Mitt Romney’s religious life began at birth. His parents were both devout Mormons, his mother was born in Utah and his father in a Mormon colony. The families’ Mormon roots extend even further back, and it had a large effect on Mitt at an early age. Following a college age Mormon mission to France he attended Brigham Young, transferring from Stanford to the University. As an adult he became a lay leader, congregation head, and teacher. While presiding over congregations in Massachusetts he was known for balancing the conservative and liberal Mormon theologies throughout his ward. As a presidential candidate he has continued to give money to the church and serve in whatever capacity his schedule will allow.
President Barack Obama’s upbringing in religion could not have been more different. Both his father and stepfather weren’t involved in any kind of religion, while his mother was spiritual but not dedicated to any particular faith group. In his role as a community organizer President Obama became interested in religion after seeing how the churches he was working with impacted their community. He was baptized in 1988 at the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. The President told Christianity Today that "I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life." Following a lengthy church search after assuming the office, he now worships at the non-denominational Evergreen Chapel at Camp David, like President Bush before him.
Making a comparison between the religious beliefs of these two men presents interesting problems. Mitt Romney has been very public about his religious life, but his moderate stance on could place him out of the more conservative theological beliefs that I will be exploring in this article. That makes him a bit difficult to pin down within Mormonism. On the other hand, President Obama has been private about his beliefs. While clearly stating that he believes in the saving power of Jesus Christ and that he prays daily, he hasn’t spoken of much beyond that. In both cases it is important to consider that they may differ from the traditional beliefs of each faith.
Both men hold religious beliefs that affect their political standing on issues like abortion, marriage, and war, but what are the actual theological differences between the two men? There is no way to say accurately, but we can look at some basic beliefs and glean some of the differences between Mormonism and mainline Christianity to get an idea.
The Christianity that President Obama embraces views the Bible as the sole revelation of God. While church councils and documents have informed the religion, the Bible is the lone sacred text. In Mormonism, it is believed that divine revelation continued beyond the Bible in the form of the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Doctrines and Covenants.
The Book of Mormon, dating back to 1830, and the other founding documents contain many of the theological assertions that separate Mormonism from traditional Christian teachings. It is believed to be the instructions to the true church of Christ in the latter days, hence the Latter Day saints. Mormons do embrace the Bible as a revelation from God, just not as the sole revelation.
One related note that is important to consider is that the traditional form of Christianity has long been a global religion, spreading from humble roots over the last 2,000 years. The Mormon texts were buried in modern day New York and the Book of Mormon tells of how Jesus appeared to the ancient natives of America shortly after his resurrection. Parts of the Book of Mormon refer to the exceptional nature of America and believe it to be a righteous place, an idea that Mitt Romney clearly embraces. This difference has had a decisive impact on the politics of the two men. President Obama has made it clear that he values America as a part of a global landscape, and that has influenced his foreign policy greatly. Mitt Romney’s Mormonism embraces America as a nation over other nations, which influences his politics.
God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit
A central part of traditional Christian doctrine is the concept of the Trinity. The Trinity is the belief that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are three coexisting forms in one total being. They are different, yet the same. Christians have expressed this idea in a number of ways, including those who don’t believe in it at all. So, while Mormonism doesn’t always follow the traditional Trinitarian doctrine, it isn’t necessarily radical. There are Mormon groups who believe in the Trinity, much like there are Christian groups who don’t.