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Read This First

  • Is Mormonism strange? The secular world mocks Mormonism for being fantastic and supernatural, and sometimes evangelicals participate in this kind of mockery. But Mormonism is strange to committed evangelicals primarily because it is foreign to a Biblical worldview. It has a *radically* different view of God, Jesus, salvation, the atonement, forgiveness, the purpose of life, heaven, everything.
  • Understated differences. Mormons try to understate their differences with traditional Christianity, and the media seems to misunderstand just how radical those differences really are. That Mormonism has additional scripture, modern-day prophets and apostles, and a belief that Jesus visited the Americas, are relatively miniscule differences compared to the radically different view it has on the nature of God. To help people get a sense of just how radical this difference is, I produced the GodNeverSinned.com video interview project. Because of the teaching that men can become gods and that God the Father himself was once a mere mortal man progressing toward Godhood, many Mormons are inclined to believe that God the Father was perhaps once a mortal sinner (before becoming God). Mormons are divided over this issue. If you ask evangelicals whether God the Father ever perhaps sinned, you get a simple and absolute “no.” If you ask Mormons, you get anything from “yes”, “perhaps”, “maybe”, “I don’t know”, to “no.”
  • “No religious test.” Article 6 states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” This is about who can run for office. It is not a law against thought-crimes, or a law protecting candidates from all forms of discrimination in the voting booth. Voting by its very nature is discriminatory — you choose one candidate over others. It seems people feel that the *spirit* of this law morally obliges Americans not to consider a person’s religion when deciding whether to vote for them. But this seems neither to be the original intent of the law, nor wise. A religion can have a profound effect on the way someone thinks, feels, and governs. Hence, it seems like an important, but not necessarily definitive, factor to consider when holistically assessing a presidential candidate.
  • Religion affects political orientation, but not necessarily definitively. One’s religious worldview, or at least inadvertent metaphysical worldview, affects their value system. And one’s value system affects their voting patterns. But sometimes people with very similar value systems have very different philosophies of the role of government in promoting or enforcing those value systems. I say this to underscore the point that religion is an important but not necessarily definitive factor in political orientation.
  • Use of the term “cult.” For evangelicals, I think “cult” functions as a warning sign, a word that essentially tells people that something is so wrong (primarily theologically) with a group that it warrants alarm. Those who don’t share the evangelical worldview are likely to have a different opinion of what actually warrants alarm. But if Jesus, the Bible, and theology matter, then we have an obligation to help people clearly identify counterfeits of Christianity. “Cult” is such an inflammatory word that I wouldn’t usually use it in conversation with my Mormon neighbors. But evangelicals are at a loss for a good substitute term. Saying that “Mormonism is not a cult” seems to be more misleading than saying that “Mormonism is a cult.” The term should be used responsibly, with qualification, but it doesn’t seem clear to most of us that the term should be jettisoned altogether.
  • Public exposure of Mormonism as an ironic advantage to evangelicalism. Google has been devastating to Mormonism. Mormonism has long relied on the suppression and sanitization of its own history and teachings to make in-roads with potential converts. It doesn’t seem so clear to me that a Mormon presidency would bring more sum-total public legitimacy to Mormonism. If our next president is a Mormon, Mormonism’s unflattering teachings are likely to be dragged into public discourse. That could be an ironic advantage for evangelicals who don’t want Mormonism conflated with traditional Christianity.
  • On preferring a Christian candidate. At the local level, it seems obvious that it would be unfair and prejudicial to vote for a less-qualified evangelical over a more competent Mormon. But the higher the office in question, and the less clear the difference of competency is, the more I think evangelical Americans legitimately prefer someone to reflect their religious worldview.
  • Unfounded concerns and conspiracy theories. I am empathetic to evangelical concerns that a Mormon presidency would help publicly legitimize Mormonism, but some of the worries over his Mormonism seem unfounded. I know that Mormonism teaches that its prophet can give members counsel on civic matters[1], but I seriously doubt that any Mormon president in the White House will actually be taking cues from Salt Lake City. It will be in his political interest to avoid such a link. I know that faithful Mormons have made sacred/secret oaths in the Mormon temple that potentially create a conflict of interest, but it seems unlikely that this would materialize.
  • Religious opponents can still be political allies. I think Mormons and evangelical Christians can work together on issues like the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, poverty, civil liberties, minority rights, economic freedom, fiscal responsibility, etc.
  • Friction to come. I am worried that if Romney loses to Obama, Mormons might feel bitter toward evangelicals for not sufficiently getting behind him. When the dust settles, there could be resentment that impedes relationships. This is unfortunate, because I want as many open doors as possible so that I can clearly communicate the Biblical gospel to them.
  • Institutional separation distinct from ideological separation. Most Americans want a separation of church and state, but still want a set of common religious values (or at least, inadvertent metaphysical values) promoted by the government, even from the pulpit of the president. We also expect our president to publicly honor God. As an evangelical, I feel nervous about a Mormon doing this. If he says, “God bless America”, would he mean the God of Judeo-Christianity? Or would he mean the perfected man who lives on a planet near the star Kolob, married to at least one wife? I feel nervous about Americans conflating the two.
  • Mormonism and plausible deniability. One of the most effective ways that Mormonism protects itself from critical discussion over its unflattering teachings is to use plausible deniability. Here are some “sleight of hand” words to watch out for: folklore, official, doctrine, speculation, and opinion. In Mormonism, these often function to promote historical revisionism and obfuscation. While outsiders might assume something like “official doctrine” is what the prophets and apostles of the Mormon Church teach, perpetuate, and intentionally foster, insiders minimize the concept to a small set of mostly uninteresting beliefs. Mormonism’s most interesting beliefs aren’t taught in their scriptural canon or their “official” public proclamations. You have to understand how Mormon culture perpetuates theology and how the LDS institution endorses or acquiesces to it. Mormon theology and beliefs are much broader than the strict, minimalist set of “official doctrines” that the LDS Church would prefer public discussion be limited to. It’s important for the media to expose Americans to a broader scope of these teachings.

[1] “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet“, by Ezra Taft Benson. Quoted twice in a recent LDS General Conference: http://goo.gl/cNnRi

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One Comment
  1. Edy Meredith permalink

    Excellent presentation

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