Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mormons vs Evangelicals in Politics

As a boy from West Virginia, I disliked the negative stereotypes about my state. Nearly as bad was when you met a West Virginian determined to live up to them. Bigots are incorrigible enough, but encouraging them by playing to type empowers them.
A bigot can be an inexcusable ignoramus who does not understand a group, but insists on opining about them. Another kind of bigot insists on applying irrelevant standards to a person. This is not excusable even if the standards are relevant in a different situation.
Given my proclivities, my spouse had to be a woman, but gender would not be relevant in most other situations. A refusal to vote for a woman because she is a woman is bigoted and not made better because gender was once relevant to me as a basis for a good decision.
A Republican pastor says evangelicals should not vote for Mitt Romney, because he is Mormon. By itself, this might be acceptable, if unwise rhetoric, assuming this pastor has good reasons for his position. After all religious choices allow voters one way of guessing what a leader will be like.
Those most resistant to voting for a Mormon are on the left. Since most Mormons hold to traditional moral positions on abortion and marriage, and Romney agrees with those positions, this is relevant to contemporary politics. This might not be an example of bigotry, though it often veers there when mockery is deployed about private religious practices not relevant to fitness to hold office.
This evangelical pastor did not suggest that he disagreed with Romney’s views on life and marriage or any other religious issue with political implications. Instead, he attacked Mormonism for not being evangelical, Romney for not being born again, and Mormonism as a cult.
This is bigotry buttressed by irrelevance fortified with invincible ignorance.
First, being evangelical is not a relevant criteria for being president. It never has been in evangelical history. Lincoln appealed for our votes and got them without being (necessarily) one of us. Evangelicals have voted for Unitarians for president, because they rightly recognized that Trinitarian theology might be relevant in a pastor, but not in a president.
Give conservative Christians a small government atheist rather than a tyrannical evangelical!
Second, our civil leaders need not be born again. As a man I hope Mitt Romney goes to heaven, but as president I do not care. The man qualified for the life to come can rule there, but I am looking for a person fit leadership in the world now.
Rick Perry may be born again, but his incompetent tolerance of a bigot to introduce him suggests bad things about his competence in the here and now. As a result, I will look forward to seeing him at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, but if he does not repudiate the comments, will pass on him for the Inaugural Ball.
He can retire to the theological life where he has such sterling qualifications.
To add insult to bigotry, the pastor decided to name call by saying Mormonism is a cult. The use of cult to describe the Mormon faith is foolish and offensive in a political context.
The word cult has many meanings, including a technical religious one. The Mormon Church is not “standard” historic Christianity as Mormons point out in their witness. They think they have something new and valuable to say religiously.
Most of the public does not think doctrine, but danger when they hear the term cult. He imagines scary folk living in compounds drinking Kool-aid, not Harry Reid or Mitt Romney.
In that popular sense, Mormonism is not a cult and should scare no American. Mormons have been faithful citizens, dying in our wars for republican values. Does Rick Perry’s pastor friend acknowledge this truth? Can a Mormon die for the Republic in battle, but still not serve as commander in the White House?
For mainstream evangelicals such bigoted attacks on Romney are an embarrassment. They often seem to rely on fear of difference, a sense that other groups are “weird.” Everybody seems weird to somebody some time, but loving people get past such feelings. If the Mormon who dies for my freedom doesn’t seem weird, neither should the Mormon politician.
Most evangelicals are horrified by lies told about Mormons in mainstream media, because we love our Mormon neighbor. They are friends, relatives, and allies in many fights. We disagree on vital theological issues, but those are not relevant to our vote for president.
Evangelical Christianity does not place all power in the state and so rejects messianic leaders. We want a president, not a prophet in office. A Mormon cannot be my priest, but he can be my political leader.
Worse is the impact of bigotry on my Mormon neighbor. It is a betrayal of the love Jesus commanded us to show. If I can love my enemy, surely I can easily love the Mormon next door. I hate the pain caused my Mormon neighbor by ignorance and bigotry.
My Mormon friends do not complain or become defensive. Like the Christ, my experience has been resignation and love when my Mormon friends see slander.
Mormons saw their first prophet murdered by an American mob, but still they loyally serve a Republic whose laws have often failed them. They created a paradise in a wilderness and great literature and a first-rate university against all odds.
Evangelicals recognize and admire this achievement. We must do as we have always done and vote the platform and the person and not the pulpit.
JOHN MARK REYNOLDS  | OCT 10, 2011 8:14 AM

Director of the Torrey Honors Institute, Biola University
Professor of philosophy for Biola, Reynolds blogs regularly at along with other faculty from the Torrey Honors Institute, a great books program.
» All Posts by John Mark Reynolds

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