But -- He's a MORMON!
Much ink, a lot of it pretty useless, has gone into discussions of the religious values of our various leaders. Even the charismatic JFK was viewed skeptically because he was a Catholic. Many Supreme Court Justices were viewed with suspicion as well. Some were, heaven forbid, Jewish! While voters may vote their biases and prejudices, our Constitution clearly says that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."
Some will tell you that America is a Christian nation, and if that were ever true, it is highly doubtful today. Many of the founding fathers were Deists -- those who believe that God created the world, but just wound it up and let it run. He is not necessarily active in our lives today. They did appeal to man's Creator as endowing us with certain unalienable rights. This is the doctrine of Natural Law -- that we are discoverers of the beauties, wonders, and laws of nature (our Creator) that govern us whether we accept them or not.
Mitt Romney will be our first Mormon president. Some Christians contend that Mormonism is a cult; that they are not "true" Christians. Before addressing that, let me offer the following in the interest of full disclosure and background:
I am a Catholic by birth, but have not adhered to those religious tenets for many years. My own research into the Word of God led me away from the papal pronouncements that seem, to me, to deviate from that Word.
My study of the Word has convinced be beyond doubt that Satan is alive and well and active in this world. For more on this, look at my blog.
I accept that, again as the Word says, man is inherently sinful and left to his own devices would quickly create a "Lord of the Flies" civilization. As such, I and all my fellow men and women are also sinners. No exceptions.
God hates all sin -- the smallest to the largest. As a compassionate God, He offers forgiveness and sanctification, but he provides a dire warning: Repent and be saved, or be condemned to eternal hell, which I also believe to be a real place.
My study of the Word of God tells me that it is true in every respect and internally consistent -- even on such things as science which was way beyond man's understanding of science when it was written. IF it contains errors (which I do not believe) then since it is the Word of God, it is HIS problem. I trust that the book says what He wants it to say. I would rather stand before the throne one day and explain how I tried to follow His Word, rather than make excuses because some other sinner told me to do something else.
Religion in all its many forms is man's response to God. Man is inherently sinful and error prone (see #3 above), thus there can never be any fully correct religion. God's Word, as found in the Bible is as close as it can come to incorruptible truth and by its own terms provides the sole method of salvation and deliverance from Hell. This makes me what some might call "Evangelical" or sometimes "Fundamentalist." [The differences here are not pertinent to this discussion.]
While the term "Christian" was intended to apply to the followers of Christ, the problem today is that it has been borrowed by anybody and everybody to describe things and actions that are definitely NOT Christ-like. Listen to most any TV preacher for an example of what I mean. Consequently there are many organized religions that refer to themselves as "Christian" while deciding for themselves what they want that to mean rather than relying on the Word of God to define that for them. To this end I appreciate what (non-Christian) Mahatma (Mohandas) Gandhi said, "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."
So what difference does it make that Mitt Romney is a devout Mormon? Let's look at this from two perspectives -- theological and practical.
Theologically the Mormon faith and I are worlds apart. There are several basic tenets of what I refer to as Christian that are specifically repudiated by Mormonism. It was described best by McKeever and Johnson in their book "Questions to Ask Your Mormon Friend:"
Imagine the Mormon's reaction to the following statement: I'm a Mormon but I don't believe Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. I'm a Mormon but I don't believe that God was once a man or that men can become gods. I'm a Mormon but I don't believe the Mormon Church is the only true church or that we need human prophets to guide the church. I'm a Mormon but I do not believe that the Book of Mormon is the Word of God. I'm a Mormon but I don't believe temples are necessary or that couples can be married for eternity.
A knowledgeable Latter-day Saint would defy that such a person was, in fact, a true Mormon. Why? Because this person who claims to be Mormon denies the very doctrines that make Mormons what they are. At the same time, however, a Mormon who claims to be Christian denies the very doctrines that make Christians what they are.
The Mormons have a set of teachings that includes belief in the bible "as far as it is translated correctly." That allows man to "adjust" the word of God. I'm not comfortable with that. You would think that if it were improperly translated, issuing a proper translation would be a task of the highest order. While started by Joseph Smith, and claiming to have completed it, that simply never happened. The various pronouncements of the various Presidents of the church often contradict both other presidents and what they hold to be their sacred writings. It is difficult in some respects to say for a certainty what is doctrine and what is not. I find a striking parallel in the Catholic church and the Pope speaking ex-cathedra. Too many contradictions and statements of belief that run counter to the bible.
