Filling that gods-shaped hole

Christus statue temple square salt lake cityAs we slide closer and closer to election day, some political reporters are looking ahead to 2008 and the status of “value voters” and the evangelical vote.

This keeps leading people to Mitt Romney, of course, and the M word.

But reporters are still afraid to talk about the real issues here. They keep pointing at the wrong doctrines. Here’s a Los Angeles Times story from earlier in the week that shows what I mean.

So, reporter Elizabeth Mehren, why are evangelicals so worried about Romney’s faith? Here is a scene on the non-campaign trail in Iowa:

… Romney faces a potential obstacle that has not confronted a presidential hopeful for almost 50 years. As a devout Mormon — and a onetime bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — Romney adheres to a faith that makes many Americans uncomfortable. Not since John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, sought the White House in 1960 has the religion of a potential president been an issue. A recent Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll found that most religious barriers to high office had crumbled, but that 35% of Americans would not vote for a Mormon president.

. . . Since he announced in December that he would not seek a second term as governor, Romney has campaigned in key primary states — steadfastly decreeing that his faith was a private matter. He deflects most inquiries by stating that Jesus Christ is his savior. A favorite Romney quip is that in his church, “marriage is between a man and a woman and a woman and a woman.”

This laugh line, and his reluctance to delve deeper into his beliefs, only add to the mystery of a faith that many Americans associate with polygamy — although that practice has long been outlawed by the church — and with customs such as marrying people after they have died and converting the dead.

I have heard lots of traditional Christians discuss this issue and I have never heard anyone discuss polygamy. Maybe it’s the crowd I run with, people who’ve read a lot of religious history, but what I hear people talking about is the very nature of God in Mormon theology.

They are worried about a P word, but it’s not polygamy. It’s polytheism. (Click here for a flashback to my own interviews with top Mormon leaders on this topic.) The P word then leads to the big concept that the press is going to have to face — the E word.

That word is “exaltation,” and its concept that what man now is, the God of this creation once was. Thus, there are many worlds, creations or spheres that have their own gods (and the gods have many wives) who are humans who have evolved to divinity. Click here for a typical evangelical Protestant discussion of this conflict.

That’s going to be a tough one to handle in a press conference when it comes up. Romney needs to open that question up on his own turf, on this own terms and, to use that old Washington phrase, “hang a lantern on his problem.”

Mehren almost gets to this issue, via an itnerview with the Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals. Sure enough, he uses the word “cult” in a doctrinal sense of the word.

“We evangelicals view Mormons as a Christian cult group. A cult group is a group that claims exclusive revelation. And typically, it’s hard to get out of these cult groups. And so Mormonism qualifies as that.” In addition, Haggard said, evangelicals do not accept Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith as a prophet. “And we do not believe that the Book of Mormon has the same level of authority as the Bible,” he said.

When Romney says that he accepts Jesus Christ as his savior, “we appreciate that,” Haggard said. “But very often when people like Mormons use terms that we also use, there are different meanings in the theology behind those terms.”

And there you have it. Mormons and traditional Christians are often using the same words, with different definitions. And then there is the big divide and that is the word “exaltation.” Mehren’s story is better than most I have seen on this topic so far, but it still has a gods-shaped hole in it.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://www.rightwingnation.com/american-orthodox/ americanorthodox

    I think this is overstated. I doubt there are that many that care about Romney’s theology; it’s his values that will be important to voters.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Agree. Apart from online Godbloggers, I never hear anyone discussing LDS theology… most of the Great American Public appear to be theologically illiterate, having next to no knowledge even of “their own” doctrines, and polygamy is all most of them know about “TheMormons”.

  • JD

    Agree.
    We will for a president who has the ability to secure this country and able to deal with all other nations and establish jobs for the American. His religion must play secondary, and fortunately Mitt is a Christian because he accept Jesus is his Savior. I don’t really care what else he believe as long as he’s a decent human being, no criminal background.

  • http://iowansforromney.blogspot.com Jeff Fuller

    I’ve given my opinion of the Times article here

    http://iowansforromney.blogspot.com/2006/10/la-times-beats-drum-of-romneys-mormon.html

    The big thing is that Haggard has also said that he would have no problem voting for a Mormon if the issues are fine (Jerry Fallwell and Chuck Colson have said similar things)

    From the Salt Lake Tribune . . .
    http://www.sltrib.com/nationworld/ci_4307891

    The Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, said Friday he would have no problem voting for a Mormon for U.S. president. . . .

