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An Addendum to “Why I Couldn’t Vote for a Mormon Presidential Candidate”

by Carson T. Clark on September 1, 2012

This post is an addendum to “A Thoughtful Explanation of Why I Couldn’t Vote for a Mormon Presidential Candidate.” Though most of the feedback was little more than buttkissing or inane ideological ranting which I deemed only worthy of deletion, there were a few truly excellent criticisms. I’d like to thank those persons for exemplifying the civility amidst rigorous thought that our culture so desperately needs. That having been said, I need to eat some crow on two fronts. First, as presently constituted the post does evidence a number of significant problems and weaknesses.11.Not least of which is the historic tendency of Christians to use political power as a means of doctrinal coercion. After writing it I seriously considered sitting on it a few days to let my thoughts congeal, but since this topic had already been rattling around in my brain for a half decade I impatiently decided to be done with it.22.I’ve already got something like 500 unfinished blog posts sitting in my drafts because I did exactly this and never got back to ‘em. My intention was to avoid adding yet another post to that digital pile. This was unwise. Second, I knew there were holes in the post’s content but didn’t expect them to be identified by anyone but trained scholars. In this way, I dumbed down the content for popular consumption. Despite the fact it worked like a charm, that’s a decision I now regret. Long ago I pledged on this blog not to sacrifice substance for popularity. That’s a commitment I failure to lived up to. For that I apologize. With those confessions out of the way, rather than quietly pull the post down or edit it I thought the most honest approach would be to clarify some of the things I meant to say but failed to clearly communicate. Here goes:

  • I didn’t meant to implicitly suggest that voting for a Mormon presidential candidate is akin to Mormon evangelism. That’s a far greater sense of direct causation than I had in mind. What I was trying to get at was the law of unintended consequences.33.I’ve been startled by Christians’ lack of reflection on the long-term consequences of our political actions. People may disagree with my assessment of what might happen if Mitt were to be elected. That’s cool. But at least give some thought to the probable spiritual consequences as pertains the popularity of Mormonism.
  • Some of those who were able to read between the lines and already caught my meaning in the above point have suggested that such a political approach would necessitate something approaching divine omniscience. To be clear, I’m not talking about perfect foreknowledge but sheer probability. It doesn’t take omniscience to know that if you build a major coastal city at or below sea level in a hurricane prone region it’s probably going to be devastated at least once a century.44.Sorry residents of New Orleans, but you know it’s true. Likewise, if you elect a president from a religious fringe group that is exploding numerically it’s likely going to have a legitimizing role in its public perception, which in turn will likely further its growth. All I’m saying is that’s a factor needing consideration.
  • One facebook friend expressed concern about what he called my “pure consequentialist approach.” Without getting into the technicalities of his philosophical argument–which was stellar–his basic points were that we need to a) care about public policy and b) live in the moment without obsessing about the unknown variables of the future. I have three thoughts in reply, but can’t do any of them justice in this concise form. First, I’m not apathetic about policy.55.Clearly I can’t claim expertise in this area, but as one outside the academic and political realms I think I’ve done about as good of a job as anyone keeping up on policy issues. I care about that stuff. Second, I think it’s possible to discerningly keep an eye on likely future consequences while keeping oneself firmly grounded in the present. Third, my outlook here reflects a larger life philosophy of striving to be an idealistic realist.
  • My chief concern is the rampant conflation of historically orthodox, biblical Christianity with political ideologism.66.Be it conservatism, liberalism, libertarianism, socialism, or the like. With the politicization of virtually everything in this country, it seems to me that Christians have largely blurred or even exchanged their eternal, heavenly identities with/for their temporal, political identities. In our present context this is most clearly seen in the utter dearth of critical consideration about Christians voting for a Mormon candidate.77.I’ve repeatedly had my salvation questioned because I’m not voting for the Mormon candidate by conservative evangelicals who I otherwise wouldn’t have described as fundamentalists. Something has gone terribly askew at that point! Regardless of whether or not a person ultimately concludes this is the best possible decision, this should at least be on the radar.
  • In my opinion, American Christians need to think long and hard about the difference between one’s faith and one’s government. More specifically, we need to consider that perhaps the best path forward for this expression of the Kingdom of Man isn’t necessarily one in the same as the best path forward for the Kingdom of God. They have different purposes and different agendas. This whole train of thought seems unfathomable to too many these days, and that’s a disconcerting reality.88.As I implied previously, I think we seriously need to untangle our noun-adjective confusion so we can live as American Christians rather than Christian Americans. There is a difference. At the end of the day, my identity is found not in my national citizenship but in my heavenly citizenship.
  • Though I’m going to the ballot box to fulfill my civic responsibility, I’ll be abstaining from casting a presidential vote this year. James Davison Hunter, an evangelical sociologist, has a whole section about this strategy in his ridiculously insightful book, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. In short, he believes Christians need to temporarily pull back from voting in order to help the American Church decouple its confused identities. I wish more people considered this a viable option.
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  • Bill Grogan

    In my opinion, American Christians need to think long and hard about the difference between one’s faith and one’s government. More specifically, we need to consider that perhaps the best path forward for this expression of the Kingdom of Man isn’t necessarily one in the same as the best path forward for the Kingdom of God. They have different purposes and different agendas. This whole train of thought seems unfathomable to too many these days, and that’s a disconcerting reality.88.As I implied previously, I think we seriously need to untangle our noun-adjective confusion so we can live as American Christians rather than Christian Americans. There is a difference. At the end of the day, my identity is found not in my national citizenship but in my heavenly citizenship.
    I particularly resonate with this paragraph. It is something more obvious to those from another country but it is as if the distinctives have been blurred bit by bit over the years here in the USA either accidentally or deliberately or because of a kind of lazy acceptance and an unwillingness to think outside of the burgeoning Christo/Politico culture.

