Would a Romney Presidency Fuel the Growth of Mormonism? — Romney and Evangelicals, Pt 2

Should Christians reject a Mormon Presidential candidate for fear that a Mormon presidency would help Mormons evangelize?

When I received Warren Cole Smith’s contribution to our discussion on Faith and the Future of Social Conservatism, I gave it the title, “A Vote for Romney is a Vote for the LDS Church.”  (Believe it or not, I had no idea that this was an echo to a much more incendiary essay that made the rounds in 2007, “A Vote for Romney is a Vote For Satan.”)  The title seemed like a fair summation of what appeared to be Warren’s main concern: that electing a Mormon would strengthen the LDS Church and fuel its further growth.

I already addressed the fundamental question: Is it bigoted or unreasonable to oppose a candidate on the basis of his or her religious beliefs? My answer was: Not necessarily.  Religious beliefs speak profoundly to the character, the values, and the worldview that would shape the decisions a candidate would make were he or she elected to the White House.  Yet there are right and wrong, reasonable and unreasonable ways of taking those religious beliefs into account.  In this second part, I’ll ask whether Christians (and I’ll use “Christian” here to refer to adherents of the three great streams of historic Christianity: Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Protestantism) should be concerned that electing Mitt Romney could put “souls at stake.”

First let’s reconstruct Warren’s argument as charitably as possible.  Warren is not the only evangelical who feels this way, and it’s a powerful argument if you grant its premises.  There are several presuppositions here, but presuppositions which most Christians will grant.  (1) There are true religions (or there is at least one) and false religions, true religious beliefs and false religious beliefs (how many false beliefs add up to a “false religion” is a question for another time).  (2) False religions and false religious beliefs are spiritually dangerous, and detrimental to a person’s present spiritual life and eternal destiny.  (3) Voters should consider not only the political, but even the spiritual, consequences of their votes.

In certain quarters, the belief that some religions and religious beliefs are false already amounts to bigotry.  While I was a doctoral student at Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, I frequently confronted this attitude at the Divinity School: believing that you are right and others are wrong is arrogant, intolerant, possibly imperialistic and and quite probably hateful.  If you are male and white, it’s misogynist and racist to boot.  Yet this only worked one way.  The reigning presumption was that religious liberalism was right, and religious conservatives were wrong, both morally and metaphysically.  Some of the most negative commenters on Warren’s article were responding to the “arrogance” of believing that his beliefs about God and salvation are true while Mormon beliefs are false.

Yet Christians historically have attested that their beliefs are not merely therapeutic, but true in the old-fashioned sense of the word, and Christians have wrestled and argued and sometimes fought over the finer points of their doctrine because they believe it’s so utterly important to understand aright who God is and how God has made provision for reconciliation.  Humbled though we ought to be in the face of our ignorance, our sin, our limitation, there are nonetheless metaphysical facts of the matter, and it is terribly, terribly important that we understand those facts.  While salvation is not a product of intellectual assent to the right propositions, true beliefs are exceedingly helpful, and in some cases necessary, to a right relationship with God.  This does not (or should not) make Christians arrogant, because the truth in which they believe is an unmerited gift of God, not an achievement of the believer but a gracious self-revelation of the One in whom the believer believes.  ”Our beliefs are true” is neither a boast in ourselves nor a denigration of others; it is spoken with the earnestness of a rescued man, with the gratitude of someone who received the undeserved but absolutely inestimable gift of Truth in the form of a person, a life, and with the compassion of someone who wants to share the bounty of Truth with others.

The third presupposition seems straightforward.  Shouldn’t Christians care about the spiritual consequences of their actions?  Isn’t the spiritual health of the nation even more important than its political or economic health?  I can imagine some possible objections to the third presupposition, but let’s leave those for the comments, if anyone wants to challenge it.

With these presuppositions, then, the argument looks like this.  (1) Christians should not fuel the growth of a false religion.  (2) Mormonism is a false religion.  (3) Electing a Mormon to the Presidency would fuel the growth of Mormonism.  (4) Therefore (2 and 3): Electing a Mormon to the Presidency would fuel the growth of a false religion. (5) Therefore (1 and 4): Christians should not elect a Mormon to the Presidency.

The logic appears valid.  If you grant the premises 1, 2 and 3, then 4 and 5 do seem to follow.  It’s always possible to undermine the logic by questioning definitions of terms, but I think it’s most important to question the premises rather than the logic.  I’ll assume that most Christians would grant the premise 1, and I’ll address premise 2 at greater length in the next part in this series.  Many Christians do view Mormonism as a false religion, so: Is there some way to convince people like my friend Warren Cole Smith that electing a Mormon to the presidency would not fuel the growth of Mormonism (i.e., a false religion)?

