The presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney—and his strong showing on Thursday evening’s Republican debate—has put Mormonism into the American spotlight and has given us all an opportunity to clarify our convictions on our political system and the Mormon faith. The lines between politics and religion are being questioned, pressing Americans to think through the relationship between a candidate’s value system and policies with those of their own political and religious convictions. This is both proper and good.
The issue, as I see it, is not about whether a Christian would or should vote for a Mormon. That’s confusing categories. Every American should vote for whomever he or she chooses. That choice is usually for the candidate whose worldview and policy preferences most closely resemble one’s own. Should Romney win the Republican nomination, I will vote for him because in our two-party political system—as it is currently aligned ideologically—my vote will almost certainly go to the Republican. The GOP aligns more closely with my conservative, evangelical policy preferences than does the Democratic Party. The war against radical Islam, the protection of marriage, the right to life, limited government with smarter spending, and the make-up of the Supreme Court are all matters of deep personal conviction. And, for these reasons, I’ll vote for the Republican candidate, whoever that is.
As many have said, “We’re not electing a pastor, we’re electing a president.” Historically, our largely Christian country has chosen to elect Christian candidates (not that there have been many non-Christian candidates). In the last two presidential elections, church attendance was the most reliable indicator of voting preferences. It’s no coincidence that the Democrats this time around are determined to appear more religious (i.e., more friendly to evangelicals) in order to win the White House. Yet, if appearing more religious in this majority-Christian nation is an electoral advantage, then being from a faith other than Christianity presents a new set of challenges. And therein lays the problem for the Romney campaign.
Though I could vote for Romney, my ballot should not be seen as an endorsement of Mormonism. Conservative Mormons are among the finest people I’ve ever met, and they are critical allies in the culture war. I appreciate their contribution to advancing our shared values. Yet as we make common cause, I should not be asked or feel pressured to compromise, weaken, or dilute my theology. Allies need not obfuscate distinctives. We can unite politically and socially to advance our cause, but we must not blur the lines between our distinct religions.
Just as Christians and Jews, by definition, cannot ignore their differences over the resurrection and the New Testament, so too Christians and Mormons cannot ignore the differences between the Bible and the three books of Mormonism: the Book of Mormon, Doctrines and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.
Yet many Mormons in recent years have taken to calling themselves Christians, and a growing number of Christians are willing to speak of Mormonism as something akin to another Christian denomination. But Mormonism is not a Christian denomination, nor is it merely “a non-Christian religion.” To be theologically precise, though perhaps politically incorrect, Mormonism is a cult of Christianity—a group that claims to Christian while denying one or more central doctrines of the Christian faith.
The polytheism of Latter Day Saints is a striking contrast to the monotheism of the Bible. The Mormons also deny original sin (central to a Christian understanding of the human condition) and believe that Jesus was conceived through sexual intercourse between God the Father and Mary. I could go on, but Mormonism has far more that distinguishes it from the historic Christian faith than unites it to Christianity.
So, though I am willing to unite with and befriend Mormons in common cause to advance our shared values, I am hoping to be a voice of clarity—unwilling to allow Mormonism to be mistaken for orthodox Christianity and unwilling again to disqualify a candidate simply because he is from a faith tradition so different from my own.
I’ll vote for Romney if he wins the Republican nomination. And I will continue to contend for the historic Christian faith with the sharply-dressed Mormon missionaries who come to my door.
Frank Pastore is host of “The Frank Pastore Show,” recognized by the National Religious Broadcasters as Talk Show Host of the Year in 2006. His program is heard on KKLA in Los Angeles 4-7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact Frank at Frank@kkla.com.