Guest post about Romney and the Religious Right

(The following post is by Brandon Morgan. It does not necessarily express the views held by this blogger. (Of course, I wouldn’t post it here if I didn’t think it raised some very important questions.) And it does not imply endorsement of any candidate or party.)

A Republican candidate being asked to give the commencement address at Liberty University is no surprise, especially given that the university is the ‘altar’ school where the marriage between conservative evangelicalism and neo-conservative American politics occurred and is continually bolstered. No one is shocked. But this time is different since the Republican candidate for the presidency is a Mormon.

As a young Christian, I attended a very conservative independent Baptist school and was taught often that Mormonism was a heretical perversion of the Christian faith and should be fought against with rigorous biblical apologetics. The main issue in that context was the manner in which Mormon’s added authorized texts to the biblical canon as a strategy to justify their theological beliefs. The theological differences regarding Christology and the Trinity were not mentioned at all, as they often are today in setting off Mormonism as a deviation from creedal Christianity. It was simply that they read the Bible “wrong” and “added” other texts to the canon, which, among other things, positioned the belief system for being named a Christian heresy. This judgment should be no surprise given that all conservative evangelicals are strong biblicists and solidify their theological positions on strict literal interpretations of Scripture, which in this particular case, finds Revelation 22.18-19 rather helpful. It condemns those who would add to or take away from the Bible and reneges on their share in the “tree of life and the holy city” (read salvation) who would attempt such a pursuit.  I cannot count how many times this verse was used in my conservative Christian upbringing to ward off ‘cult-like’ additions to the biblical canon like those claimed to be found in Mormonism.

I retell this story, not as an entrance into the ongoing debate about the theological differences between Christianity and Mormonism, but in order to isolate just one biblical apologetic strategy used in conservative evangelicalism to distinguish Mormonism from Christianity. I do not agree with the argumentative strategy, but simply describe it as a test case in how biblical literalism furnished the tactics required for conservative Christians to distinguish themselves from Mormons who, apart from obvious theological differences, actually took up, and continue to take up, similar social and political causes related to the institution of the family and, therefore, Republican party interests.

I find this biblical-apologetic strategy of interest because it serves to insinuate the ways in which conservative Christians actually recognized the need to ‘set apart’ Mormons as ‘deviant’ simply because they often looked alike within the social-political sphere. In short, the theological differences between conservative evangelical biblicists and Mormons at one time made all the difference, and often still does, in whether or not to accept Mormons as a part of the Christian faith. The similarities in social and political issues were never mentioned in my ‘education’ in the ‘cult-countering’ apologetic strategies, though they were prevalent. They never needed to be mentioned because every political candidate that ran on the Republican ticket (the only correct Christian choice, I was then taught) had always been a Christian during my life and often felt the need to pander for conservative evangelical votes as a way of recognizing the intricate relationship between conservative Christianity and neo-conservative politics. None of this has changed since my grade school years except that now the Republican candidate pandering for conservative evangelical votes is ironically a Mormon, a belief system always blasted as a ‘cult’ among the very voting block seemingly needed the most. Such ‘cult’ language was even used by FBC Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress early this primary season in the Republican debate circuit as a strategy to again differentiate between the Christian, Texas Governor Rick Perry, and the Mormon, Mitt Romney.  It was Jeffress’ claim that he would vote for Romney, despite his Mormonism because he believed that his principles were true while the principles of the Christian Obama was false, that sparked my interest in the present phenomenon of re-evaluating the relationship between conservative Christians and the supposed ‘religious’ underpinnings of voting for Republicans. Romney’s candidacy and his address at Liberty University further this re-evaluation.

What seems to be occurring now in conservative evangelical circles is a process of discerning shared principles that both conservative Christians and Mormons hold within the political and social sphere. No one is surprised by these similarities, which rest on typical appeals to ‘family values.’ But the strange fact is that no one seems to discern the divergent theological claims that would naturally lead to ‘family values’ talk. In fact, most theological divergences between Christians and Mormons are avoided altogether in order to properly discern similar social concerns, which always find their nexus in traditional Republican claims about abortion, homosexuality, the free-market, and foreign policy. The ‘similarities’ are found within the political sphere, more specifically the Republican sphere, so as to alleviate the obvious theological differences that continually separate conservative Christians and Mormons from each other. Romney’s appeal to the ‘religious’ claims about marriage between males and females, for instance, is a way to persuade conservative voters, like those from Liberty U, to see him as an ally. Likewise, his claims in his commencement address about America’s ‘religious’ founding also serves to isolate the similar ‘mythological’ view that many conservative Christians and Mormons have about the foundational ‘Christianness’ of America.

Many more examples of this strategy of discerning the social-political similarities between Mormons and Christians could be shown. But my point here is to suggest a somewhat radical alteration that has occurred in typical ‘religously’ minded voting within conservative Christian circles. I suggested earlier that biblical-apologetic strategies of differentiation were rampant within my conservative Christian grade school upbringing because the social and political similarities between Christians and Mormons could often be deceptive. The ‘truth’ was in the biblical and doctrinal differences, which needed to be articulated to show that Mormonism was a ‘heresy’ or ‘cultic deviant’ belief system. But now that a Mormon has won the Republican candidacy, the strategies are reversed. The theological and biblical differences are pushed to the side in order to isolate the social-political similarities. That is how a Mormon like Romney can give the commencement speech at Liberty. There simply are no theological reasons why such an invitation would ever be allowed at Liberty. Its occurrence seems to be reliance upon the common presupposition that conservative Christians vote Republican for seemingly ‘religious’ reasons and Romney happens to be a ‘religious’ Republican who shares in social-political values that conservative-Christians value. Nothing about Christian beliefs and Mormon beliefs are referred to other than a blanket appeal to God’s (whose God?) ‘election’ of America as the new Israel—a true Christian heresy in its own right.