Here are four reasons why I think not:

  1. The historical argument is perhaps the weakest, but it’s nonetheless important.  Looking back at American Presidents, at least in recent memory, there’s no evidence that Presidents have served to advance the public relations interests of the faiths to which they belong.  Did Carter and Bush make more people look kindly at evangelicalism?  Did JFK swell the ranks of the Catholic church?  Has Barack Obama made more people want to be a liberal, liberation-theology Protestant?  It doesn’t seem so — but there are two reasons why this is a weak part of the argument.  First, we don’t know, and there’s really no way we could know, the answer to that question.  Barack Obama might actually have led more people to explore liberal Protestantism, but it would be almost impossible to ferret out that one influence (a positive impression of liberal Protestantism coming from Barack Obama) from the million-and-one other influences that cause people to attend or to leave churches.  Second, a person like Warren Cole Smith could easily retort that evangelicalism, Catholicism and liberal Protestantism are not marginal traditions in the same way that Mormonism presently is — so placing a Mormon in the presidency could serve (in his words) to “legitimate” Mormonism, moving it from the margin to the center, in a way that would cause many more people here and abroad to give Mormonism a serious hearing.  We could also point to the elections of Orrin Hatch and Harry Reid, and question whether they were PR coups for the Mormon Church, but Warren could respond that electing a Senator has nothing like the legitimating power of electing a President.  So I consider this the weakest of the arguments, but it does not have a certain tacit plausibility.  It may well be the case that Carter’s and Bush’s elections did more harm than good to the general public perception of evangelicalism.
  2. The theological argument would state, as David French does in a column published today at the Evangelical Portal, that God is in control over the salvation of souls and God’s purposes will not be frustrated by a vote for a Mormon candidate.  To Christians of a particular theological stripe, this is a pretty powerful response.  To others, less so.  Some will point to free will.  Others will say that even though God is sovereign over the spread of faith, it is our responsibility to profess the gospel and to consider the spiritual consequences of our actions.  I think the theological argument is more powerful when it’s tied to the historical argument.  We cannot know in advance whether the election of Mitt Romney to the Presidency would help or hinder the cause of the LDS Church, but ultimately many Christians will believe that God is in control.
  3. The sociological argument overlaps with the historical argument by giving actual data.  Studies have shown, for instance, that Romney’s first run for the White House did not change the public perception of Mormonism.  The obvious retort here is that the consequences of a campaign with a Mormon candidate and a Mormon presidency could be quite different.  Yet we don’t really have any evidence to suggest that it would be different.  While Mormons are the most conservative of American religious groups, the LDS Church is meticulously non-political except in basic moral matters like abortion and family — areas where their commitments are the same as those of most evangelicals.  And Romney would not be speaking out as a representative of the Mormon faith.  Recently, for instance, he refused to spell out the LDS stance on homosexuality.  Americans are getting beyond thinking of Mitt as “the Mormon candidate,” and presumably it would not take long before Americans look at President Mitt without thinking of Mormonism.  This makes sense, because the Presidency is not a position of religious leadership.  People will assess Mormonism on the basis of its beliefs and its deeds, not on whether or not a Mormon sits in the White House.
  4. Finally, there is a psychological argument to be made.  A Romney presidency could make some slice of Americans more likely to want to learn more about Mormonism.  It could also make some Americans (particularly those who opposed Romney, or who come to believe that he’s a terrible President) more likely to disdain Mormonism.  But evangelicals should not be afraid of people learning more about Mormonism.  They should also not be afraid, I think, of the “mainstreaming” of what has been, to now, a mostly marginal religious group.  If fewer people think that Mormons are kooks, that’s perfectly fine with me, because I don’t think that Mormons are kooks.  Their beliefs are certainly different from mine, and those differences are important, but Mormons by and large are loving, good and reasonable people.  Given the ways in which Mormonism has evolved over the past century, I don’t think that Mormonism deserves to be marginalized.  Also, Mormonism has brought some beneficent influences into American culture.  Mormonism supplies evangelicals with co-belligerents on important matters of morality, law and culture.  And faith is such a momentous movement of the soul that it will not be made, in my view, or even slightly influenced, by the fact that a Mormon achieved the Presidency.

When Warren argues that electing a Mormon would strengthen the hand of the LDS Church — well, I don’t find that to be an unreasonable point of view.  I just don’t think it’s correct.  Perhaps the most important distinction is this: Would the election of a Mormon candidate to the Presidency lead more people to educate themselves about Mormonism?  Yes.  Would it lead to more people converting to Mormonism?  I think the answer is no.  I’m not afraid that more people should better understand Mormonism.  In fact, I think that would be a good thing.  Then the task falls to evangelicals to represent their faith well in word and deed, and to explain — if they feel this way — why Mormonism is wrong on significant matters.  It’s not their task to exclude Mormons from the Presidency for fear that this would lead Americans to take Mormonism more seriously.  Conversion is between the Spirit of God and the most inward heart of the individual, and it’s hard to imagine the faith of the President will be a significant influence.  God is ultimately the author of salvation history.

Rather than basing my vote on something that seems, to me, so highly speculative, I prefer to base my vote on the merits of the candidate.  So in the final installment of this series, I’ll turn to Mormon beliefs themselves.  Are Mormon beliefs likely to make a Mormon a poor President, or do they point to faults that should concern the American voter?  I’ll answer NO, and you can tune in tomorrow to find out why.

