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"Religion, Politics, the Presidency: Commentary by a Mormon, an Evangelical, and an Orthodox Christian"

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Romney in the Dock: Or Are Traditional Christians in the Dock?

Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:41 am, August 14th 2006     —    1 Comment »

Last week we linked to this very important, very well done piece by John Mark Reynolds. We liked it so much we added it to our "Resources" in the side bar. Well, we liked it so much that I contacted Dr. Reynolds and have obtained his permission to reprint it here in full:


Romney in the Dock

Posted by John Mark Reynolds on August 10, 2006

Romney in the Dock:
Or Are Traditional Christians in the Dock?

Mitt Romney is nearly a picture perfect Republican candidate for President. With a long family Republican heritage, he is a popular and successful governor and that is the job that has been the best stepping-stone to the Presidency in my lifetime.

He is a traditional conservative from New England with Michigan roots who would put several Blue States in play for the Republicans. He is close enough to Bush to comfort Republicans, but distant enough as a governor to allow him to be critical of specific policies in the War on Terror while supporting the War itself. . . the winning formulation for the 2008 Republican nominee. Given a Southron running mate to tie down a shaky Southern state (George Allen?), it is hard to see anyone beating him.

Of course any given candidate is a long shot for the Republican nomination, all have weaknesses to go with their strengths. Would Massachusetts really vote Republican in a national election? Is it too small a state to give us a sense of what Romney could do?

But to be blunt, Romney carries extra baggage: He is a member of the LDS (Mormon) Church. Will Evangelicals and traditional Christians vote for a candidate that they believe worships in a fringe cult?

If Romney cannot get traditional Christian votes, he cannot win in the primaries let alone the general election.

Should Christians oppose Romney on religious grounds?

First, let me dispose of the weakest argument against Romney that his Mormonism by its very nature disqualifies him from office.

We are electing the President of the United States not the Patriarch of Antioch, the Bishop of Rome, or the President of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Christians believe that their faith can inform politics, but have learned through the centuries that tolerance to other worldviews that inform other political points of view is the best policy. We believe in the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all areas of human life and attempt to manifest that Lordship in our persons, but are wise enough not to try to be Messiah in the lives of others. Until Christ returns, there will be a public space in which tolerance, and the openness to the possibility of our own error in our fallen state, must be our guide.

A traditional American Christian will only be intolerant of those who will not play by republican rules of government or who wish to deny the self-evident, God given, right to life, liberty, and individual flourishing.

I do not deny the Lord Jesus, when I attempt to use peaceful persuasion and humility to advance His claims and forgo the forceful imposition of views distasteful to my foes, since the Lord Jesus Himself allows them the freedom to have those views in this life.

There is a stronger religious argument against Romney and that is that the LDS Church embraces notions so weird that they disqualify someone who holds them from the support of rational persons. I have heard this argument made on occasion in private by traditional Christians. In other words, to be a good Mormon (assuming he is one), Mitt Romney has had to adopt views that no sane man could hold. Failing the test of sanity in a major area is a good reason to doubt general personal fitness for the job of President.

After all, if one ran for President as a member of a Cargo Cult, this would seem good enough reason to dismiss such a person from contention.

It should be noted that this is a dangerous argument for any religious person to make without great care. Secular extremists often label any religious idea “nutty.” Minority views are often correct (as Christians in the early era were in my own view!) and so there is no easy majority test for what is acceptable belief in the public square.

Religious believers should also be wary of the trite response from pro-Romney folk that religion is a matter of the heart and religious beliefs should not count at all. Religion claims knowledge and some of that knowledge is testable. Both traditional Christianity and Mormonism believe the tomb of Jesus Christ to have been empty by end of Easter morning. This is, at least in theory, a testable proposition about the real world.

As we shall see, I would be suspicious of supporting any candidate who had a general religious or irreligious point of view likely to lead to public policy in which I had strong disagreements.

Freedom of religion does not mean I have to think every religion or irreligion is great! In fact it is demeaning to religion to behave this way. My Catholic friends know that I think the Pope is not the sole head of the Church and my Baptist friends know I think their view of the Eucharist inadequate. They honor me by strongly disagreeing with me. If I thought these ideas had public policies implications that would lead to bad social policy by the state, I would want to examine the views of any Catholic or Baptist politician.

That is not bigotry, just common sense.

So if we assume religious traditions are, at least in part, knowledge traditions, then being wrong about religion does matter. How wrong does one have to be before losing credibility in the public square?

Let me propose a few tests and suggest that Mormonism easily passes all of them.

First, the religious beliefs of the candidate should be held by a significant number of people and by a group willing to defend them (even if unsuccessfully) in a rational manner.

The mere existence of the excellent B.Y. University and Mormon apologetics should settle this question. Mormons are not irrational by nature (as some religious groups are). They change over time under the pressure of evidence and are open to rational discourse. Of course, I wish they would change in the direction of traditional Christianity and do not agree with their arguments, but dialog with Mormons is possible and that is sufficient for them to be considered members of the public square.

Since the public square should be as open as possible, the fact that Mormons will reason is very important. My own honors program has been involved in hard hitting, but warm-hearted religious dialog with Mormons done in a Socratic manner. Not all religious groups are (even some groups of “Christians” otherwise orthodox) willing to engage in such risky talk! Mormons should be commended for doing so and so pass the first test.

Religious groups that will not publicly argue their case on their critics turf using language their critics can understand, probably have to be excluded from public office.

