It has been an interesting week to say the least. That there is religious opposition to a Mormon candidate is no surprise. That they are organized is something we have long suspected and now confirmed. That they fail to realize the disaster a second Obama term would represent for the nation and religion is distressing.
The political ill-wisdom of such a stance is astonishing, but there are many that can discuss and document that fact better than I. But I find myself distressed by this confirmation of long standing suspicion on much deeper levels. This represents a very skewed vision of what religion, and particularly Christianity, is all about.
Christianity has roots in Judaism, so it has an ethical/moral element – but it is more. All theistic religions are a place where natural man encounters supernature – let’s call this, for lack of a better term, a spiritual element. Somewhere in this mix there is an emotional/psychological element. This is the least distinct of the elements that compose religion, and is readily and easily confused with the spiritual element – but that is a discussion for another time. Finally, there is a doctrinal element – a statement of beliefs. It is this final element that divides Mormons and other expressions of faith in Christ as well as many of us inside the more traditional folds of Christianity such as Catholics and Protestants – and it is only that element.
The people that are so opposed to a Mormon candidate on religious grounds are placing the doctrinal element of faith above the other three – at the expense of meaningful religion. In the original comments that sparked this firestorm, it was made plain they place doctrine ahead of ethics:
“Do we want a candidate who is a good, moral person, or one who is a born-again follower of the Lord Jesus Christ?”
The placement of the doctrinal element ahead of the spiritual element is evidenced by the fact that they are sowing disunity amongst believers. Surely any person that has touched the supernature, regardless of how they understand it, must know that their understanding is insufficient simply because it is supernature. Can we ever sufficiently understand something that is, definitionally, beyond our reality? The humility born of this acknowledgement of insufficient understanding is the unifying factor between Presbyterian and Episcopalian, Protestant and Catholic,…Mormon and creedal Christian.
That they place the doctrinal element above the emotional/psychological element is evident in their willingness to suffer a second Obama term rather than have a Mormon candidate. The emotional unrest in this nation is palpable. You can feel it in conversations at the workplace if you have one – at the grocery store if you don’t. The Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street craziness are both signs that the nation is deeply upset about what is happening. People feel as if they are on unstable ground and they want something to change. They all make it clear that Obama is a the root of the unease. At the very least they look to the office for the stability they desire, and right now they clearly are not getting it.
And so this group opposed to Romney, and Huntsman if he mattered, on religious grounds have reduced their own faith to a specific set of doctrinal specifications, and little or nothing else. That’s a skewed religion indeed. Such a faith is not winsome, nor terribly meaningful. And worse yet, such a faith does not help the individual become a better person, rather it seeks only for an individual to identify with the religion. Religion, reduced purely to a matter of identity is little more than label. Thus, somehow, weirdly, a teddy bear becomes an object of some sacred import. What was once a power that changed the world and around which our calendar revolves is now nothing more than a brand for selling gee-gaws.
And that dear friends is why I am truly disturbed by all of this. Religion is so seriously reduced. It is now, truly, the servant of politics – all in the name of brand identification. Not a separate sphere of influence, not a force to improve men who then improve the democratic state, not even an access to the Almighty, religion is now just a political-tool brand-name to be exploited and discarded as is deemed necessary by the political climate of the time.
John Mark here:
Let me try it this way: those attacking Romney on the grounds that he must be Evangelical to be President or at least cannot be a Mormon do not love doctrine enough.
A man who loves doctrine will not abuse it. He will not use it for something it was not intended to do. Just as a man who deeply loves his biological research would never dream of letting that research be twisted to advance a political agenda, so the man loving doctrine will not let its Sacred Truths be misused.
The doctrine of the Trinity is precious to me, but if true it is true about the nature of God. At one time in the history of the English speaking world, men of good will believed that mistakes about this truth disqualified a man from office. Experience showed that this disqualified good people, facilitated persecution, and corrupted the clergy. As a result pious men became opposed to religious tests for office. This was not the result of impiety, though the impious rejoiced, but due to the overwhelming Christian majority recognizing they had been wrong.
Doctrinal errors matter, but they don’t matter everywhere with equal importance.
Of course, true religion is best seen in loving God and loving neighbor. The man with good doctrine who does not love his neighbor does not love God. He is lying to himself and to the community. When people slander the LDS Church with antiquated or stereotyped images (such as whispers about polygamy), they demonstrate that they don’t really know the doctrine they preach.
A man who claims to know a thing, but does not act on it has a weak will, does not really know what he claims to know, or is a devil.
The doctrines that divide us matter a great deal. They should be and are the subject of rigorous dialog. If our ideas of the divine are bad enough, then we might miss the Kingdom of God. However, in this age, this side of Paradise, we also must live in the City of Man. In this City, the most relevant parts of religion are the love of man and (to paraphrase George Washington) a belief in the Divine to undergird oaths of office.
Better an ethical man, a sound citizen of the City of Man, than a man who might enter the City of God, though by fire, but who is unsound and unserious in the City of Man.
I am both a citizen of the United States of America and a subject of King Jesus. As a citizen, Barack Obama is my leader, but in the order of heaven I am the King’s man.
President Obama creates numerous tensions in my dual allegiance. All leaders do, but President Obama has presented unique challenges to traditional Christians. President Obama claims to be an orthodox Christian. If I accept his claim, then he still causes me more tension in my life in the City of Man than a President Romney would.
On issues where the President is empowered, Romney is compatible with Evangelical beliefs. On issues where the President is incompetent, President Obama is compatible with Christian beliefs. As a result, Evangelicals should retire President Obama to the private life to which he is suited and elect President Romney to govern us.
As a role model for private moral behavior both President Obama and Romney are fit examples. Not all Republican challengers can say the same. The President will govern our civil affairs and serve as a role model of public and private virtues: Romney is fit for both. He is fitter than most “traditional” Christians running as a result of his practice of the LDS faith.
Evangelical doctrine and experience teaches us to look for the image of God in all men and truth in all places. If God is real, then we can learn from many people. Doctrine teaches Evangelicals that the state is not invested with all power. Some areas are left to the people, the family, and the culture.
God help me, but can any Evangelical fail to be moved by the love the LDS community shows its members and non-members? Can any Evangelical have anything but the highest respect for the scholarship at BYU? Can any Evangelical fail to be in awe of the political courage shown by the LDS community in the fight for life and marriage?
I take our doctrinal differences very seriously. I do not minimize them and think there is much of eternal consequence in it, but if I am wrong, then I hope charity will cover a multitude of my theological sins. Without charity, we are nothing.
What if my LDS friends are right? What if I am wrong?
That humbles me. It does not incapacitate me or keep me from witnessing to truth as I see it, but it does mean that I long to make my means of witness fit my certainty. I believe, I have thought, I have experienced, but I have been wrong before now. It is Evangelicalism that taught me this and Evangelicalism that showed me the need for humility.
Religion without humility, even epistemological humility, is dangerous to both the City of Man and the City of God.