About Timothy Dalrymple

Timothy Dalrymple was raised in non-denominational evangelical congregations in California. The son and grandson of ministers, as a young boy he spent far too many hours each night staring at the ceiling and pondering the afterlife.
 
In all his work he seeks a better understanding of why people do, and do not, come to faith, and researches and teaches in religion and science, faith and reason, theology and philosophy, the origins of atheism, Christology, and the religious transformations of suffering

  • Morgan

    Good, good stuff. Well done.

    • http://yahoo shaun williams

      I can only say that if Romney is elected president the LDS church will continue to grow and if Romney is not elected president…the LDS church will continue to grow. The church is destined to grow regardless of who wins the white house or who is the Pope or what day or year it happens to be.

  • http://www.redeemingculture.com David Leonard

    There’s at least one factor that folks like Smith are, perhaps, not taking into consideration; to wit, whether electing Romney would be the lesser of two evils, depending on how Mormonism is viewed relative to the “liberal Protestantism” of Obama. Also, I suspect that most evangelical voters, for example, would prefer a social conservative over a liberal, even if the conservative candidate espouses putatively heretical theological doctrines. Or at least, I think they *should* take that stance. But maybe Smith’s point is that the theological issues should trump the social issues, right?

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Thanks, David. I know that Smith is focusing on the primary and encouraging folks not to allow Romney to be the GOP nominee in the first place. But if he were the nominee, then we would face precisely that issue. I don’t know if Warren would say that theological issues trump social issues in our assessment of a candidate, but that the spiritual consequences outweigh the political consequences — if that makes sense. -Tim

  • Tom Turner

    I just saw Top Gun, man, I feel like being a scientologist now. Born agains are a crazy lot (and sadly make up a large part of right wing republicans) because they are scared of change. Mormonism is a major religion. 4th largest religion in American, has one of the largest private universities in America and one of the largest private unversity systems when you count BYU, BYU Idaho, BYU Hawaii and BYU Isreal and the LDS church is one of the largest private land owners in America. Born again preachers are scared of losing money from members(really the key) and members to a growing faith like the LDS church so they attack it and call it a cult. Iowa screwed Romney 4 years ago because he wasn’t the right religion so they took a preacher that had NO CHANCE of winning a general election. In a way, they have just played themselves out of national importance with their bigotted ways.

  • Dandini

    My estimation is that few seem to know what a real Christian is…

    if they are not “Trinitarian” Christians, then are they still Christian?

    “Orthodox” Christians may not be a very well understood term, as the “Orthodox” also claim to adhere to one of the “Creeds” that were created outside of the the Bible, and several hundred years after the last apostle.

    “Catholic” Christianity was brought into power under the Roman Emperor, Constantine, who was a “recent” convert to the growing power of the Christian faith, and was of course consolidating that power under Rome.

    And finally, Protestantism, which is a Christian breakoff from the Catholic Christians.

    And so it goes on because so few of them agree on all of the important doctrines which are clearly written in the Bible, which if they were truly following Christ in all things, they should be of one mind in all things.

  • Tracy Hall Jr

    Oh that all Americans could think as clearly and act as charitably as Timothy Dalrymple!

  • Jared

    I like your article much more than Williams. Your thoughts are much less dogmatic and more balanced and Christ-like. You may have read this verse from Luke 9. I think it applies to this question of Romney and his bid for president:
    Luke 9: 49And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us.

    50And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.

  • http://www.messaage4mormons.org.uk Andrew Price

    Picking up on a word you used , you said the Mormons are “reasonable” people which I take to mean you were describing their behaviour . Leaving aside the fact that tens of thousands of individuals who have escaped the cult would beg to differ . I would like to ask is it reasonable for Mitt Romney to be involved in a secret ritual which involved traducing the Christian Pastor as being “in the hire and pay of Satan” ? This same ritual involved throat slitting gestures . Further is it reasonable to hold the view which Mormons do that black people have the mark of Cain ie black skin ? I have to say that these and a host of other Mormon beliefs and practices are deeply offensive . Mitt Romney is is neither a conservative nor a Christian but a political opportunist and member of a cult .

    • Jenny Jones

      Wow, would it be unreasonable to for YOU to be involved in secret rituals that involve throat slitting gestures? If a Mormon individual were doing things like that, they would most certainly lose their temple reccomend and most likely be severly disciplined or excommunicated by the church. I think it’s interesting that at “Christian” book stores, you can find entire anti-Mormon sections, but at LDS book stores you can’t find a single title that disparages any other faith. We are taught to love our neighbors, even those who don’t belong to our faith. We are taught to appreciate and honor the good that others are doing and to respect their beliefs and their God given right to worship “how, where or what they may” (11th Article of Faith). I think it really says something that even with a barage of attacks from the world, the LDS Church choses to turn the other cheek, even donating to other organizations charitible efforts.