My question about all this is: given this state of affairs, can it be claimed with integrity that conservative Christians’ criteria for voting in a consistently conservative way subsist in any ‘theological’ or specifically ‘Christian’ criteria. In short, will not conservative Christians have to give up the claim that they vote with Christian ideals in mind when, in fact, they choose to vote for a Mormon, a group often deemed ‘cult-like,’ over Obama who is a Christian (though perhaps not a conservative one)? Since it is now impossible to claim that a Republican’s political viewpoints reside in his uniquely ‘Christian’ sensibilities, what is revealed is the possibility, perhaps always waiting to be shown, that conservative Christians vote according to neo-conservative political criteria and not uniquely Christian ones. More specifically, what is at stake, and perhaps has always been at stake, is a political ideology and not actually getting a “Christian” into office. Yet the strategy here, as in the past, is to make the Republican political ideology into Christian principles—to amalgamate both into a single religio-political ideology. This strategy, however, must now include Mormonism.

The irony about the Romney candidacy and his Liberty commencement invitation, not to mention his strategies to show the political-social similarities between himself and his needed evangelical votes, is that perhaps many conservative Christians will have to include Romney as a ‘Christian’ in principle, though perhaps not in practice, while excluding Obama as a Christian in principle, despite his claimed commitment in practice. The fact seems to be that Romney, and maybe Mormonism in general, will have to made into a “Christian” through being inducted into the religio-political ideology just mentioned in order to justify voting for him. What, of course, seems to be lost here, and perhaps was always an illusion, is any actual Christian theological claim as an evaluative criteria for political involvement. This is possibly fortunate because it may show that people do not, and maybe have never, actually voted according to their theological belief at all, despite the claims to be doing so. Such beliefs are cast aside for the sake of common conservative principles that will at least defeat the Democrats, if nothing else. Nevertheless, these could be unfortunate realities, if true, because it again alleviates important Christian beliefs, like that oneness of God, the Incarnation of God and God’s Trinitarian life to do any social-political work. It is simply assumed that such particularity serves absolutely no evaluative means to discern what being a Christian citizen, over against the citizenries of the world, could mean. Christianity as a social reality is shown to have never actually been what was at stake in Christian political involvement. What is at stake now is the establishment of common principles to alleviate the lingering separateness between Christianity and Mormonism in order to solidify the needed justification for conservative Christian votes. No doubt our Enlightenment-schooled founding fathers would be proud, though not for the reasons some would assume.

  • http://cramercomments.blogspot.com D C Cramer

    Excellent commentary, Brandon. This might also make sense of the conservative argument that the U.S.’s founders were “Christian.” Just as Romney’s theological beliefs are treated as adiaphora, so too is the deistic theology of (many of) the founders. But this simply unmasks the fact that “Christianity” has come to mean nothing more than “civil religion.” The irony is that this is simply the mirror image of the “liberal” theology that such conservatives detest.

    • Rob

      I take it that the founding of America took place in the centuries prior to the declaration of independence as it was a declaration of independence of already existing political entities from the British Empire. Are you saying that the founding of Rhode Island and Pennsylvania was not religious? Are you denying that Massachusetts began as a Puritan theocracy/democracy?

      • http://cramercomments.blogspot.com D C Cramer

        No, but we apparently disagree on the meaning of the “U.S.,” which I take it was (officially) “founded” with the Declaration of Independence. Plus, most arguments I read about America as a Christian nation use the DoI and the Constitution as their support, though the founding of some of the colonies is not unimportant either.

      • Barry

        “I take it that the founding of America took place in the centuries prior to the declaration of independence as it was a declaration of independence of already existing political entities from the British Empire. Are you saying that the founding of Rhode Island and Pennsylvania was not religious? Are you denying that Massachusetts began as a Puritan theocracy/democracy?”

        Considering how right-wing evangelicals only feel that those in their little circle are ‘Christians’, it’s rather, ah – dishonest of them to play that game:

        Massachusets – founded by an Amillenial sect, which persecuted anybody who deviated (which would include any proto-evangelicals, or others who didn’t submit to the Puritan’s hierarchy).

        Pennsylvania – founded by Quakers.

        Rhode Island – was founded as an outpost of religious freedom. By the standards of modern right-wing evangelicals, this makes him not a ‘Christian’.

        Maryland – founded as a Catholic colony.

        And so on.

  • http://notdarkyet-commentary.blogspot.com/ Charles Kinnaird

    Very insightful article – and one that should be discussed among Evangelicals. The red flag for me was when Ronald Reagan was elected and Jerry Falwell announced he was dissolving his Moral Majority organization because there was no longer any need for it. This was astounding to me, hearing an evangelical say this. How could it be that 30 years of Billy Graham Crusades had made no dent on the waywardness of America, but now with the election of a secular California actor/politician, we could rejoice in being a Christian nation? I had heard Falwell talk about how “we’ve got to turn this country around.” I thought he was talking about people turning to Jesus. Now apparently the whole country had turned on the dime of an election. I wondered if Falwell had seen the magazine article that I read back in those days: “Nancy Reagan brings glamour and alcohol back to the White House.” That whole scenario demonstrated to me that Falwell’s Moral Majority was purely political rather than spiritual or evangelical.

    • http://christianchildrensbooks.net Fred Karlson

      According to Wikipedia, Moral Majority got started in 1979. It was disbanded by Falwell in 1989 which would have been after Reagan left office. The Wikipedia article cites Falwell as saying that there was a sufficient number of moral politicians in power so that the organization was no longer needed. It also adds that there were financial problems plaguing the movement. Regardless, it seems obvious to me that partisanship defined morality for Falwell.

  • Patiently Waiting

    Of course, this year was not the first year in which a Mormon spoke at Liberty University’s commencement. In 2010, Glen Beck gave the commencement speech. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YRoGpoQQRs

    Of course, Glen Beck is best known for his TV show, which was wholly political in nature. While LU teaches a class that considers Mormonism to be a cult (http://www.buzzfeed.com/mckaycoppins/cultist-for-president), they are not bothered by inviting politically conservative Mormons to speak at the school.

  • J.E. Edwards

    “No doubt our Enlightenment-schooled founding fathers would be proud, though not for the reasons some would assume.” That statement captures what the ethos of this country was when it was founded. The freedom of religion didn’t interfere with the politics…as you have stated. Having grown up in the same kind of independent Baptist circles, it is interesting to see this compromise by them (if you will).

