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mormonism, christianity, and the president of the united states

November 9, 2011
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A few weeks ago, Robert Jeffress, a prominent Southern Baptist pastor who has a great deal of influence, labeled Mormonism as a cult and therefore Christians should not vote for Mitt Romney as President of the United States. This declaration precipitated all sorts of discussion about Mormonism and its relationship to Christianity. Is it a cult? What do Mormons really believe? Everyone had an opinion; however, in all the articles I read, which I must admit wasn’t many, none really dealt with the real questions people are asking: what is Mormonism and is it wise to vote for a Mormon, particularly Mitt Romney, to be President of the United States?

I think the above questions are important and necessary to ask simply because what one believes informs how they will govern. I am asking myself these questions; however, as I do, I think wisdom and love must shape how I frame the conversation.

I don’t think Mormonism is Christian. I don’t think it’s close to being Christian. I also know cult is a powerful word. It is word that, though sometimes necessary, when applied to individuals or groups, often marginalizes and prevents real interaction with that group’s beliefs. In other words, I am not sure it is all that helpful of a description when talking about Mormonism and who should be President.

When choosing a president, we should know what they believe about God. We should know what they think about human beings. We should know their basic understanding of how the world operates. For most people, these answers are formed through religion and rightly so. My point is that we need to understand Mitt Romney’s understanding of God, human beings, and the world. I need to understand how Mormonism has shaped him in order to make an informed vote. But if I simply write off Mitt Romney as a cult participant, I may not listen to him or really seek to understand. I may not even treat him as a human being. I am not endorsing Romney for president. I am simply suggesting that every candidate deserves to be understood.

If you disagree with me, let me ask you a question. If there is presidential nominee who claims to be a Christian, do you just assume you believe the same sorts of things and agree on all sorts of issues? I hope not. I hope you seek to understand what they believe and how it informs their decision-making. The same should be true for this election.

 

16 Comments leave one →
  1. Misty Brown permalink
    November 29, 2011 3:03 pm

    Would you have a problem with a Jewish candidate? Hmmmm?

    • November 29, 2011 3:14 pm

      I would not have a problem with a Jewish candidate because their Jewish. My point was that no one should avoid the hard work of evaluating a candidate because their religious convictions, whatever they are.

  2. Misty Brown permalink
    November 30, 2011 1:16 pm

    What does religion have to do with being president of the United States?

    • December 1, 2011 11:59 am

      I think one of the first questions we should ask, if not the first, is how will the candidate lead/govern? I think that one’s religion does shape the answer to that question. That being said, I don’t think the right approach is starting with religious beliefs and then going to policy. I think you begin with policy and go from there.

      So, my point in the post was that one should not be immediately disqualified on the basis of their religion but on how they will actually govern.

  3. Misty Brown permalink
    December 2, 2011 10:08 am

    Better!
    But if one’s religion shapes the answer to whether someone would make a good POTUS, is there a situation you can see where their religious beliefs (or lack thereof) would be a point against them?
    Thanks for sticking with this, by the way.

  4. December 2, 2011 1:48 pm

    It seems like you have a particular concern that I am not getting.

    I think we agree that religion shapes a person and how they would govern. If one’s religious beliefs results in unfit character or an ability to lead well then of course that’s a point against them.

  5. Misty Brown permalink
    December 5, 2011 10:22 am

    Hey Michael,
    We don’t agree that religion shapes a person and how they would govern. I’m one of those huge fans of separation of church and state. I love, love, love it. So did those founding father guys. When you say that you look closely at the religion of your political leaders, it makes me worry about who doesn’t make the cut for you. Does someone have to be Christian to earn your vote? What about a Hindu person. Would you automatically disqualify them because they aren’t Christian? What about an atheist? Are atheists not fit to govern? That seems to be what you’re saying. Please correct me if I’m wrong. I would be delighted.

    • December 6, 2011 9:18 am

      Thank you for sticking to the conversation too.

      If you don’t think that religion shapes how a person will govern then I don’t think we can go much further in our conversation. I may misunderstand what you’re saying. I am not sure.

      I will say that I too support separation of church and state. But this separation is a structural separation. Human beings are way too complex and integrated to successfully remove any sort of belief in God from the rest of their life and decision making. This integration may not even conscious but it is there. Separation of church and state is possible but not separation of church and individual.

  6. Misty Brown permalink
    December 6, 2011 9:32 am

    Ok, so I’ll ask you one more time. Is there a religious affiliation (or lack thereof) that you can think of that would prevent you from voting for someone?

    • December 6, 2011 10:00 am

      Of course. For example, let’s say it is revealed that a person is part of a religion that practices murder just for fun. I probably wouldn’t for vote him or her. I know that’s a silly example but I think it supports my point.