    “We rejected an Evangelical [Harriet Meiers] for the Supreme Court and accepted a Catholic [Samuel Alito],” said Haggard, who was in Salt Lake City to address the Religion Newswriters Association’s annual convention. “It’s a question of competence.” Evangelical Christians are more interested “in good government,” than in religious affiliation, . . .

  • Dennis Colby

    Did this jump out at anyone else:

    “Not since John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, sought the White House in 1960 has the religion of a potential president been an issue.”

    Really? John Kerry’s religion wasn’t an issue in the 2004 campaign? George Bush’s religion wasn’t an issue in 2000? Jimmy Carter’s religion wasn’t an issue in 1976?

    I’d like to see more stories about what Mormons (and Romney) actually believe, and fewer Kennedy comparisons.

    For example: Romney is a “onetime bishop” of the LDS church? I had no idea. I also have no idea what that means. What role do bishops play in the Mormon faith? A little context on things like that would be greatly appreciated as reporters cover Romney’s faith.

  • Alison

    Well, I couldn’t vote for Mitt for the same reason I wouldn’t vote for a scientologist – I find their doctrine very scary. My choice would be for a secularist with high morals. On the other hand, my kids wouldn’t vote for Romney in a primary, but if he became the presidential nominee, they would vote for him as president. Polygamy is a nonissue for me and, I would suspect, most Christians.

  • http://www.evangelicalsformitt.org George McFlugalson

    The polytheism issue is about as obscure as it gets. I can’t see how any opponent would be able to make a case against Romney on a doctrine that takes five minutes to explain (much like trying to attack a Catholic on transubstantiation of the Eucharist). Reporters that are so desperate to dig for this kind of dirt will quickly get swatted down by Romney. The average Evangelical will believe just about anything about Mormons so there is no point in going after such an obscure issues. In the end it will come down to the way in which Romney manages the campaign, not the supposed doctrines of his faith. It’s a sad state for America when mainstream media like the L.A. Times are fixated on tenants of a person’s religion that have absolutely no bearing on his qualifications for office. Romney has shown himself to be an exceptionally qualified man for the job without a single conflict due to his LDS faith.

    By the way, take a look at the Charlie Rose interview with Mitt on YouTube if you’re interested in knowing how speculative doctrines like this will be handled.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    GEORGE:

    The God, gods and E issue will come up in Bible Belt states. Trust me. You can tell that the pros know that there are hurdles ahead, too. The story is just getting started.

  • Rich Davies

    Well, I couldn’t vote for Mitt for the same reason I wouldn’t vote for a scientologist – I find their doctrine very scary.

    What exactly about their doctrine do you find “scary” and how do you think this would translate into a problem for the nation at-large? I think that most Americans find Romney to be the kind of person that represents the values we need so desparately in Washington.

    Just wondering.

  • Adam Hailstone

    If you want someone who agrees with your every thought to be president then you will have to write your name on the ballot. Close minded people, who are only about “me and mine”, ruin the stregth that there could be amongst Christians. Instead people like you cause divides amongst like minded people, and give elections to the those who want America to follow Europe to moral decadence, population declines and q stagnant economy. Think next time before you write.

  • John Skroski

    A Bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is local unit leader. He is a lay priesthood holder (Melchizdek Priesthood) as a high priest. He over see’s the local congregation of Saints in a (Ward lds term. His responsibilities are many espicially for a person that is not monetarily compensated from the church or local congregation (ward). He oversees all of the leadership in the local ward and presides over most meetings. He presides at Sacrament meeting, where we Saints renew our Covenant’s each Sunday. The sacrement is passed two all members in the form of first bread and then water in symbolic rembrance of our Savior Jesus Christ. He would also preside at Funerals, Baptisms, Blessings etc. He counsels members and oversees the welfare program. He is for all intents in and purposes the local Spiritual Leader of our Congregation.

    I hope this helps answer some of your questions. Let me know if you have any more question.

