished from the Librul social policy aspects, of Governor Stevenson’s religion.

As the name suggests, Unitarians do not accept the central Christian doctrinal notion of the Trinity and some reject the divinity of Jesus. Comparing a Unitarian and a Methodist hymnal will reveal many similar hymns, sung to the same music but with quite different words. Here is a popular Christian version of the Doxology:

A Unitarian-Universalist version of the Doxology became,

From all that dwell below the skies
Let faith and hope with love arise.
Let beauty, truth and good be sung
Through every land by every tongue.

There are other, slightly different, versions. Faith in whom or what is not clear, but it can probably mean faith in man, in a supreme being or both. Are Unitarians Christians? Through perhaps interesting definitions of Christianity some would say that they are or at least that some Unitarians might be despite the rejection of the Trinity.

Black Liberation Theology? President Obama for many years attended the Reverend Mr. Wright’s Trinity United Church in Chicago where Black Liberation Theology, said to be a subset of Christianity, was preached; the Reverend Mr. Wright was long his principal religious adviser and mentor; one of his most memorable references to God was “God damn America.” Hate, rather than “Christian love,” seems to have been a principal factor. This was not likely often sung by a Black Liberation Church choir:

Many voters were put off by the Reverend Mr. Wright’s rants. After they became public knowledge, Senator Obama “threw him under the bus,” much to the Reverend Mr. Wright’s displeasure. It would have been inexpedient for Senator Obama to have remained steadfast because his election would have been substantially in doubt.

To what extent did Senator Obama adhere to the Reverend Mr. Wright’s beliefs and to what extent does President Obama now? Did he like the music and appreciate the religious teachings? What parts? Did he reject the harsh racial stuff? What parts? Did he adhere to the doctrinal aspects of those beliefs, or to something else more important to how he would, could and would want to behave as the President? Candid explanations from Senator Obama back then would have been useful in understanding President Obama now. This article at Huffington Post (yes, Huff ‘n Puff) suggests that

Perhaps the virulently anti-Semitic and anti-Israel preachings of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., who was Obama’s pastor for nearly 20 years, officiated at his wedding, baptized his children, gave him the title of his book, The Audacity of Hope, and served as his “sounding board” and spiritual mentor, have had more of an influence on Obama’s world view than people realize.

Explanations from Governor Romney, similar but not identical to those not given by Senator Obama of how his church has shaped his own political policies would be no less helpful.

Mormons? Mormonism is politically important because Governor Romney, a current leader of the pack for the Republican nomination, is a Mormon. Reactions adverse to his religion have generally been based on doctrinal differences from Christianity. I do not recall any challenges being voiced to his devotion to the United States based on Mormon religious doctrine. This was performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir:

Here are the portions of thirteen Mormon Articles of Faith that seem, to me, most divergent from widespread Christian doctrine:

Articles of Faith

5. We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.

7. We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.

8. We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.

10. We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.

Some appear to be consistent with more or less traditional Christian beliefs, some not. I rather like this one:

11. We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

The inconsistencies seem fairly clear but variable depending on one’s own subset of Christianity. To the extent that there are inconsistencies, they appear to be of a doctrinal nature, not much impacting on what Governor Romney would do, could do or would want to do as the President.

It is argued here that Mormonism is a false religion because some of its doctrines are inconsistent with Christian doctrine and that, therefore, a Mormon should not become the President of the United States. The author claims,

On such essential doctrines as the Trinity and the role of Jesus in salvation, there are major differences between orthodox (biblical) Christianity and Mormonism. But the real problem is that Mormons believe and teach an American history that is in many particulars completely unsubstantiated and in others demonstrably false. Mormons believe that the “lost tribes” of Israel actually ended up in America, and that Jesus visited America and these tribes during his incarnation. These are just a few of Mormonism’s highly idiosyncratic views of history.

As to the Trinity and the role of Jesus, Article 1 of the Articles says, “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” How commonly understood, or significant, in mainstream Christianity is any difference between this Article and the concept of the Trinity? The article continues,

Placing a Mormon in … [the Presidential bully] pulpit would be a source of pride and a shot of adrenaline for the LDS church. It would serve to normalize the false teachings of Mormonism the world over. It would also provide an opening to Mormon missionaries around the world, who could start every conversation: “Let me tell you about the American president.” To elect a Mormon President is to advance the cause of the Mormon Church. …

A Romney presidency would have the effect of actively promoting a false religion in the world. If you have any regard for the Gospel of Christ, you should care. A false religion should not prosper with the support of Christians. The salvation of souls is at stake. …

If Mitt Romney believes what the Mormon Church teaches about the world and how it operates, then he is unfit to serve. We make him our President at great peril to the intellectual and spiritual health of our nation.

The essential arguments of the linked article are (1) that Christianity is the one true religion while Mormonism is a false religion and (2) that a function of the presidency is to advance the doctrinal precepts of the “one true religion.”

These arguments, if accepted, would impose upon the President a new obligation, that of Defender of The One True Faith. The title of the English monarchs has included the phrase Defender of The Faith since 1521 with a brief hiatus between 1530 and 1544. By prohibiting the establishment of a federal religion, the First Amendment rejected that sort of thing. The President must support, rather than abandon, and must be dedicated to, defending the basic principles upon which the country was founded.

