Archives For Mormonism

“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.

I truly admire it when public figures bluntly state their true views on a subject. There is so much hedging, retracting, and re-positioning in modern politics that it can be hard to pin down anyone on anything. So when Robert Jeffress, pastor of the 10,000-strong First Baptist Church of Dallas, introduced and endorsed presidential contender Rick Perry at the Values Voters Summit it was something of a jolt to hear him publicly proclaim what many Christians secretly profess.

“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.”

There it is: “Every true, born again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian.” That’s the bottom line. No matter how conservative you are, how in-line your values are with the Republican party, a massive chunk of the grass-roots and conservative king-makers won’t embrace you if you aren’t (the right kind of) Christian. As Andrew Sullivan says, “If you turn a political party into a church, as the GOP essentially now is, sectarianism will eventually emerge.” There is only one exception to this “don’t vote for non-Christians” rule, and that is if the only choice is between Romney and Obama.

“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.”

Of course many conservative Christians have been trying to make the argument that Obama isn’t actually a Christian for years now. So in their minds it would be non-Christian vs non-Christian (In which case thumbs-up Romney? I guess?).

According to a Pew poll, 68% of Americans are ready to vote for a Mormon president. That support or understanding is built on a “big tent” view of Christianity. If Mormons are just another flavor of Christianity, then it’s OK to vote for them (and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been on a charm offensive for years). However, that support evaporates if you aren’t seen as religious. 61% of voters see atheism as a negative when considering a candidate, no doubt numbers are similar if you have religion but are part of a “cult” and not seen as part of the Judeo-Christian mainstream. As Jeffress would say: “Private citizens can impose all kinds of religious tests.” As it stands now a third of white evangelical Protestants (34%) say they are less likely to support a Mormon. That may not seem like a lot, but it’s a potentially damaging percentage when you take into account the fact that more than half of Republicans are evangelicals.

This is a problem for the Republicans. Not because they prefer Christians, but because Christianity is losing its hold on America, or “softening” as Duke Divinity School professor Mark Chaves would put it. If you become the party of “Christians only” (outside of rare exceptions) you’re setting yourself up for long-term demographic irrelevance. As Americans become more comfortable with atheists, agnostics, and minority religions, the more a political party whose grass-roots demand theological purity suffers. Right now we are in a place where it seems only a Christian (or possibly a Jew) could be elected president, but as the calculus changes, the groups that are more agile in embracing a post-Christian future will ultimately benefit.

On September 28th the Get Religion blog, which critiques religion coverage in the mainstream media, asked its readership a question: “Let’s pretend for a minute that you get to spend 30 minutes with any presidential candidate. What questions would you ask? How would you shape those questions that makes sense for your readership?” The author of that post, Sarah Pulliam Bailey, then narrowed that down to “you get one question to ask a candidate: Go.”

Here’s my response:

“Do you think this is a Christian nation? If so (or if not) what roles and rights should adherents to minority faith groups expect in the United States? Do you feel a follower of Wicca should have the same rights and expectations in this country as an evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant, or Catholic?”

Stretching my question into rules-bending multi-part territory, I would follow up and ask if they agreed with the notion that the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment only applied to Christians and Jews, a theory advanced by Christian pseudo-historian David Barton and American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer. Of course Barton’s and Fischer’s opinions regarding the First Amendment aren’t even remotely accurate or historically valid, but that hasn’t stopped them from becoming heavyweights within the politically-minded Christian conservative network.

It’s no great secret that it is vital to get the support of conservative Christians if you want to win the Republican nomination for president of the United States. They are the lifeblood of the Republican grass-roots, the ones who ultimately set the agenda, and tomorrow the Values Voter Summit, perhaps the ultimate symbol of that power, begins. The speakers list is a who’s who of the confluence between the Republican party and conservative Christianity, and all the Republican hopefuls will be there to try and garner more support going into the primaries. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will be speaking at this event just before Bryan Fischer, and People For the American Way have called on him to publicly denounce his views.

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney

“At next week’s Values Voter Summit, Mitt Romney is scheduled to take the stage immediately before Bryan Fischer, an American Family Association (AFA) spokesman with a long and shocking record of bigotry against gays and lesbians, American Muslims, Native Americans and other minority groups. Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum are also scheduled to speak at the event, which is sponsored by the anti-gay Family Research Council, the AFA, and other Religious Right groups. PFAW is urging these candidates for our nation’s highest office to condemn bigotry.

