Thursday, May 31, 2007

Can Evangelicals Vote For Romney?

From the conservative Christian journal Christianity Today, a discussion of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s Mormonism.
Some analysts say Romney’s social conservatism is very recent and politically motivated. They point out that in his 2002 gubernatorial campaign, Romney proclaimed support for Roe v. Wade and promised he would not change the state’s abortion policies. In the same year, he endorsed RU-486, an abortion-inducing drug.

Romney says he has had a true change of heart. If so, he is not the first governor-turned-presidential-candidate to have changed his mind on abortion. Ronald Reagan signed a liberal abortion law for California and later said he regretted it.

But evangelicals are reluctant to vote for a Mormon. Historically, evangelicals and Mormons have demonized each other. Evangelicals consider the Church of Latter-day Saints to be a cult and typically think Mormons are not real Christians.

Yet America has a history of electing presidents with religious beliefs outside the orbit of traditional Christianity. George Washington was a deist who usually referred to the deity in vague and impersonal terms. Thomas Jefferson believed the doctrines of the Trinity, atonement, and original sin were essentially pagan and rejected the possibility of miracles or resurrection. John Adams also denied the Trinity, along with most orthodox Christian doctrine, while holding to a Stoic-like resignation to fate. Abraham Lincoln and his wife attended séances, and William Howard Taft was a Unitarian—which means he rejected the deity of Christ.

Of course there is still doctrinal distance between Mormons and evangelicals. But this has not stopped important evangelical leaders—such as Richard Land, the late Jerry Falwell, Franklin Graham, Chuck Colson, and Cal Thomas—from saying that these doctrinal differences should not by themselves disqualify Romney from a presidential nomination. As Marvin Olasky, editor of World magazine, put it, “If he faces Hilary Clinton, I’ll vote for him in a Utah minute.”

He and other evangelicals who like Romney’s experience and positions say that they are looking for a Commander-in-Chief, not a theologian-in-chief. In this sentiment they echo Martin Luther, who famously said, “I would rather be governed by a wise Turk than by a foolish Christian.”
Conservative Christians will, of course, reject the canard that voting on the basis of one’s religious opinions is somehow a threat to the Republic.

This notion is pushed by secular liberals who are happy to bring their non-religious (and often anti-religious) views into the public square.

But if conservative Christians have a right to vote on the basis of theology, is it really prudent to reject a candidate who shares your social values on the basis of theological doctrines.

What traditional Christian doctrines do Mormons fail to embrace? Again, from Christianity Today:
Evangelicals accuse Mormons of adding new revelation (the Book of Mormon) to the Bible. They think Mormons teach that humans are saved by good works rather than by Jesus Christ, and that humans are of the same species as Jesus and can someday attain his status. In addition, evangelicals say, Mormons reject key Christian doctrines such as the Trinity and creatio ex nihilo (God creating the world out of nothing).
Is any of this more important than abortion?

And can any of it be legislated by government? Is the President expected to take public positions on each of these issues?

None of this is to say we endorse Romney. His flip-flopping on key social issues does indeed cause concern

But Christians who see Romney’s Mormonism as a fundamental problem don’t have their priorities straight.

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