    Sincerely,

    John Skroski

    Phippsburg Maine

  • Larry Rasczak

    I’m with those who think this will never be an issue. I can’t see the average reporter understanding it, much less being able to explain it in a way that A) conveyed why it was important, B) got people upset, and C) still maintained their own sense of imperial political correctness. The liberal media has never been one for intelectual consistency or logic, but how could they come down on a Mormon theology without looking very politically incorrect and intollerant with regards to Hinduisim? You really think the New York Times is going to come out and defend traditional Christian theology?

    If ANYTHING comes out of this Mormon thing it would be Polygamy, because A) it’s sexy and B) HBO ran “Big Love” about it. Those are things the press can understand.

    I’d like to know, of the 35% of Americans would not vote for a Mormon president, how many are people that wouldn’t have voted for Romney anyway? We seem to be assuming that they are all white married, middle class, pro-life evangelicals who are life members of the NRA and work for large energy companies, but refuse to vote for a Mormon because of fine theological points. This is probably not the case.

    I think it is wrong of us to assume that the people who refuse to vote for a Mormon are doing so for theological reasons. What about the more likely possibility that they refuse to vote for a Mormon because the Mormons are seen as religously conservative and pro-life? That alone will turn off about 30% of the electorate. How many would vote against Mormons because the Mormons are seen as having a checkered history with regards to race relations? It is rumored that Mormons used to refuse to admit black people to their church because Joseph Smith taught that black skin was the Biblical “Mark of Cain”. This may or may not be true, but a lot of people, and no doubt more than a few African American voters, believe it.

    I think we need to see WHY this 35% would refuse to vote for a Mormon before we can assess it’s political impact. If 3/4 of these folks fall into demographics that vote overwhelmingly Democratic anyway, it won’t matter much. If however they fall into the Republican camp, then it might be a problem.

  • http://www.runmittrun.com Tracy Daniels

    Just to clear the air on the polytheism issue in the Mormon church, tmatt, like many non-LDS, has tried to explain perhaps the most interesting doctrine that the church has to offer – it also happens to be the most misunderstood. The problem is that some folks end up simplifying it into some general statement like “Mormon’s think they can become gods.” This does not represent actual teaching, but makes for a nice bumper sticker if you don’t want Mitt Romney to be President I guess.

    First a quick note on the premise that tmatt somehow outwitted two prominent leaders of the LDS church into owning up to a doctrine that they do not in fact believe. This is downright silly. The whole conspiracy theory angle that the church somehow rushed out a press release to blunt the impact of their folly was a nice twist though. As is often the case, people want desperately to believe that there is something in Mormon philosophy that is simply not there, so they end up putting words in other people’s mouths. Why not take the actual LDS cannon (the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine & Convenants) and current president of the church as the official word on the matter. Feel free to speculate as to what you think the doctrine means, just make sure that you are clear that it is YOUR idea, and not some “hidden” teaching of the church.

    Now to the point, what the LDS in fact believe is that:
    1) Yes folks, there is an afterlife which rewards good behavior on this earth — maybe with one of those many mansions that we’ve been hearing about.
    2) In the afterlife there is some extension of our family relationship. Nobody within the church claims to know exactly what that is, but we believe that it allows marriage and parenthood to extend beyond the grave. In other words, people don’t live out eternity as solitary beings – relationships that are bound on earth are also bound in heaven.
    3) Now here’s the interesting part. There is actually some kind of progression in the next life. That is what the whole idea of “Exaltation” is all about. We don’t just live out our days on a cloud somewhere, but we have a purpose and a means for continuing to learn new things and improve ourselves. Unfortunately that’s where the teaching ends and the speculation begins. As someone else put it:

    Surely Protestants understand the difference between the excellent interpretive writings of Luther, Calvin or Wesley on the one hand and the authority of the Bible itself on the other. The same difference exists between the homiletical statements and writings of Brigham Young or Orson Pratt on the one hand and the canonical Standard Works on the other…speculative statements of Brigham Young, Orson Pratt, etc., that have not been canonized are not the official doctrine of the church…

    Many within the church have speculated, not the least of which was Brigham Young, that if there is progression and unlimited time in eternity, could a person become more like a god? Remember that in so doing no one would claim that this person is now the “God”, they are just an improved person who shares more of the attributes of their Heavenly Father. Asking someone to take this doctrine to its logical conclusion is just asking them to speculate.