  • http://www.tomdegan.blogspot.com Tom Degan

    I’ll be honest with you: Of any potential GOP candidate to seek the Oval Office this year, Mitt is the first one since Gerald Ford whom I can honestly say that I won’t lose a lot of sleep over if he is elected – certainly not as much as I lost during the years 2001-2009 when Dastardly Dubya and Sickie Dick were destroying this beautiful country. Although I could never bring myself to vote for him, Romney is really much more moderate than anything the Republicans have vomited out onto the national political stage in a generation or more. The only reason he looks so extreme these days is simply because the only way to win the nomination of that disgusting party, a candidate needs to say and do a lot of really stupid things. Fear not. I have been Mitt watching for a number of years now. He is not quite the dunce he would appear to be.

    Mitt Romney’s problem is that his “moderateness” is perceived by the Republican base as left wing extremism. Add this to the fact that he is a Mormon and you can come to no other conclusion than that he has four strikes against him. If the religious bigots who have hijacked “the party of Lincoln” end up giving him the nomination, it will only be out of sheer desperation; but I just can’t see that happening. Casey Anthony will be named Mother of the Year before that ever happens. Don’t hold your breath.

    There is also the inconvenient reality of the health care plan he offered the people of Massachusetts when he was governor. It actually inspired the Big Black Bolshevik Boogieman who currently resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Tim Pawlenty is now referring to it as “Obomney Care”. No, I think we can write off poor old Mitt.

    http://www.tomdegan.blogspot.com

    Tom Degan

  • Mark

    Very persuasive reasoning. I look forward to the third installment.

  • http://www.msn.com Brandon

    Your treatment of Mormons reminds me of how the Pharisees treated Jesus Christ. They thought they new had the ultimate truth from Moses and they needed nothing else. Their pride blinded them from learning and I fear the same thing has happened here.

  • http://imaginist.com Art Romero

    Maybe if people did take the time to look into Mormonism, they’d at least be demonstrating that a little intellectual curiosity can trump blind bigotry, and make them better Christians. No harm, no foul.

  • Solomon Kane

    With the frenzied coverage of mormon candidates— the free publicity for mormonism just gets more and more. People are looking at mormons to see what the fuss is all about and deciding for themselves what to believe. Either evangelical groups have something better to offer than mormonism, or they don’t. But all this playground name-calling is really making evangelicals look like they are insecure in their doctrine and can’t stand much more competition. I don’t see Catholics in a panic over this. Perhaps that explains why they and the mormons were so effective on Prop. 8 –while the family institution burns, the evangelical crowd remains uncommitted, confused, disunified and unfortunately… increasingly irrelevant.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I wouldn’t say that Warren is insecure about his own beliefs or feels they don’t stand up to scrutiny. I would say he’s concerned about how a Mormon Presidency could be utilized to sway people, who are — let’s face it, we all are — influenced by irrational as well as rational impulses. The human psyche is a complicated thing.

      But I essentially agreed with you that Christians should not be worried about people learning more about Mormonism. I just don’t think that concern is necessarily motivated by insecurity.

      -Tim

  • Brian

    Thanks Tim for the reasonable article. I am LDS and can tell you that the LDS lifestyle is very demanding. I can’t imagine a President Romney would boost membership in the church. Most people aren’t up for the LDS lifestyle now and nothing will change in that regard in 2012 or 2013

  • Lee

    Having served as a Mormon Bishop, and still a true believer, I think your discussion over the past several weeks has been absolutely fascinating. Very well thought out arguments. One extra thought: No one has taken into account the unmitigated abuse that will be heaped upon the LDS church by every left-wing, Soros-financed group in the world, during the campaign particularly, and for the next 4 years if Mitt happens to win. The assumption that the LDS church will be benefited by Romney’s run is very weak.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Great point about the abuse that will be directed at the LDS Church. Thanks for bringing that up.

      -Tim

  • Tim

    I tend to agree with your reasoning and evaluation. I am not certain that it would’nt have the effect of increasing the acceptance of teh LDS faith, expecially abroad.

    Romney has been a practicing Mormon is whole life. This should be a critical foundation of his world view and core values. Yet his view and positions on very fundamental issues seems to have waivered and changed with time and his political postion and ambition. For me, this is as much or more of a reason I am not likely to support Romney for the Republican nomination.

  • Tim

    How about the Golden Rule argument?

    If I’m a Christian candidate, I wouldn’t want people refusing to vote for me because of my religion.

    But if I refuse to vote for someone else because of his religion, then I’m being hypocritical.

  • Tim Smith

    I have a problem with part of what you said that is the more or less the basis of the whole discussion: “There are true religions (or there is at least one)and false religions…” I would disagree that there is “at least” one true religion and say that there is AT MOST one true religion. After all, if different a comparison shows that two religions (‘A’ and ‘B’) have different beliefs, there are three logical possiblities: 1. A is right and B is wrong. 2. B is right and A is wrong. 3. Both are wrong. Extending this to a one-by-one comparison of all different religions, you will find that there cannot possibly be more than one true religion unless two or more different religions happen to have completely identical beliefs. Accepting ANY other possibility requires some kind of postmodern relativistic double-think.

