Your Candidate: Christian, Politician, or Both?

Author’s Note: The following is a reflection of mine from 2012 about the candidacy of Mitt Romney. As 2016 approaches, I find it relevant again. Dr. Ben Carson has been mentioned as a potential 2016 Presidential Candidate and he seems to have much conservative support. Dr. Carson is both brilliant and hard-working by all accounts. At first blush, he seems like an attractive candidate for conservative Christians. However, Carson is a Seventh Day Adventist. This group is a cultish offshoot of Christianity. I will not vote for Ben Carson or any other cult member.

What do the people we for whom we vote believe about God? Specifically, what are their religious denominations? Is this information even relevant when it comes to deciding for whom to vote? These are questions I began to ask myself after having a conversation with my brother about for whom our mother would vote in the upcoming presidential election. Like me, mom is not going to vote for Barack Obama. But will she vote for the other guy if that guy is Mitt Romney…a Mormon? My mother, like many other Southern Baptists, does not believe that Mormons are Christians. In fact, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) is viewed as a cult by educated Southern Baptists. Yes, I said “cult.” I am not exaggerating or sensationalizing; a syllabus for a recent offering of the Course “Mormonism” at my own Southern Baptist divinity school is designed to help the student demonstrate “an awareness of the significance of this cult for their own members, for Christians, and for the history of religion.”[1] So, for me and my mother, the leading opposition candidate to Barack Obama is not only a non-Christian but a member of a cult subversive to the Christian Faith itself. Barack Obama, on the other hand, is a Christian according to himself and 34% of Americans recently polled.[2] I personally consider the religious faith of the lawmakers for whom I vote to be of paramount importance. So people like me, if Romney wins the Republican nomination, will be stuck between the Solid Rock and a hard place. Political pundits recognized this during Romney’s last run for Republican Presidential nomination, only this time he’s the frontrunner. It matters to evangelicals like me that he is a Mormon, and this could affect the way they vote. However, there are some who question his commitment to Mormonism. After all, Romney is politically moderate which is hardly what one would expect from a Mormon. He made pro-choice comments whilst running for governor in Massachusetts; but the LDS is staunchly pro-life. Which brings up another question: Even if, like me, one does care about a candidate’s religious beliefs, can one really rely on a candidate’s denominational profession? Certain brands of Christianity are very unpopular with left-wing America. Certain brands are very unpopular with the evangelical voting bloc. Given the denominational and religious prejudices extant in America’s populace, certain candidates can’t be both honest about their beliefs and electable.

All Religions are Equal, but Some are More Equal than Others

When Sarah Palin first stepped onto the Republican stage, she was a media sensation. Some wondered about her record as Alaska’s governor. Some wondered if conservatives were ready for a woman Vice President. Other people were caught up in less politically relevant facts about her, like her daughter’s teenage pregnancy and her time as a beauty queen. I wondered about her religion (as well as her views), so I looked her up on Wikipedia. Her religious affiliation was listed as Assemblies of God. That particular group is the world’s largest Pentecostal denomination. Pentecostalism isn’t my thing. However, I generally agree with 14 of the 16 fundamental beliefs that the Assemblies of God denomination has listed on its website. They meet my definition of orthodox Christianity. So, she was someone I didn’t have a religious objection to voting for on a presidential ticket…no religious objection at all. Recently, I looked up Palin’s Wikipedia page again; she is now listed as a “non-denominational” Christian. Before her debut as McCain’s running-mate, Palin was relatively unknown. Now, she is a national political figure and apparently is non-denominational. Why?

I think it’s because the Assemblies of God is not a popular mainline denomination. Members of that church speak in tongues and are outspoken about their belief in faith healing. How many voters would be comfortable with their president or vice president lying on the floor of a church on Sunday morning shouting in strange tongues? How many voters, in country where healthcare is a hot-button political issue, would feel comfortable electing a faith healer? How many voters would be comfortable with the following statement on the end times from the Assemblies of God? “There will be a final judgment in which the wicked dead will be raised and judged according to their works. Whosoever is not found written in the Book of Life, together with the devil and his angels, the beast and the false prophet, will be consigned to the everlasting punishment in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”[3] (They may be saying so in tongues, but the Assemblies of God are telling it like it is on that one). I haven’t done formal research so I can’t say definitively, but I think the number would be few, especially among moderates.