What makes this even harder to ignore for Romney is the fact that Fischer has also publicly stated that Mormons aren’t entitled to First Amendment protection either, and that Church of Latter Day Saints still supports polygamy.

“On a recent episode of his television show Focal Point, Fischer said that the First Amendmentdoes not apply to Mormons and that the Church of Latter Day Saints still supports polygamy. But next week, Fischer will be sharing a stage with America’s most famous Mormon, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, TPM reports in a story headlined “Awkward: Mitt Romney Set to Share Stage with Anti-Mormon Shock Jock.” Despite the “inflammatory, hateful and occasionally just plain bizarre remarks” Fischer has made on his show, Republicans vying for the presidency, including Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, Haley Barbour, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich all made appearances on Fischer’s show earlier this year, TPM reports.”

It really all comes down to my one question, do minority religions have the same rights and expectations as the politically and culturally dominant (Christian) faiths? I see this as a Rubicon moment, will Romney, who many believe will become the Republican nominee, actually say anything to repudiate the notion that his faith isn’t equal in standing to other Christian faiths? Does he have the courage of character to strike a blow for American pluralism, or will he make nice with Fischer, a man whose record of utterances are so vile even his own organization distanced itself from him.

“The American Family Association celebrates Religious Freedom for all people and for all beliefs as one of the foundational values that make the United States of America a great nation […] under American law all religions enjoy freedom from government interference.  However Joseph Story’s view continues to have proponents, including Bryan Fischer, one of American Family Radio’s talk show hosts.  However, the American Family Association (“AFA”) officially sides with Jefferson on this question.   AFA is confident that the truth of Christianity will prevail whenever it is allowed to freely compete in the marketplace of ideas.”

Andrew Sullivan says that the “Christianists” have succeeded in taking over the Republican party, and that this is the reason Romney isn’t a shoo-in for the nomination.

“Well, a few years later, examine the candidacies of the two front-runners for the GOP. One [Rick Perry] launched his campaign in a revival meeting calling for God to solve our economic problems (having previously led mass prayers for the end of the Texas drought); the other [Michelle Bachmann] emerges entirely out of Dominionist theology and built her entire career in the Christianist world of home-schooling, and anti-gay demonization. One reason Mitt Romney is not a shoo-in? Sectarianism, and his own previous deviations from binding orthodoxy. And it is this fundamentalist mindset – in which nothing doctrinal can be questioned, and the real world must be bent to the shape of a rigid theo-ideology – that defines these two candidates.”

I can’t remember a candidate for either party who was both a front-runner, yet almost universally disliked by the party he’s trying to woo. Clinton and Obama’s long 2008 primary battle may have been exhausting and divisive, but both managed to emerge unscathed and willing to work together when it was done. I’m not sure if the same can be said of Romney once this is all said and done. In any case, this is the moment. Romney can say to the values voters: “I’m with you, but as a Mormon I recognize that all faiths need to be respected under the First Amendment.” This can also be an opportunity for the other candidates to stand behind Romney on this one thing, if nothing else. Sadly, Mormon-raised religion commentator Joanna Brooks doesn’t think it will happen.

“It’s a marvelous image:  a strong-jawed Mitt Romney acting all presidential, crossing the stage and quietly holding Bryan Fischer accountable for his rancid bigotry, not only against Mormons, but against all of Americans who are non-white, non-straight, or non-Christian (as Fischer defines it). But it will never happen. […]  Saturday morning, Mitt Romney is going to look Bryan Fischer in the eyes and give him a handshake and a smile. If he’s feeling really passive-aggressive, maybe he’ll have Ann Romney come onstage and pass Fischer a plate of home-baked cookies. And if things get really heated, maybe Romney will love-bomb Fischer by sending a thousand free copies of the Book of Mormon to his radio studio.”

There’s little chance that I’m going to vote Republican in this, or any, election, but the seeming impossibility of Mitt Romney standing up for religious minorities saddens me.  If the eventual Republican party nominee can’t say “this is a nation where all faiths are allowed to the table, and protected by our Constitution” then something is fundamentally broken.  I’m not expecting any Republican to suddenly embrace Wiccans, or to showcase Dan Halloran at a campaign stop, but I am expecting a basic adherence to the notion that people of all religions are included and protected in our great democratic experiment.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.