Al Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, had a discussion on his radio program on "The Mormon Question" on 9/19. You can give a listen here. You can read an after-post by one of Mohler's guests here. (HT: Between Two Worlds) This group of Evangelicals is definitely to the right of me and I think it will give this blog's readers, who tend to be more sophisticated than average, an insight into what Romney will face from some Evangelical circles. I am going to have to reserve a lot of my commentary on the matter to my "Godblog" – Blogotional (I'll link when I make it) because it will be Evangelical theology and therefore not appropriate for this blog. But having said that, one observation I make is that Mohler, who is reasonably moderate on the question, by giving kind voice to callers that most assuredly are NOT so moderate, lends credence to Evangelical objections that I am not sure it deserves. I'll be quite interested if Mormon ears hear the same thing?
My Blogotional comments on the matter will focus on the fact the fact that people often fail to distinguish between attitude and action. That the right action with the wrong attitude, or belief, is preferable to wrong action with the right attitude and belief in the here and now. Eternity is an entirely different question, but in the here and now it is the right action we need in governance. Here is an example of what I am talking about. I agree with the theology in the post 100%, but when it comes to questions of governance and who I make political common casue with, I want to say "SO WHAT!"
Lowell: I am listening to Mohler's program even as I type this. My observations:
1. Mohler is an impressively articulate spokesman for his point of view. Very, very smooth and easy to listen to. A gifted man.
2. His two guests, Russell Moore and Philip Roberts, are not Mormons. Mohler nevertheless describes Mr. Roberts as "an expert on Mormonism," but both guests are Baptist theologians and seminarians. It is clear, listening to Mr. Roberts, that he is an expert critic of Mormonism. As I've often stated here, if you want to understand a religion, ask one of its spokesmen, not one of its critics.
John responds: I think that's fair, but Mormons need to remember that many, if not most Evangelicals will discount what the Mormon Spokesperson says in a manner similar to your desire to discount a Mormon critic. That said, dialogue is always preferable and far more reasonable.
Lowell: I'd be happy with simply a Mormon scholar who's sympathetic to the Mormon point of view.
3. Mohler phrases the question as one of Christian discipleship: Do evangelicals have a religious duty, as disciples of Christ, not to vote for Romney? I am pleased that evangelical leaders are asking this question, but I think they also need to start answering it. I am referring to the "big guns," the leading ministers, and yes, even Al Mohler. Just tossing the question out continually eventually becomes cowardly. Eventually, those leaders need to have the courage of their convictions and start telling their flocks what they believe is the right course.
John responds: Agreed! My biggest beef with the whole show is the lack of answers.
4. That last point raises an interesting question: Mohler says serious Mormons must be concerned about the implications of a Romney candidacy, because our faith will be exposed to scrutiny unlike anything it has ever faced. I'd like to turn the question around to evangelicals: Don't evangelicals have a similar worry? Isn't a Romney candidacy going to expose evangelical biases to a scrutiny unlike anything they have ever seen before? Do you not worry about how ridiculous, bigoted, and narrow-minded many of your fellow evangelicals might make your own religion look? One caller to Mohler's show likened Mormons to Wiccans. Doesn't that at least make you wince?
John responds: Hey! – I've said that here repeatedly.
5. Mohler comes right out and says Mormonism is a "cultic corruption of Christianity" and that Mormons are not Christians. Phillip Roberts, the "expert" on Mormonism, calls that faith "aberrational," "cultic," and "heretical." Well, there you have it. Why is this name-calling discussion taking place? Would Mohler devote that much time to a Catholic candidate's "corrupted" beliefs, and would he use similar epithets in describing Catholicism? Maybe so; I am not all that familiar with his writings and statements. This raises the question of distortion: What does "Christian" mean, and when someone says Mormons are not Christians, is that statement unfairly misleading? We comment in-depth on the terminology issue here.
