Monday, December 3, 2007

In a Moment of Insanity, Romney Makes Religion an Issue

It can't end well for Candidate Romney, but Mitt has decided to talk about his religion - kind of...

A quote from the Associated Press muddies things up a little:
Romney said Monday his speech will not focus on the tenets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the formal name for his Utah-based faith. But he's hoping his willingness to discuss religion openly, and put his wife and sons on stage with him, will convince critical evangelical Christians he's worthy of their support in the approaching Iowa caucuses and later Southern contests across the Bible Belt.
That makes it sound like he will talk about some aspects of his religion, but not others. That process, I suspect, will make it seem like he's hiding something. And that impression will make the Mormon faith seem more (not less) mysterious to lay Evangelicals in the GOP...

The political situation is fairly simple. Romney wants to win Iowa. He wants to be considered the GOP frontrunner going into New Hampshire and South Carolina. Until recently it was a Romney-Giuliani race, a scenario that made Romney look conservative.

Romney and Giuliani beat each other up so badly in the last GOP debate that one commentator said that they had each achieved their goal of discrediting the other. And in the meantime, Iowa Republicans discovered Mike Huckabee...

Huckabee is a former Arkansas governor and an ordained Baptist minister who seems to recently have become the conservative Christian candidate that the rural Bible Belt has been looking for over the course of the last year. Romney has courted the GOP's Religious Right extensively but has never been able to close the deal. He's spent $7 million in Iowa. That's about 22 times what Huckabee has spent. And now Huckabee leads by a few points even though a short three months ago he was considered something of a vanity candidate who could never actually win.

As the Christians of Bible Belt America gather to listen, what can Romney possible say on the subject of religion that he thinks they will enjoy hearing.

  • Will he say that he has lived a good life without drinking or smoke or getting divorced? They will think that he lacks an understanding of concept that human beings are sinful creatures who please God only by accepting His grace. And they'll be right; Mormons believe that Jesus came to set an example, not to make an atonement for sin.

  • Will he say that he believes in Jesus? I doubt he'll be that folksy in his choice of words. But if he were to say that, to say something along the lines of "Hey, we both believe in Jesus!" to an audience of conservative Christians, most of them would know that he meant something different than what they do by that statement.

  • Will he talk about the Mormom Church's view of Protestants and Catholics? The Mormons teach that other forms of Christianity are apostate, that true Christianity died out centuries ago and was revived only with the Angel Moroni reveal the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith. I'm guessing Romney won't discuss his church's position on that issue - at least not voluntarily.
The central issues of Christianity were defined early in Church history. Heretics were thrown out of the Church for teaching incorrect views of the nature of Jesus. It is correct to say that he was the Son of God. Mormons can, I believe, make that statement. But that statement, however correct, is insufficient; to be Christian one must go the whole nine yards and insist that Jesus is God, the Son. Not a god, but the absolute and only God, a unique Being. Mormons can't say that.

Heretics were also thrown out of the Church for arguing that God accepted individuals because they tried hard and lived right. In sections of the Bible like Galatians, Christian belief is based on faith in what Jesus did - not the hope that we can be good enough to make God happy. But Mormonism is a religion of good works, not faith.

At the end of the day, Christian leaders will be polite. They'll all shake hands. Some of the more politically oriented will embrace Romney as perhaps being the candidate that can free up the stalemate on abortion or roll back the clock on civil unions and gay marriage. But the laypeople of the Evangelical churches in Tennessee and Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama are going to sit around and try to remember what they were told about Mormon's in Sunday School.

And here's that message, from the pen of Josh McDowell - the poster boy in the minds of Evangelicals for telling true Christian beliefs from heresy and cult theology:
The Mormon doctrine of God is contradictory to what the Bible teaches. The Mormons believe in many gods and teach that God himself was once a man. Moreover, Mormon doctrine teaches that Mormon males have the possibility of attaining godhood.
My point is that you don't have to be either a Mormon or an Evangelical Christian to see how this will end. There's not an endorsement that Romney can get that will make the average Baptist churchgoers in the Midwest or Southeast feel like "Oh, well, he is one of us..." And the discussion coming up on Thursday will only make Romney's target audience more aware of their differences, and make them like Huckabee more...