Even Palin’s Presidential running-mate’s religious affiliations are questionable. John McCain was baptized an Episcopalian as a child; however he attends a Baptist church that is affiliated with the very conservative Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Most SBC churches, including the one McCain attends, do not recognize pedobaptism for church membership; McCain has never been baptized as an adult. So McCain is not a member of the church he attends, a church which has an altar call every Sunday.[4] McCain has never answered this call. So is McCain an Episcopalian (considered to be a more liberal denomination) or a Baptist? One could reasonably postulate that McCain attends a conservative church to attract conservative voters.

What about McCain’s former opponent and our current President, Barack Obama? (I would not vote for this man if he were the 13th Apostle but let’s consider his religious affiliation anyway). Wikipedia lists his religion as simply “Christian.” He was baptized at a United Church of Christ and attended church there for many years…until he ran for President and his pastor said something controversial. Now, Obama is not a member of any church. He claims no specific denomination. He says he’s a Christian but only 38% of Americans believe he is one. More than half of the number of people who believe he is a Christian believe he is actually a Muslim. So is he really a Christian? I suppose, as is the case with everyone, only God really knows. What I do know is that there is substantial doubt about his Christian faith among Americans.

It’s interesting to me that the other living Presidents, none of whom have sought office since the end of their Presidencies, have a specific denomination listed on their Wikipedia page. As the anonymous members of Fight Club said in Chuck Palahniuk’s book of the same name, “In death we have a name.” In politics, once one’s career is over, it’s okay to affiliate. Whilst running, its more prudent to keep one’s true religious views to oneself, it seems. In America, where religious freedom is prized amongst all Christians, all religious are equally protected by the constitution. However, when running for office and voting, some religions are more equal than others.

As an American and a Baptist, I believe that people should be free under the civil law of the United States to practice whatever religion they choose. One’s religious preference should not generally affect his ability to get a job. No one should be persecuted for their faith. Still, I will only vote for orthodox Christians when it comes to people running for public office. After talking with my brother about Romney’s Mormonism, I realized that I didn’t know the denominational choices of my own elected officials; I had just assumed they were Christian. I had voted for all of them (save Obama). Hoping I had practiced what I preached, I looked up each official’s religion. My state congressman is a Baptist like me (ordained in fact); Georgia’s two senators are Episcopal and Methodist. Georgia’s governor is a Baptist. The house Rep from my district is Catholic. (this makes him at least nominally Christian) So, in my voting, I hadn’t voted for any non-Christians (except for a nominally Christian Catholic). Romney won’t be my first.

The Pope’s Advocate

I began to wonder about evangelical people like me (those who place importance on a candidate’s faith) but who aren’t as theologically educated. I’m sure there are some whom believe Mormons are just another Christian denomination like Methodists, Presbyterians, or Episcopalians. After, all they believe in Jesus. They might think by voting for Romney they are voting for a Christian, when in fact they are not. There still may be others who think Romney is just a Mormon by heritage but doesn’t seriously believe in all of the unorthodox tenets of the Mormon faith. I had a church-going Catholic friend tell me just last week that he didn’t agree with the Catholic Church’s position on clerical celibacy (it’s for it) and birth control within marital sexual relations (it’s against it). He said the pope could “stick it up his ###,” if he disagreed. I’m fairly certain that before I told him that the church had a negative view on non-procreative sex, he didn’t even know about the view. He said that it didn’t make sense to make priests be celibate and expect other people to eschew birth control. I found myself in the awkward position of Pope’s advocate. Isn’t part of being Catholic submitting to papal authority? Why did I have to explain to a Catholic that (according to Catholic theology) the Pope was a living Apostle succeeded from Peter himself? What the pope says goes. I understood and agreed with his point, but I’m not Catholic.