  • Bob Brown

    Obama (liberal Leninist) and Romney (Moderate Mormon) both have twisted views of God, the gospel and the Scriptures. A Christian university should not endorse either one, so he’s right on that point. The Church is the prophetic voice to our nation. It should speak for the King, Jesus, and His kingdom….period. That often leaves us choosing between the lesser of two evils in the political realm. I will vote for the man who will elect conservative supreme court justices who will enforce the constitution and protect the unborn. I’m just thankful to have that opportunity as I look at history.

    • rogereolson

      And you have that opportunity because “liberal Leninists” like Obama (who isn’t that!) have guaranteed it over the last two and a half centuries.

    • Erin

      Agreed, Bob Brown! I typically feel like I am voting for the lesser of two evils as well, and the one who is more likely to protect the unborn is my choice as well.

      • rogereolson

        So my question is (as this is my blog): How has that worked out for you? Conservative Christians and pro-lifers in general (and I consider myself one of the latter) should be disappointed in the results of their political activism on behalf of conservative presidential candidates who get elected. Which one(s) has really produced results on behalf of unborn children? So far as I can tell, the only predictable consequence of electing any candidate to national office has been that the rich get richer and the big corporations get more powerful and the poor and consumers get left behind.

  • Rob

    I took the main point of your post to be summed up here: Will conservatives have to give up the claim that they vote with Christian ideals in mind, when, in fact, they choose to vote for a Mormon . . . over Obama who is a Christian (though perhaps not a conservative one)?

    I cannot see why they would. You make some good points about how conservative evangelicals have criticized LDS as being a cult using what I would identify as silly biblicist arguments, but maybe Evangelicals (or at least many of us) are just growing up and realizing that it is not necessary to demonize heretical sects like Mormonism.

    So it is certainly true that Evangelicals are toning down the rhetoric against Mormons, but this does not show that they are disingenuous when they claim to be voting according to Christian principles. What if Romney’s political positions turn out to broadly reflect the Christian principles dear to conservative Evangelicals? Then there is no problem at all. Suppose that conservative Evangelicals desire a candidate who acts on Christian principles p1, p2, and p3. Romney promises to act on p1, p2, and p3. What exactly is the problem? As long as Mormons are capable of being motivated by Christian principles, there is no dilemma.

    So you seem to be suggesting that if Evangelicals are correct that the LDS is a heretical sect, then it is not possible for one of them to share the fundamental ethical or political commitments that Evangelicals believe are rooted in Christian faith. That just is not plausible at all. If Mormons were from outer space or from a foreign culture, then maybe. But we identify Mormons as a heretical sect of Christianity (and not Buddhism) because their origin is in Christianity. A heretical sect is one that has erred in Christian faith so severely that it has moved beyond the bounds of orthodoxy.

    The LDS deviations from Christian orthodoxy deal mainly with the nature of God and the nature of humanity but even as they left Nicea and Chalcedon behind, they carried thousands of years of Christian tradition and reflection on practice and belief with them–whether they realized it or not. So it is not the least bit surprising that Mormons would have many of the same moral and political convictions and principles as orthodox Christians.

    • rogereolson

      I invite Brandon to respond. For myself…I wonder if Brandon’s point was that at places LIKE Liberty U. (if not there) Mormonism is routinely still treated as more than just “heretical.” Some conservative evangelicals treat it as a stealth cult–subtly trying to take over America for future LDS domination. (Many Mormons do believe that in the coming millennium Jesus will rule and reign from Salt Lake City and only Mormons will rule and reign with him.) Whether they think that is the plan or not, many conservative evangelicals, neo-fundamentalists, still regard Mormons as followers of an evil religion, not just one with heterodox doctrines. I was certainly raised to think that way about them. I’ve changed my mind about them and personally do not think the LDS church deserves the label “cult” at all. (Which doesn’t imply agreement with their doctrines.)

      • Rob

        Sure, folks at Liberty are too excessive. They also probably misattribute the source of their own trinitarian theology and misattribute the source of the LDS’s deviancy from orthodoxy. But yes, many have disparaged LDS as a cult (in the Jim Jones sense). But that does not mean that they are being disingenuous if they recognize common ground where it exists between themselves and Mormons. (We shouldn’t make virtue a vice for the vicious!) If anything, it shows that their criticisms of Mormons as being cultists were or at least have become disingenuous now that there is recognized common ground.

        • rogereolson

          That’s part of my point–I wonder to what extent their liking of Romney affects how they teach about Mormonism in religion classes? I do suspect a degree of disingenuousness on the part of fundamentalists who now suddenly like Romney. What I would like to know is what did they think of his father–George (who ran for president a long time ago and was vilified by conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists because he was a Mormon)? My guess is that the rise of the Religious Right (political activism among fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals including Pentecostals) has altered opinion of a Mormon being president. In other words, I don’t think the fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals had a change of mind or heart about Mormonism due to any re-appraisal of LDS beliefs. Their openness to having a Mormon president is (I suspect) solely due to the their elevation of a political ideology (or hatred of Obama) over doctrinal commitments.

    • Brandon Morgan

      You may have overstated my merely descriptive points. The issue is not that conservative evangelicals happen to agree with Mormons on social issues. The issue is the claim that such agreement finds freight in theological articulation. Because social policy that conservative Christians espouse is so disparately separate from the traditioned theological claims Christians make (about exactly the things you mentioned regarding Nicea and Chalcedon), it is easier for conservative political entities (Republicans) to recast social thought in a Christian guise so as to make Christian social belief co-extensive with (or more strongly put, captured by) Republican social belief about free markets, foreign policy homosexuality and abortion. My point is that it is often difficult to tell the difference between conservative evangelical social beliefs and Republican doctrines. Some would say that this is not a problem. I would call it idolatry. But my argument rests on the assumption that conservative evangelicals lack theological reasons for voting for Republicans. The reasons they have are the reasons Republicans (and the Religious Right) have given them, selling it all the way that this is the Christian thing to do. I simply disagree with those reasons and Romney shows that more is going on than simply voting for “Christian principles.” What is being voted for is a religio-political ideology (some may call it a form of civil religion) quite altered from Christianity as a social reality.