    From this thought, most of (and possibly all, logically) of our presidents have belonged to false religions since a no single relgion can claim more than a handful US presidents as members. Of course it would also be possible that a given president who happens to be a member of the true religion (whichever it might be) has individual beliefs which are false and contrary to the true religion he is a member of.

    Basically, it’s pretty much impossible to choose presidents based on whether or not they would cause heresy.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Tim, this is only correct if by “true religion” you mean a religion that is true in all particulars. It’s not terribly important, because the logical form of my statement was “There exists a true religion.” Whether it’s one or multiple is not the point; the point is that some people take offense to the very notion that there are truth and falsehood in the area of religion. So it’s not material to the specific argument I was making. But to address your point: since all religions differ, only one religion can be true if by “true” you mean exhaustively true or true in every respect. If by true religion you mean “true in the most important matters,” or “true in salvific matters,” then you can have more than one true religion.

      • DougH

        There’s also another point about how one can be the “true” Church that has nothing to do with theology – the Church that has the authority to act in God’s name, an either/or.

        Beyond that, while I would think that the “true” church would be “more true” in the sense of having theology that’s closer to the truth, it’s also theoretically possible that the “true” church (possessing that authority) might get a point of theology wrong that a “false” church (not possessing that authority) gets right. God hardly tells us everything, after all, and we’re bound to get things wrong from time to time working them out for ourselves, “true” church or not.

  • http://www.redeemingculture.com David Leonard

    Yeah, that makes sense. I didn’t realize he was focusing on the primary, which makes the opposition to Romney more reasonable. Perhaps if Romney ended up winning the GOP vote, Smith would change his tune a bit. Or maybe not.

    • http://www.redeemingculture.com David Leonard

      Although given the strong language Smith used to describe Romney’s beliefs (e.g. referring to Mormonism as a false religion), if Romney actually won the GOP vote, it might be inconsistent for Smith to vote for him–almost regardless of Romney’s opponent. But this strikes me as a thorny issue. I mean, how egregious does one’s beliefs have to be to not deserve the Christian vote? Is heresy the line of demarcation? Is it enough that the candidate is not Protestant? Or not evangelical? Of course, people are free to vote their conscience. But we have to be reasonable here, and part of being reasonable involves getting clear on exactly what sort of qualifications are necessary to serve in the White House, as well as the role that politics should play in efforts (either positively or negatively) to spread the Christian gospel.

      The other issue I find interesting is the connection between beliefs and values, which Smith mentions. I agree there is a connection, but it’s not clear to me how Mormon beliefs might result in values that evangelicals would reject. I suppose Smith’s point is that if the Mormon revelation changes, and this gives rise to new values, then Romney would be obligated to share those values. But notice this is basically the concern that was raised against JFK when he ran for the presidency. To wit, if Kennedy is taking his cues from the Vatican, then who knows what sorts of policies he might eventually endorse.

      Also, I’m not sure why Smith can so confidently proclaim that “the effect of his presidency…will be to promote Mormonism.” One could just as easily argue that with a Mormon enjoying such a highly visible platform, it might actually hurt the Mormon image, depending on the quality of his tenure. Or it might even encourage people to dig deeper into Mormon theology, and thereby discover its more questionable foundations. The point is that causal arguments, such as these, are very difficult to establish. And the reality is that we have no idea how a Romney presidency would affect the spread of Mormonism.

  • Common Sense

    I think that Reason #2 could use some buttressing. It is no abdication of responsibility to leave outcomes in God’s hands when you are acting in accordance with your principles. In my view, Mr. Smith is asking Evangelicals to vote AGAINST their principles in an effort to steer the course of current events in a way that marginalizes a faith he finds heretical. This is neither honest, nor faithful.

    If Mr. Smith is sure of the truth of his own beliefs, the error of Mormon beliefs, and of the fact that Divine Providence will always favor the truth, then he should not feel the need to artificially marginalize Mormonism in a realm external to theological debate. Does he wish to win (or retain) souls on the merits of the truths he holds dear or does he instead want to dig a pit for his neighbor and skip the debate by marginalizing the opposition before it has been given any consideration?

    If Mr. Smith respects the agency of all men to choose between truth and error, then he should not wish to short circuit the debate by marginalizing opposing viewpoints. Such logic if carried to its furthest extent would quickly disqualify any shade of theology the differs from his own, even within his own sect, for fear that the dignity of the office of president might lead someone astray who otherwise might have stayed firmly rooted in the truth by the accident of ignorance.

    I do not propose that it is the responsibility of every religious adherent to hand a megaphone to opposing faiths. I do propose that it is intellectually dishonest to attempt to marginalize any adherent of another faith in all realms of public intercourse in an effort to prevent anyone from taking their religious beliefs seriously enough to give them any consideration.

