Obama, Romney and a Conservative Evangelical Counter-Cult Expert

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I love politics.

I grew up in Sacramento, CA running the halls of the State Capitol Building where my mother worked for various legislators for nearly 25 years. I still have aunts, uncles and friends who are heavily involved in politics and I have always believed that public service is honorable calling. The intricacies of the system, the importance of relationships, the development of strategies and the struggle to find common vision has always been inspiring and exciting to me. Sure, I lament the fact that distrust seems to be the default opinion of politicians and, yes, politics can be excruciatingly frustrating. But in the end, the beauty of our democratic system is that it holds in tension the great diversity of our country as we strive to peacefully move forward as one body.

So, as you can imagine, I also love Presidential election season.

And yes, I am a Christian.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon an intriguing article by a fellow Patheos writer, Douglas Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary. In his article, Why This Conservative Evangelical Counter-Cult Expert Will Vote for Romney, he addresses a question that I’ve wondered about since Mitt Romney, a Mormon, won the right to face President Barack Obama in the 2012 Presidential Election, “Who will Conservative Evangelical Christians vote for?”

Now I am not surprised that he comes down on the side of Romney. As he stipulates, Romney is a not a principled conservative and since I don’t think Obama has endeared himself to many Conservative Evangelicals over this first four years, there is prob not much of a chance that Obama will see an increase in the Conservative Evangelical vote. Still, Romney is a Mormon and there are many who think this is bad. As Groothuis says…

However, Mormonism as Mormonism is heretical. No one should be a Mormon. It is “another gospel” (see Gal. 1:6-11). I learned this in 1977, when, as a young Christian, I read Walter Martin’s modern classic, Kingdom of the Cults. Nothing since has convinced me to the contrary.

And clearly he sees President Obama much differently than I…

Obama, while not a Mormon, has no credible Christian testimony. Consider his twenty-year membership in Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s racist, ultra-liberal, Nation-of-Islam-supporting church. Ponder his stance on abortion and same-sex marriage . . . Obama is far more sympathetic to Islam than he is to Christianity. I did not say that Obama was a Muslim, but that he is deferent to Islam and seems oblivious (or indifferent) to the dangers of Sharia law (see Robert Spencer’s Stealth Jihad). This is urgent, since Sharia law is already being implemented on American soil.

Safe to say that Professor Groothuis and I have probably never voted for the same presidential candidate. Still, there are some arguments in his article with which I deeply resonate. He challenges the strategy of opting out of the voting process as some kind of protest, he claims fundamental differences between the two two parties and he calls people to use their faith as a lens through which they exercise their political power. The part of the article, however, that really convicted me was his perspective on the office of President and the role of religion in government.

If Romney is elected president, it would give Mormonism a platform it has never enjoyed before. That is bad, very bad. However, the president is neither Theologian-in-Chief nor Pastor-in-Chief. He is Commander-in-Chief. Moreover, Mormons have every right the Constitution affords our citizens, and conservative Christians can and should be co-belligerents with Mormons (and others) in political causes. Ecumenism religiously is another matter entirely.

So while I vehemently disagree with most, if not all, of his assertions about the nature of the Christian faith, the Democratic party and President Obama, I very much agree with his overall understanding of the relationship between personal faith and the political process: the United States is not a church and the President not a Pastor.

Church and State must be kept separate, but faith and politics must be held in tension.

So for those who disagree with folks like Professor Groothuis about where our country should head I would offer the same kind of arguments about why you should vote for President Obama:

  • Voting is our civic duty;
  • Opting out of the process is a waste;
  • There is a difference between the core principles of the two parties;
  • Obama is better than the alternative;

I close with one last quote from Professor Groothuis’ article.

But we should remember that politics is not the church. It is the art of the possible. Often we must choose the lesser of two evils, which is also the evil of two lessers. We reside in a fallen world. Get over it . . . You are not appointing a pastor but voting for a president. A vote is neither a letter of reference, nor an unqualified endorsement, nor an act of worship. A vote is the exercise of the franchise, one part you play in our Republican form of government. It is a right, a responsibility, and a privilege that should not be squandered.

