Mormonism in the public square

You may have read about the controversy surrounding the Family Research Council's Values Voters Summit (though isn't safe to assume that all voters vote their values?) and the claim that Gov. Mitt Romney's Mormon faith makes him a member of a non-Christian "cult." From Politico:

Texas evangelical leader Robert Jeffress, the Baptist megachurch pastor who introduced Rick Perry at the Values Voter Summit, said Friday afternoon he does not believe Mitt Romney is a Christian.

Jeffress described Romney's Mormon faith as a “cult,” and said evangelicals had only one real option in the 2012 primaries.

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“That is a mainstream view, that Mormonism is a cult,” Jeffress told reporters here. “Every true, born again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian.”
Asked by POLITICO if he believed Romney is a Christian, Jeffress answered: “No.”

Jeffress said that fundamentalist Christians cannot trust that Romney will be a strong advocate for their conservative values (a claim that is reasonable even without bringing Romney's faith into the conversation), and that while Romney is a fine example of an individual living out family values, “It is only faith in Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone that qualifies you as a Christian.”

Romney spoke later, but did not address Jeffress's comments directly; he instead chose to denounce divisive language in general and addressed one particular speaker, radio talk show host Bryan Fischer:

We should remember that decency and civility are values too. One of the speakers who will follow me today, has crossed that line I think. Poisonous language does not advance our cause. It has never softened a single heart nor changed a single mind. The blessings of faith carry the responsibility of civil and respectful debate. The task before us is to focus on the conservative beliefs and the values that unite us – let no agenda, narrow our vision or drive us apart.

Fischer lived up to Romney's expectations, stating that the US needs a president who understands that just as Islam represents the greatest long term threat to national liberty, the "homosexual agenda" represents the greatest immediate threat to every freedom and right enshrined in the first amendment (Fischer was interrupted with enthusiastic applause after making this claim).

Romney interestingly chose not to condemn the specific attack on his religious faith, but instead sought to distance himself from a far-right extremist whose views will alienate and shock an overwhelming number of mainstream Americans. Why is Romeny ignoring Jeffress's attack and focusing only on Fischer? Is he already playing to the centrist voters who decide general elections as polls show him once again leading in key Republican primary races? Is he hoping to avoid ties to the more extreme cohorts of his party, associations that will ultimately prove unpalatable to general election voters? Or, has he recognized that the current GOP appears sometimes to function more as a church than as a political party? (If Perry is given the nod, his Texas-sized prayer rally will only reinforce this notion). Is he not addressing the claims against Mormonism in an attempt to deflect attention from the issue altogether and perhaps not offend any who may agree with such charges?

In another vein, can one make a claim similar to Jeffress without being a bigot? I studied under a theology professor who had great respect for the Mormon faith, but whose own theological investigations led him to conclude that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) should not be considered traditionally Christian due to their rejection of key Christological councils, to which both the Catholic Church and mainline Protestant churches ascribe theological significance. Does this sort of theological exploration differ from political speeches? Is there place in the public sphere to discuss such matters? If so, is a presidential primary that place?
Read the Politico article here.
Watch a clip of Romney's speech here, and Fischer's here.
Michael J. O'Loughlin

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
John Barbieri
6 years 1 month ago
This "issue" is as disgraceful as it irrelevant.
Under the constitution, there is no religious test to hold office.
Members of any religion tend to regard members of other religions as, at best, misinformed and misguided.
Looking at a candidate's behavior is far more indicative of the kind of person s/he is.
It might be well to recall that " "Your behavior is so loud that I can't hear a word your saying!"
America is, of course, free to publish whatever it wants.  I hope this will not include further reference to the Reverend Jeffers unfortunate remarks!  
Frank Gibbons
6 years 1 month ago
Mormons do not believe that Christ is co-eternal or consubstantial with the Father. As such, they reject the central tenet of Christianity.  But this has absolutely nothing to do with whether a Morman should run for president on not.  I could not convert to Mormonism because I believe Jesus' claim that "before Abraham was, I Am". However, I would have no problem voting for a Mormon for president. Just as the Catholic John Kennedy had a right to run for president, so does the Mormon Mitt Romney.
6 years 1 month ago
Well, as far as a Mormon's right to run, "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." The quoted part is from Article V of the Constitution. Of course, the Constitution can't address the individual voter's bigotry. But anyone who wishes to raise his personal bigotry to a public value should not wrap himself in the Constitution.

BTW, I have been re-reading a book on America bigotry, and I was amused to notice that about 1910 the Knights of Columbus supplanted the Jesuits as the shock troops the Pope was using to take over America. A hundred years later, the main threats to American freedom seem to be Muslims and Mormons, but the descriptions of themn sound a lot like what they used to say about the pope and Jesuits/Kights.
Frank Gibbons
6 years 1 month ago
Tom Blackburn,

It's not bigotry to say I'd vote for a Mormon but I wouldn't convert to Mormonism. And it's not bigotry to state what is part of the Mormon creed - that Jesus Christ had a beginning in history and did not "pre-exist" as the Word of God.  I've had friendly discussions with Mormons on this point.  They did not take offense and I hope you don't either.  I've had the same theological discussion with Jehovah's Witnesses.  I don't slam the door on them but engage them in a discussion of who Jesus is.  They defend their belief (Jesus did not always dwell with the Father) and site scripture to prove their point. I counter, with charity, with other scripture passages that show that Jesus has been with the Father for all eternity.  We part as friends.  


 
6 years 1 month ago
Frank Gibbons, No offense intended. I wasn't responding to you but to Rev. Jeffress, who stands in a long line of people who claim to want to preserve America by ignoring its core values. The people who want to save the country always claim God and the flag, but equally they have Constitutional provisions they don't think highly of and groups of Americas they want to exile.

I, too, have theological problems with Mormons, but I don't think they bear on fitness for public office, or that the proper place to discuss them is in the context of a political campaign.

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