    I for one don’t find the idea that we actually do something in the afterlife to be that absurd. Nor do I believe that our creator wants us to stop becoming more like him. But I suppose that some other Christian might. At the end of the day we’re just guessing about something that none of us knows much about – the afterlife.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Hey Tracy:

    That’s a nice answer for Romney. Let’s see if that one works with the traditional Christians or the Mormons.

    Actually, I just read two of the 12 sections of their own writings, recent Mormon sermons (including a sermon at the funeral of a Prophet) and asked a question. They answered and said that the implication of their beliefs is what some people would call polytheism, by Mormons do not like to think of the doctrine in those terms.

    And, yes, the passage vanished from their transcript but not my audio tape.

    That’s about it.

  • http://www.iowansforromney.blogspot.com/ Jeff Fuller

    Until someone shows me how Romney’s Mormonism has negatively affected his judgment/performance as Mass. Governor, Salt Lake Olympics Chairman, venture capitalist/CEO, husband, or father then I don’t want to hear any objections to a Romney presidency because of his religion.

    It is unrealistic and unfair to think that Romney should have to satisfactorily answer theological questions/debates about the issues addressed above. That’s the whole point of different religions in the first place . . . people believe different things and there are arguements for every faith . . . that’s why we adhere to different religions with freedom (which, BTW, is one of the main principles upon which our country was founded). Most people end up believing and adhering to what they were raised with–all over the world. Theological debates and “deep answers to deep theological questions” is not something you will )or should) be seeing from Romney.

    Also, check out this link . . .

    http://www.scriptoriumdaily.com/middlebrow/archives/romney-in-the-dock/

    An evangelical philosopher debates the Romney/Mormonis question and concludes that “opposinig Romney on religious grounds is not sensible”

  • MattK

    “I think this is overstated. I doubt there are that many that care about Romney’s theology; it’s his values that will be important to voters.”

    Right. His values are very important. Which is why polytheism is important. Plato explained it in the Euthyphro Dialogue: Morality is not possible in a polytheistic religion.

  • Katy B

    “Until someone shows me how Romney’s Mormonism has negatively affected his judgment/performance as Mass. Governor, Salt Lake Olympics Chairman, venture capitalist/CEO, husband, or father then I don’t want to hear any objections to a Romney presidency because of his religion”

    tmatt….As much as you seem to abhor this thought I think for many people it is quite true. How someone perceives his God just doesn’t matter to to plenty of people. What matters is how he lives and how much he desires to do right by his fellow man. Give up the negative on religion. If you are comfortable with your beliefs it would be best to focus on them, live them as you may and let others do the same.

  • Mary S

    Now how does one correlate Mitt Romney’s election in Massachusetts, in a state so heavily Irish Catholic and Blue Blood Bostonians (a religion in itself)with the idea that he cannot be elected as a Mormon? It is because the electorate saw in him a decency and immense capability that no other candidate had. His accomplishments in so many fields make him highly desirable and to flail on about his religion brings to mind nothing more than closed-minded bigotry that is surely not looked kindly upon by anyone’s God.

  • http://www.runmittrun.com George McFlugalson

    MattK wins the award for most ridiculous attempt to jump into the fray with his stinging invocation of Plato and the incomprehensible premise that Mormons can’t be moral because:

    Morality is not possible in a polytheistic religion.

    The idea is so absurd on its face that one wonders where to begin. As has been clearly explained, Mormons are not in fact a polytheistic religion in the Platonic sense (or any practical sense) because not one Mormon ever has or ever will worship any god but the singular God the father. While it is clear that Protestants and Mormons disagree on the nature of the Trinity, one cannot in any rational way extrapolate that such disagreements translate into an inability for Mormon to be “Moral” people.

  • Jeff Kelley

    Maybe what the Christian-right needs to learnn is the T-word. That is tolerance of someone elses religious beliefs, especially when that someone holds the same values they do and is electable.

  • http://hiveperfect.blogspot.com/ HiveRadical

    I find it interesting, in terms of those who see LDS theology as being a barrier to them with regards to their Christian theology, to see if a hypothetical was given in which they could place an equivilant early Christian father in a position of secular leadership. Some like Clementine, Origen, Justin Martyr and more had some views on ontology and the divine that aren’t terribly inline with post creedal views. Things seemingly inherently tied to LDS doctrine can in many instances be shown to be actual beliefs held by early church fathers in the early Christian era.

