I have several Christian friends who refuse to vote for Mitt Romney simply because he’s a Mormon. Their line of reasoning: “Anyone who is so deceived as to believe that God was once a man who lived on the planet Kolob, is not qualified to be President.”
I subscribe to Martin Luther’s maxim: I’d rather be ruled by a competent turk than an incompetent Christian. But for some reason, evangelicals seem more worried over ones turkishness than their competence. As a result, when choosing presidents we most often ask ‘Are they Christian?’ not ‘Are they competent?’ Which is why the typical reaction of evangelicals to Mitt Romney is ‘He’s NOT Christian!’ rather than ‘He’s NOT competent!’
Confusing Christianity with competence is another story.
Romney’s initial response to this charge of “non-Christian-ness” was not helpful. In fact, it inflamed the divide. In his recent essay, What Happened to Romney’s Evangelical Problem?, John-Charles Duffy writes:
When Romney began his presidential run in 2007, he seemed to think that he needed to convince evangelical voters he was a Christian. He spoke of Jesus as his “personal savior,” an expression more characteristically evangelical than Mormon. He professed his faith in the Bible as “the word of God” without mentioning other Mormon scriptures.
This strategy was deeply misguided. …Romney’s message of “I’m Christian, just like you” backfired: it blurred religious boundaries that evangelicals needed to keep bright. (emphasis mine)
The evangelical response to Romney’s Mormon faith isn’t all bad. For one, it tells me evangelicals are still awake enough to give a rip about theology. Secondly, it reveals something that many Americans are sorely, willfully ignorant of: “religious boundaries” and religious differences.
And apparently, acknowledging these religious boundaries and theological differences is paying off for Mitt. In fact, it’s been Romney’s distancing himself from evangelicals that is winning them over. Duffy continues:
Evangelicals weighed in on Romney’s errant strategy. In 2007, the dean of Bob Jones University, Robert Taylor, told Salon that he was prepared to endorse Romney for “his values.” But, he cautioned, if Romney used his campaign to promote Mormonism as a legitimate Christian denomination, “that would make it very different.” In October of 2007, Bloomberg News quoted two sympathetic evangelical politicos, Congressional Representative Bob Inglis and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Richard Land, who warned Romney that if he wanted to avoid alienating evangelical voters, he needed to stop passing Mormonism off as equivalent to evangelical Christianity. “When he goes around and says Jesus Christ is my Lord and savior, he ticks off at least half the evangelicals,” Land observed. “He’s picking a fight he’s going to lose.”
Romney appeared to have gotten the message by December of 2007, when he delivered his “Faith in America” speech from the George H.W. Bush Library in College Station, Texas. That speech transmitted three points crucial for winning support from conservative evangelicals who were open to backing a Mormon. First, Romney was a social conservative who deplored secularism in public life. Second, while he considered himself a Christian, he acknowledged that his “church’s beliefs about Christ” differ “from those of other faiths.” Third, notwithstanding their theological differences, people of different faiths could work together around common values. (emphasis mine)
On all three of these points evangelicals should agree. Especially about Romney’s admission that his “church’s beliefs about Christ” differs “from those of other faiths.” This admission is changing the tone of our conversation. At Liberty University’s commencement address (transcript HERE), Duffy notes that Romney “managed to extol conservative Christian values without ever explicitly identifying himself as Christian.”
It’s no coincidence, then, that Romney is making inroads with Christian voters.
Playing the religious pluralism, Christian values card, is helping Mitt Romney. Apparently, evangelicals will join your cause… as long as you don’t pretend to be one.
Either way, evangelical suspicion of Mitt Romney has illuminated an important, but often obscured fact: All religions ARE NOT the same. It’s beyond me how anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of world religions can believe that all faiths are equal. There’s a reason why world religions cannot COEXIST. They are intrinsically different. Nevertheless, our multicultural mindframe has duped us into believing that Christians and Mormons and Buddhists and Urantians are one big happy family. The backlash against Mitt Romney is illustrating an essential conviction of evangelical Christians — some beliefs are just plain false.
This is a good reaction.
Whether or not Mormonism makes one an “incompetent turk” is another story.