On this I couldn’t agree more.

Obama/Biden 2012

  • uncommon sense

    Joy, what are you smoking? Obama hates the constitution because it restricts his powers. He even said so. Obama’s voting record on abortion speaks for its self. He even voted in favor of partial birth abortions. ( check his senate voting record) Finally,
    this president has spent more money, that we don’t have, than ALL the combined presidents! Check the GAO web site. Expanding government kills the private sector.

  • Joy

    LOL…. Pro-abortion? You must be joking. Anti-constitutional? Obama was a Constitutional law professor. Debt-loving, overspending? Were you in this country five years ago? Homosexual marriage as normative legally? Again, what country do you live in? And this is coming from someone who is a libertarian.

  • Fletch

    I agree with the comment from Doug Groothuis, and eagerly anticipate your reply with arguments… not just assertions. Thank you.

  • Doug Groothuis

    I would like to see some *argument* (not mere assertion) on why you support a pro-abortion, anti-Constitutional, debt-loving, overspending Obama. If you vote for Obama, you are voting for the public funding of abortion on demand: more killing of the innocents. But now you and I are paying for it. Further, you are voting for homosexual marriage as normative legally. How can you justify any of this?

    Further, Obama is not good news for the poor. Instead of getting people to work (by freeing regulation and lowering taxes), he is getting more people on the dole: food stamps and more. Obama is a statist, which is idolatry.

  • http://profiles.google.com/nixonislord Nixon isLord

      So now you’ve come to the point of “acceptance” in the stereotype of dealing with the reality of an imminent death.  Great.  Now if you’d only stop trying to kid yourself that your acceptance is something other than an obvious action by anyone rational.  It’s certainly not “courageous” or “prophetic”.  And if you want to face a real act of “solidarity with the poor”, have your church sell off its surplus churches and give the money away.  Or demand that Episcopal boarding schools accept the children of the poor in the same percentage they make up in the population.  Till then, this is another form of church self-congratulation parading around in stupid clothes and pretending to be something it’s not.
      And what’s with all the double-barreled last names?

  • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

    I’ll just add quickly: If confessing the Creed together isn’t enough, then what is the point of having a Creed and confessing it? 

  • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

    I think perhaps our differences may be rooted in something more simple than doctrine, to be honest. For the Anglican Communion, historically, it is enough to confess the Creed. In what way does confessing the Creed preclude basic affirmations of historic Christianity? Or would you have each priest describe, perhaps on a yearly basis, exactly *how* they confess the Creed? Exactly what is the point of a Creed if we constantly need to be debating how each individual says the creed? The point of the Creed is it is communal. It doesn’t matter what individuals think about the Creed because a Creed is not an individual but a communal affirmation. I think perhaps we are confusing the Creed with say Confirmation. And we are constantly reaffirm those commitments, rooted in our baptismal covenant. For example, in the ECUSA liturgy, the congregation affirms its individual commitments of the baptismal covenant, again because baptism is a communal event rather than a purely individual one.
    Reducing something as expansive, ephemeral and mystical as faith in God to “core convictions” is indeed modernist. Perhaps a better, more precise word to root such notions would be the Enlightenment (which provides the foundation for modernism). Core conviction is limiting. Belief/faith is expansive and fluid. The Enlightenment/modernism implicit in the concern over how we say Creeds and the content of belief is that it is contrived in the context of individualism first rather than in the context of community first. It places the authority of the Creeds in the individual rather than in the Church, the historic tradition or the community.Some days, I confess the Creed and each word is sublimely and transcendently true. Other days, I confess it and believe none of it. But I still confess it. Isn’t this faith? I’ll repeat my rejoinder to your question about the fundamentals of faith. Is confessing the Creed not enough? Do we need to confess something more than the Creed? Is individual belief more important than community belief? Or perhaps our Creeds are documents that calls individuals into a community of faith and calls that community to live into its identity as the Body of Christ. The vast majority of creeds and reformations had as much, if not more, to do with political power than with the content of the faith, or perhaps more precisely, how the content of faith could support and establish more power, political and otherwise. The Reformation was as much about Nationalism as it was about faith, and the Nicene Creed was as much about shoring up Roman power than it was an honest exploration of the faith. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/johnvest John Vest
  • asborneman

    sorry, not sure why it didn’t keep the paragraph breaks that were in the original…. 

