Friday, October 28, 2011

Mitt, Mormonism, And Me

I voted for Mitt Romney in the 2008 Illinois primary. I did not think then, or now, that his Mormonism has any bearing on his ability to be President. Also, he was the only acceptable candidate left among the Republicans. I was not about to vote for McCain to be the Republican nominee. McCain seemed to wake up every morning asking himself how he could undermine conservatives and endear himself to the liberal media. In that sense, Romney is not like McCain. Romney does not seem to have an axe to grind against conservatives. But he is a political weathervane. He has no core principles that define who he is, but changes his public positions whenever it suits him. But I am not going to dwell on the wisdom, or lack of, in choosing Romney to be the nominee to challenge President Obama. Enough has been and will be written on that subject to allow conservatives to make an informed choice.

My attention has been drawn to the renewed debate concerning Mormonism’s status within the Christian community. Mormons, in claiming that they constitute the only true Church since the days of the Apostles, claim that they are Christ followers. I have seen some Christians on blog sites state, along with Mormons, that what Mormons believe concerning the Triune nature of God has no bearing on whether they follow Jesus Christ. It is their actions that determine whether they are or are not Christ followers. If they strive to love their neighbors and evangelize, then what they believe concerning the divinity of Jesus will not affect their standing with God. After all, they reason, one doesn’t need to possess a perfect understanding of historic Christian orthodoxy concerning the Trinity to be saved.

It is true that a perfect understanding of the Trinity is not a requirement for salvation. No one had witnessed to me before I was saved and I had read very little of the Bible before I had become a disciple of Christ. The first time I had ever heard the Trinity mentioned was at an Intervarsity meeting when I had been a Christian for only a few months. The speaker asked that all who were Trinitarians to raise their hands. When I saw everyone else raise their hands, I raised mine too. After all, I didn’t want to appear to be a heretic. Later I had heard that a mark of a cult was a denial of the Triune nature of God. At that time I trusted those Christians I fellowshiped with implicitly; if they told me God’s nature was Triune, I believed them. One day a member of a cult called The Way came to the Bible study I attended. He argued with my Christian friends concerning the Trinity’s biblical basis. The debate was cordial until the cultist declared, “You all are a bunch of weaklings!” Realizing his true self had momentarily been revealed, he sheepishly continued, “You didn’t hear that.” That scene caused me to be wary of anyone who denied the Trinity. Throughout my first three years as a Christian, I gave intellectual assent to the Trinity. But one day as I was reading through Mark’s Gospel, I read Mark 2: 6-7 in a new way. In the account of the paralytic being lowered down through the roof by his friends, verse five reads, “When Jesus saw their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” The scribes reacted in verses 6-7: “Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” As I read these verses, it struck me that the scribes were right; only God can forgive sins. And that in forgiving the paralytic, Jesus was indeed revealing His own divinity. From that time on, my intellectual assent had become an increasingly sure and certain knowledge produced by the work of the Holy Spirit in me. So, what’s the difference between a person like me who had no understanding of the Trinity at the beginning of my Christian walk and a Mormon who denies its very existence? When the Holy Spirit revealed to me the Triune nature of God, I did not resist what I knew to be true, where Mormons continually resist the knowledge of the truth. To paraphrase Julian of Norwich, a nun from the Middle Ages, if we are truly children of God, we might not possess an intellectual understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity, but deep in our spirit, we will know its true.

Many Emergent Church spokesmen assert that it’s not what we believe about Jesus that is important, but what we do for Him. Doctrine must take a backseat to experience. Common ground for Mormons and Emergents: how unexpected! The Apostle John, labeled by some as the Apostle of love, wrote concerning those who deny Christ’s divinity: “Many deceivers who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God, whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.” (2Jn. 7-11)

What is there about Romney that attracts some religious conservatives? Some favor Romney out of pure pragmatism; they think Romney is the only candidate that could beat President Obama. In their desire to win, they back a candidate whose message is primarily focused on economic rather than social issues. Many conservative pundits are Catholic and some Catholics have an affinity for Mormonism because they are attracted to the liturgical nature of Mormon worship. Catholics charge Protestants with schism in breaking with Rome, cutting themselves off from the historic Church which originated with the Apostles (so they claim), and introducing a dangerous individualism into the Church’s relationship to God. Yet they have an affinity for a religion that has its origins in 1820’s New York state which claims it was initially revealed to one man, Joseph Smith. It appears that liturgy has a greater priority over orthodox doctrine for some.

As I wrote above, I don’t think Romney’s Mormonism has any bearing on his ability to be President. If he is the Republican nominee, I will certainly vote for him against Obama. Yet, as I wrote when Romney ran in 2008, a Mormon President may very likely pose a challenge to the Church in America. Pressure within and without the Church will be mounted against Evangelicals to treat Mormons as members of Christ’s Church. Would this pressure be applied to Evangelicals involved in the fight against abortion and same sex marriage? Would Evangelicals be silent concerning Mormonism’s heretical nature just to have a voice in a Romney administration concerning social isses? Would Evangelicals who refuse to compromise on historic orthodox doctrine be ostracized by those within the Church whose first priority would be to support a President they agreed with politically? The media would certainly use Mormonism to drive a wedge between Evangelicals and other political conservatives. These issues, not Romney’s ability to serve as President, is what is at stake for the Church in America if there is to be a Romney Presidency.

(All scripture quotations from the NIV)