      • Rob

        I think I see now that there a lot more going on in your argument. I thought you were ultimately arguing that the fact that Evangelicals are now willing to vote for a Mormon shows that the origin of their political convictions cannot have been in the Christian theology because here is a Mormon who agrees and Mormons have such different theology. I don’t think that would be a good argument because there is no reason why Mormons could not have political convictions that originated in Christian theology as their movement began with a bunch of Christians.

        Now you say that you assume that Evangelicals lack theological reasons for voting for Republicans. (I thought that was the conclusion of your argument about Mormons and everything.) So now I am ready to forget all the stuff about the LDS and Liberty and everything. Why think Evangelicals don’t have any theological reasons to vote for Republicans? That seems to be the interesting point now. I will toss out some thoughts for consideration:

        First, you mentioned abortion and homosexuality. Although the fact that Christians view these activities as wrong might not be enough on its own to warrant political stances against them, it certainly seems like a plausible consequence of such judgments. The condemnation of these practices is pretty old–we can find both condemned in the Didache. Although this 2nd century document is not authoritative or prescriptive for Christians, it certainly is descriptive of the moral convictions of the early church. That does not make it the final word by any means, it just means that Evangelicals are squarely within the tradition–their stance towards these practices is not a 20th century innovation.

        Also, I will just mention that people can have good reasons for thinking something is wrong without being able to articulate them. I would say this is true of most of most people’s moral beliefs. None of my undergraduates can formulate a good argument for why abortion is wrong–but they can’t formulate a good argument for why murder is wrong either. That does not mean that they don’t have good reasons for their moral beliefs–it just means that they have not spent enough time reflecting on them to articulate them well. Similarly, theological convictions can morally-form someone without the person being able to understand how exactly they got from Incarnation to abortion is wrong.

        • Brandon Morgan

          I doubt there are any strong theological reasons among evangelicals (I’ve never heard one) for holding such a view of, say abortion and homosexuality, that are not simultaneously the same arguments used by Republicans about ‘pro-family values.’ Most of the NT, not to mention 1600 years of Christian history are strongly critical of such family idealizations. It would be hard to find conservative evangelical arguments against abortion that were not connected to a set of claims about homosexual ‘defilement,’ personal responsibility, obscure ‘fictions’ like ‘right to life’ and an underlying commitment to the market commodification of ‘family’ (think of suburbia and the relationship between population analysis and advertisement) at the expense of those who’s relationships fall out of sink with such expectations. This underpins things as seemingly unremoved as church skepticism about single males in the pastorate and the avoidance of discussion of gender and sexuality in conservative churches. (For another example, One church I preached at for weeks was using revisionist history of “Christian America” as Sunday school material). My point is that the height of social arguments against things like abortion and homosexuality are connected to a whole series of conservative partisan assumptions that are very recent (though claiming to begin at America’s founding), and thus often disconnected with ecclesial practice as such, and therefore from traditioned modes of theological inquiry about Christianity as a social reality. Just because some conclusions made by evangelicals may be the same as, say, Augustine about sex and abortion does not mean that evangelicals participate in traditioned Christian inquiry about those issues. ‘Family Values’ talk of the kind I have been criticizing is the nexus for conservative evangelical social conclusions, but are not at all Christian in any biblical way. Such modes should also not be connected with contemporary assumptions as if, for instance, modern marital mutuality in homosexual relationships can be equated without remainder with biblical mandates against certain sexual acts. Such comparisons obscure the fact that Christianity is often simply the conscience of an otherwise morally vacuous partisanship. This is not to say that some conservative Christians are not upset about Romney. They are. But the fact that they feel the need to justify voting for him on the basis of shared “Christian principles” betrays a committment to the above mentioned set of assumptions about ‘family’ that have bewitched Christianity into the very service of being the mere conscience of the American nation and perhaps at worst, a form of civil religion. Otherwise, why would they feel the need to justify voting for Romney at all? (See this http://www.patheos.com/Evangelical/Conservative-Evangelical-Counter-Cult-Expert-Will-Vote-for-Romney-Douglas-Groothuis-05-14-2012.html) The Mormon side of the story is actually easier to tell. Their entire belief system requires the idealization of family, given their particular structure of priesthood, salvation and the eternality of marriage and blood relations. Theirs is a theology that has always actually been unified to ‘family values’ talk. One may argue that historically, Mormon’s are being more true to their history than Christians are in embracing such assumptions.
          As for your last point, one cannot judge an ‘unspoken’ reason to be a good one. Only public reasons, namely reasons conveyed in human language to others within certain modes of inquiry can even begin to assent to (or not) to a criteria for ‘good.’ Sure conclusions can be habituated into common responses that lack nuance. But habituated conclusions are just those sorts of conclusions that have been articulated in the past and learned by communal participants in a moral form of discourse. If individual evangelical (and students) cannot say plainly why they come to the conclusions they do, then it is safe to say that they lack knowledge of the ways they participate in the tradition that came to such conclusions–that they lack reasons. This is not a justification for calling such conclusions ‘good’ though ‘unarticulated.’ It is a recognition that even if persons cannot articulate well the reasons they have, someone else before them has articulated them. Incarnation is likely a good argument for why abortion should be wrong. But if I cannot name that connection, if I fail to use ‘Incarnation’ in just that way, then I may not know what Incarnation-as-a-social-reality means. It is simply disconnected. This is what I think is happening with conservative evangelicals.

          • Rob

            It is *highly* controversial to claim that one must have direct access to one’s reasons in order to have knowledge. (Read any epistemology written in the last forty years). It is also unfair to criticize people as not having good reasons for their beliefs simply because they misattributed the source of their beliefs. It shows that people have a deficient understanding of their belief structure but does not show that their beliefs do not have support.

            Finally, you treat Republicans like they come from outer space– considering the Republican party arose out of a context dominated by Christians, wouldn’t it make sense for their convictions to arise out of the Christian tradition? Where exactly do you think Republican views originated? The Enlightenment? Islam? Where?

