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

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Defending Our Dobson Context Contention

Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:52 am, October 12th 2006     —    2 Comments »

Last week we commented extensively in the wake of James Dobson's contention:

"I don't believe that conservative Christians in large numbers will vote for a Mormon…."

As was pointed out to us at the time, that statement is not a negative on its face; it is simply an observation.  Dobson has some evidence for his contention, as he himself has been excoriated by some for consorting too closely with Mormons.  Here's one example from inside his own organizationHere and here are other examples.  The latter two are notable for their grouping of Mormons and Roman Catholics as unacceptable political allies, a fact which to my mind reveals them as particularly uneducated and uninformed.  All these examples seem to mark a great confusion concerning the line between religion and politics, and strike me as very near desiring actual Evangelical theocracy.

Despite the vicousness of these criticisms, I am not sure they are sufficient to justify Dobson's conclusion.  In my experience people that hard-core do not comprise the majority of the Evangelical movement.  Additonally, as we said in the original post, a leader will attract such criticism but if he is worth his salt as a leader it will run off his back like so much water.

But the crux of our criticism lies in the context of the 2004 National Day of Prayer incidents.  Dobson's wife, Shirley heads something called The National Day of Prayer Task Force.  The "National Day of Prayer" is simply a Congressional designation; any celebrations or activities related thereto are organized, sponsored and held by private organizations such as Mrs. Dobson's task force.  Nothing in the Congressional designation makes it exclusive to any religion, and prayer is an activity shared by many religions.

The Task Force is by far the largest organizer of such events, and take note of their website – it is titled, "National Day of Prayer Official Website."  Mrs. Dobson's task force appears to make efforts to monopolize the day and to present themselves as the arbiters thereof.    There is no qualifier in the task force's name, identifying it as the "Evangelical" or "Christian" task force, or the task force of any other exclusive group.  It is important to note that events organized by the Task Force have included the President and members of Congress. 

In 2004 steps were taken by the Task Force to exclude Mormons from its events, as described in the article linked above.  Despite the private nature of the organizing under such circumstances this strikes me as highly prejudicial.

Stories at the time said all those that were not signers to the Lausanne Covenant were excluded.  I find this most interesting when compared to the statement of the Task Force itself.  The Covenant begins clearly:

We, members of the Church of Jesus Christ . . . .

Fair enough, until you consider from the NDPTF website their "Official Policy Statement on Participation of 'Non-Judeo-Christian' groups in the National Day of Prayer."  My point is actually made in the policy's statement's title itself, but I will repeat the entire statement here:

The National Day of Prayer Task Force was a creation of the National Prayer Committee for the expressed purpose of organizing and promoting prayer observances conforming to a Judeo-Christian system of values. People with other theological and philosophical views are, of course, free to organize and participate in activities that are consistent with their own beliefs. This diversity is what Congress intended when it designated the Day of Prayer, not that every faith and creed would be homogenized, but that all who sought to pray for this nation would be encouraged to do so in any way deemed appropriate. It is that broad invitation to the American people that led, in our case, to the creation of the Task Force and the Judeo-Christian principles on which it is based. [Emphasis added.]

The inclusion of the word "Judeo" seems at direct odds here with the Lausanne Covenant, for the Jewish tradition certainly does not include Jesus Christ.  Note also no mention of the Lausanne Covenant in the Task Force's official statement.  Thirdly, while Mormon theology is some distance from creedal Christian theology, its value system is firmly and totally in the Judeo-Christian camp.  It seems to me that Mrs. Dobson here has tried to set it up so that she can have her cake and eat it too, deciding on a relatively arbitrary basis who is and is not included while presenting the appearance of official sanction or lack thereof.

Worse yet, as this story indicates, the person who received the pressure to exclude Mormons was a Seventh-Day Adventist NDPTF organizer in Utah.  Now, while it is fair to say that Seventh-Day Adventist teachings are not as far afield of traditional creedal Christianity as is Mormon teaching, SDA is widely considered "a cult" – as are Mormons.  This site even goes so far as to link SDA and Mormon teaching in defining the cultic.  So where, I ask you was the line drawn between who is in and who is out?

The point is, that line seems to be arbitrary and based primarily on the biases of the Task Force's leadership, namely Shirley Dobson.  Don't you think that given the facts that the Task Force, although an independent organization, shares resources and building space with James Dobson's Focus on the Family, and that the group's leaders are related by marriage, these incidents might provide context for analyzing Dr. Dobson's statements of last week?

Dr. Dobson is astute as a political activist.  He probably realizes he is between a rock and a hard place here, which means he should have responded to Laura Ingraham's inquiries with a "No comment."  Any comment makes him look bad.  Either he ends up alienating those that criticized him for cozying up to Mormons, or he risks creating, based on prior history, the impression of personal anti-Mormon political bias on his part because he failed to say that any religious bias he might have does not affect his vote.  He also risks creating the impression of endorsing downright bigotry in others, as his statement on the Ingraham show appears to accede to their bigoted criticism.  Unfortunately, he opened his mouth and created that impression and gave that endorsement.

Mixing politics and religion is fraught with such risk.  My personal opinion is that Dr. Dobson tries to stride back and forth between the two a little too much, and that has landed him in this hole.  No doubt the pending Romney candidacy will force him to come out on one side or the other.  I care less about which candidate he endorses in the end than I do that he risks compromising both his faith and his political power acting in the fashion that he has. It's just a bad model for how Evangelicals ought to do politics, at least on this issue.

Lowell adds:  Actually, I do not have much to add.  John and I were involved in several fascinating on-line discussions, not only between ourselves but with others, while this post was being researched and written– and it was written with great care.  Although the underlying theological issues are intense and fascinating, for the most part I think this is a discussion that needs to take place among Evangelicals.  As a Mormon, I'll stay out.

Apart from that discussion, I think (and I believe John agrees) that the most important immediate question is: What impact will the Dobsons' statements and actions, and similar events, have on 2008 presidential politics?  Will a substantial portion of the conservative Republican base withhold support from a perfectly worthy conservative Republican candidate simply because they find his membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unacceptable?  We think the answer to the latter question will be no, but the issue is still playing out.  Our hope is that the discussions here will contribute positively to that debate.

[tags]James Dobson, National Day of Prayer, Shirley Dobson, Seventh Day Adventist, Mormon, Evangelical, Focus on the Family, voting, presdident, Mitt Romney, Laura Ingraham[/tags]

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