Second, the group in question should not have religious claims that will naturally lead to horrific, or at least far out, public policy.

If a religious group believed Whites or African-Americans were sub-human, this would be the sort of evil and foolish idea with public policy implications that would disqualify members from such a group from holding office.

If the Mormon Church ever had views that would have led to weird public policy positions, they are part of its past. One must be careful to argue against the LDS Church as it exists and not as it existed in the distant past or from slanders in non-expert writings like those of Arthur Conan Doyle.

The LDS Church has a remarkable record in the area of care for its members and in support for family values. In those areas where LDS views might suggest public policy ideas to a Mormon politician, opposition to abortion and gay marriage, such views are well within the American political mainstream.

I can see no reason to think that Mormon ideas will lead to irrational public policy in the mind of a thinking Mormon or to doubt public descriptions of a Mormon public policy.

I have serious disagreements with the LDS Church. I do not consider it fully Christian as it rejects basic Christian formulations such as the Nicene Creed. However, its doctrines likely to impact public policy (the area on which its doctrine are relevant in selecting a President) seem positive at best and harmless at worst to me as a traditional Christian.

Let us be blunt. The fact that a man is a good Roman Catholic should give pause to the sensible pro-choice voter. There is nothing bigoted in that as a good Catholic will likely not agree with the public policies positions of the pro-choice voter. The same voter should be dubious about a LDS or Mormon candidate.

That is not bigotry, but common sense. However, since the public policy implications of Mormonism are congenial to a Lincoln Republican, there is not reason for me to oppose Romney on that ground.

Third, the group should have a long track record of generally playing by republican rules in areas where it is dominant. No group is perfect, but the Presidency is too powerful a prize to trust to a new group that might have secret authoritarian leanings.

We have had an entire state dominated by Mormon politics for over one hundred years. It is republican in its constitution and allows free and fair elections. Mormons have shown (if proof is necessary) that they can govern within the bounds of the American mainstream. They have served in both House of Congress, in Presidential cabinets, in prominent roles in the Armed Forces, and as cultural and business leaders. Culturally, LDS members are not some unknown, frightening new group, but part of the American political fabric.

The fact that I have serious disagreements with them does not make Mormons scary.

Religious groups who want to blow up buildings fill me with fear. Religious groups who decry argument, logic, and reason are frightening. Any Church whose most prominent recent political figure before Romney was Orin Hatch seems more likely to be staid than terrifying. Romney of Michigan shows that Mormons are not strangers to playing by Republican Party rules.

Non-Mormons are flocking to Utah for its good standard of living not leaving in fear of some Danite Band of Religious Oppressors. Would that most states were run as well as Utah!

So much for arguments I have heard against Romney on the grounds of his Mormonism.

Opposition to Romney on the grounds of his religion is not, therefore, sensible. If not sensible, it is bigotry. Traditional Christians, commanded to love their neighbor, cannot vote their fears or prejudices. They must vote their best selves and that means they cannot vote irrationally.

Unless I hear further arguments, I believe Mitt Romney deserves a chance to make his case to traditional Christians without his religion being an issue. I have invited him to Torrey Honors at Biola University to make this case.*

Of course, traditional Christians might oppose Romney for his political beliefs. They might oppose Romney because they favor another candidate, but they cannot be consistent and oppose Romney for his religious beliefs. Mitt Romney should be a serious option for thoughtful traditional Christian voters.

If the Democrats gain control of either House in the fall election, a prospect I still do not think likely but possible, then selecting a candidate who cannot unite the nation against the extreme secular left, which hates traditional Christians, will be a must.

Of course, traditional Christians welcome the involvement of the godless in an election. It is a free country after all and we are happy to make alliances with all Americans. We accept that sensible secularists can bring their worldview assumptions to the table just as we can. However, we cannot accept the intolerant extremist secularists who find no room at the table for the religious majority.

The only people who benefit when the American religious majority fight is the tiny minority on the secular left which despises us all.

A willingness to support Romney for reasons of a common cause in the public marketplace because we agree with his public stands and his public arguments for taking them or to oppose him based on a disagreement with those same stands or arguments will show the maturity of the traditional Christian voting group.

It will go far to show that extremist fears of our intolerance are foolish. In fact, I will bet that it is the extremist secularist Left which attack Romney’s religion taking us for fools that will be deceived that they care about his views on the Trinity or the nature of the Church.

It will also show a watching world that in our struggle with intolerant versions of religion which would hijack movements like Islam that we can play by our own rules. A majority Christian nation can freely consider the merits of a man whose religious views they find distasteful and wrong.

We are not fools and Romney will have the chance to make his case.

*Of course, THI [ed. note: THI=Torrey Honors Institute at Biola Universty] does not endorse any candidate or party. My political views are my own and not those of THI or expressed in my capacity as a faculty member. We invite Romney and any other prominent Republican and Democrat candidates to make their case about the interplay of faith and politics.

*Of course, THI [ed. note: THI=Torrey Honors Institute at Biola Universty] does not endorse any candidate or party. My political views are my own and not those of THI or expressed in my capacity as a faculty member. We invite Romney and any other prominent Republican and Democrat candidates to make their case about the interplay of faith and politics.

Mrs. Clinton would be equally welcome, but we can never get her office to respond to our queries for some reason.
[tags] Mitt Romney, religion, John Mark Reynolds, Torrey Honors Insitute, Biola University, politics, president[/tags]
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