Does Romney’s Mormonism Matter?

Does Mitt Romney’s Mormonism matter in his quest for the GOP nomination? Michael Gerson says no:

Romney’s faith should not matter. Presidents are elected for their policy views, leadership skills and character, not their soteriology. Such theological convictions about salvation may be infinitely important, but they are politically irrelevant. The whole “no religious test for office” idea remains a good one.

I think there is a little bit of overstatement here. It is not difficult to imagine a scenario in which theological convictions might impact our evaluation of a person’s fitness for office. If a candidate’s religion teaches that killing infidels is a sure path to eternal life, then I would say that candidate’s soteriology probably matters—no matter what his views are on balancing the federal budget. Thankfully, that is not what we are dealing with in this election cycle (and hopefully we never will).

Gerson is right, however, about evangelical misgivings about Mormonism. And those misgivings are not going away any time soon. But Romney’s biggest problem with religious conservatives is not his Mormonism. His biggest problem is that he was a pro-choice social liberal right up until the time he decided to run for national office. At some point after deciding he wanted to be president—Presto!—he became pro-life. No matter how you cut it, it just smells really fishy. And pro-life voters don’t like fishy when it comes to the life issue.

Does Romney’s Mormonism matter? Sure. Is it the definitive issue for evangelical voters? If Kumbaya moments with Glenn Beck over the last year are any indication, I think probably not.

30 Responses to Does Romney’s Mormonism Matter?

  1. Andrew October 3, 2011 at 11:40 pm #

    Maybe he had a pro-life revelation. Like his “church” did on polygamy and civil rights…

    • Rich Shipe October 4, 2011 at 11:18 am #

      I think Andrew hits on it here when it comes to Romney’s dramatic change on critical issues and his faith. His mormonism hurts him because of his dramatic and so obviously pragmatic change. This is the history of mormonism. Joseph Smith lusted for that second wife before the revelation from God came about polygamy. And so on with all of their big changes.

      I hope that Romney is legit in his views and his change in views. I am ready and willing to believe him but he needs to prove it under pressure and in action. He should move to Utah and run in the primary against Orin Hatch. Run to the right of Hatch and prove to conservatives in the Senate that he is legit. Do that and I would be ready to believe him.

  2. Josh Wester October 4, 2011 at 12:22 am #

    Denny,

    I think that it is interesting that many evangelicals seem to be more open to Romney this election cycle. In my view this is for two reasons. First, Romney has now been a national name for over four years. In 2008 people only associated Mitt Romney with Mormonism. This is no longer the case. Second, a large portion of evangelicals who are politically (socially) to the right of Romney have been following the voice of another Mormon for the last several years, Glenn Beck. Due to the tremendous influence of Glenn Beck, specifically his focus on faith in general and Jesus in particular, many politically charged evangelicals have felt the gap between themselves and Mormon leaders such as Romney and Beck narrow. It remains too early to tell, but I would not be surprised to see Romney carry the Republican nomination with the support of conservative evangelicals. Do you think there is a reason that the other candidates have not really brought his faith into the discussion?

  3. Jes October 4, 2011 at 12:44 am #

    It’s the definitive issue for me.

  4. Kamilla October 4, 2011 at 1:01 am #

    Denny,

    No need to worry about Romney’s Mormonism. Pat Robertson says he is an “outstanding Christian”.

    Kamilla

  5. Nick October 4, 2011 at 1:32 am #

    What’s your take on this Denny? Do you think it is appropriate for Christians to vote for openly non-Christians for public office? And hypothetically speaking, let’s say this candidate stands for all the other issues that Christians care about, pro-life, pro-family, pro-marriage, etc.

  6. G. Kyle Essary October 4, 2011 at 2:58 am #

    I’m a die-hard conservative, but I can’t move myself to vote for him if he wins the nomination.

  7. Dillon October 4, 2011 at 8:09 am #

    ” It’s the definitive issue for me. ”

    Me too.