    Mr. Smith’s argument seems to have its basis in fear. Either he secretly fears the power of error over truth in the hearts of men, or he secretly fears the veracity of Mr. Romney’s faith.

    If it is the former, I urge him not to reach forth his hand to steady the Ark. Stay with the truth, act (and vote) on principles, and trust in the Lord to steer the ship aright. Men cannot be saved in ignorance. I am sure he is motivated by concern for the welfare of souls, but salting the fields of the Samaritans (remember: the Samaritans were heretics) is not the honest way to go about this.

    If it is the latter, then (brace yourselves!) I urge him to sit down with a pair of Mormon missionaries and have it out. By “have it out”, I mean honestly soul-search his way through it and face his fear. If he goes into such an encounter an open heart and trusting in God, then he will not fail of finding truth and finding peace, no matter which path he ultimately takes.

    If there is anything in Mr. Romney’s faith that Mr. Smith can point to as giving him serious reason to disqualify him for the office of president, he should make that case loudly, honestly, and cleanly, with no alloy of theological rivalry. No consideration outside of the realm of polity would consitute an honest motivation for deprecating his candidacy.

    Full Disclosure:
    I am a Mormon who supports Michele Bachmann with his heart, voice, and wallet because she best represents the core principles of good government I hold dear to my heart, which principles are directly informed by my faith.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Thanks for this thoughtful comment. I can imagine what Warren would say, but my purpose here is not to defend Warren, so I’ll keep it to myself.

      -Tim

  • David R

    Tim, you and Warren are very clear about the fact that Mormonism is a false religion. First off, what is Mormonism? Do you mean that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints is a false church? If I recall from reading the Bible, the far majority did not accept Christ for who he was. If you understood the doctrines of the LDS Church and if you understood the New Testament, you would discover that no other church is as closely aligned to the New Testament’s teachings. The Church of Jesus Christ of LDS is the true church of Jesus Christ, restored through a prophet by Jesus Christ. I don’t expect you to accept this, just like most people did not accept Christ when he was on earth. But who are you to determine that the church is a false church? Attending Harvard makes you a prophet? The Old Testament is full of Harvard prophets. Joseph Smith did not attend Harvard, but produced the Book of Mormon. You can tell a true prophet from a false one by their fruits. You would do well to study the Book of Mormon. It too is true.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Hi David. Actually, I was pretty careful not to say that Mormonism is a false religion. I didn’t really discuss premise 2. I’m going to take up Mormon beliefs in the third installment of this series. The question here was whether the election of a Mormon to the Presidency would fuel the growth of Mormonism. I bracketed premise 2 and asked: “Is there some way to convince people like my friend Warren Cole Smith that electing a Mormon to the presidency would not fuel the growth of Mormonism (i.e., a false religion)?”

      I don’t feel much of a pinch, though, when people say, “Who are you to determine whether X is true?” After all, haven’t you determined (in your view) that Mormonism is true? Don’t you believe that some things are false? We all have to search for the truth as best we can.

      -Tim

    • http://www.redeemingculture.com David Leonard

      David R, the central issue here isn’t whether Mormonism is a false religion. Rather, it’s whether the *belief* that it’s a false religion should discourage someone from voting for a Mormon candidate.

    • Common Sense

      Whoah. Dial it back there, friend. You’ll catch more flies with honey. I think you know what “Mormonism” is and that Tim meant no disparagement by not referring to the full and proper name of the Church in his article (which I found very thoughtful and respectful). The Church itself prefers the full name to be used in news articles, but tacitly acknowledges the terms “Mormon” and “Mormonism” in all its communications as being valid terms that refer specifically to our church and its beliefs. In fact, they regularly and strenuously object when those terms are used to refer to apostates and splinter groups.

      Who is Mr. Dalrymple to determine the Church is false? I can’t see that he made that statement, but even if he did, then he is perfectly in the right to do so. You obviously have done the same to his faith by proclaiming that ours is the true church of Jesus Christ. More power to you, I believe the same. You should not take offense that he feels his faith is the right one and yours is misguided. You and I both believe the same toward his.

      As for the evidences you list, they are inconsequential and circumstantial. The veracity of these things is best affirmed through the Holy Spirit, not empirical proofs. Taking a combative tone will not help anyone arrive at a place where they can feel that.

      Your comments on “Harvard prophets” are difficult to square with anything. You have either grossly misunderstood the the article, or you are actually a troll posing as a Mormon and trying to stir up trouble. There’s nothing I can do about the latter, so I will assume the former and ask you to please slow down and consider carefully before contributing in a thoughtful forum such as this one.

  • Stephen Hannington

    I find the logic of Mr. Timothy Dalrymple’s argumentation to be fatally flawed. Mr. Dalrymple fails to adequately define what constitutes a “true” religion as compared to what constitutes a so-called “false” religion. His argument of “true” versus “false” religion is pure supposition without merit or foundation.