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      Also by the freedom we have. Bonhoeffer didn’t have this problem because of the horrible oppression he faced in Nazi Germany. If he’s on one extreme and saw clearly because of it, then it seems obvious to me why we on the other extreme have our view so obscured.

    • bill

      Because we are “in bed” with the political culture?

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      “In bed”…. Ehhh. I mean, there’s an extent to which we’ve allowed our political allegiances to become too intimately connected with our spiritual allegiances. In that sense, yes, in bed is accurate. But I’m also thinking about a larger them that Hunter has talked about. Namely, *everything* in our society has become so politicized that we “public” has not become synonymous with “state.” (It’s a bizarre state of affairs. No pun intended.) Consequently, we can hardly fathom alternative ways of being Christian, or living our christian faith, in the public sphere. It has limited our imagination and all sorts of unfortunate things.

    • HEH

      You are not MAN enough to post those who donot like you dribble on this subject. We have a current government that is a chalenge to our faith. You want us to not vote and condone this government?

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      Thank you for your thoughtful contribution.

  • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

    I’m still not sure I track with your basic argument, Carson. I don’t see that electing a president of *any* religious stripe ought to have a “legitimizing” effect vis-a-vis faith, and to the extent it does, it’s only one more in a long line of reasons we should be concerned with the church taking its cues from society at large. I would say that your argument bears at least some similarity to the argument I hear among some liberal Christians for gay marriage in the church, in that as society makes less of a big deal about it the church either ought to, or does, follow suit. The rightness or wrongness of a thing is not predicated upon society’s mores or lack thereof.

    A second point at which I think perhaps you might engage is that I think there are at least some areas where the LDS church itself may be changing in its quest to be more mainstream. I can’t speak for the church as a whole, but I can say that I have known Mormons who I believe have exhibited a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. While some of their doctrines may be at the edge of some orthodoxy/heterodoxy boundary, in all honesty some doctrines of rigid Calvinist Christians (to pick but one example) seem to me to be greater misrepresentations of the God of Scripture. . .and in some ways the syncretism of American civil religion with a form of Christianity is a greater threat to the testimony of the church than most heterodoxies of history.

    Is it ironic that the same Evangelicals who used to blast Mormonism as a cult now think that right-thinking Evangelicals ought to vote for a Mormon? Sure. But is it a threat to the church? I’d say those right-wing Evangelicals are a far greater threat to the church than any Mormon.

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      “I’m still not sure I track with your basic argument, Carson.”

      Repeating from first post:

      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.

      “I don’t see that electing a president of *any* religious stripe ought to have a ‘legitimizing’ effect vis-a-vis faith, and to the extent it does, it’s only one more in a long line of reasons we should be concerned with the church taking its cues from society at large.”

      Grrrr. I intended to deal (albeit briefly) with this issue of what I meant by “legitimizing.” Totally forgot…

      In short, I’m not talking about the church taking its cues from society at large. Or at least that’s not the major point. I’m talking primarily about those outside the church seeing the LDS less as a “cult” (yes, I know the official definition doesn’t line up with this usage) and more as a denomination, i.e. non-crazy option.

      “I can’t speak for the church as a whole, but I can say that I have known Mormons who I believe have exhibited a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. While some of their doctrines may be at the edge of some orthodoxy/heterodoxy boundary…”

      Again repeating from prior post:

      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.

      “I’d say those right-wing Evangelicals are a far greater threat to the church than any Mormon.”

      Why choose?

    • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

      “Why choose?”

      Only because the one threat…that is, syncretism in American Christianity….is already very much in evidence in both the church and government, whereas the other (IMO lesser) threat is only a possibility.

      As to legitimizing LDS in the face of the non-church society, that’s only a threat to orthodox faith if we presume that reason drives any good in society or in leading anyone to faith. For the most part I’d say empirical observation refutes the former, and faith in the action of the Holy Spirit against the latter. Either way I find little about which to worry.

      Vote (or abstain) your conscience, of course. But I don’t see much of a threat in this particular thread.

    • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

      I should have added… I acknowledge that you aren’t dealing with anyone’s salvific status. My comment about LDS believers was to wonder if, in the effort to become more mainstream, at least some Mormon Churches may be minimizing some of their more heretical historic doctrines and actually *becoming* more orthodox. Please understand, I do not know this to be so…just wondering.

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