    And if we want to get into the “E WORD” one need but look at a more contemporary Christian voice to see the similarities between LDS theology and “Traditional” Christian theology.

    As an example I posit a quote from C.S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity”

    The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were “gods” and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him-for we can prevent Him, if we choose-He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.

    Now you can argue all day long about what Lewis did or didn’t mean. But if we want to define a polytheist in terms of having more than one god then isn’t C.S. Lewis’s view at least some form of polytheism? Even if he didn’t mean it in the same exact essense as described in LDS theology?

  • http://www.geocities.com/hohjohn John L. Hoh, Jr.

    Although I am an active Christian, with strong theological views, when voting for a politician I look at the qualifications of each candidate, not their faith or theology. There is the church and there is the state. While one’s faith may influence a politicians politics and views, in the end the politician needs to weigh the needs and concerns of the entire nation. Moses had laws for divorce not because divorce is God-pleasing but because God wanted to provide protection for the innocent victims caught in the breakdown of a marriage. I did not agree with the priest seeking to deny John Kerry the Eucharist–and especially the public way that decision was made and communicated.

    Anyway, Mitt has got to love all the free publicity. Or is this a Mormon plot to get one of their own into the White House? :)

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Once again, my point is not doctrinal or political. It is journalistic.

    Romney is running in the modern GOP and will need a united SOUTH. Many will support him. Obviously. But there will be those who ask questions. As press coverage to this point has noted, the Mormon issue will not go away easily for many traditional Christians. That is a news story and it will be covered.

    I am saying that it makes sense for Romney to get ahead of the questions. Explain his understanding of some of the controversial Mormon beliefs. OR, he has to say what Kennedy said. He will have to say “I have my beliefs and they are private and they will not affect my political life.” That will make some Mormons happy and others not so happy.

    But focus on the journalism, folks. Reporters keep saying that there is this controversy, but seem afraid to cover the details. Poligamy? Who is talking about that?

  • Adam Greenwood

    Another stab at explaining what a Mormon bishop is: more or less a lay pastor. He’s the head of a local congregation, does a lot of counseling of its members and running the congregation and that sort of thing, and is usually a member of the congregation who is asked to act in that capacity for something like 4-6 years, though time of service can vary. The equivalent of a Catholic parish priest if priests had jobs and families and if members of the congregation took turns being the priest.

  • Katy B

    “But focus on the journalism, folks. Reporters keep saying that there is this controversy, but seem afraid to cover the details. Poligamy? Who is talking about that?”

    Tmatt…In case you hadn’t noticed jouralists promoting this are the same ones who are also promoting their own political agendas elsewhere as well. The idea that journalists are neutral this day and age you and I both know just isn’t the case. You are falling right into their unfair and biased hands. The “reporters keep saying” is pretty lame and something you should point out the error of and not endorse. I thought this site was intended to be more original than that.

    As to the polygamy issue it is as moot for todays LDS faithful as it now is to those who are decendents of the polygamists of the Old Testament. Also, maybe you missed Kate O’Bierne when she pointed out in the National Review that of the leading GOP candidates Mitt would be the only one to have ever had just one wife. Perhaps pointing this out would be helpful to those people in the South you refer to.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    KATY:

    You just made my point on polygamy. Thank you. No one thinks that is the issue.

    The journalists will be torn on this case.

    The critics of Romney, the ones wanting him to answer the questions, will be traditional Christians — not a group the press normally loves to embrace.

    The MSM may actually try to avoid the issues in order to “help” Romney. But that will not help Romney in the crucial Southern states. Only solid, winsome answers to the questions will help him there.

    It’s an old journalism formula: Ask questions. Print the answers, verbatim if you have to.

  • Adam Greenwood

    Note that the TMatt trio-is the biblical account of the Resurrection literal, is Christ the only way to salvation, is sex outside marriage wrong–would be answered ‘YES’ by 99.9% of all active Mormons and 100% of their leaders.