    For instance, would a Catholic consider the hazy theological meanderings of various Protestant sects to be a “true” religion? Indeed No! In fact for centuries Protestantism was considered a vile heresy by the Roman Catholic Church (and still is in many RC circles). Ergo, from the viewpoint RC Church and the Orthodox Churches (which combined constitutes about 75% of Christendom) Mr. Dalrymple’s version of Protestantism constitutes a heretical and ultimately a “false” religion.

    Do non-Christian religions such as Judaism, Hinduism, Jainism, Islam, Shintoism also constitute “false” religions? If so, by the flawed logic of Warren Cole Smith one should never consider voting for any presidential candidate not of their particular faith. If that is not an example of blatant religious bigotry then I do not know what is.

    Regarding this article and that posted by Warren Cole Smith one merely has to replace the word “Mormon” with the word “Jew” to see just how odious this whole line of argument is. I am troubled by the pervasive mindset of Evangelicals who feel compelled to expurgate other faiths deemed to be erroneous (or in the words of Warren Cole Smith “dangerous”).

    World history is full of instances of dominant religions persecuting minority faiths. In my humble opinion the propensity of Evangelicalism to aggressively attack minority faiths is what truly constitutes a “dangerous” religion.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Stephen, I bracketed the question of whether Mormonism is a “true” religion in order to deal with that in the third installment of this series. And I think we need to draw a clear distinction between criticism and persecution of a religion. I think folks are a little too quick in this case to use the words bigotry and persecution — even though I disagree with Warren about his concern. -Tim

      • Jay

        Perhaps I’m merely imagining it, but I’ve sensed a faint tone of condescension in your article. Consequently I’m very interested in your treatment of LDS theology in the third segment. Will you be suggesting criteria by which one can determine “a true religion;” and if so, will you name any that meet those criteria?

        • Timothy Dalrymple

          Well, Jay, I hope you’re imagining it. When I search my heart, I really don’t feel any condescension towards Mormons or Mormonism. Note that I did not, in this article, say that Mormonism is a false religion. I was pretty careful about that, for reasons that would take a long time to explain.

          -Tim

  • sarah brown

    Truly,
    If a person joins the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints it is not based
    on the faith of the POTUS. If for reasons of general interest, curiosity, or
    unhappiness with ones given faith, then yes, perhaps more people might
    want to really learn what the true tenants of our faith are. People join our
    church because the truth resonates within their hearts. One could describe
    the feeling as ‘coming home.’ It’s the values, principles and ordinances that
    attract the attention of many….not a bad thing in today’s world. So, perhaps
    there are indeed those who can’t help but notice that generally, active
    members of the LDS faith who strive their best to live their religion do so
    because they have a firm and unshakable faith that the doctrines taught are true.
    Having good examples of Christians living Christian values is a good thing.

  • Kenny

    I don’t think Warren Smith and others are necessarily worried about the growth of the LDS Church fueled by a Romney presidency as much as validation – or further validation – and acceptance of the LDS Church into the mainstream conglomeration of religions. Though the two may seem the same/similar, they are actually different – at least on a gradient.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I think they’re concerned about the mainstreaming of Mormonism, because they’re concerned that more people will become Mormon as a result.

      -Tim

  • joyce

    All I have to say is that before all this stuff about Romney’s religion I never even thought about a candidate’s religion. I considered the candidate’s stance on political things, similar to my values, not his religion. Now every time I read about a candidate, I’ll wonder what his or her religion is and I don’t want to do that. But now it’s stuck in my mind. Thanks

  • Jim

    The Mormon religion is the only religion without a paid local clergy. All others have an individual in charge that receives a salary, so they do not want to lose their congregations to mormonism. In a lot of cases it’s a simple money game.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Mmm, I don’t hear many pastors worried about losing their congregations. But I do hear an awful lot of Christians concerned about the eternal destiny of those who convert to Mormonism. Whether that concern is warranted is a topic for another time.

      -Tim

  • Aaron Harris

    thank you mr. Timothy Dalrymple for engaging a civil and thoughtful discussion of the LDS faith and it’s relationship to Mitt Romney’s candidacy. For another insightful article I recommend: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith/post/evangelicals-mormons-and-the-beliefs-of-the-president/2011/06/07/AGnGX8KH_blog.html

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Thanks, Aaron. I actually didn’t think that Otterson represented Warren’s argument very fairly. But it was one of the more gracious responses in tone, that’s for sure.

      -Tim

  • Mt

    As a life-long member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints I have often ben the target of critisms of my Church. There are about 5 to 10 similar arguments that I have heard over the years. Almost a mantra of sorts. They miss the point and it is really too bad. In the church I have found spiritual peace through the atonment of Jesus Christ and the power of his resurrection, strong standards, charity,strong support of families, and compassion to name just a few. While not perfect at it, I have found great strength and goodness from following the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have seen live change for the better, including my own. I believe this Church is the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Why do some have such a problem with that? Isn’t that really between me and God? Why the contention? Why the rancor and venom? One of the basic tenants of our religion is that we allow all to worship God according to their own conscience. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a good church. Don’t get all worked up because Mitt is a Mormon. I suspect people will continue on in their faith just the same if he is elected President. As to the comments about the history of the Church, there are some who may want to examine their own church’s history and doctrines as closely as they examine those of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Just an idea, might be an interesting exercise. Christ taught about a mote and a beam. It is a good parable even for today. Will Mitt be a good president if elected? I don’t know. Can we all do a little better about respecting the faith of all the candidates. Of course.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Thanks for sharing your story, Mt.

