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How to Rightly Interpret the “Biblical Christianity or Political Conservatism” Meme

by Carson T. Clark on September 3, 2012

Last week I created the following meme:

It hasn’t gone viral but it is making the rounds on Facebook, Tumblr, etc. What I find interesting is how such a straightforward message is being interpreted in such radically different ways. Even more intriguing is the question of why certain people are reading it correctly while others aren’t. It seems to me this trend beautifully illustrates the human tendency to project our own thoughts, beliefs, and perspectives onto other people’s words while supposing we’ve retained objectivity. Since I have a high regard for authorial intent, however, I wanted to take this opportunity to tell people how to, and not to, rightly interpret the image’s message.

The best way to start is probably to identify wrong interpretations and dispel incorrect assumptions. I would make four points:

  1. This graphic isn’t a criticism of a particular set of political beliefs or political party–Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, libertarian or socialist, etc.
  2. Barack Obama is outside of the purview of this graphic. His name doesn’t appear, and this most certainly isn’t an endorsement of some sort.
  3. It’s not saying that evangelical Christians are inconsistent, or are even hypocritical, for voting for a Mormon presidential candidate.
  4. This is an in-house criticism among evangelicals. More specially, this isn’t an attack upon Mitt Romney’s religious beliefs, individual Mormons, or Mormonism on the whole.11.Yes, I do unequivocally–but not imprecisely–hold that Mormonism is a heresy. Yes, I do think it’s a real threat to historic, orthodox, biblical Christianity. No, I’m not socially attacking Mormons or utilizing a defensive posture. In other words, I still believe the content I heard in evangelical churches growing up but I totally disagree with the tenor. Richard Mouw captured my perspective well: “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.”

A number of conservative evangelicals have strongly objected with the same general criticisms. Capturing them well, one gentleman charged,

Your meme connects not voting for the Mormon with Mormonism being a threat to Christianity. It strongly implies that voting for a Mormon when Mormonism is an anti-Christian heresy is an ungodly double standard. If that’s not inserting religious identity into politics, then I don’t know what is. I’m guessing that people who don’t see it that way probably agree with you.

I certainly don’t think these people have deceptive, let alone malicious, intent.22.Stated in the affirmative, they genuinely mean well. They’re retorting the message as they perceive it. The problem is, that’s not the message. Such persons are unknowingly inserting all sorts of implicit suggestions rather than taking it at face value for what it actually says.33.Also, they seem to completely ignore the second sentence, which is the crux of the whole thing. No doubt there is a double-standard being addressed, but it’s not the one they suppose. That is, the double-standard the graphic is suggesting isn’t Christians voting for a Mormon candidate but rather Christians questioning the salvation of other Christians who aren’t voting for a Mormon candidate. Read correctly, it’s not inserting religious identity into politics but is instead shining a light on the conflation of religious and political identities that already exist.

The point of this meme is to highlight inconsistency as a means of creating awareness that something is amiss, thereby encouraging a certain sub-set of evangelicals to discerningly take a step back and intentionally reflect on their priorities and their source(s) of identity.44.To point out the obvious, there’s a real problem when Christians are confusing their eternal, heavenly identity (followers of Christ) with their temporal, political identity (Republican). Certainly not all, but many conservative evangelicals suffer from a kind of adjective-noun confusion such that they think, believe, and act far more as Christian Americans rather than American Christians. As difficult as it may be for such persons to hear, it seems abundantly evident to me that those evangelicals who questioned others’ salvation because they’re not voting for a conservative Mormon have conflated biblical Christianity with political ideologism.

In conclusion, I think we’ve got to ask ourselves why people are interpreting this in such radically different ways. Pretty consistently my liberal friends seem to see it as an strategic criticism of Romney, which they apparently endorse. Inversely, my conservative friends see it as an underhanded attack upon Romney, which they revile.55.As well as an implicit endorsement of Obama. Meanwhile, my moderate friends typically are seeing the real issue of obscuring religious-political integrities. Isn’t that peculiar? This begs the question of why the only group is frequently able to stand back from the heat of the current political context and look at the larger trends and principles of which I’m trying to prompt thoughtful reconsideration. That’s what I keep asking.