  • asborneman

    David, btw, are you a Samford grad? I graduated in ’05. I’m thinking we’ve crossed paths before. I was pointed to your piece by R.G. Also, you might know my wife Jessica (formerly) Balena. 

    I sincerely appreciate the dialogue, and I want you to know that I am sympathetic to your article and your overall concerns. I value these conversations. If its helpful for you to know, I would consider myself pretty “moderate,” as I have been deeply frustrated with folks on both ends of the spectrum in my denomination. The church where I serve is very diverse theologically, and this has been good for us. 

    I fear we may be getting to a point where further discussion will be difficult in this type of forum. I’ll probably not take it much farther than the following questions/comments, but at any rate…. A few questions:
    I’ll repeat/restate one of my initial questions. Is it too much of me to insist that a minister believe and proclaim the historical, physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus? I ask because I know for a fact that many ministers in the mainline will not, opting rather for an allegorical/metaphorical view that doesn’t make such “foolish” claims. 
    What is the distinction you would make between “rooted in Christ” and being “distinctly christian”? Even if we are using language like “incarnational” to minister to our communities, we are saying something unique about who Jesus was and is in the life of the church. It is a distinctly christian way of describing our service to the world. How are “core convictions,” e.g. I believe in the Trinity, Incarnation, and Resurrection, bureaucratic? Yes, we should continue to question, but fides quarens intellectum doesn’t preclude basic affirmations/convictions, right? How is “content of belief” a “modern concern”? That’s an enormous brush stroke you’re using. Despite the propositionalism of “modernism” (which, yes, needs a corrective), it is nevertheless difficult for me to think of a time or place in the history of the church when “content” didn’t matter. The vast majority of the creeds where in fact birthed out of a deep concern over the “content of belief” and the insistence on boundaries of orthodoxy (sorry, I know thats a bad word these days). Do you see bearing fruit, loving our neighbor, and accepting the least of these as opposed to “content” or “doctrine,” etc? If so, I can assure you that they are not, and that my experience has that the relationship is symbiotic, not inversely proportional. 
    A final comment: Saying the creeds in the context of the liturgy shapes and informs us in ways beyond our understanding, and this is a good thing. But it is a non sequitur to then say that the “understanding” of the creeds propositions doesn’t matter. There needs to be constant conversation and charitable debate within the church concerning the content and indeed the mysteries of our faith. The church and the world will be better for it. Thanks David. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

    I’d suggest heading to the nearest sinking ship (mainline church) and start living into the resurrection! 

  • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

    I don’t know many Mainline churches who have left behind the Nicene or Apostles Creed. How much more clear do moderates and progressives need to be? 

    I would prefer to think of progressives/moderates as rooted in Christ rather than in rooted in something distinctly Christian. And because we are rooted in Christ that makes us Christian. Again, I’m not sure what you mean by core convictions, as that sounds very bureaucratic. Perhaps we should go back to what we confess every Sunday in our liturgies, progressives and conservatives alike; our creeds. 

    Then, perhaps we should ask whether our faith is mature and strong enough to ask questions, to doubt and yet remain faithful.

    I don’t think you are a fundamentalist for thinking the content of belief matters. I do think that it is a profoundly modern concern. Pastorally, I wonder if we should be more interested in seeing how our belief shapes who we are. Does our beliefs make us more like Christ or less like Christ? More willing to forgive and accept the “least of these” or less? More loving or less? It is after all by our fruits that we are known.

  • http://yorocko.com/ Rocky Supinger

    I’m using this with a group of pastors and elders from our presbytery tonight. Thanks for the work you’re doing.