A devout Mormon thus has a spectrum of beliefs from which to select, which is not conceptually different from the many interpretations of doctrine that gives rise to the numerous Christian denominations, fundamentalist or otherwise. Mormon's can't accept all doctrines and pronouncements of all their presidents, past and present due to their contradictory nature. They believe in salvation after death, and a host of works-centered salvation precepts. As a Fundamentalist, I reject that notion. Salvation is based on faith, not works. Their perception of the highest level of heaven is based on the tasks you perform here on earth, for example a Temple Marriage. Others might be in heaven, but will find themselves separated from the three separate entities they view as comprising God (This is much different than the Fundamentalist concept of the Trinity where there is unquestionably one single God, but that goes well beyond this brief review.) Some of their writings suggest that any but the highest level of heaven is actually hell -- being separated from God for all eternity. And since salvation is based primarily on works, their Doctrines and Covenants suggests that if you sin the same sin twice, you are no longer forgiven the earlier sins and they just pile up on you -- unforgivable. My God, revealed through His Word and personified by Jesus Christ, bases salvation on faith, not works.
So Mr. Romney and I differ in our view of God and salvation. Does that make him a bad person or in some way unqualified to serve as President?
The Practical Implications
While much Mormon salvation is based on works, this is not to say that works are not good. Mormons are meticulous in performing the tasks that lead to their salvation, and many of them serve society and the individual quite well, in fact in an exemplary manner. The Mormon practice of not imbibing in alcohol, caffeine, or tobacco can have numerous health advantages. No alcohol results in no DUI's and no drunken binges. No beating your wife or kids. An even temperament. That's a good thing. A requirement that you give at least 10% of your gross income to the church is a positive thing. Spending two years on a mission, serving others, is a good thing. Staying chaste before marriage and faithful to your wife is a good thing. These Mormon practices have a very direct and beneficial impact on society. They try very hard to be "good" people.
David Neeleman, a Mormon, is CEO and founder of JetBlue Airlines which is uniquely profitable in its industry and has revenue over $1 billion annually. According to author Jeff Benedict, "the fact that his customers, his employees, his business partners, and his competitors know he's a Mormon motivates him to work extra hard at being fair, honest, and trustworthy, and leading by example. 'I believe the Mormon Church is one of the most misunderstood organizations on the planet,' Neeleman said. 'Yet we are held to a higher standard. I have to be an example and live my life in the business world the way people believe I should.'"
If all who called themselves Christians held to those standards, we would have a different planet on which to live today. Charity and good works are foundational to the Christian lifestyle, yet practiced by so few of those who try to claim the name. Mormons are different in this regard, and that is a good thing. While I differ markedly in spiritual beliefs from the Mormons, I am shamed by the level of effort they expend toward serving, and the treasure they share with, their fellow man and woman. Can a Mormon get to heaven? I believe the answer is yes, just as Catholics or any specific member of most any other religion based on the bible can. Is a Mormon a Christian? Depending on how you choose to define the term, yes or no. Can a Mormon be an effective president -- absolutely! Without question in my mind. Will he make mistakes? Yes. Will he sin? Yes, we all do. Does he personify, embody, and support the family values that have made this country great? Clearly yes. Is he motivated by a charitable heart, and a sincere sense of proper social justice? Yes. Does this Mormon have the business sense and experience to get the private sector back on track? Yes. Does he have the political experience to understand how the public sector works and how to make it work best? Yes. Is he the arch conservative he is labeled to be? No. Absolutely not. Is he my first choice to lead this country? Again, absolutely not (See my blog entry here). Is he far better qualified, with a far better temperament, a far better understanding and track record of both public and private management, and a far better sense of the American traditions than our current president? Absolutely YES. And for all those reasons, I'm going to vote for a Mormon to lead this country away from the precipice toward which it has been led by a man who claims various religious beliefs and social origins, some of which he calls Christian.
"Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin." Mitt Romney, 12/7/2007
Tom Reid is an attorney and Republican based in Broomfield, Colorado. View his blog at www.tom-reid.com.