A Thoughtful Explanation of Why I Couldn’t Vote for a Mormon Presidential Candidate
Whenever I discuss why I couldn’t vote for a Mormon presidential candidate people inevitably assume a great many things about my perspective that simply aren’t true. Usually things get so bogged down there that a fruitful discussion never takes place. With that in mind, and in an effort to facilitate thoughtful discussion, I’m trying to eliminate some of rabbit trails by addressing them beforehand:
- This isn’t a partisan post. Let me make perfectly clear that I won’t be voting for Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, or Gary Johnson in this presidential election.
- This isn’t an ideological diatribe. You won’t find a hint of anything approaching a commendation or criticism of conservatism, liberalism, libertarianism, socialism, etc.
- This isn’t a pragmatic jeremiad. Whatever the present economic needs and moral concerns facing the country, this post isn’t about doing what’s necessary to address them.
- This isn’t a piety contest. My concern isn’t voting the candidate I, for one reason or another, deem to be most authentically Christian or morally Christ-like.
- This isn’t an emotionally charged rant. I’m neither explicitly nor implicitly yelling at Mormons, condemning fellow evangelicals who disagree, or the like.
- This isn’t a personal attack toward Mormons. Richard Mouw captured my perspective well when he said, “A lot of people today who have strong convictions are not very civil and a lot of people who are civil don’t have very strong convictions. What we really need is convicted civility.”
- This isn’t a theological treatise. Although it will certainly touch upon theological themes, the intent here isn’t an exegetical nor systematic exploration of Christian and Mormon doctrine.
- This isn’t written from a place of ignorance. I dated a Mormon in high school and have studied in-depth their history, religious beliefs, cultural norms, and political involvement.
- Though it may superficially appear so, this isn’t analogous to the 1960 election between Kennedy and Nixon. For the record, I probably would’ve voted for the Catholic in that race.
- Though it may seem difficult to distinguish given the present political context, this issue has little to do with Mitt Romney specifically. This isn’t about his qualifications, record, etc.
- The genre of this post isn’t persuasive argument. That is, I’m not trying to convince others why they shouldn’t vote for Romney. I’m simply explaining my conscience.
- It’s not being suggesting that there should be religious or theological qualifications for the presidency. One of my favorite presidents, Jefferson, was a deist and, all things being equal, I’d be OK voting for adherents of other religious belief systems.
That having been said, let’s jump right in.
There are three crucial questions that I think all Christians need to consider. Specifically:
- What is orthodoxy? Stated as concisely as possible, I define orthodoxy as the essential tenets of a religion without which the belief system can no longer rightly be said to be part of that religion. In this case we’re talking about Christianity. My studies of church history revealed that what we term orthodoxy seems to be a corrective measure to theology gone terribly awry. That is, it’s a direct result of serious theological error. For example, no one said Jesus’ literal bodily resurrection was essential until someone denied it. In this way, I believe God has, in his sovereign wisdom, brought a consensus of what the essential doctrines are not only amidst but directly through the gravest threats to the Church’s beliefs and practices.
- What is heresy? I define heresy as the rejection and replacement of one or more doctrines deemed to be essential. In Christianity that rejection necessitates a removal from the visible Body of Christ, the Church. To be clear, I’m not talking about the questioning of or wrestling with those essential doctrines. Again, I’m talking about the active, intentional rejection and replacement of them. Also, let me be clear that I’m not dealing with the issue of one’s salvific status before God. As Christians we can only deal with what we see. Do I think it’s possible for a personal to be a formal heretic and be saved? Sure. But beyond that I’m unwilling to speculate. As far as I’m concerned, that issue is in God’s hands alone.
- Why are those couple things so important to Christianity? I believe that the Bible’s primary purpose is to tell the story of God’s redemption of this world.11.Namely, He made the world good, we royally effed it up, so He’s, as N.T. Wright likes to say in his very British manner, “setting all to rights”–fixing all that’s broken. That’s the basic storyline. Orthodoxy, then, isn’t about going down the check list of necessary doctrines just to be part of some exclusive club. As Wright has noted, it’s possible to affirm all the right doctrines yet fundamentally misunderstand the overarching narrative, thereby misunderstanding and even falsifying those doctrines. In this way, those propositional truth claims that comprise orthodoxy must be understood within the context of God’s redemptive narrative or they’re worthless. In other words, orthodoxy is essential because without it the story is lost.22.It’s like trying to get Star Wars right while omitting Darth Vader from the plot. The chief issue isn’t a defense of the Church, but preserving the plot that brings life and hope to a world in need.
You might be asking, what does all this have to do with not voting for a Mormon presidential candidate?
Growing up in evangelical churches, I was taught Mormons were heretics and their religion was a grave threat to biblical Christianity. Of course, what this meant was never exactly clear. No one bothered to define what they actually meant by heretics let alone bring up a halfway sophisticated concept like orthodoxy. Yet the message was clear: Mormonism was vile. It was an agent of deception inspired by the Evil One. Despite the apparent alignment, its beliefs were decidedly at odds with those of Christianity. It represented a corruption of biblical teaching and, as the fastest growing cult in America, needed to be resisted at all costs. All of this was reinforced by overt antagonism and militancy toward Mormons. Put most simply, Mormons were dangerous.
I need to be perfectly clear about something that undoubtedly won’t go over so well in some segments of our politically correct, pluralistic society. Nevertheless, I believe it needs to be said. I unequivocally, but not imprecisely, hold that Mormonism is a heretical corruption of the historic Christian faith on the grounds that it rejects such orthodox doctrines as the Trinity.33.To name just one. While it’s true that Christians disagree a great deal in-house on secondary issues, there’s virtual uniformity of belief between the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and Protestants when it comes to orthodox doctrines.