  • Dawn

    As an evangelical myself, I understand that Mormonism isn’t a Christian religion, however, I don’t see it as a danger to Christianity. Yes, they go out and spread their faith but if evangelicals stand strong in their beliefs, Mormonism is not a threat to us.
    There are two main areas why most evangelicals are supporting Mitt Romney, one is faith-based and the other is patriotic:
    1. Faith issues: Mormons agree with us on same sex marriage and abortion. Governor Romney is unequivocally supportive of the rights of Israel.
    2. Patriotic Issues: We want someone in the office of President who has America’s best interests at heart. No Mormon pastor has ever said from his pulpit “God damn America.” We don’t want a President who apologizes for American exceptionalism and who supports countries whose leaders are radical Muslims. While the Mormon religion may try to convert Christians, The Muslim religion actively persecutes them.
    Biblical Christianity and political conservatism are not mutually exclusive ideals. As Christians, I don’t see how we can separate our faith from the political parties that we support. If one’s political views are are not tightly intertwined with their Christian beliefs, I can understand why people would question one’s faith.

    • Carson T. Clark


      Good morning. I don’t get the sense you’re interested in a discussion. Obviously you’re not being rude or anything, but the general tone of your comments seems to be that you’re telling me the way ways things are. That being the case, I’ve no desire to spend much time and energy trying to pry open a door that’s slammed closes. So, thanks for your comments. Have a wonderful day.

    • Justin

      Dawn, as someone who refuses to separate their political views from their religious views, I agree. There’s no effing way in hell I’d ever vote for a republican or a democrat. Their faux two-party monopoly is a travesty of independence and democratic idealism. :-)

    • Brendan

      Dawn, evangelical salvation is by faith in Christ alone. To suggest that a political position is grounds for questioning one’s salvation means that salvation rests not on Christ alone, but on Christ AND a certain political stance, which is not evangelical theology.

      Now, biblical convictions have led evangelicals to various political positions ranging from libertarianism (e.g. Sarah Palin) to socialism (e.g. George Gawryk). Certainly some views may be more consistent with biblical teachings that others. Yet all evangelicals agree that salvation is by faith in Christ alone. So a political stance may reflect inconsistent theology, but does not, in itself, lead an evangelical to question one’s salvation.

  • Christine

    If it makes you feel any better, your intended meaning came through loud and clear when I read it.

    • Carson T. Clark

      Thank the Lord.

    • Edo Owaki

      Not an evangelical here, but I’ll second that when I saw that meme I got where you were coming from. (And thank you for saying it, because it’s one of the smarter things I’ve read this election cycle.)

  • Derek Rishmawy

    I read things like this and I’m reminded why it’s no surprise people read the Bible in so many different ways. They can’t even read a meme properly.

  • Eric K.

    Wow. People you know are questioning your salvation because you’re not voting for Romney? Seriously? Yikes.

  • Post Mod Pilgrim

    I get it. Why do people in ANY party bring up the whole religious or denominational thing at all, when anyone/everyone should be voting their values-which come from their respective religious backgrounds. Almost every President has claimed some form of Christian religion. So, what? What played out as they fulfilled (or abused) the office revealed what was really inside their heart. You should vote your values, your conscience. When that isn’t possible, as in this election-for me, vote for the guy you’re convinced is most closely aligned to your values. Cool picture, thought provoking. Think you could have said it a little clearer-its smacks of politicism 😉

    • Post Mod Pilgrim

      And, Hardliner, it sounds like you’re not quite sure. Man looks on the outward appearance-every “religious” book of writings has a statement like this. We do things we’re not sure about, then either hide from it or point to some vague sectarian schism-I should say “I” do-in order to appear (because we know men are looking on the outward appearance) objective. But God sees the heart-the real “why” I did what I did. Trick is to do everything you can to appear right (as men see) as the right that it comes from (as God sees). I’m voting for Romney because Herman Cain is not the candidate. I’m not fooled by Romney (who helped B.O. create this behemoth healthcare scurge upon a free people). And I hear B.O.’s words-which do not line up with his actions. Lots of Christians liked Hitler in 1935… See? I’m taking sides. I’m making a REAL STRONG CLEAR statement. Yes. I think B.O. is a muslim marxist. And I have lots of friends that I believe will be in Heaven who are voting for him. What EXACTLY are YOU saying? Don’t be afraid.

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