          • Brandon Morgan

            You misunderstand me. I do not think that non-reflexive, intuitive or habituated reasons do not count as knowledge, but that such reasons do not count as arguments. There are perhaps things that I do not know that I know, but I cannot possibly use that knowledge in an arguments as a reason to support a conclusion. Arguing from an intuited ‘sense’ of rightness is one small step from an emotivist conclusion. It’s is not so much that unarticulated reason are false or fail to count as knowledge, but that they are empty…they fail to have any argumentative force. This is why realizing such reasons as habituated ones within an argument is part of the process of self-understanding…it is z revelation of exactly why you have the reasons you do. This is the difference between an unarticulated reason (which has yet to enter in as reason usable in an argument) and self-knowledge. I’m am obviously more concerned with the latter. As for Republicans, I simply want to deny that any political vision spawns without remainder from Christianity. The genealogical roots of neo-conservatism in America have numerous ideological roots: a certain relationship to a theological vision about America’s election, an anti-communist commitment to free markets, the creation of the nuclear family after the industrial revolution etc. I simply want to highlight some ways in which some of those commitments can be seen despite the appeal to be simply drawing directly from Christian roots.

    • Joshua

      “What if Romney’s political positions turn out to broadly reflect the Christian principles dear to conservative Evangelicals?”

      That’s all well and good in theory, but which principles does Romney share with Evangelicals that is identifiably and distinctly Christian? Are they actual principles for him or has he gone back and forth on them (which he has for nearly every issue and that’s hard to exaggerate)? Moreover, is it clear that Obama does not share those values as well? Finally, why are those values more important than other values that Democrats espouse that are arguably just as Biblical as some conservative values.

      I think this points out a reality that should be obvious to all and has been obvious to me for a long time = conservatives are voting for Romney not because they like him, but because they hate Obama more. The fact that Romney is a Mormon is overlooked. If Evangelicals actually cared for Evangelical values, then they had their pick of Evangelical candidates who shared their views – Bachman, Santorum and Perry were all Evangelicals.

      • rogereolson

        I am not at all convinced that Bachman or Santorum are evangelicals. Santorum is Roman Catholic. Of course, everything depends on which definition of “evangelical” one uses. If it just means “Religious Right,” then I suppose Romney could count.

      • Rob

        ” . . . which principles does Romney share with Evangelicals that is identifiably and distinctly Christian?”

        In a reply to Brandon above, I mentioned abortion and homosexuality because Christians have historically held the conviction that those activities are wrong. I mention it now because it is a point of agreement between Evangelicals and Mormons. Romney’s views on these matters seem more moderate than many Evangelicals (or Mormons) might be comfortable with, but he is much closer to their views than Obama is.

        As far as I know, there is nothing exclusively Christian about these convictions as other religions and worldviews might agree with Christians here But just because it is not exclusively Christian does not mean that Christian theology is not supporting, underwriting, or motivating the conviction. I think there are many Christians who basically think that the reason that anything is wrong is because God prohibited it. So they believe stealing is wrong because of the ten commandments. For them, it looks like their Christian beliefs are significantly supporting their moral beliefs–but there is nothing exclusively Christian about thinking that stealing is wrong. So it is not necessary that a moral conviction be exclusively Christian in order for Christians to possess theological reasons supporting it.

        “Finally, why are those values more important than other values that Democrats espouse that are arguably just as Biblical as some conservative values”

        I am not arguing that the theological reasons supporting a Republican candidate are conclusive. But the fact that they may not be conclusive does not mean that they don’t exist.

  • http://rwtyer.blogspot.com Rory Tyer

    You take for granted in this argument that it is the Christians’ adherence to conservative political principles – and not the Mormons’ joining with Christians in their endorsement of those principles – that is the self-contradictory position. It could just as plausibly be argued (and has been by many) that various conservative principles are the public policy outworking of Jesus’ command to love your enemy, since such principles have, historically and generally speaking, been shown to ensure a free and open liberal society in which a public pluralism of viewpoints (religious and otherwise) is vigorously defended. Conservatives are wary of federal governments having too much power, since historically that has generally lead to corruption. The argument then becomes one of addressing why Mormons are able to be as vigorously politically active (and partnering with evangelicals) as they are, since it is they who believe that Christian churches are all apostate and in need of the further revelation of Joseph Smith.

    In short, your argument seems to depend on these assumptions: that it is difficult or impossible to demonstrate that conservative political principles do in fact arise from uniquely Christian and/or biblical commitments, and that partnering with a theologically errant group of people who believe their theology leads to the same principles is somehow a betrayal of Christianity. But these are assumptions that are hardly self-evident.

    If you are arguing that many conservative Christians form their identity and their voting identity on the basis of “political” concerns first and foremost – and that this is a betrayal of Christian theology in the public square – then I would agree with you. If you are arguing that it is damaging for Christians to downplay the (very real and important) differences between Mormonism and Christian orthodoxy for the sake of galvanizing a voting bloc, I would also agree with you. But you seem to be arguing something more – that Christians’ willingness to partner with Mormons reveals a betrayal of uniquely Christian ways of thinking about political engagement. That *might* be the case, but it would only be the case if you can demonstrate that uniquely Christian political engagement does not or need not or should not lead to these kinds of conservative principles.

    I am not necessarily arguing that such is the case, but I am also a younger believer raised in a conservative evangelical environment (who went to Liberty) who has since questioned the intertwining of religious faith and conservative political principles. I find that many in my age group (twenty and thirty somethings) do this quickly – it seems like a sort of zeitgeist – and assume that certain biblical principles, such as care for the widow and orphan, can readily and easily be translated into, e.g., government welfare programs. Again, this *might* be the case, but this makes the same error (in my opinion) as those who assume that Jesus’ teaching about marriage can easily be translated into support for constitutional amendments defining marriage as between a man and a woman. In both cases the leap between text and political action has been made too quickly and without what I would consider the necessary time and care. You are obviously very thoughtful and I’m sure you’ve put more time into those sorts of considerations than is seen here – you are here addressing a very specific example – but Romney’s invitation doesn’t seem as inherently harmful or damaging if one is convinced that biblical Christianity rightly understood and practiced leads to something like more conservative, free-market, limited government principles. Again, this is a case that needs to be made, but that sword cuts both ways; and your piece here seems to assume that evangelicals working with Mormons *necessarily* represents a sort of failure or corruption. Perhaps this is even so for a majority of conservatives, those who are not thoughtful and reflective or who are motivated more by political culture war energy than love of the Kingdom and love in general. But that doesn’t mean the principles themselves are necessarily incorrect.

