As election day inches closer, the campaign rhetoric continues to heat up. And as in previous years, religion is at the forefront. This year, however, Evangelicals are faced with a dilemma we’ve never faced, at least not in our lifetime.
Most Evangelicals have traditionally voted Republican (74% voted for McCain in the last election), and every Republican candidate in the last 50 years has been at least Protestant if not Evangelical.
Republican candidate Mitt Romney is not an Evangelical. He’s not Protestant. He’s not Christian. Mitt Romney is a practicing Mormon.
And Barack Obama is a practicing Christian, a long-time member of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.
But primarily because of Obama’s views on Abortion (he’s pro-choice) and Gay Marriage (he favors it), Evangelicals as a whole – and especially Evangelical leaders – have been unwilling to support Obama despite his Christian faith.
In the last election, between two Christians, this wasn’t a problem for Evangelicals because McCain was a Christian. This election is totally different.
Because Mitt Romney is not a Christian, Evangelicals must choose either to vote for a Christian candidate whose politics they disagree with, or a non-Christian candidate whose policies they affirm.
Unfortunately, the conversation in Evangelical churches is not proceeding in these terms. Instead of acknowledging the complexity of this particular election season, many Evangelicals are making dangerous assumptions about the nature of allegiance and religious truth.
As has been true since the last election, some on the far right fringe of the Evangelical movement claim that Obama is not a Christian. According to some polls, nearly 1 in 5 Republicans believe Obama practices Islam. And websites as popular as Conservapedia claim Obama is Muslim. All this despite Obama’s very public declarations and practice of Christianity.
Many Evangelicals deny Obama’s Christian faith because of his stance on various issues. Conversely, many Evangelicals are Christianizing Romney because of his stance on issues.
Last week, Evangelical Godfather Billy Graham made headlines when, after meeting with Romney, he removed all explicit references to Mormonism as a “cult” from his website. Yesterday, his son Franklin posted an article explaining that Christians can (and should?) vote for a Mormon presidential candidate. Yet the website’s definition of a cult still all but explicitly calls Mormonism a cult in their definition page. The second paragraph here describes Mormon theology accurately.
The Grahams’ confusion demonstrates the confusion Evangelicals feel about Mormonism. Romney embodies many values and political perspectives Evangelicals have long been comfortable with. But most Evangelicals have heard that Mormonism is a cult.
“Cult” isn’t totally accurate in describing Mormonism. As Tony Jones helpfully explains, Mormonism is really a separate religion.
Mormonism holds that Jesus is the biological son of God and brother of Lucifer. While the Nicene Creed clearly states that Jesus is “begotten, not made, of one being with the Father,” Mormonism declares that Jesus is a separate being from God. Jesus, in Mormon theology, was made, not begotten.
This doesn’t make Mormonism a cult, but it does mean (as Tony wrote) that Mormonism is a separate religion from Christianity. Mitt Romney, if he is a practicing Mormon, is not a practicing Christian. The God he worships is an essentially different god from Yahweh, the Triune god of the Scriptures and affirmed by historic, orthodox Christianity.
The confusion Graham’s website evinces over Romney’s non-Christian faith is dangerous. So is refusing to acknowledge Obama’s Christianity.
So what do Obama’s Christian faith and Romney’s non-Christian faith have to do with our Evangelical conversation about politics?
It’s totally fine for a person who is a Christian to disagree with another Christian about a political issue. So if you’re a Christian, and you disagree with Obama, you don’t have to vote for him.
It’s equally fine to agree with a person who is not a Christian about a political issue. So if you’re a Christian and, and you agree with Romney, you can vote for him.
It’s not okay to denigrate a fellow Christian’s faith because you disagree with him on important, but non-essential issues. That creates a false image of God, one we don’t find in the Scriptures. It’s idolatry.
It’s also not okay to assume because someone’s political views match yours, they must really worship the same God. That’s also idolatry.