Does Mitt Romney believe these views? Why or why not? Does he believe historical facts are matters of personal opinion? More to the point, does he really believe that, if he were to become the GOP nominee, he would not have to answer these questions before the world? Romney will face a Hobson's choice. He will either affirm certain beliefs about reality and American history that most Americans will find false or flimsy, or else he will reject them be thereby "outed" as a hypocrite or traitor to his own belief system.
The vast majority of Americans won't care about these theological implications. Indeed, Americans are generally tone-deaf to theological nuances. But to all American voters—religious or not—I would ask this question: Do we want a person who believes that history is something you can "make up as you go along" negotiating the outcomes of conflicts with real histories that go back thousands of years? Conflicts in the Middle East, in Asia, and elsewhere require an understanding of history and human nature that are not fabricated out of whole cloth.
Again, I do not want to diagnose Mormonism book, chapter, and verse. But let me be plain on this point. At its core, Mormonism is—by Christian standards or by reasonable secular standards—an a-historical (and at times anti-historical) worldview. Evangelicals and others who argue that you cannot dismiss Romney based on his religion either miss or ignore this critical point. The boat of Mormonism is not tied to the anchor of either historical Christianity or even commonly accepted historical facts. Because the boat of Mormonism has been cut loose from that anchor, and is adrift in a sea of philosophies and ideas, any similarity between Christian and Mormon is historically temporary and not a reliable gauge of how Romney will govern.
Let Me Tell You about Our President
My final point may seem minor to most Americans, but I think it should make a significant difference to evangelicals: As Theodore Roosevelt said, the presidency is a "bully pulpit." Indeed, it has become the bulliest pulpit in the world. The entire planet hangs on what the occupant of that pulpit says and does.
Placing a Mormon in that pulpit would be a source of pride and a shot of adrenaline for the LDS church. It would serve to normalize the false teachings of Mormonism the world over. It would also provide an opening to Mormon missionaries around the world, who could start every conversation: "Let me tell you about the American president." To elect a Mormon President is to advance the cause of the Mormon Church.
Non-Christians likely don't care much about this point one way or the other. But for the Christian, this is a vital issue. One of the strongest warnings Jesus issues is to those who "lead little ones astray." He said it would be better for that person if a millstone were put around his neck and he were cast into the sea. The validation of the false religion of Mormonism would almost certainly have the effect of leading many astray. Evangelical Christians should have no part of that effort.
Unfit to Serve?
No person is perfect. That's a theological reality. No candidate perfectly represents the people, or even his core constituency. That's a political reality. There's a lot about Romney I like. He seems to be a competent manager, he's a fiscal conservative, and his positions on some social issues—while problematic in the past—seem to have genuinely changed.
But certain qualifications make a candidate unfit to serve. I believe a candidate who either by intent or effect promotes a false and dangerous religion is unfit to serve. Mitt Romney has said it is not his intent to promote Mormonism. Yet there can be little doubt that the effect of his candidacy—whether or not this is his intent—will be to promote Mormonism. A Romney presidency would have the effect of actively promoting a false religion in the world. If you have any regard for the Gospel of Christ, you should care. A false religion should not prosper with the support of Christians. The salvation of souls is at stake.
For me, that alone disqualifies him from my vote. Because Mormons believe in continuing revelation, it is possible that in the future the LDS church will renounce its heretical beliefs and come fully into the fold of orthodox Christianity. Many theologians and church historians believe the church is on such a trajectory. But if that happens, it is an event still well in the future. The Mormon Church of today is, by the lights of biblical evangelical Christianity, a false religion. If Mitt Romney believes what the Mormon Church teaches about the world and how it operates, then he is unfit to serve. We make him our President at great peril to the intellectual and spiritual health of our nation.
Update - June 9, 2011: To read an interview with Warren Cole Smith in which he responds to criticism of this article, please click here.