    • rogereolson

      Again, I invite Brandon to respond. But I’d be careful about what you think a blogger assumes. As a veteran blogger (I have moderated and heavily participated in e-mail based discussion groups before they were called blogs), I know how frequently and frustratingly it is the case that people read into what I write what I did not intend.

    • Brandon Morgan

      I think we agree here. You are correct about my assumption that it is difficult to show theological warrant for conservative political principles. For instance, one is hard pressed to find traditioned inquiry into the justification for unlimited expansion of free-markets. Catholics have all but called Capitalism a heresy and the theological arguments for it expose the ‘bewitchment’ of Christian theology to American exceptionalism more than anything else. You are also correct that downplaying the theological differences between evangelicals and Mormons shows that something else is at stake than what is professed. “Christian principles” here are really just partisan principles. We, I think, disagree on your final note. My claim was not that willingness to partner with Mormons is a betrayal of the Christianness of conservative evangelicals. My claim is that such Christianness has been betrayed for decades. This unique occasion of a Mormon Republican candidate simply unveils the bewitchment of evangelical Christian belief by partisan principle-izing and shows that they are amalgamated into one. This is the religio-political ideology I spoke of. Political theorist William Connelly calls it the “evangelical-capitalist resonance machine.” This amalgamation suggests that conservative evangelicals may not have any use for Christian theology in the political sphere. The reasons they have are the reasons given to them by Republican participants. This also suggests that Christian theological arguments outside of that amalgamation lack any traction in expressing Christianity as an alternative social reality to that of partisan political participation.

  • Mark

    In as sense, the reverse has happened. Ravi Zacharias spoke before the LDS church at one of it’s international meetings at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in 2004. He looked at it as an opportunity to bring the LDS closer to orthodoxy. These lectures can be found on Youtube the last time I looked. I wonder if Pastor of 1st Baptist Dallas would accept an invitation to to speak before the LDS at one of its annual meetings? Social conservative values are close between conservative evangelicals and LDS.

    • rogereolson

      Of course, just speaking at a Mormon gathering is hardly evidence of agreement. I have attended and participated in two weekend ecumenical theological colloquia at BYU. The last time they ticked off a list of well known evangelicals who have spoken in BYU chapel. I know for a fact some of those people do not want it known that they spoke at BYU chapel (which is why I’m not naming them here).

  • Fred Smith

    This commentary assumes that “Christian” and “not Christian” are completely separate spheres, with no overlap. Since Christians are willing to vote for Romney (not Christian) over Obama (Christian), then it is assumed that religious beliefs play no role in Christian decision making about voting. This is then used to show that Christians are intellectually dishonest about their religious beliefs, since they make political decisions based on secular humanist “conservative principles”. (Morgan does not say it this way exactly, and I am summarizing). However, nothing could be further from the truth. While there are serious theological differences between conservative Christians and Mormons, there is quite a bit of overlap on family and moral issues. This is because Christianity and Mormonism, while different, are not completely different on every point whatever. (The reason his church and classes emphasized the theological differences, was because that was where the differences lay. I suspect that his church was more forthcoming on Mormon family values than he says, it was simply incidental to the theological issues that were center stage. Here we are voting for a president, not a theologian. Romney would never be voted theologian in chief; Obama, who is a better theologian than Romney, is, nevertheless, a poorer choice for president. It is a different job–and he is not quite up to it.)

    I suspect that Brandon Morgan, if large numbers of Christians abandoned Romney and the Republicans to vote for Obama, on the grounds that Obama is a Christian, and Romney is not, would be writing a blogpost telling us that Christians are narrow minded and immature, unable to differentiate between theological and political issues, and mindlessly voting for the Christian candidate rather than the best qualified candidate. It would be seen as evidence of Christian narrow mindedness, where as it is, he sees it as evidence of Christian diengenuousness/hypocrisy. (With some people, conservative Christians cannot win–you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t; wrong either way. ).

    • rogereolson

      I am certain you have misunderstood Brandon’s post. I’ll let him clarify.

      • Fred Smith

        Perhaps I have misunderstood Brandon, for it is certainly possible. I understood his thesis to be that “Conservative Christians are inconsistent because they are voting for Mitt Romney because of his political views even though they view Mormonism as a cult; if religion, rather than politics were their primary commitment, they would support Obama, who is a Christian, over Romney who is not.” If that was not his thesis, then I have mis-understood him. I believe he sets up a “straw man” version of how most conservative Christians view Mormonism. It is, of course, viewed “negatively” just like any other religion, but in many places the Mormon commitments to family and traditional morality is noted positively. I teach my students, in my “Western and New Religions” class at Liberty U, to view all religions in their totality, to recognize the positives, even while critiquing false teaching, and to remember that, behind every religious belief system, there are people–real people who are trying to make sense of their lives, and the world, and who need Jesus Christ in their lives. It will not do to treat them with hostility, or to distort their teachings in ways that allow for “cheap and easy responses” to complex and serious ideas. Brandon seemed to treat the matter as if all “conservative Christians” treat Mormonism with hostility. That just is not the case.

        • rogereolson

          Well, that’s a new approach. It’s certainly not the approach of Kingdom of the Cults or numerous other anti-cult evangelical treatments of Mormonism. I will let Brandon defend himself and speak only for myself. Most of the fundamentalist and conservative evangelical Christians I know would never treat Mormon missionaries with respect. Most of the ones I know (probably all of them) consider Mormonism demonic. They would deny hating Mormons, but they would never darken the door of an LDS church for any reason or invite a Mormon to speak to their Sunday School class about anything. (Unless now, perhaps, to explain more about Romney whom they plan to vote for because they hate Obama so much.) I have attended two weekend long ecumenical discussions at BYU and know by personal experience that most conservative Christians think I should not have done that. I know an evangelical college president who spoke in BYU’s chapel but did not want anyone “back home” to know it. Your approach to LDS and other non-Christian religions is far more generous than most conservative evangelicals. Would you say your approach represents that of the LU administration?