    I’m not clear on your thinking here Denny. If we believe that God appoints our leaders and I don’t believe Mormons believe in the same God that I do ( sorry ) how can we not reject Romney as a candidate?

    • Denny Burk October 4, 2011 at 9:55 am #

      God’s providential appointment of leaders sometimes (if not most of the time) includes non-Christians. In Romans 13, the governmental authority established by God is the Roman Empire, which was at that time led by the pagan Emperor Nero. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says to the pagan governor Pontius Pilate that he would have no authority unless it had been granted to him by God. God’s appointments to political office often include non-Christians.

      There is no biblical basis for Christians to expect that their political leaders will always be Christians. Even in America, it is very rare indeed that a clearly Christian candidate runs for the presidency. So I’m not looking for a candidate that I can confirm is a Christian. I’m looking for a candidate who will implement policies that I think are important–especially pro-life and pro-marriage policies.

      • Dillon October 4, 2011 at 10:06 am #

        Agreed Denny, and not saying but just saying how did the Romans and Nero work out for everyone?

        I defer to your knowledge Denny so I’ll ask a question – Isn’t the pattern of God appointing leaders ( not all of course ) also a judgement against God’s people?

        • Denny Burk October 4, 2011 at 10:42 am #

          I think it’s difficult to detect all of the purposes God has in any given action. Even bad governments can be better than no government. At the same time, those governments can be employed by God as a judgment on people. But I don’t claim any special knowledge of the millions of things that God purposes to do in His appointment of any specific leader.

      • Nick October 4, 2011 at 10:37 pm #

        Denny,

        Of course you are right in that God’s appointments to political office often includes non-Christians. But that is wholly separate from the question of whether or not it is appropriate for *Christians* to *willingly elect them to public office*. I think it would be obviously inappropriate for a Christian to vote for Nero for public office.

        So of course we shouldn’t expect that every leader we have will be a Christian, but again, that is separate from what we should do as voters in electing our officials. And also, the issue is not whether we can positively confirm a candidate is a “true Christian” or not, but what to do about the one’s that *openly admit that they are not* (e.g. Mormons, atheists, Buddhists, etc).

        While I appreciate your reply, I do think that is misses the mark on the question I asked. This is an issue I’m currently wrestling with myself and am just seeking out other viewpoints on this matter. 🙂

        • John Caneday October 4, 2011 at 11:38 pm #

          Nick,

          I commend the book “A Theological Interpretation of American History” by C. Gregg Singer to you. I found it very helpful myself.

  8. John Caneday October 4, 2011 at 9:20 am #

    C. Gregg Singer has demonstrated, about as convincingly as one can, that theology is the most critical factor in the moral development of a nation. He writes in “A Theological Interpretation of American History:

    “…ideas in general do have consequences and that theological ideas have tremendous consequences in the life of a nation. Indeed, it is impossible to understand completely the history of a nation apart from the philosophies and the theologies which lie at the heart of its intellectual life.” p. 1

    “Too seldom have …historians given theology its proper place as a determining factor in intellectual life. The recognition of the importance of intellectual forces in the stream of history must be followed by one other step, namely, the realization that the intellectual development of a people is not an entity in itself, but, in turn, depends upon their theology, or lack thereof.” p. 5

    In essence, if you want to understand a nation, or a people, look at their theology. Would a Mormon be better than Obama? No. Would he be worse? Hard to say.

  9. donsands October 4, 2011 at 9:32 am #

    We had some good presidents who were not Christians. Thomas Jefferson was a good President, if I remember correctly. It would be nice to have a born again Christian as our President, but even then He could be a poor President, couldn’t he. Seems to me, the government is different than the Church. Not that I like Romney. Actually all the mne, and women, running are no different then a George W. Bush, who went to the Whitehouse and didn’t serve very well. Obama is a terrible president, and I’d love to see him replaced with a good man, but we have no such person, doesn’t seem. I do like Ron Paul, and his honesty and his steadfast views of our nation being a nation under the Constitution. But, he has little chance of being elected.