I believe that there are many similarly minded people who view the theology of their own denomination as something with which it’s okay to disagree. People who see themselves as Catholic (or Baptist, Methodist, etc…) by heritage only might not have the same religious prejudices as those who take every dogmatic view of their denomination seriously. To these “heritage” voters, Romney’s Mormonism probably doesn’t matter. Between their vote and the vote of the ignorant, Romney might just squeak by.

Multiple Wives No, Multiple Gods Yes

If Romney had more than one wife, his political career would likely be sunk. It’s not that he can’t afford to have multiple wives; it’s just that the LDS doesn’t swing that way anymore. Polygamy was phased out in the later 1800s. Mormons no longer believe in taking multiple wives, but they do believe in multiple Gods. Yes, that’s true. Mormon’s believe in Multiple God’s and multiple universes. In fact, if one here on Earth plays his cards right, he can become a God in his own right. This and other outlandish Mormon beliefs were propagated by a nineteenth century treasure hunter named Joseph Smith who claimed to have found golden tablets in Manchester, New York. From these tablets, shown to him by an Angel named Moroni, Smith claimed to have translated the Book of Mormon. Smith used a “seer stone” to translate the “reformed Egyptian” language on the tablets into English. The tablets themselves remain in possession on the angel, and few claimed to have ever seen them. To the Christian, this story is blasphemous. To the Agnostic or atheist, this story is just stupid. I have to wonder that if everyone in America knew that Mitt Romney believed all of this, they would be dead set against putting him in the world’s most powerful office. Interestingly enough, there is an episode of Frasier where Dr. Crane gets behind a candidate who, as it turns out, believes he was abducted by aliens. Dr. Crane is very embarrassed by his support for the candidate after finding out about the alien abduction. I believe we should all ask ourselves (whether we are religious or not) if we would vote for a candidate who claimed he was abducted by aliens. Aren’t Mormon beliefs just as crazy? If that doesn’t sway you consider this: Mitt Romney went on a 30 month Mormon missionary trip in 1966 to convert people to Mormonism; at that time Black people could not hold priesthood in the Mormon church by virtue of the color of their skin. This was three years after Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

My Dirty Little Secret

I’ll come right out and say it; I love Mormons. They are clean-cut, well-behaved, nice people. Marriages solemnized in the Mormon temple have a divorce rate under 6%. I’ve never met a Mormon that I didn’t like. If I had to leave the south, I’d go to Utah. It’s safe there because it’s full of Mormons. They live like Christians ought too. I also appreciate the fact that in every election, I can turn on TV coverage and see Utah turn bright red. The Mormons in Utah don’t vote for liberals; they live like decent people….I just won’t vote for one. Deep down, they are of an evil, demonic religion. All their clean living is in vain.

In the Words of the Rock…

Much to my chagrin, I know that I am part of a minority of Americans when it comes to my focus on faith in elections. Most people just don’t care that much about a candidate’s faith. Since we are a representative democracy, our elected officials and the laws we make will soon reflect that. I don’t like it. However, as Duane Johnson’s iconic wrestling character, “the Rock” might put it, “It doesn’t matter what you think, Seth!” My advice to those who do care about electing Christian officials is to be outspoken to your neighbors about their beliefs. As the Rock of Ages might put it, “Do not hide your lamp under a jar”. You can accept the political and religious beliefs of your humanist and Mormon neighbors but you don’t have to respect them. Let’s try and create a country where someone from the Assemblies of God doesn’t have to change her Wikipedia page to be electable. Let’s create a country where a moderate Mormon is only electable is Taxachusetts. Let’s create a country where we both vote and live our faith.  Most importantly, less rest in the knowledge that such a land is where Christian will abide in eternity.  Christians are ultimately citizens of the the kingdom of God.  That place is not the United States of America.

[1] http://nobtsapologetics.com/magazine/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/THEO6317_Mormonism.pdf

[2] http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38766014/ns/politics-white_house/t/white-house-says-obama-christian-prays-daily/

[3] http://ag.org/top/Beliefs/Statement_of_Fundamental_Truths/sft_full.cfm#15

[4] http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aHH18X6Vsqzk&refer=home

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

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