Archives for April 10, 2012

Santorum’s Speech Wasn’t Perfect, But Today Was Darn Close

You know how things in life are never perfect? I’ve found with every good gift, there’s a shadow waiting to steal the joy you otherwise would’ve gotten from that gift.

For example, you get a new car, but a hail storm put dents in the hood the first week.  Or, you love your job but it takes so much time away from your family.  Or you get a new puppy but now you can’t leave the house for more than a few hours without worrying about the thing. Or you have a good friend, but hurt her feelings with a stray comment you didn’t mean.  (Or, worse, something you did mean!)

We live in a fallen world and things just are rarely perfect.

However, today was a near perfect day for us Evangelicals for Mitt.  Charles, David, and I (along with some dear friends) began this Romney adventure many years ago in 2006.  When we saw Santorum approaching the podium to suspend his campaign this afternoon, we all began e-mailing each other little snippets from the past seven years.  David reminisced about a time when we sat in my parents’ living room in Paris, Tennessee telling people from my hometown church about a guy a named Mitt. He’s going to be our President one day, we told them. Yes, M-i-t-t.   Mitt.  Like the catcher’s mitt.  And by the way, we need you to go vote for him in a straw poll in Memphis.

Charles reminded us of a term we developed at some point along the way.  I once described Charles as “unflappable,” and he was trying to protest.  Instead of finding the appropriately opposite word, he simply made one up.  Ever since then, we’ve described people as “flappable,” “flapped,” or “flappalicious.”

I reminded them of the time I told the Romneys – after Gov. Romney dropped out of the 2008 campaign and David was in Iraq – “sure, I’m a great skier!”  (If you don’t know that story, buy this book, or this one for the full, embarrassing tale.)

This afternoon, we went back and forth for several hours, savoring Santorum’s concession before the real fight against Obama begins.

Wait… but it wasn’t really a concession, was it?  Even though I was happy, I couldn’t help notice some glaring omissions from Santorum’s speech.

For one, he never mentioned Gov. Romney’s name.

He definitely didn’t ask his supporters to unite behind the nominee.

What about the fact that he didn’t “drop out,” he merely “suspended?”

Plus, when he was defeated in Pennsylvania by a Democrat in 2006, he graciously bowed out and conceded defeat to Bob Casey.  He even asked his supporters to give his opponent a round of applause, chastised them when they weren’t enthusiastic enough, and offered cooperation with Pennsylvanian’s new senator.  “Wouldn’t it be nice if he’d done that this time?” someone asked me on Facebook.

Well, it would’ve.  In a perfect world, he would’ve acted like Gov. Romney did when he conceded to Sen. McCain. Toby Harnden reminded us how that went down: “…when Romney dropped out, he not only endorsed his rival a week later but went to work for him.”

But here’s the thing, my Romney supporting friends.  We’ve been waiting for a long time for “the moment.”  You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?  That one moment when everyone must acknowledge that Gov. Romney is “the guy.”  That day when everyone unanimously looks at us, and says, “You were right.”  When news anchors report, “Gov. Romney is the GOP nominee.”  When we never hear the word “presumptive” again.  When we can finally breathe a sigh of relief after years of work.

Today was that day.  No, it wasn’t perfect, and there were no fireworks. (I gave you guys some in the above photo!) But this isn’t a perfect world, Rick Santorum isn’t the perfect candidate, and he’s not even a perfect man.  Guess what?  Neither is Mitt and neither are you.

Let’s don’t let the fact that Rick Santorum wasn’t as gracious as he should’ve been ruin it.  He’ll eventually get on board, after he tends to his family.  After he has a few days to calm down.  After he tends to his wounded pride.

None but the most politically attentive will remember his speech today.  Normal people will just remember that a good guy fought a hard battle, had major family issues, and dropped out before eventually coming around and supporting Gov. Romney.

Do you know what you’ll remember?  That today was the end of the end of the GOP race and the beginning of the end of President Obama’s first — and last! — term.  Even if it doesn’t feel like you’d hoped it would feel, don’t let anything ruin it for you!  Today is our day.  Let’s savor it for a few hours longer, before the general campaigning begins.

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Three Theological Questions About Christianity, Orthodoxy, and the LDS Church

Yesterday the Daily Caller highlighted an excerpt from Jake Tapper’s interview with Rick Warren.  In light of Mitt Romney’s all-but-inevitable nomination, he asked Warren, “Are Mormons Christians?”  Here’s Warren’s response:

“The key sticking point for evangelicals and actually for many is the issue of the trinity,” Warren said. “That’s a historic doctrine of the church — that God is three in one. Not three Gods, one God in father, son and Holy Spirit. Mormonism denies that. That’s a sticking point for a lot of Catholic Christians, evangelical Christians, pentecostal Christians because they don’t believe that. Now, they’ll use the same terminology. But they don’t believe in the historic doctrine of the trinity. And people have tried to make it other issues, but that’s one of the fundamental differences.”

But let’s think about this for a minute.  Is this really where pastors want to circle the wagons?  I have three questions:

1.   Is Warren’s statement correct as a defining characteristic of Christian belief?  In other words, is the creedal belief in the Trinity the dividing line between Christian and non-Christian?

2.  If it is correct, where does that leave the millions and millions of members of Catholic and Protestant churches who, frankly, don’t have the slightest clue about the Trinity?  I’ve been in church my whole life and can barely remember any in-depth studies of the nature of the Trinity.  In fact, responses to questions about the Trinity depend directly on the way the questions are asked.  Phrase the Trinity question one way, and it appears that rank and file Christians have sharply divergent views from Mormons.  Phrase it a different way, and there’s remarkable unity.  This suggests a great deal of uncertainty.

3. If creedal belief in the Trinity is the defining characteristic, and we don’t want to exclude from Christianity the millions of Catholics and Protestants who don’t know what the heck they believe, is the real dividing line then “creedal belief in the Trinity and/or attendance at a church holding a creedal belief in the Trinity?”  But that can’t be it, can it?  After all, our church’s theological righteousness is not imputed to us as individuals.

I think Warren was answering a different question than the one Jake Tapper asked.  Tapper asked, “Are Mormons Christians?” not “Is Mormon theology historically orthodox?”  Here’s my shot at answering the latter question: “No, LDS theology is not orthodox.  In fact, like other church movements in the 19th century, it was a direct repudiation of what it believes to be the theological error of the orthodox, institutional church as embodied not just in the creeds but also historical practices.  It was attempting to restore Christianity to what it perceived to be core truth.”

But what about Tapper’s actual question?  Isn’t that the question that’s truly interesting?  After all, “orthodoxy” isn’t really that much of a popular concern compared to the core identity as a Christian.  Here’s how I’d answer Tapper:

Jake, a Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ.  Romans 10:9 says that if you confess with your mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved.  Christian identity is not defined by categories but instead by that simple confession and belief, and only God knows who has made that confession and who has that belief.  I don’t know whether any given member of the Mormon church is a Christian any more than I know whether any given member of my own church is a Christian.  That’s not to say that doctrine doesn’t matter — it does, greatly — but a person can be in error on important doctrines and yet Christ has called them to that core confession and belief.

One final note: I’d argue that our view of salvation — whether Arminian or Reformed — is of enormous consequence, going directly not only to the nature of God but also how we understand each moment of our lives, yet I rarely hear anyone seriously ask, “Are Methodists Christian?”  Perhaps that’s not so much because the theological differences aren’t real and profound but because we’ve made our historical peace through shared understanding of our faith in Christ.  Perhaps its time that we make that same peace with Mormons.

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