    I talked with a gas station attendant this morning about all this, and he said, “The Lord is in control.” We agreed the Lord is good, and always good, and He is sovereign over all this. Praise His name!

  10. Allie October 4, 2011 at 9:39 am #

    It matters immensely. The guy believes in a living prophet who he is to submit to in all he says as the Word of God. What if the Living Prophet has new Revelation for Mitt? This is a valid question to ask.

    More importantly, I agree that leadership skills and decision making abilities are most important. That is why I have a hard time trusting the decision making skills of anyone who can look at the evidence for Mormonism and even find it to be remotely possible. The only other alternative is that he has not looked closely at the evidence and has just bought into a religious system without serious consideration. Either way this is troubling.

  11. John Caneday October 4, 2011 at 10:55 am #

    I just ran across this blog post from American Vision, which I found very helpful in thinking about theology and politics.

    http://americanvision.org/5222/the-job-of-political-cleanup/

    • Christiane October 4, 2011 at 11:47 am #

      Hi JOHN CANEDAY,

      Is ‘American Vision’ now an acceptable organization for conservative Christians?
      Does it still advocate executions of gay people and abortionists (and their parents) as it used to do, or has it ‘toned down’ its rhetoric to become more ‘acceptable’ to the conservative community?

      My research shows that it is still a very strident, very extreme organization.

      Could you possibly have confused the name ‘American Vision’ with another organization? Please check and let us know, if you made a mistake about it.

  12. Don Johnson October 4, 2011 at 12:16 pm #

    On political decisions, like voting, I almost always vote AGAINST the worst of the top 2 candidates. And there can be many factors in assessing who is worst, but there are also telling indicators of a person’s worldview. The abortion question is one for me, if one candidate is pro-life and one is not, I will always go pro-life, as this is an indicator to me that the non-pro-life candidate has a very different worldview than mine. But another is the constitution. I want a return to constitutional government, and a person’s religiion does not enter into this question.

    • John Caneday October 4, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

      Don,

      I can’t disagree more with your assertion that, “I want a return to constitutional government, and a person’s religiion does not enter into this question.”

      The U.S. Constitution was not created ex nihilo. It was a product of men with a particular worldview. Those that do not share that worldview cannot possibly adhere to, let alone promote a constitutional government.

      The fact of the matter is that Americans, and especially the American church has been drifting from the theological foundations that bred constitutionalism for nearly two hundred years.

      Anyone who claims to be a constitutionalist, must demonstrate a theological worldview supportive of such a claim.

  13. Don Johnson October 4, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

    The US constitution provides for religious liberty at the national level. At the start, some states still had institutional churches, but this idea died out and I am glad for that, as most Baptists got the tar and feather treatment along with others. The constitution also states there is no religious test for national political office. Again, I am glad for this, I can make my own choices.

    I agree that the constitution was written from inside a worldview that mostly assumed Judeo-Christian ethics along with Locke and similar Enlightenment thinkers.

    • John Caneday October 4, 2011 at 2:12 pm #

      Don, I didn’t mean to imply there should be some sort of religious test for national office, if that’s what you’re getting at. My point is that a so-called constitutionalist is a fraud, if he does not have a credible worldview (theological convictions) at the foundation of that constitutionalism.

      • Don Johnson October 4, 2011 at 2:34 pm #

        Since the framers of the constitution were diverse in their outlook on religion I am not sure what you are driving at. There were a lot of compromises made, such as the famous one over slavery, as the southern states were not going to vote for something that invalidated their economic system. What exactly is the “credible worldview’ that you think is needed to be for the constitution?

  14. John Caneday October 4, 2011 at 2:42 pm #

    The “credible worldview” must be Christianity, which in your original comment, seemed to divorce from constitutionalism. If one does not believe in the Creator-God, one cannot truly believe in the sort of governmental hierarchy, with God at the top, necessary to support our constitutional government.

    If one does not believe in God, then all law is arbitrary, subjective, pragmatic–inherently destructive to constitutional order.