I consider Governor Romney a “RINO,” and there are other candidates I prefer. If he becomes the nominee, however, I shall support him as best I can and vote for him; the alternative is probably the reelection of President Obama.

(This article was also posted at Dan Miller’s Blog.)

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7 Responses to “Is Governor Romney a Christian and Does It Matter?”

  1. Tom Carter |

    Thanks for a great article, Dan.

    It’s always fun to see people throwing stones at each other over their particular supernatural beliefs. Except, of course, when the stones are real and heads start rolling, which has too often been the case throughout history.

    Like you, I don’t have a dog in this hunt, and I don’t care which organized body of superstition politicians adhere to, as long as they perform their duties in office with reverence only for the Constitution and concern only for the country. To the extent that they make decisions informed by religious belief, they are betraying their office. And in fact, Evangelicals give me a bit more concern than Mormons or Catholics. The idea of George W. Bush on his knees in the Oval Office asking God for guidance on going to war, for example, which he led us to believe probably happened, is troubling to say the least. I also dislike the hypocrisy inherent in politicians who profess to be believers in order to get elected, yet live and act as though they are something different. A good example is John Kerry and other politicians who profess to be devout Catholics and support abortion.

    From a narrow Christian theological view, there’s plenty of reason to question whether Mormons are Christians. A few examples of important variations in belief include monotheism, the nature of Christ’s redemption and the path to salvation, the elevation of Joseph Smith to virtual equality, the nature of the Trinity, God in a corporeal body, the Immaculate Conception, the inerrancy of the Bible, and the validity of the Nicene Creed.

    The whole argument is pointless nonsense. Mormons believe in most of the savior story and most of the creation myth of those ancient tribes of the Middle East, certainly to the extent necessary to call themselves Christians if they wish. Beyond that, if one’s view is widened to include all those who believe in the same God (forget the monotheism issue for a moment) — Christians, Jews, and Muslims — the difference between Mormons and other Christians significantly diminishes in importance. Go further and widen the scope to include all forms of religious belief that are not Abrahamic, and the issue becomes totally unimportant.

    At this moment (things can always change), I support Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination because he is most likely to be able to defeat Obama and he is a much less doctrinaire conservative than most of the others. I couldn’t care less which deity he prays to, assuming he actually prays to any of them.

  2. Anonymous |

    I certainly hope the GOP candidates do not make religion a point of debate.

    Of course, this morning I heard Anita Perry suggesting that the other GOP contenders and the media were slamming her husband, Rick, due to his faith. I imagine she believes his debate performance and his dictatorial view on the Gardisal vaccination are okay.

    In the end, whoever wins the Republican nomination has to be someone who can unequivocally beat Obama.

  3. Dan Miller |

    The non-doctrinal aspects of Senator Obama’s Black Liberation religion should have been part of the debate. As noted in the linked Huff’n Puff article, they may well have influenced his actions as President Obama. Purely doctrinal matters — belief in the Trinity, the Virgin Birth and the like of Black Liberation churches, whatever they may be — seem unlikely to have been of significant importance in his election; nor do I see how they would they have affected his actions as the President. A debate on non-doctrinal matters could have been different: it could well have caused him not to be elected. Fear of being labeled racist precluded such a debate.

    For the reasons suggested in my article, none of a President Romney’s actions would likely be affected by Mormon doctrine, which nevertheless appears to be a sticky wicket. And that is a reason for an honest discussion of whether there is an appropriate intersection of those doctrines with politics.

  4. Dan Miller |

    Here is an article on the feelings about Mormons from the other side of the aisle:

    Many cited a recent Gallup poll that found that 22 percent said they would not vote for a Mormon for president. By comparison, only 9 percent said they would not vote for a Jew.

    Parsing the poll though, a different picture emerges. The number of Republicans who said they would not vote for a Mormon was 18 percent, several points below the average. The number of independents who would not vote for a Mormon was 19 percent, also below the average.

    So who was throwing the average off? Democrats. Gallup found that 27 percent, more than a quarter, definitely said they would not vote for a Mormon for president.

    In other words, it is not Red State voters who fear Mormons the most, it is the secular, college-educated, liberal blue state voters that do.

  5. larry |

    Brother Dan
    I don’t believe that reality and the written word in this case are quite the same. I don’t know very many Mormon haters. Do you?

  6. Dan Miller |

    Larry, I don’t know any, but I have read some of their stuff. The anti-Mormon arguments are doctrinal and, with the exception noted in the article, have hardly anything to do with how Governor Romney or any other Mormon would behave as the President. The argument presented there strikes me as specious.

    The Mormons I have known have been decent, law abiding folk and very family oriented. I doubt that there are any in the various “Occupy Wall Street” crowds.

  7. Jennie Walsh |

    Anyone who seeks to trample on another’s faith and religion should beware of the wrath of God. There are plenty of wolves in sheep’s clothing around who do whatever they can to turn the children of God against each other in suspicion and hostility. “Divide and Conquer” is the name of the secret servants of Satan’s game and it is very evil, to say the least.

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