    I have no problem with special questions for the Mormon church. But those questions should be fairly worded. Using loaded and inaccurate terms like “polytheism” isn’t a journalistic quest for truth, its propaganda hiding in the form of a question. As if Mormons believed God were Zeus out raping cows and the Goddess of ATMs had to be propitiated every time one made a cash withdrawal.

  • Katy B

    tmatt…I am glad you think I made your point. I am not sure that is what I wanted to do but if it works for you OK. I would say the most important point here is one that that Adam just pointed out very well. I think you should ponder it and question your real intent as you write on the subject of Romney and religion. Is it a journalistic quest or as he says to promote propaganda?

  • http://www.mindonfire.com John Remy

    Mormons and traditional Christians are often using the same words, with different definitions.

    This seems to be typical of the Christian world as a whole. Does John Shelby Spong’s God bear any resemblance to Ted Haggard’s?

    To dissect it from another angle, most Latter-day Saints would find Tim LaHaye’s triumphant, millenial Christ much more recognizable, than say, the versions presented by Catholic liberation theologians or the Jesus Seminar.

    Another gap is the one that exists between the deeper doctrinal teachings of the LDS church and the basic beliefs of most Mormons. There is a wide divide between the understandings of theologians and the common practioners in most religious traditions. I think that if we look closely, we might find considerable overlap between the way most Mormons and mainstream American Christians approach and understand God and Christ.

  • http://opinionatedhomeschooler.blogspot.com Sharon D.

    tmatt,

    Limiting this to the journalism aspect–will the media pay any attention to the difference between the southern and the southwestern attitudes toward the LDS, or just lump us all together into red-state flyover country?

    My own experience, as a fifth-generation desert-dweller, is that southwesterners are more likely to know Mormons socially and/or to be related to them, and therefore tend to have very different attitudes than do southeasterners.

    I had a great-uncle Brigham, who was named after a great family friend; in this part of the country, no-one minded if you were LDS back then, and few mind now. Mormons work hard and raise their kids well, and that goes a long way to making southwestern red-staters not care how odd their theology may be.

  • http://until.joe-perez.com joe perez

    I think tmatt is absolutely correct that Romney’s religion will be a HUGE issue if he runs. LDS doctrine can certainly be presented to the public as familiar and comforting, but in the heat of an election for president you better believe every extreme interpretation of Mormon doctrine that has ever been made will come out, stuff that makes Scientology look credible by the contrast (can you say “sacred underoos?”. With many Church doctrines too sacred to share publicly (“not secret–sacred!” the LDS insist), conspiracy theories and esoteric cult rumors will fly. I think lots of people who say they are willing to vote Mormon will actually become LESS likely to vote for Romney once the salacious, speculative, and (in my opinion) sometimes bizarre LDS teachings and practices come out.

  • Roberto Rivera

    And there you have it. Mormons and traditional Christians are often using the same words, with different definitions.

    Of course, the same thing can be said about the “religious right” and the “religious left.”

    Note that the TMatt trio-is the biblical account of the Resurrection literal, is Christ the only way to salvation, is sex outside marriage wrong—ould be answered ‘YES’ by 99.9% of all active Mormons and 100% of their leaders.

    That’s why, while it may be very useful in a political/culture war setting, the applicablity of TMatt’s trio is limited in a theological context.

    As Terry’s quote reminds us, what is meant by “Yes” in the two most-important parts of the trio are quite different, depending on whom is saying “yes.” In the political/culture war context, the answer to the third question (sex outside of marriage) is determinative; it’s the basis of alliances and basically defines what has been called the “ecumenism of the trenches.” Of course, by this standard, the trench can also include any person whose religion (or lack thereof) teaches that sex outside marriage is wrong, including. for instance, Muslims.

    In ecclesial matters, how you answer the first two questions and what you mean by your answers are determinative. Romney’s “LDS problem,” if he has one, is that this distinction isn’t clear in the mind of an indeterminate percentage of Evangelical voters, partly because their leadership hasn’t been exactly crystal clear on the matter: for every leader like (suck-up alert!) my boss who speaks in terms of a general nonsectarian kind of cultural renewal, there are others who at times (some of them more times than others) lapse into the language of “Christian America.”