The bad judgment involved in making religion more of an issue in the campaign may by itself be enough to disqualify Romney from being President in the minds of many.


Elbeau said...

"Mormons believe that Jesus came to set an example, not to make an atonement for sin"

You need to learn about Mormonism from Mormons before you describe our beliefs.

Alma 34: "Christ shall come among the children of men, to take upon him the transgressions of his people, and that he shall atone for the sins of the world; for the Lord God hath spoken it"

Mosiah 4: "O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God"

Believe me, I could go on and on. The New Testament uses the word "Atonement" just one time. The Book of Mormon uses it literally hundreds of times, and every time is like the ones above...just look at an online edition of the Book of Mormon and do a search for the word "Atonement". That alone will answer this one without the need for anything I have to say.

There's plenty else you are dead wrong about when it comes to my religion, but it's 1 in the morning and I'm tired. Please study up next time before you post.

Greg_Cruey said...

An interesting response because you seem irritated with me for being wrong in some way, and yet your response makes my point so well…

Explaining either Mormonism or Christianity is not my goal. My goal is to comment on the politics of Romney’s choice.

Yes, the Mormon religion teaches the concept of atonement. A huge number of Evangelical Christian authors have written about the inadequacy of the Mormon view of atonement and its role in salvation when compared to the Christian view. Some of the positions on atonement that the Mormons hold or have held in the past don’t seem to have any basis in Biblical theology.

Among the biggest differences is the Mormon belief that the atonement took place largely in Gethsemane, when Jesus was burdened in the garden there. Christians believe that the atonement started on the cross and ended when Jesus took his own blood into the heavenly temple after his death. See the book Hebrews…

That said, I’ll allow you that my statement was less than precise. I suppose that was because I was not trying to make a religious point, really. I’ll rephrase the statement: the path to salvation in Mormonism is only partly through the atonement; in addition to believing in Jesus’s atoning death, in Mormonism we must do all that we can do (like Jesus did) by living a good life to be completely saved (a word that means something very different to the Mormons than it does to Christians).

Alma 34? Mosiah 4? Most Iowa voters have never heard of those two passages. I’m predicting that Mitt will not quote chapter and verse from the book of Mormon on Thursday in his effort to warm up to a group of people who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible and who view the Biblical canon as having been closed to revision or addition long before Joseph Smith was born. If he does quote chapter and verse from the Book of Mormon it will only reinforce my view that candidate Romney has no clue how Bible Belt Christianity view Mormonism.

Your use of the phrase “my religion” is insightful. It sounds as though you’re acknowledging a gulf between Mormons like you and Baptists like me – precisely the gulf that Romney wants to cross.

I think that I understand Mormonism better than most Protestants. But if my views aren’t perfectly accurate it’s because I can see that the fundamental differences are so profound that I don’t really need to dabble in the details too much. Tell me, for example, that you believe that there is only one triune God and that He is eternally existing. Tell me that your church does not teach that being a Protestant makes me an apostate, or that it does not teach that the Bible is flawed. Or tell me that the atoning death of Jesus Christ is only tool for attaining salvation, that works play no role in reaching all the salvation that there is.

You’ve convinced me that I’m not as theological up to date in my knowledge of Mormonism as you are. You have not convinced me that we are basically the same; instead you’ve reinforced my belief that we are radically different - by your use of the phrase “my religion” and by quoting from Alma and Mosiah as though those books my carry some authority in for me.

And in reinforcing my belief that you and I are radically different in our religious beliefs, you’ve also reinforced my belief that Mitt and the Evangelical Christians of the Bible Belt are radically different in their religious beliefs.

Mitt’s task Thursday is to either change the minds of Evangelical Christians about Mormonism or lull them into believing that the differences, however radical, don’t matter. I don’t think he has a snowball’s chance of doing either, and I think it’s politically idiotic of him to try…