A formal justification or defense.
Now that it is all over in terms of Romney’s presidential candidacy, I want to take a little time and explain myself. We have endeavored on this blog to be factual and reasonable, and struggled as best as possible to keep personal feeling, and religious expression, out of the argument. We did so because that is the way we thought this issue should be approached.
I have, however, been involved in enough “conversations” over the last couple of years that were anything but reasonable, so what I am going to offer here is is a more personal and heartfelt discussion than is typical for this blog. I ask our audience’s indulgence. I want to make three essential arguments.
The “Christian” Question
If any one thing has landed me in hot water with my orthodox Christian brethren more than any other, it is my willingness to call Mormons “Christian” – albeit with adjectives attached. As someone formally trained for Christian ministry, that is to say having attended seminary, I seem to attract special criticism since “I should know better.”
Indeed I do, were I in seminary class, I would certainly know not to refer to Mormons as “Christian;” it would be a fast road to a low grade. But such definitional insistence is a small part of what is the largest lesson I learned in seminary. We are not nearly as smart as we think we are.
Now don’t get me wrong, every capable Christian needs to put as much energy as possible into a rational, thoughtful and deep understanding of their faith. But after spending many years pursuing that, and being very confident in my personal deeply Calvinistic leanings, I have found that they are, in terms of what I expect from my religion, incomplete. There simply is a whole heck of a lot more to this thing than just the intellectual formulations of what I believe.
To put it slightly differently, we are finite created beings of limited capability. God is infinite, creative, and ultimately beyond my capability to understand. Therefore, while I am to study and be confident, that must be tempered with the limitations of my capabilities. God can decide to let someone into heaven whether they meet the criteria I have established or not – in the end it is His decision, not mine. Humility is the order of the day.
The term “Christian” is, obviously derived from the term “Christ.” Technically, “Christ” is an office or title, not the name of a historical figure. In strictest terms, to be a “Christian” one must simply believe that the messianic prophecies of Jewish tradition have been fulfilled. Again, in the strictest of terms, you do not even have to think Jesus of Nazareth is “the Christ,” you just have to think someone was. Well, Mormons not only believe that the messiah has come, they, like me, believe he was Jesus of Nazareth.
This is where it starts to get a little trickier. Jesus of Nazareth is a historical figure. He was a real person that walked on the planet, and there was only one. Therefore, all the discussion about “they worship a different Jesus than we do,” just does not make any sense. That is a statement rooted in our intellectual understanding of who Jesus is, NOT any historical fact. In fact, such an assertion places the theology ahead of the history – and yet, the historical fact of Jesus is the only thing that gives the gospel narrative any actual meaning – otherwise it is just a story.
Now it is true, Mormons have a very different understanding about the historical figure of Jesus than we do. But they believe the same historical figure was the messiah that I do. That is sufficient to qualify for the term “Christian.” Any other assertion lacks the humility that my seminary education mandated of me.
I strongly believe that adjectives are a necessary addition to the term “Christian” because of our radically different assertions about Jesus. To put it metaphorically, Mormons are in the family, but they are cousins, not brothers and sisters. But this also means they are to be accorded the respect, affection, and welcome of family. We may not be intimate, but we are related.
When it comes to this argument, I cannot help but note that Jesus spent His time with publicans and sinners, and generally avoided the company of the religious officialdom of the day. You see the officials were busy arguing about whether it was a sin to heal the lame on Sunday. Perhaps an interesting question, but Jesus found it a bit silly when confronted with a lame person that needed healing. He just did the job.
Bigotry Hurts The Bigot Far More Than The Object Of The Bigotry
I am not one of those “Love everybody equally, we are all God’s children types.” There is such a thing as evil and it is to be despised, hated, and destroyed. There is such a thing as just anger. “Anger is unChristian” is just liberal claptrap. But it is an idea rooted in truth, but carried to an extreme.
Negative emotion – anger, hatred, fear – are destructive when they are not based in reality. Those emotions were created in us and they are reflective of God’s image in us. But if we are afraid when there is nothing truly to fear, the fear rots our souls. If we are angry when we have not truly been wronged, the anger is a destructive force on our own minds. If we hate that which is not truly evil, then the hatred eats us from the inside out.
