Evangelicalism and Partisanship Politics

Jonathan Merritt nails it here: the evangelical voice has grown strangely silent on Romney’s Mormon faith, and it is for one reason: politics too often matters more.

If the past is any indicator, their fears may be founded. In 1998, the Southern Baptist Convention held its annual meeting in Salt Lake City, the symbolic and organizational heartland of Mormonism. Some 3,000 Southern Baptist volunteers went door to door with the intent to evangelize Mormons; and the denomination even produced a book called “Mormonism Unmasked,” which promised to “lift the veil from one of the greatest deceptions in the history of religion.”

When Romney delivered his “Faith in America” speech in 2007, the Southern Baptist response was to label Mormonism a “theological cult” and “false religion.”

What’s surprising in 2012 is the relative lack of anxiety on the other side, among evangelicals who for years considered Mormonism a “cult” that was to be feared, not embraced.

In fact, the relative ambivalence among prominent evangelicals about this new “Mormon moment” — and the fact that Romney’s campaign could mainstream Mormonism right into the Oval Office – could radically shift the dynamics on America’s political and religious landscape.

“You can already see the change in thinking among many evangelicals who see Mitt Romney more as the Republican candidate for president and less as a Mormon,” said Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, who declined, when asked, to label Mormonism a “cult.”

Joanna Brooks, a prominent Mormon writer at Religion Dispatches, agreed with Anderson, noting the already visible difference between the level of evangelical anxiety created by the Romney campaign in 2008 and 2012.

“Since his inevitability as a candidate this spring, you’ve seen evangelical leaders who took pleasure in calling Mormonism a cult come to his side,” Brooks said. “Things are changing.”

Brooks doesn’t believe that a Romney candidacy will eliminate the serious theological distinctions between evangelicals and Mormons, but she does expect we’ll see fewer Christians willing to label Mormonism as a “cult” as the mainstream media and many Americans now interpret the use of the phrase as an expression of bigotry.

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • phil_style

    the enemy of my enemy is my friend?
    kind of thing…..

  • http://sbcimpact.org David Rogers

    Some points brought out in this article bring concerns about Romney’s Mormon connections to a new level:

    http://latayne.com/mitts-mormonism

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

    I’m not one to decry Mormonism as a cult (I don’t consider it orthodoxy Christianity, either, but that’s a different question), and am glad to see greater tolerance, but I do find it disturbing that this seems to be the reason for it.

    What isn’t drawn out here, but what I suspect is nonetheless the truth: It’s probably not even “he’s the Republican candidate” so much as “he’s the anti-Democrat candidate” (possibly even “he’s the anti-Obama candidate,” but that may be pushing things a touch too much).

  • Tim

    How many presidents were Freemasons, a secretive society? I was just at the Masonic temple in San Jose for an event and saw the faces of at least 6 on their front mural including George Washington. Is there a need for believers to harp on Romney’s faith unending? No. There are better uses for our words. Is voting for a Mormon for president a compromise in faith towards God? No.

  • CGC

    Hi Scot,
    I can imagine that many conservative Christians can view Mormonism as a cult and vote for a Mormon as a politial leader all at teh same time. Many conservative Christians (and they are not the only ones) more live their lives by the meta-narrative of liberal democracy and the pursuit of happiness and freedom rather than the story of God, Israel, Jesus, and the church. In other words, they have bought into civil religion (the church can’t get anything done so we now believe politics can).

    Most Christians know that being a politician means America first and our private religious beliefs either have little or no value when it comes to the real world of politics. Anyhow, Romney more faithfully represents Americanism than he does Mormonism. There is even a group of Mormons out there who have a website, “Mormons against Romney” (this may say something about the depth of Romney’s faith and commitments?).

    In the end, no matter what religous people say from the right or the left, it really is not getting Christians into office (if that were the case, then the majority of Christians would vote for Obama over Romney). The bottom line is political issues from the right or the left defines who is with us and who is against us. This is so prevalent that now if various political leaders don’t line up on the right side of the issues which we believe are correct, then we doubt the Christian faith of the politician because real Christians vote or think like us.

  • Percival

    For me one of the qualifications of a president is that they should be able to look at important issues and be able to intelligently evaluate the information when they make decisions. For this reason, I look at the views a candidate holds and I ask myself, “Does this person hold reasonable views about important issues, or do they hold on to unsupportable myths and obvious falsehoods?”

    According to this criteria I could not vote for a committed Mormon, even though I have voted Republican for over 20 years. It is not just that Mormonism is a non-Christian religion. It is rather that it is a ridiculous religion, and I cannot fully respect the intellect of anyone who believes in it. I would feel the same about someone who believed in astrology or spiritualism or YEC or that George Bush was behind 9/11 or that the moon landing didn’t happen. Faith in the ridiculous and the fraudulent does not win my vote.

  • EricW

    It is not just that Mormonism is a non-Christian religion. It is rather that it is a ridiculous religion,

    +1

    Understatement of the year.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Percival#6 echos my view.

    Am I just ignorant?