  7. December 6, 2011 10:08 am

    Let me add this. A person is disqualified for public office not because of what religion they hold but what kind of person they are. This means that is not right to disqualify someone because they are Christian, Mormon, Jewish, or whatever. To do so is not loving and simplifying the process of thinking through who to vote for.

  8. Misty Brown permalink
    December 6, 2011 2:21 pm

    Why not discount the whole religion piece entirely? All the world religions advocate the same simple things, right? So if you aren’t so closely hewn to Christians as leaders (glad to hear this) then why not just look at their politics and their history of leadership?

    This contradicts the statement in your original post: “…what one believes informs how they will govern.”

    I guess I would like to hear you flesh out what that statement means to you. As a non-Christian, it sounds mighty spooky to me.

  9. Misty Brown permalink
    December 8, 2011 9:29 am

    Crickets?

  10. December 8, 2011 10:37 am

    I think it might be helpful to revisit the context of my original post. Some, particularly Christians, are discounting Mitt Romney as a viable presidential candidate. They are doing this on the basis of his religious affiliation. I think this is wrong. Though I think there are exceptions (I gave you an example of this already in one of my comments), we cannot discount a presidential candidate on the basis of what religion or club or whatever they belong to. Instead we must really ask the question – how will this person govern?

    As we ask this question, who they are (character) and what they believe about God, the world, human beings, etc. will influence their governing. For example, if a candidate believed that human beings with dark hair were second-class citizens, that belief would influence their governing. I would also suggest if a candidate believes that God hates all people and wants to murder everyone that will influence their governing. How could it not? I would say for both of these examples, they are at their core religious issues/questions that will influence how one lives in the world and how they do their job…whatever it is.

    If I understand your comments correctly, you think it is enough to simply look at one’s leadership record and policies to make your decision. Do you really believe that? I don’t know how that is possible. For example, I think one reason Cain has removed himself from candidacy is because he knows it’s impossible for a candidate to separate one’s public AND personal past (or religious beliefs for that matter) from their present. For a candidate, their past (and religious beliefs) is a window into what sort of person they are. Sure there is forgiveness, opportunity for change, and even restoration of relationship for people who cheat on their spouse. But for us who were not personally wronged by his actions and are considering him as a candidate, it is not wrong to look at what sort of life he or others have lived. Here too, I don’t think it is wise to disqualify a candidate without investigation (again, I am sure there are exceptions). You need to ask questions. My point is that it is not enough to look at their past leadership and present policies. There is more to the story. We need to know what they believe about things and what sort of person they are. This pursuit though bigger than religion, it is certainly part of the answer.

    As for religion, you said that all religions are the same and so it really shouldn’t matter. I cannot disagree more with that statement. Though many religions are the same, they are also very different. This is another reason why I think it is wise to consider their convictions about God, the world, and human beings.

  11. Misty Brown permalink
    December 8, 2011 12:09 pm

    There are some personal beliefs and actions that would influence how well a person could govern, and some that wouldn’t matter at all to me. If they held biases about people that would impact their decision making (your example about people with black hair or other clear prejudices) then I would have a problem with that. That is actually one reason I would worry about a Mormon in politics – not because of their views on god, but their views on women. Mormons aren’t the only ones who have problems in that department.

    The reason Cain crashed and burned was because he harmed people. He sexually harassed women, and that’s cruel. But I don’t care who Cain prays to.

    I guess what I’m getting at is that I don’t care what happens inside a persons head. All I care about is what they actually do in the world.

    So back to how religion should be factored in to your opinions- I think you would be hard-pressed to find a religion that outwardly advocates something that would disqualify a candidate for office. Right? You’ve only come up with wildly improbable hypothetical examples of Very Bad Religions (the Black-Hair-Haters, or the Let’s Murder ‘Em All sect.) But what about the actual religions out there today? Would you truly not vote for an atheist? Or a Muslim?

    • December 25, 2011 2:19 pm

      Misty, I apologize for my long delay.

      You say, “I guess what I’m getting at is that I don’t care what happens inside a persons head. All I care about is what they actually do in the world.”

      I think to make a dichotomy between what happens in someone’s head and how someone lives is impossible.

      Further, I agree that I would be hard-pressed to find a religion that “outwardly advocates something that would disqualify me.” However, I do think a candidate may have a policy that is derived from his/her religious convictions that may make me uncomfortable to give my vote. I am intentionally not using the word “disqualify” as that implies he/she is not suited for office, which is not my point. In this case, I just don’t endorse their policies.

      I think at the end of day, we are looking at the same things in a candidate but getting there in different ways.

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