“Bigotry” is a term used when negative emotions such as hatred or loathing are aimed at people that are not truly deserving. The classic example, of course, is the historical treatment of people of dark skin color. Their only “crime” was to be black. We aimed our negative emotion at them for the silliest of reasons, skin color.
When it comes to Mormons the essential question is, “Are they worthy of our negative emotions?” If they are not, then the animus we see so often against them from orthodox Christian circles is a destructive force inside of those circles. As I see it, the negative emotion from traditional Christians towards Mormons is rooted in three basic areas. The first is the belief that Mormon doctrine is a “perversion.” The second is fear of the historical artifact of Mormon polygamous practice. The third is territorial.
The perversion argument is just silly. They are, in my belief and understanding, wrong, but that is very different from perverse. If one were to devise some sort of scale of wrongness Mormons would be a lot more wrong about their beliefs than say Pentecostals who I also believe get quite a bit wrong, but it is still just wrong. The term perversion is usually justified by the claim that Mormons lead people down a “false path.” Well, so do a lot of other sects that I think are wrong, it is always a “false path” unless it is my path. Nope, this argument is trotted out as intellectual cover for the deeper emotional responses.
Polygamous practice WAS a justification for prosecution, not persecution which is what happened, but prosecution against Mormons. I think polygamy is a destructive practice to the foundations of our society. But they don’t do it any more. It is artifact, not fact, history, not current. We can no more hold it against them now than the Muslims can hold the Crusades against us.
Sadly, because the persecution of polygamous Mormons resulted in their migration west (Who knows how they would have reacted had they simply been prosecuted under the laws of the land, which is what would have been the proper response) and the Mormon migration is such a hugely significant factor in the development of our nation, the Mormon polygamous past will always remain a front and center historical lesson taught Americans. We just need to learn to tell the difference between history and now.
But it is fear of competition that I think really underlies the negative emotion that is aimed at Mormons. We are in a battle for converts, it is as simple as that. How does one win such a battle? Well, when you have factors like historical polygamy at play, delegitimizing your competition can be a pretty effective means.
There is only one problem, such delegitimization involves stirring up all those negative emotions and when they are unfounded, as they are in this case, they are a rot, not a tool. Therefore, I see this as no way to win this argument.
This is a more philosophical and emotional form of the same argument I have made from the beginning of this blog. If Evangelicals did not vote for Romney solely on the basis of his religious affiliation, they were serving only to squelch their own political voice.
Competition In One Field – Cooperation In Another
The other problem with the whole delegitimization thing is that it requires one demonize one’s competition – one eliminates the possibility of making an ally of them in situations where such an alliance might be useful.
Consulting, the business I am in, is a funny business. Your product is your knowledge. Sharing that knowledge is, in essence, giving your product away. In my career I am often asked to participate, voluntarily, in industry associations, something that gives an entire industry the benefit of my knowledge without compensation. But here is what I have learned. In working in those association, I build alliances that would call on me for compensated work a other times. What appears to be a little short term business loss, has resulted in some extraordinary long term gains.
Also, consider that the members of such associations are business competitors. They are all trying to sell the same widgets to the same customer base. What is in it for them to help their competition? The answer is straightforward – there are many areas where cooperation makes better business for both of them. For example. working with your competition to defeat a tariff bill results in lower cost raw materials for both of you, increasing both companies profitability. Moreover, if only one of you worked the tariff bill, what is to prevent them from making tariffs apply when you import, but not them? Now cooperation looks even more necessary, doesn’t it?
And that, in the end, is the bottom line when it comes to my actions in this election cycle. I am in religious competition with Mormons. To all my Mormon friends and readers, I pray for you daily and hope you will convert – as I am sure you do for me. But there is much mutual benefit that we can recognize from political cooperation.
This blog has never been, and never will be as long as I am associated with it, about justifying Mormonism, or traditional Christianity for that matter. It is about political cooperation between the two religions – for that I do not need to apologize.