    • Brandon Morgan

      You have overstated my intentions here. My claim is not to call anyone dis-ingenuous (other than the politicians of course!) I also do not assume any hypocracy. I suggest, not so much that conservative evangelicals cant tell the difference between theological and political issues, but that their are no differences. They are co-extensive. This is why I claim that one must make Romney a “Christian” and conversely make Obama a non-Christian ‘he is a Muslim or a radical communist’ in order to justify conservative evangelical votes. By now it should be obvious that the “Christianity” that politicians are being ‘converted’ into and out of has been fundamentally bewitched by a conservative principles. It is not my hope that folks will instead vote for Christians. It is my hope that they will simply ease up on the conflation of “Christian principles ” and “partisan principles” because they are in fact radically separate. This conflation changes the nature of Christian belief into partisan belief. It precludes theological concerns about idolizing nation-states from getting any traction.

  • Bill Jones

    Good analysis, but I disagree with the conclusion if the conclusion is, as I understand it, that fundamentalist Christian evangelicals are voting their politics rather than their theology. My disagreement is rooted in my contention that their politics IS their theology. I have long said that many Christians today let their politics inform their faith rather than letting their faith inform their politics. I believe that their politics comes first and then shapes their understanding of God and of Christ. Thus, Christ becomes a political (rather than spiritual) saviour, a nationalistic warmonger who supports big business and the rights of the rich and powerful to trample the poor and weak. That’s really their theology, but it’s a result of their politics. So they are voting BOTH their politics AND their theology, and there is no disconnect between the two. The only disconnect is between THEIR Jesus and the Jesus of the Gospels.

    • rogereolson

      I think you and Brandon agree! But, I’ll let Brandon decide and say.

    • Brandon Morgan

      We sort of agree here. I agree that they are the SAME, as you say. That is my point about the conflation between ‘Christian’ principles and partisan principles. Also, as you say, it is a problem that they are the same. The tail starts wagging the dog at some point. By my solution seems different than yours. I actually think that it is the spiritualizing of Christ that makes such political co-opting of Christianity possible. It is, as J. Kameron Carter notes, a form of neo-Gnosticism that allows Christianity to find itself bewitched by a nation-state imaginative regime. Willie Jennings has called this phenomenon a ‘regime of approximation’ that is aesthetic as much as political (see for instance the many ‘temples’ in D.C.). I do think that Jesus and the Church are real political entities. But they are not American or partisan or even capitalists. They are not, in your words, nationalistic or warmongering. But their is still a politics to be had; one that finds its bearings in forms of church ‘witness to the state.’

  • Jim Lindeman

    Not sure how I got here, never been here before; but I will stop and try to add some context to get this out of the petri dish. To understand the intersection of politics and religion, and surely the Founder’s veiws thereof, you have to go to the beginning of America and not just look at the neocon era. Roughly 400 years ago, The Catholics were trying to exterminate the Huguenots, Calvinists, and Antibaptist that had fled to the lowlands and James was publishing his “Authorized Version” along with the Prayer Book and Book of Sports and generally micromanaging the religious beliefs of his people. It was so bad in England that some fled to Holland to take their chances with the Catholic armies. Skipping loads of detail, those people left Holland with permission from James to found a colony in Virginia. They ended up on the New England coast where they boldly founded Plymouth and over half of them died within the first couple years. In spite of that bleak beginning, waves of 1000s were allured by the chance to believe as they choose and write their own laws. Their politics were an outgrowth of their religion with Massachusetts set up according to the jurisprudintial pattern Jethro gave to Moses in the desert. Things happened fast; within 15 years Roger Williams was banished for his nonconformist theology and bought some land from the Indians to form a Baptist colony know as Rhode Island (Providence actually @ first). In 15 more years Cromwell had overthrown the Stewart Dynasty (so now who owned all those colonies?) and now Catholics came fleeing for their lives and founded Maryland, named after the Catholic Queen of England’s beheaded ex-king. Over half the colonies had “state religions” that were supported and/or enforced by the autonomous political power in each colony….be patient, we’re getting there… Then over the next couple of decades England fought 3 wars with Holland and ended up with New Amstredam renamed New York; the only term of surrender the Dutch asked was that they be guaranteed freedom of religion. Already by this time the colonies considered England another country but maintained ties to discourage attack from other Colonial powers. Fast forward 100 years and the founders have defeated England and at first try to make it without sitting up a national government because they believe government to be inherently oppressive. After much hand wringing and persuassion (federalist papers) it is agreed to set up a very limited central government that is given only a few specific duties and is restricted by a Constitution from going beyond that scope. As added assurance, 12 ammendments are proposed to further cuff the government and protect the autonomy of the states and individuals. These turn into the 10 that make up the Bill of Rights, and the very first says the government will not try to control people’s beliefs or right to speak what they believe. Still over half the states have state religions with violent differences. The Catholics thought all the others were heathens. The protestants thought Catholicism was a cult. The Baptists didn’t believe any of the baby dunkers were saved and so on. Now it is a great error and a Progressive lie to think these men were Deistic; all it takes is to read their personal writings to see how zealous they were for Christ. It is so sad that Washington, a man that founded over a score of churches is taught at colleges to be a Deist. I can tell from prior posts that most are well educated; but sadly, a liberal education in this country no longer discloses the information I am stating…if speaking the truth makes me a Conservative or any other derogatory label…so be it. But here is the point, from the beginning, it was not the goal to elect a high priest, but someone that would protect the Constitution which in turn would protect the religious rights of all. It wasn’t about “does this candadite subscribe to Baptist soteriology.” Now granted, in a letter Washington wrote to Charles Carroll, the famed Financier of the Revolution, also a strong Catholic, he wrote that he hoped well for Charles and his brethern in the new country, but I get the idea he doesn’t consider him eligible to be president. But I don’t get the idea it is because he is a cultist but moreso the history of bloodshed and revolution when Catholics took positions of power…a stigma that lasted a good 50 years into the Progressive era to the election of John Kennedy. It is actually anti-American for churches to try to get “their man” elected so laws can be passed favoring their belief system. Is America a Christian nation? Absolutely, looking at the writings of the Founders, no honest person can deny that. But America is a fair country where the Constitution protects all; and we don’t need a high priest for that. Do I like Romney? He’s a little progressive for my taste, so my concern is he will not want to return to limited constitutional government, not what kind of church he may go to on whatever day he thinks is holy. If you guys want to learn about a cult much more insidious than Mormanism, look into Black Liberation Theology…Obama’s church. I can easily tell from the posts that none of you have.