  • Todd

    Thank you for a thoughtful article. I’d like to add one more idea to the discussion. “No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” (The Constitution of the United States, 1787-1790, Article VI, Paragraph iii). The argument presented by Mr. Smith is in direct violation of the US Constitution.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Todd, the “religious test” prohibited by the Constitution regards the government imposing a test, such that an individual would have to pass that test in order to qualify as a candidate. It doesn’t involve an individual voting against a candidate on the basis of his faith. Some of the folks who’ve responded to Smith (Rutten, Otterson) argue that he puts in place a *de facto* religious test, such that people of non-majority religions could not be elected, but I don’t think it’s a very strong argument personally. I do address this in greater detail in the first part of this series.

      Thanks for your comment,

      -Tim

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    On the likelihood of a Mormon president making Mormonism “legitimate” and leading more people to join it:

    First, Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts for four years. His father was governor of Michigan for several terms. I have never seen any evidence that their elections by the majority of voters in those two predominantly non-Mormon states had any observable effect on the rate of people joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in either state. Indeed, I assume that once a minority religion has passed into the status of being “legitimate”, it does not fall OUT of that status, if Mr. Smith’s thesis is correct, we should see a positive impact on LDS Church membership in both Massachusetts and Michigan that persisted even after the Romneys left office. Again, I know of no such evidence. Indeed, if there WERE such evidence, you can bet that Mr. Smith would have cited it to back up his argument, but he has not. And the LDS Church News (a weekly newspaper serving LDS Church members) publishes an annual Almanac which lists LDS membership by state, and over time; an uptick in Mormon conversions showing a “Romney Effect” would surely have shown up here, but I am not aware of any such effect.

    I am certainly aware of the fact that people who are interested in a specific celebrity may be led to investigate more seriously a religious belief espoused by that celebrity. I am aware of a few people in Japan whose first interest in Mormonism was the popularity of the Osmond Brothers there circa 1970. But this was not a major effect. Similarly, I am aware of no material upsurge of interest in Mormonism when David Archuletta came in second in the national voting for American Idol which launched his career. Whatever Mr. Smith means by “legitimizing” Mormonism, there appears to be no evidence that personality-centered events that show the popularity of individual Mormons have had any particular net positive effect on the number of converts to Mormonism.

    And there is no reason this should surprise us. The notion that people would convert to a particular religion mainly because someone they admire in a non-religious context has affiliated with that religion is a pretty broad hypothesis that has no clear evidentiary support, in connection with ANY religion.

    We should distinguish the effect of simple celebrity on religious commitment versus celebrity among active evangelists, who specifically build their popularity around their religious message. That is a basic feature of many popular religious pastors. Were Mitt Romney going around the country speaking about God and Christ and the way to salvation, his personal popularity would be tied into his impact on the individual religious commitments of those who chose to follow him. But that is definitely NOT what he is doing. Romney is NOT asking people to change their religious commitments, but is hoping to translate their POLITICAL commitments into a commitment to vote him into office. Mr. Smith seems to be confusing Romney the candidate (REAL) with Romney the evangelist (A figment of his imagination).

    A true scholarly study of Smith’s alleged theory, of the influence of a president’s religious affiliation on the conversion and membership rates of his chosen denomination, should look at ALL presidents and ALL their religious affiliations. Frankly, I doubt that there is any evidence that the vague religious convictions of George Washington, the New England conservative Christianity of John Adams, or the deistic anti-Biblical beliefs of Thomas Jefferson, or of any of their successors, had any appreciable effect on the course of religious development in the USA. The Second Great Awakening that fermented upstate New York, and led young Joseph Smith to ask God which church he should join, was a product of the preaching of thousands of Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregationalist ministers, professional and amateur, not of the election of William Henry Harrison or John Quincy Adams, et al.

    Indeed, I suspect that what Mr. Smith fears so much is not a jump in the number of converts to Mormonism, but that “legitimacy” for the LDS Church means that it will no longer be tolerable among a larger part of the American public to paint Mormons as religious oddballs who can be discriminated against at will in a myriad of social contexts, from prayer breakfasts to zoning ordinances. What kind of national religious consensus can you build if you are excluding the President of the US? Such blatant religious discriminiation will become as illegitimate as the kind of discrimination once so openly practiced by Protestants against Catholics. Yes, it will be a sad day for religious prejudice when they don’t have the Mormons to treat as second class citizens anymore.

  • pinecone

    I believe Jefferson would be appalled at this entire conversation, the article, and the premise that religion and politics should be uttered in the same sentence. I will be so glad when an atheist is elected and this type of conversation is obsolete.


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