John responds: I think Mormons need to be comfortable with being classified as "heretical." Protestants say that about Catholics and vice versa. Baptists say it about almost anyone not Baptist – and so forth. It's a term that means simply "Your beliefs are wrong." While Mormons don't use the word, they certainly think the same thing about creedals. "Aberrational" has negative connotations to be sure and I would not use it simply to avoid those connotations. However, to my mind, it is suitable because at its core it means simply – "heretical offshoot."
Lowell: We don't call other religions heretical, just wrong.
"Cultic" is a whole other matter. This word has a whole bunch of sutblety to it, and is, in common Evangelical parlance, dismissive and derisive. I cringed when I heard it as well.
6. Mohler says evangelicals need to be honest about the fact that if Romney is elected, there will be a "mainstreaming" of Mormonism, and that such mainstreaming is a legitimate concern for them. In other words, they think Mormonism must be marginalized. Is Mohler really saying that a vote should be based on whether the candidate's religion will benefit from his or her election? Are competitive religious goals a legitimate basis for voting decisions? Has he thought through the implications of such a statement? Do we want to break the electoral process down into religious tests? Also, there is a lack of courage in Mohler's question: He needs to answer it. If he thinks that is a "legitimate concern," then he needs to offer a resolution to the concern. The same is true of other evangelical opinion leaders. After a while, simply asking the question over and over only stokes the fires of bigotry.
John responds: I am disappointed in Mohler's statements here for two reasons. One, I believe the truthfulness of my faith sufficient to carry the day in an interfaith discussion, and do not feel a need to marginalize any "competing" relgion – but that is really a faith arguement not for this blog. Your comments about voting decisions are dead-nuts on.
7. Mohler says voting for a Mormon candidate would be "an excruciating decision" for him personally because his first allegiance is to Christ, and a victory by a Mormon might "confuse the gospel of Jesus Christ" or "confuse persons about the gospel of Jesus Christ." Although I appreciate Mohler's honesty, I find this both remarkable and astonishing. Are people such simpletons, so easily influenced by religious movements, that the election of a candidate with unacceptable religious beliefs will lead them away from the truth?
John responds: Agreed!
8. If Mohler continues simply using his program to give voice to ignorance and bigotry, which I think is what this particular program segment does, then I think he is doing a disservice to the body politic and to his own faith tradition.
John responds: Mohler was skirting an edge here – with the notable exception of the "cultic" crack, he personally said little that I can take exception to – He left that up to his guests and callers. I am of the current hope that he is allowing concerns a voice without being too immediately and harshly critical in an effort to build allies before you tell them they are wrong. He did challenge, although far more politely and less definitively that I would have, most of the truly, truly ignorant statements that were made. Several times he backed people into a corner where they admitted under certain circumstances they would vote for a Mormon, but he did not do so in a way that forced them to give up their bigoted attitudes. Unfortunately, people ignorant enough to make such statements are probably too ignorant to pick up his most sutble challenges. Only time will tell. Mohler matters a lot to a large segment of Evangelical voters.
(Not that I feel stongly about this or anything! )
Bottom line: It's good that this discussion is getting out in the open, and early. I actually respect Mohler's candor and his apparently sincere desire to remain true to his own beliefs. I do not respect, however, his lack of fairness, manifest by his willingness to attack an established religion (including name-calling) without allowing any comment from any spokesman for that religion, and his repetition of provocative questions without supplying any answers. To say that voting for Romney will be "excruciating" for him does not exactly throw oil on troubled waters.
Mohler says he will be following this issue. We will be following him as he does so.
A "Godblog" looks at John Fund's piece from the other day, a piece about which Lowell commented the other day:
It's refreshing that Fund's piece mentions Romney's religion only briefly . . . .
and pulls out "The Question" – I find that just infuriating, that piece was about so much more.
It'll be crowded in Iowa this weekend. I wonder if they are all carrying Secret Service details yet? If so, those guys could end up bumping into each other!
The view from New Hampshire.
[tags]Albert Mohler, Russell Moore, Philip Roberts, religious bigotry, Mormons, evangelicals [/tags]