  15. Don Johnson October 4, 2011 at 6:01 pm #

    Which is it, Christianity or belief in a Creator God? And if Christianity, which form? Or is it all forms? Who gets to decide who is in and who is out? And there are lots of people that believe in a Creator God that are not Christian. Religion is not a part of the Constitution by design, except a hands off approach. And I see that as very wise.

    • John Caneday October 4, 2011 at 10:07 pm #

      Don, I apologize, I must not have made my point clear enough. I’m not arguing for any kind of formal theological litmus test. I’m arguing that Christians must understand that the only true defenders of our constitutional system are other Christians who understand that government is not a human institution, but is a divinely ordained one–under the authority of God.

      Theology matters. Religion matters. To divorce religion from constitutionalism, as you did in your original comment, is to misunderstand the Constitution that our founders signed and ratified. We must be skeptical of anyone who is not a professing Christian when they say they support constitutional government–they don’t believe the same things we do, despite using the same language.

      That is a very different think than arguing that only Christians are eligible for political office, which is what you seem to believe I’m saying. Christians must demand better politicians. As long as we’re content with what we’ve got, we’re going to deserve what we get.

      I also specifically said “the Creator God” rather than “a Creator God.” There is only one God who is the Creator, it is simply another name for God. The only people that believe in THE Creator God are Christians.

      Hopefully I’ve clarified my position sufficiently.

      • Don Johnson October 5, 2011 at 9:32 am #

        I think Jews believe in THE Creator God of the Bible, and I think JWs, Mormons and Muslims believe in something which they understand to be the Creator God, so they wouldl make similar claims.

        I hesistate to make a claim that “only” Christians can be true defenders of constitutialism. Some may not mean exactly the same thing as Christians do, but they can be co-laborers in fighting for the Constitution. Politics is in many cases the art of the possible. I want a limited government as stated by the Constitution.

  16. Daryl Little October 5, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

    I’d be scared if people were to actually decide to vote for a Christian, rather than the best leader of nations.

    Not saying the two can’t be the same, but, unless we believe that the U.S. (or in my case, Canada) is a Christian theocracy, how can we possibly defend that.

    The Canadian government has, in the past, run through gay marriage provisions, on the backs of at least one Christian representative who is pro-life (acquaintance of mine, member of our church). People in our area often voted for him because he is a Christian, but the vote which made the difference (a vote in the confidence of the government prior to the gay marriage vote) was swung by a single voter.

    It makes a difference when we vote for good leaders and not simply good Christians.

  17. Chris Whisonant October 7, 2011 at 10:34 am #

    I kid you not… back in July I was touching up a little on Mormonism prior to a mission trip I went on to El Salvador (Mormonism is HUGE in Central America!) and I read about how Joseph Smith believed and stated publicly that he believed that men inhabit the moon and the sun. That night I had a dream that I was on the Cabinet for the President. I knew that this president was Mormon (though not specifically Romney), and I was trying to persuade 2 other cabinet members (one who was my best friend and another lady I didn’t know) that this new space exploration program being launched by the President in my dream was because of his Mormonism and that he was trying to find humans on the sun and the moon!!

    Crazy as that may sound, I thought the next morning that we really do need to take into account what our candidates believe and where that could logically lead them with regards to policy. For instance we have a President now who believes in the role of Government as being a provider of all things to all people from birth to death. And this has shaped his policies. But what if we had a President who truly believed in the tenets of Mormonism? Of course the current Mormon religion is very different that that of Smith & Young, but we still should consider this when voting in the primaries. Though, just as we’ve had recent “evangelical” leaders who are far from orthodox in many of their views, it’s very possible that Romney is more of a Mormon in name only. I haven’t really followed how much of a true adherent he is to Mormonism. But Daryl’s comment above mine is spot on – Evangelicals shouldn’t just vote for someone because they’re Evangelical, the same for voting on someone because they’re Catholic (like Newt), or due to someone’s gender or race.

    But to answer your question, yes his Mormonism does matter. But if it came down to if I would vote for him or President Obama in the general election, then I would have to vote for Romney.

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