Is Mitt Romney a Christian?
This question recently came up at a gathering of Republican political candidates at the Values Voters Summit. Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas was called to introduce Governor Perry of Texas. In that introduction he indicated that candidate Mitt Romney was not a Christian because he was a Mormon. All traditional Christian denominations recognize that Mormonism is a cult, Pastor Jeffress later said in an interview. Romney was a moral man the pastor said, but he would only vote for someone who had given their life to Jesus. Governor Perry later said he did not agree that Mormonism is a cult.
I had a couple of thoughts about this. First, I think the Texas pastor is unnecessarily using pejorative language in calling Mormonism a cult. Most of us when we think of cults think of crazy people that live on a commune somewhere under the spell of a charismatic leader that is taking advantage of them in every conceivable way. I don’t think Pastor Jeffress imagines that this describes Mormonism accurately in any way.
Second, he is correct that most traditional Christian denominations do not regard Mormonism as a Christian expression. Some denominations have a pretty small tent when it comes to who is “really” Christian. (What is the old joke? St. Peter was taking a group of insert your open minded denomination here through heaven. When he passed one room he told them to be quiet, because everyone in there was insert the denomination that you think is pretty narrow minded here and they are convinced they are the only ones who made it to heaven.) The ELCA has generally a more gracious appraisal of our brothers and sisters in Christ but would agree that Mormons don’t fit under even this big tent.
For the ELCA, there are at least two concerns. First, Mormons hold more than just the Bible as sacred and inspired scripture. Every denomination holds some separate writings as especially useful. For the ELCA the Smalcald Articles, Book of Concord, Small and Large Catechisms and Augsburg Confessions all are writings by our 16th century founders and that we still hold as important and relevant. Yet, we do not understand them as scripture. Mormons believe New Yorker Joseph Smith in the 19th century discovered gold tablets that when translated with the help of an angel contained the Book of Mormon and other writings. This they believe is a lost piece of scripture that God meant for the Christian church to have. Mormons use our Old and New Testaments but they concentrate on these discovered texts. Their insistence that these books are on the level of scripture puts them outside of orthodox Christianity in the ELCA.
The second concern is that their understanding of Jesus does not fit into the accepted idea of the Trinity. While they believe that Jesus is God’s Son, they mean this in a more literal way than traditional Christians accept. They believe Jesus is the offspring of the Father and thus lesser than the Father in a significant way. Our understanding of a Triune God of three separate but equal parts but unified as God puts us in conflict with this belief.
Finally, I would disagree with Pastor Jeffress understanding that Romney’s faith disqualifies him to be President. I generally do not comment on political issues. Understand, this is only my opinion and not a theological teaching. I choose to vote for who I think is the best candidate for the position considered. I do not rule out those who are Jewish, Moslem, Buddhist, Mormon, etc… for any candidacy solely on those grounds. I do take into account their faith and how their faith has informed their public life. I would not want to vote for a Moslem who is running on a platform to change our laws to align with Sharia law for example or a Christian who wants to align our laws with the laws from Leviticus either. Generally, I am suspicious of politicians who seem to use their faith to garner votes. Finally, I am interested in how their faith has informed their voting decisions and public conduct.
Being Christian, in my opinion, does not give one the corner on wisdom, reason, courage, morality, leadership, empathy or honesty. These are the things I care most about when evaluating candidates. America has been blessed in the past with good leaders of different faiths on the local level, not many but a few. As our world becomes smaller there likely will be a national candidate who is not Christian in the future. When that happens, I will be prepared to vote for him or her if I deem their ideas, bearing and record makes a better case than that of their opponent.