    I’m not talking about theocracy or similar figments of over-heated liberal imaginations. I’m referring to imprecise thinking and language: a “Christian America” probably should have a Christian president and by “Christian” they mean “Evangelical.” Recall that Reagan and Mondale were asked if they had been “born again” in the 1984 debates and that it’s not uncommon for candidates to “share” their ideas about Jesus with us.

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    There’s theology and politics and journalism.
    Theology can be interesting. Differences can be interesting. As far as polytheism is concerned, to many Jews, the Christian concept of the Trinity weaves into that lane. But so what?
    Seems to me this matters in two areas:
    1) And this is the easy question: Will there be voters who would otherwise be inclined to support him who won’t?
    2) Which requires knowing about LDS theology and practice: Are there aspects of LDS belief or practice that might affect how he governs?
    For instance, the LDS position is that the US Founding docments (Declaration of Independence, Constitution) were literally inspired by God.

    Also, there’s an LDS emphasis on self-reliance and emergency preparedness. See http://lds.org/hf/library/1,16866,4341-1,00.html?LibraryURL=/Curriculum/home%20and%20family.htm/family%20home%20evening%20resource%20book.htm/family%20activities.htm/making%20a%20survival%20kit.htm
    And particularly the little song on that page…1:-{)>

    Would either of those beliefs make a difference in how a President Romney would govern, even if he shared them?
    I dunno. But just as questions about abortion were fair game for Kerry, questions about specific aspects of applied Mormon doctrine would be fair game for a candidate Romney.
    But those questions can only be asked by reporters who know enough about the LDS to ask ‘em. As we get closer to a serious campaign. i expect that some of these questions will be asked. Maybe by me.
    And Oh By The Way. I am weary unto death of those who condemn the “librul media” who would never accept such a broad-brush description of their own side of the spectrum.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    JEFFREY:

    Hey man, watch out for the LIBRUL smear at sutherners and Dallas residents. There are critics of the media in many zip codes.

    Plus, the vast majority of journalists are not true, consistent liberals. They are moral libertarians. The bias studies through the years have always led back to divisions on moral and religious issues, rather than strictly political issues.

    As Bill Keller of the New York Times once candidly said — the split is over the Sexual Revolution. I think he’s right.

    Personally, like I said in the post, I think Romney can hang a lantern on this problem and handle it. But he will have to be candid.

  • http://ironsmithfe.googlepages.com/mittromney IronSmith

    Mormons aren’t E.T., Mormons are your neighbors, friends, and family. I must say as a Mormon I have always felt an invisible barrier that had been erected by disinformation and a lack of understanding. But today as I read the comments I realize it was just a minority and that the barrier I felt was more like a roadside curb.

    RE. Tmatt, I’m sorry that you feel the way that you do, I respect your beliefs. I hope you can learn to hold others beliefs with dignity and respect. The religious beliefs men hold are not just holdings but building blocks that form their foundation. When you attack the man’s beliefs you don’t only attack his beliefs you attack the man and his foundation. As with all Mormons, I identify myself as a Christian, while you may not see me as a Christian, the definition isn’t yours to control nor judge. As a Christian I believe Christ is after all the only judge that we can be accountable to for our religious beliefs.

    Come election time I hope that you will throw the propaganda to the side and decide which man could best serve your country.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    IronSmith:

    I am not attacking anyone’s beliefs. I think Romney would make a fine candidate. I hope he clarifies this so that his candidacy has a chance to be heard in the Bible Belt.

    I also base my comments on this with interviews with two of the Twelve from the mid-1980s. I took in several hundred annotated pages of Mormon texts, educational materials and sermons. They were not offended or threated and took my questions seriously. They gave a serious answer. The Mormon church did not challenge the accuracy of their answer when it was printed.

    No one is talking about the Greek gods system or Hinduism, etc. But the belief that faithful Mormons can in eternity reach the status of the God of this world does imply the eternal existence of multiple Gods or gods. That is an implication of the belief. Yes, the precise meaning of that is mysterious. But if the doctrine can be voiced in PUBLIC funeral sermons in the Mormon Tabernacle — as opposed to secret Temple rites — it can be discussed elsewhere.

    If Mormonism no longer holds this belief, then that is a new story, too.

    It is in Romney’s political and journalistic interest to discuss this on HIS TERMS at a time of his choosing.