Moreover, it’s important to note the distinguishing nature of the challenge Mormonism poses. It seems to me it’s a far more insidious to Christianity than any other world religion precisely because it’s an impostor rather than a false religion. Whether we’re talking about Buddhism, Islam, or any other major religious belief system, none of these profess to even be part of the Church let alone the true, restored Church. Mormonism does. It professes to be the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. That’s the crucial difference. That’s what makes it so conniving. Mormons intentionally look, speak, and in many ways act just like conservative evangelical Christians. This can be terribly confusing not only for the outside world,44.Check out how it’s classified on Wikipedia. but also theologically illiterate Christians themselves.
Do American Christians realize what’s happening beneath their noses? I doubt it. Islam gets all the press, but far and away the fasting growing religion in the U.S. is Mormonism. Do Christians realize it has 6M members domestically with 14M globally? Do they realize it seems to double its size every 15 years like clockwork? Have they heard sociologist Rodney Stark’s prediction that Mormonism will be the next major world religion with 265M practitioners by 2080? I hear all these pastors and TV personalities talking about the growth of Islam. If I were in Europe, that would be my concern. In my opinion, for Christians in the U.S. the primary concern when it comes to other religions should be Mormonism. Here’s a couple charts to visually illustrate the point:
As of now the Church of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) remains on the religious fringe. At right around 2% of the population its societal perception has moved from “creepy cult” to “weird but accepted.” With that in mind, I’d like you to join me in something. Have you read C.S. Lewis’ book, The Screwtape Letters? Imagine you’re Screwtape. Suppose you’ve been assigned to coming up with a strategy of how to undermine the Enemy by moving the LDS from the fringe to the mainstream. How would you do that?55.Call me weird, but I think about this sort of stuff all the time. Here’s me taking a stab at it:
Forget just legitimizing this thing. I want a promotion. To pull that off I need to make it a viable option, especially for all those disenfranchised Christians.
This may seem farfetched, but here’s my plan: I’ll get a Mormon candidate elected president of the United States.
The cultural capital we’d gain would be staggering.
Of course, how do we get such a man elected without the Christians intervening? That’s a real pickle.
Hmmm… we need a diversion. Yes, that’s it! A way of getting them to ignore what we’re doing.
I’d got an idea! Think big or go home, baby! We’ll get them to support our effort!
How perfectly sinister!
But how to pull this off? That’s the question…
OK, I’ve got it. It’s a seven-fold plan:
- We’ll confused their priorities and source(s) of identity. Get them to think and act more like Christian Americans than American Christians. Noun-adjective confusion. haha! One of the oldest tricks in the book! I can’t believe they still fall for this stuff.
- We’ll let them obsess on a single major issue the Enemy really cares about. By putting all their eggs in one basket they’ll not only neglect all the others, but they’ll be easier to control… Let’s see. Hmmmm. Poverty? No. Too much contempt there. Nuclear weapons? No. Too abstract. Oh, I got it! Abortion! They really love children. We’ll use that against ‘em! Perfect.
- We need to work on party loyalty. Let’s go with the Republicans. They more or less sat out on the Civil Rights Movement. They’re itching for a big social movement. We’ll have them be “Pro-Life” while they’re in favor of the death penalty and wars. That’ll be their thing. Brilliant! Sometimes I crack myself up. I’ve really got to learn to be more subtle with this stuff.
- We don’t want them to hop on board too strongly too quickly, though. This can’t happen overnight. They’re still be too suspicious and fickle for that. We’d better be patient in blurring temporal, political and eternal, heavenly identities. How about we stretch it out over the course of a few decades? Slide it in under the radar.
- Time to be less subtle! The way to unleash extremism on both sides is to let them totally take over both the legislative and executive branches and really make a mess of things, which will then get them kicked out of office and longing for their lost power and prestige. Yeah, that’s the ticket. That’ll create our opening!
- Here comes the tough part. We’ve got to get the most divisive Democratic president in history in the White House. Check list: Non-white? ✓ Non-American parent? ✓ Arabic middle name? ✓ Mainline affiliation? ✓ Progressive education? ✓ Worst deficit spending in history? ✓ haha! hehe! The racists will hate him! The fundamentalists will hate him! The worldview people will hate him! The fiscal hawks will hate him! This is perfectly scrumptious.
- Now, all we’ve got to do is get our man in a head to head race with this liberal president. That way the conservative Christian base will have no choice but to support our guy! Evangelicals and Catholics uncritically supporting a Mormon for president. It’s so maniacal it just might work!
In sum, I have profound trepidation that conservative Christians are unknowingly opening Pandora’s box. My primary concern is for the Body of Christ, not the United States of America. As a history major I’m keenly aware that countries come and go but the Church lasts. I by no means have my head in the sand about the political, economic, and social issues facing our country. Yet I’m trying to discerningly balance those colossal short-term challenges with care for the long-term spiritual realities–something I hear few others talking about. Many will disagree. That’s fine. But I genuinely believe the greatest cultural-institutional threat to the American Church is Mormonism precisely because it’s almost completely off our radar. Therefore, I cannot in good conscience support its legitimization. That’s why I couldn’t vote for a Mormon presidential candidate.
Please consider reading “An Addendum to ‘Why I Couldn’t Vote for a Mormon Presidential Candidate’.” Especially those who are intensely critical of this post. Thanks.