Monday, October 22, 2012

Mormonism in the news and the ballot box

Let me begin with a disclaimer.  Being a Mormon (or a Muslim, an Athiest, a Unitarian, a Bahai, or whatever else) does not disqualify an individual from running for president.  At the same time a candidate's religious commitments or lack thereof can certainly be considered when an individual decides for whom they will vote.  All of that has nothing to do with this post.

A second disclaimer... while there are lots of Mormons in the area where I live and the property owned by the church I serve shares a boundary with a Mormon church, I don't have any friends who are Mormon.  I do have some acquaintances who are Mormon.  The Mormon folk I know are nice people.  As a community, the hold some values that I admire.  They care deeply about their families (even if the definition is a lot more narrow than mine).  They care for one another in community and are there for one another when there is need.  They take their faith seriously and live it... a two year commitment to mission work is a serious thing.  They do have some values that I find problematic as well.  The misogyny built into their theology, the belief in American exceptionalism, and a general secrecy about their faith that borders on and perhaps is at times dishonest all trouble me.

And an affirmation.  My personal theology is not exclusive.  I affirm the truths in other religions and deeply appreciate what they can teach me as a person of faith.  In addition to a variety of different brands of Christians, I have friends who are Muslim, Bahai, Jewish, and Hindu.  I also have friends who are agnostic and others who are atheist.  I learn from all of them and I am glad they are all part of my life.
Last week the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association removed Mormonism from the list of cults on their website.  It was clearly a political move as Franklin Graham, Billy's son, has been an outspoken opponent of Obama and there have been many evangelicals who have been reticent about voting for a member of a cult for president.  Remove any mentions of Mormons as a cult and perhaps remove a bit of that reticence among some evangelical voters.  Early in the campaign a PAC supporting Romney made a television ad raising the issue of Obama's ties with Jeremiah Wright and the brand of Afro-centric Liberation Theology preached at Trinity UCC Church in Chicago.  Romney quickly asked that the ad be dropped and it was.  He clearly was worried that issues of religion would cause large numbers of evangelicals to stay home on election day if they learned more about Mormonism.  Coinciding with the removal of the cult definition, Romney brought up his faith at the end of the second presidential debate.

Mormons are not Christians... at least not in any traditional use of that descriptor in spite of the fact that they call themselves Christian.  Yes, a person named Jesus is central to their faith, but that could be said about other non-Christian religions as well.  Jesus appears in Islam and is affirmed in many eastern religions but that does not make them "Christian." 

Let me just point to two different Mormon doctrines that take them clearly outside of historical Christianity.  First is a little saying "As God was, man is, as God is, man may become."   Some folk may see parallels here to the traditional Christian idea of the incarnation, but it does go far beyond that idea.  This is a Mormon idea that each man can evolve into a god and that God was once like we are now and evolved into whatever God now is. 

Second, Mormons are polytheists.  Christians have always called themselves monotheistic and placed themselves in the same traditions as Jews and Muslims.  Now, some Jews and Muslims might raise questions regarding Christian monotheism we struggle to make sense of the Trinity, but Mormons again clearly believe something beyond that.  Joseph Smith taught that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three separate gods.  Other Mormon profits have affirmed numerous times that there are many gods with each world having its own god.  You can also see that theme in the previous paragraph.  If we all (men) can become gods, then there clearly are multiple gods.  Indeed, one prophet, Orson Pratt, said that there are more gods than there are particles of matter.

I do not know whether or not one should include Mormons in a list of cults.  I guess that becomes a matter of definition.  I would say that they clearly should not be included in any historical definition of Christianity. 

Should that affect your vote?  Only you can decide that.  There are Mormon politicians whom I respect and for whom I might vote - Jon Huntsman would be one.  There are politicians who call themselves Christian for whom I would never vote.  George Bush was one.  Romney?  Sure, you can consider his religion if you want, but more importantly,  look at his policies and both his expressed values and the things he has said and done in the past... vote accordingly... just don't vote for him because he is a Christian.  He isn't.  He is a Mormon.  For that matter, don't vote for Obama because he is a Christian.  He is.  Instead, look at is policies, his expressed values, his actions, and the things he has said and vote accordingly.

1 comment:

Michael Mahoney said...

Well, you and I definitely agree Mormons are not Christians, by any definition. We also agree that doesn't mean they are to be feared or vilified. I know several, and they are typically all-around nice, faithful people, albeit a little misled in their theology (IMO). Many Christians, though, could take a lesson from them on adherence to doctrine, and dedication to the various calls of one's faith.

Which, to me, is significant in this election. While I consider less important the particulars of a particular candidate's faith (although I'll take a bible-thumpin' Christian where I can get one) I do place in high regard how one stays consistent in said faith. If you're a Christmas and Easter man, then be a Christmas and Easter man. If you're devout, be devout.

Say what you want about Romney's choice of faith, but he has publicly been very consistent in the way he practices his faith, and I have not seen him backpedal at all or apologize for who he is in this area. The president, on the other hand, has been a moving target since he took office. I have no idea what the guy stands for.