  • http://www.mindonfire.com John Remy

    There’s some precedent for Romney. Gordon Hinckley, current prophet/president of the Mormon Church, was asked by the SF Chronicle religion reporter if god was once a man. Hinckley replied:

    I wouldn’t say that. There was a little couplet coined, “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.” Now that’s more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about. (4/13/97)

    It seems that Mormon leaders have been slowly minimizing the teaching within the church and downplaying it as much as possible publicly. I suspect that Romney might take a cue from his Church president.

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  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    REMY:

    That’s a very important quote. Do you have a URL and a source?

  • http://www.mindonfire.com John Remy

    Here’s the link:
    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/1997/04/13/SC36289.DTL

    Apparently he has made similar comments when addressing the MSM. This fits into a wider historical context of more than a century of slowly whittling away doctrines and practices that may be considered offensive or strange to modern Christians (e.g. Heavenly Mother, extending the priesthood to those of African descent) while maintaining a distinct identity through mandated proselytizing (for young men), temple worship, and caffeine/alcohol prohibitions.

  • http://http:www.article6blog.com Lowell Brown

    This is very interesting religious doctrine, but does it have anything to do with whether or not anyone should vote for him? Granted, there is a point at which a candidate’s religious beliefs are such that Christians shouldn’t vote for that candidate. We address that question incessantly in our blog, Article 6 Blog. You can find some good thinking (not ours – we’ve simply linked to it) about that very issue here and here. Both posts linked are by John Mark Reynolds of Biola University. I hope you all enjoy them.

  • http://http:www.article6blog.com Lowell Brown

    By the way, if it helps shed any light on the matter, it’s undeniable Mormon doctrine that the God we worship, God the Father, is omnipotent and our Supreme Being. He’s the one we worship. We do not teach that someday we will all be his equal. Anyone (even Mormons) who says we do is speculating. We do think we are His children and that he wants us to become like Him someday.

    Almost all religions have beliefs that seem odd or unacceptable to non-believers (Catholic transubstantiaion or Pentecostal speaking in tongues or the Adventist Sabbath or Christian Science “medicine” all come to mind). I don’t think such matters should be criteria for votes in presidential elections, unless they cross the line into extreme behavior– human sacrifice comes to mind. But a man ought to be able to believe, as a matter of conscience, what he wants to, without suffering in the public square for it.

  • marK

    This is all very facinating, but the bottom line is will Romney’s religion be a problem in the South? I don’t think it will be insurmountable. Why?

    Because of the Southern Republican Leadership Conference that was held in Nashville this past spring. A straw poll was taken there. Romney beat out everybody except home-boy Frist. And this was well before he had been tagged as a rising star in national politics. The SRLC was chock full of evangelicals suspicious of that Yankee Mormon Governor from Massachusetts, home of Teddy Kennedy, John Kerry, and Gay Marriage.

    Will Romney answer questions on Exaltation and Polygamy? I doubt it. He will probably continue doing what he has been doing. He will state that he accepts Christ as his personal savior, and then refer any further questions about details of church doctrine to the church.

    Oh, and the church is NOT backing away from Exaltation and mankind having the ability to become Gods. I am not sure where some of the previous posters are getting their information, but modern scripture is chock full of references to the doctrine. To deny that doctrine is to deny the revelations. I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

    Where the difficulty arises, I believe, is in the exact circumstances and logistics surrounding exaltation. We are told very little. Ninety percent of what you hear is nothing more than speculation and hearsay, and I have heard some pretty wild rumors in my 50+ years as a member. I am guessing some of the General Authorities may been trying to get that point across when some people might have gotten the mistaken idea the church was changing its teachings or backing away from the subject.

    But like the proverbial price of rice in China, what does all this have to do with Romney’s qualifications as President of the United States? All religions have ideas and concepts that if taken out of context can seem strange to others. How will Romney’s belief in no God, one God, three Gods, many Gods, or Worship of Penguins have any bearing on his ability to perform the highest office in the land?

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  • http://www.latterdayblog.com Dustin Davis

    This is not official church doctrine, but this is my thoughts on the subject: http://www.latterdayblog.com/of-god-and-man.html

  • http://quixoticals.blogspot.com Christopher Trottier

    Mormons are not the only ones trying to legalize polygamy. This Muslim woman seems to be trying to get polygamy more accepted amongst the American populace.


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