Archives For Ben Witherington

“We represent the rise of something Christian leaders thought they had vanquished long ago, and we should never forget that initial vanquishing involved the sword far more than persuasion.”Gus diZerega

At the beginning of this year influential conservative evangelical Christian, and former presidential candidate, Gary Bauer engaged in a “thought experiment” for USA Today. The conclusion of this experiment was that voters should  ”support policies that align with their values,”except in once instance.

I wouldn’t vote for a pagan, I’d vote for a Catholic or a Jew whose policies reflect the traditional understanding of marriage and defend the sanctity of human life much more readily than I would vote for the man next to me in the pew who doesn’t support those things.”

In short, political expediency is all well and good to further conservative causes, but there is a theological line in the sand, and if you’re a Christian that line is drawn at polytheism. This isn’t normally a problem for Republicans, who since the Reagan era have tended to nominate socially conservative Christians for office. But the Republican presidential candidate for 2012 is Mitt Romney, and Mr. Romney is a Mormon, something that makes a certain segment of the Republican base very uneasy.

“That is a mainstream view, that Mormonism is a cult,”  [Pastor Robert Jeffress] told reporters here. “Every true, born again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian.”

Romney is no fool, he knows a number of evangelical Christians are wary, at best, of his faith, and he’s tried his best to reassure them that his social agenda lines up with theirs. However, as Bible scholar Ben Witherington recently pointed out, a big sticking point is the matter of polytheism.

Mormons are polytheists, not monotheists. [emphasis mine] That is, they believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three separate beings, thus denying the essential monotheistic statements of both the OT and NT that God is One. […] Mormons believe that even God the Father has, and apparently, needs a body, denying that God in the divine nature is spirit. Indeed they believe that God the Father is an exalted man! […] The goal of Mormon soteriology is that we all become as ‘gods’ become both immortal and divine, blurring the creator/creature distinction which was already badly blurred by a theology that suggested that God is actually a sort of uber-human being, with less flaws. One rather familiar teaching is ‘as God was, so we are. As God is, so we shall be’.”

In explaining why he wrote this post now, Witherington explained that he didn’t want Christians to have “false assumptions” going to the ballot box about who they were voting for. In short, if you vote for Romney, you are voting for a polytheist, not a Christian monotheist. Luckily for Romney, conservative Christians have been working to delegitimize President Obama’s Christian faith for years now, so that the choice is between a fake/un-biblical Christian vs. a polytheist Mormon who lines up with conservative social teachings. Pastor Robert Jeffress, quoted above, revealed as much after he caused controversy with his “Mormonism is a cult” statements.

 “I’m going to instruct, I’m going to advise people that it is much better to vote for a non-Christian who embraces biblical values than to vote for a professing Christian like Barack Obama who embraces un-biblical values.”

What’s interesting about this whole issue is that it tests the waters for the day when a truly non-Christian candidate runs for president of the United States. You’d hardly have to change the above quotes if a Hindu, Buddhist, or even a Pagan, someday managed to overcome the massive structural and cultural impediments to non-Christians in our political system and managed to receive a major party’s nomination. It is only thanks to a massive amount of PR work on the part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints that America is as comfortable with Mormonism as it is, but even that can’t stop some Mormon candidates from flaming out when they try to reach the heights Romeny has. This is mainly due to the fact that a important part of the Republican party’s base are conservative Christians who are reluctant (to put it nicely) to vote for what they perceive as a non-Christian.

Despite the fact that our very origins as a nation are very “pagan,” many in the United States aren’t ready to elect non-Christians to high office, instinctively assuming that Christians are more moral, giving, or “normal.” This will change over time, but not before many men and women will have to run a gauntlet defending their personal beliefs in a very public manner. Polytheism, the belief in  many gods, makes certain Christians very uneasy because we represent a specter thought long defeated. We are supposed to be the boogie men slaughtered on Mount Carmel, never to return, powerless in the face of true Christianity. We aren’t supposed to be thriving, running for office, or even making demands for fair and equal treatment. We’re simply not supposed to exist.

Romney’s ascendancy creates a tension for the evangelical power-players, because they know they have to support him, and they also know many of their supporters simply won’t , often because they themselves labeled his religion a cult. However, terms like “polytheism”, and “cult”, are going to keep losing their impact as we move into a post-Christian era, and eventually electing a Mormon, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist, or a Wiccan, will be based on their policies and stances, not their theology. Until then, Christians are going to have to wrestle with Mormon “polytheism” at the polls come November.