  • asborneman

    @tmcool:disqus 
    ‘m not sure we can always put those groups you list in the same camp. I know plenty of “conservative” folks who are neither literalistic or fundamentalist (in the historic sense of the word). 
    @sarahb, Progressives/moderates don’t need to be louder unless they can more clearly articulate some core convictions. At present, most moderates/progressives often lack of clear set of beliefs beyond ideologies of “tolerance,” “inclusiveness,” etc. Such terms are only helpful if supported by some essential beliefs. For example, are moderates/progressives willing to be more clear about belief in the Jesus’ bodily resurrection? Within even the broadest boundaries of Christian orthodoxy, surely this isn’t too much to ask. And yet such is not being clearly articulated. Fighting for justice, tolerance, peace, etc., etc., doesn’t guarantee that such efforts are rooted in anything distinctly Christian. What are the core convictions that identify progressives/moderates as Christian? Am I a fundamentalist for insisting that the content of belief actually matters? 

  • Sarahb

    Yes, the so-called decline seems to me to be full of opportunity! I am looking forward to the new birth that will follow. BTW I believe there were a few women at the cross and at the grave too… Just sayin’…

    @tmccool – some of the reasons reported by people who don’t go to church refer back to positions held by the fundamentalist churches. Those views are allowed to go unchallenged and therefore have become THE CHURCH to those who don’t know any better. We need better and louder PR for moderate and progressive churches.

  • Anonymous

    I understand that the denominations you list are in decline. Yet more conservative, fundamentalist, literalistic, intolerant non-denominational churches are growing. What do those of us who are not in that camp to do?

  • Anonymous

    I’m with you — nothing would be lost with the death of Mainline Church.  If Mainline Church were to disappear, I imagine about 80% of their congregations could re-organize as health clubs, country clubs, or neighborhood organizations, which is pretty much what they function as now.  The remaining 20% which actually function as the body of Christ on Earth would be more re-energized and focused.

  • http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    I’m speaking only for myself, here. If I can be said to be fearful of the decline of the mainlines (I’m honestly not sure if I am or not. Make of that what you will), it’s mostly because I fear that what will take its place is more along the lines of the Southern Baptist Convention or the conservatism that permeates many evangelical non-denominational churches (and, for what it’s worth, I do consider myself evangelical, although I know many evangelicals wouldn’t include ME among their number), and that any gains we’ve made in opening the doors of ministry (especially to women) will be lost.

  • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

    Adam, Thanks for adding that and engaging so thoughtfully (despite the provocative angle). You are right that mourning a loss of unity might be appropriate, even needed. That is both an insightful and helpful reminder. 

    I worry, though, when that kind of mourning turns into perpetual worry, when we get stuck in the denial/anger/bargaining stage of grief (to use an overbroad metaphor). Of course, even to a certain extent, arguing over our boundaries of orthodoxy can serve as idols, particularly if we’re talking sexuality, as well as revealing some of our idols (the Bible and our interpretations of it). I suppose I should have been clearer that I see the future more in orthopraxy than in orthodoxy. But that is enough for a whole different post!

  • Adam Borneman

    Provocative angle David. Thanks. I’m a PCUSA pastor who mourns not so much the “death” of our antiquated programs, committees, denominational identity, etc (I didn’t really grow up in the PCUSA and don’t have that same connection to it that others might have), but I do indeed mourn the disunity and division among people who used to feast at the table together in good conscience. For some of these folks, idols are in the way of the table; yet for others, there is deep disagreement over boundaries of orthodoxy etc (on all sides of all the various issues), and this type of mourning should not be dismissed or trivialized. I am not suggesting that you are being dismissive, as the scope of your post is perhaps not that broad, but I did want to add that angle as one that is hopefully helpful to the conversation. 

  • Julie Ehrstein

    A big enthusiastic AMEN!  It’s wonderful to see this perspective so eliquently stated.  I wish more could see this exciting new future!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks David. Good perspective. I’m guilty of wasting a lot of time worrying about this.


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