  • metanoia

    I tend to see it a bit simpler. Romney is running as a Republican and Republican positions on most issues, more often than not, run parallel to the convictions of most conservative evangelicals. The fact that he is a Mormon is secondary to the his position on the issues. While Obama is running as a Democrat and his stance on the issues is not consistent with the values of most conservative evangelicals who are the majority in evangelicalism. As for Romney being a follower of a “ridiculous religion.” Most followers of most religions pick and choose the tenets of their faith that they will live by. Many Mormons don’t know the difference between the angel Moroni or just a plain moron. Just as many Christians don’t know the difference between the Host and a Hostess Twinkie. The average evangelical will vote for the candidate who most reflects their core values rather than their particular religious preference.

  • Patrick

    Metanoia,

    Correct. I hate these political posts anyway, it’s not as if left wing voters don’t make the same hypocritical compromises, everyone is this way in politics.

    BTW, anyone who knows the Gospel should understand a Mormon is a Christian. Agreeing with all doctrines that took centuries to formulate was never the Gospel. Believing in Jesus as Messiah/Son of God is.

  • Pam

    10 Patrick

    Paul in Galatians suggests when we add to the Gospel we end up with no gospel.

    Also, what is the theological definition of a cult, not just the common usage?

  • Tim

    I celebrate the greater openness towards a Mormon candidate.

    I lament the demonizing practiced from both the right and the left.

    My Rabbi tells me to take the lumber yard out of my own eye before taking the speck out of the neighbor/opponent/enemy’s eye

  • Patrick

    Pam,

    I accept John 3:16, 20:31, etc as face value, unadulterated pure Gospel. I don’t have a view of the Greek term “pistis” or it’s derivatives meaning anything but “to believe”.

    Since that’s how I understand the Gospel, I would say anyone is saved if you believe Jesus is the Son of God.

    Let’s just say a person preaches belief AND baptism for a quick example. I would disagree baptism is a must, BUT, I would not say that view cancels out the promise of 3:16 and the miracle that occurred the second that human believed Jesus is The Son of God even though I think they are preaching the Gospel in error from my understanding( and I am from their’s).

    The older I am getting, the more error I see in my own past theology over the years. It didn’t cost me God’s Love though. So, I don’t think it does a Mormon either.

  • Dennis

    As i heard (or read) somewhere, Mormanism is the ultimate religion of Americana. It seems that Americanism has trumped Christianity in the hearts and minds of many within Evangelicalism.

  • Ruth Anne shorter

    Dave Barton explains it best–and when we vote for a president we are also voting for the man who will fill judgeships and maybe supreme court nominees. I prayerfully consider which man is for abortion and partial birth abortions and consider this very important to which candidate I vote for in the next election. Check out Dave Barton’s view — we may indeed need to consider advancing the football rather than scoring a touchdown. Obama’s views on many issues are anti-Christian and why do we call him a Christian? Is it because he claims that title? Or because it is politically advantageous at times? Just because I say I am something does not make me that particular thing…praying very much for the Lord to give him a biblical world view if he is a true christian. I am wondering about his recent open support for gay marriages.

  • JohnM

    What Ruth Anne shorter said. If Romney is elected he wouldn’t be the first not-a-Christian President we’ve had. And I’m non-partisan on that point.

  • CGC

    Hi Ruth Ann and all,
    It seems like every four years we get filled with hope for change and then we are shocked. I am very pro-life but to vote on single issues or a few issues like most people do just keeps promoting the myth that we are actually making a difference in the world when in reality we are not.

    It has not mattered whether the political candidate supports abortion or not. Both parties more tell people what they want to hear to get your vote rather than what they are actually going to do once they get elected. When has any pro-life candidate made any substantial difference whether in supreme court nominations or their political decisions when it comes to abortion? Actually, Ronald Reagan (again the pro-life President) was the only one who really had the power to defund planned parenthood (which he vetoed it so it could stay in place).

    When are Christians going to understand how this game is played by politics and politicians? When are we going to wake up and realize that politicians really are not as concerned about the issues as they are about getting elected and staying in office.

    As far as Obama’s view on gay-marraige, his ultimate proposal as far as I know is to leave it with the States (which is no difference than the way it currently is at the moment). Romney is not going to do anything different on abortion or gay marriage than what is taking place under the current administration (there may be slight variations but let’s recognize it for what is it, slight . . . ).

    Lastly, when did political issues become the litmus test for whether somebody was a Christian or not? The last time I read the Bible, it was people’s relationship to Jesus that made them a child of God and not what we believed on political issues much less supporting some political party.

    I think the seduction of civil religion is killing the church today.

  • fb

    my goodness — darned if you do, darned if you don’t. if evangelicals were having a huge problem with romney’s mormonism, there would be an outcry over religious bigotry. since that’s NOT happening, it’s because politics trumps faith?

  • Patrick

    CGC,

    You have a strong point there on “civil religion”. I wish the left and right would agree with you.

  • Rick

    fb #18-

    Well said. Most of the questioning/criticism of Mormonism I have seen is coming from the likes of MSNBC.

  • Patrick

    Rick,

    Yes, the left today has become more discriminatory towards Mormons than ” the evil right wing evangelicals”, haven’t they? Imagine that.

  • http://www.dennyburk.com Denny Burk

    Merritt’s analysis is flawed. No one is backing down from the claim that Mormonism is a cult. The people who were calling it a cult/non-christian before are stilling calling it a cult now. I don’t know why Merritt would suggest otherwise. It sounds to me like Merritt is looking for another angle upon which to ding Christian conservatives. Just a thought.


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