    • rogereolson

      So much of that is wrong that I hesitate to post it here. It’s sheer revisionist history. Without doubt many of the “founding fathers” were baptized members of Christian churches whose main beliefs were determined by deism and who actually leaned closer to unitarianism than to anything recognizable as orthodox Christianity. (See The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America by Frank Lambert and many similar scholarly books about the religious beliefs of the founding fathers.) It’s true that Obama’s former pastor Jeremiah Wright was influenced by black liberation theology. Black liberation theology is not one thing–there are significant differences doctrinally between, say, James Cone and Deotis Roberts.

    • Brandon Morgan

      Your revisionist and completely unfounded ‘history’ is a perfect illustration of my point.

  • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com Howard Pepper

    So much of support for one candidate or another or one party or another is based on mere impressions. Often these are impressions received via people’s favorite “news” sources or talk show hosts and have little basis in reality. How in the world, for example, do still nearly or over 1/3 (I think I recall) of Christians in the deep South (and maybe other regions) think Obama is a Muslim? I guess I can understand that suspicion when he was first elected, but almost 4 years later? When do they think he will show his “true colors?” (I suppose never, thinking he will remain incognito in order to secretly support Muslim “causes” or something!! And they’ll find a few “pro-Arab” or “pro-Muslim” positions or attempts at diplomacy to back this up… Come ON!) It’s not the “sheep” that should mainly be blamed but the supposedly educated (highly researched) few who write up and publicize such narratives…. THEY can and should do better!

  • ernie

    “Is America a Christian nation? Absolutely, looking at the writings of the Founders, no honest person can deny that.”
    Yeah sure, Jim, go tell that to the Natives who were exterminated by iron and fire!

  • K Gray

    Mr. Morgan’s thesis is summed up here, I think: “…what is revealed is the possibility, perhaps always waiting to be shown, that conservative Christians vote according to neo-conservative political criteria and not uniquely Christian ones.”

    First, this seems like logic-type deduction that is overlybroad, leaving out many factors involved in voting, as various commenters have noted.

    Second, these deductions seem based on a background that few perhaps Mr. Morgan and Mr. Olson share but many other conservatives and/or evangelicals do not: strict fundamentalism which teaches that Mormonism is a deviant cult and that voting Rebublican is the only ‘Christian’ vote. If one comes from that background, then of course it seems that voting for a Mormon is abandonment of that kind of Christian principle, ipso facto, leaving one free to speculate or conclude that the true motive must be ‘neo-political political criteria and not uniquely Christian ones.’

    Finally, is the conclusion, if valid, really remarkable? Laying aside whether it is provable, useful, or more in line with a stereotype, it does not seem remarkable if people do not vote based solely on religious principles. We could also conclude that conservative Christians choose their jobs, or spouses, or schools, or homes on criteria that are not uniquely Christian. We could conclude based on some elections that Christian progressives vote on progressive political criteria and not uniquely Christian ones. Voting on wholly Christian criteria is an ideal, and not one on which we could all agree, depending on for example whether one prioritizes financial issues, traditional family issues, foreign policy issues (war, treatment of prisoners), and so forth.

    • rogereolson

      We’re not as few as you assume. :) The point (or at least A POINT) is that many fundamentalists have long charged Mormonism with being not only unChristian but downright evil. At the same time, at least in recent decades, they have increasingly argued that only a Christian should be president of the U.S. (I know these people and even if they don’t say it quite that explicitly, the message is clear.) Therein lies the irony. Either they have decided that Mormonism is Christian or that having a non-Christian president is more important than having a progressive president.

      • Rob

        I have been around the Evangelicals you are talking about and I was not far from that position ten years ago. But I have also been around many conservative Evangelicals who just think that Mormons are lost and confused and that the advancement of their religion just makes it harder for Christians to preach the gospel. Without some good empirical data about how Evangelicals have viewed Mormons over the last forty years, I am not sure that we can really figure out how much has actually changed or why.

        I do know that Jerry Falwell mentioned Mormons along with Jews as being on his side and that was way back in 1980s. So even back then the whole idea that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” was operative. That seems a reasonable stance to me. In politics you form alliances to achieve specific goals. If someone is willing to cooperate with you on something, it makes sense to help them even if they are not your first choice. What is the other option? Oppose Romney because he is Mormon? That would be cutting of the nose to spite the face.

        Look, Evangelicals have done this in other areas. Rick Warren has famously teamed up with feminists (whom he has little common ground with) to oppose with prostitution and sex-slavery. I am not certain about this but I want to say that he pooled resources with various LGBT groups to advocate for AIDS victims.

        • rogereolson

          Just to be clear…I would have no problem voting for a Mormon is he or she is qualified. I don’t consider Mormonism a “dangerous cult” as I was taught it is. I don’t know if you ever were part of real fundamentalism–the kind that I grew up in in which religious groups were of only two types–”real Christians” and “inspired by Satan.” (Of course, we had criticisms of many of the “real Christians.” We considered Baptists, for example, “lukewarm [real] Christians.” They, in turn, considered us “fanatical [real] Christians.” I courses on America’s “cults and new religions” in evangelical institutions for many years. I was harshly criticized by many students and their pastors and parents for even suggesting that Mormonism is not a cult. I remember when George Romney made a run for the presidency. One thing that sunk him was evangelical Christians’ fierce opposition to having a Mormon president. The point of Brandon’s post, as I understood it, was that, among conservative evangelicals, political commitments tend to be the tail that wags the dog (theology, doctrinal commitments). I can’t see it any other way.

  • K Gray

    This seems the same calculus that many Christians made in the last election.

  • http://www.simmondsfam.com/blog/faith/ Peter

    Since we can’t be sure whether or not others belong to the kingdom of God, whether or not they call themselves “Christian” is irrelevant. We try to choose the one whose actions seem most godly.

    Although I’m sure there are evangelicals who argue that only a Christian should be president, I have to think this is a very small percentage of the whole.

    • rogereolson

      I think it is a very large percentage of conservative evangelicals.


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