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.
However, the traditional Mormon approach to the Trinity is that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are separate beings, but all with the same aim. That may seem like semantics, but it is important when you consider how they view the parts of the Trinity.
God – For traditional Christians, God has no human form and is a spirit. For Mormons, God has a body.
Holy Spirit – For Trinitarian Christians, the third person of the Trinity, and for Mormons a separate being from both God and Jesus.
Jesus – Both groups view Jesus as the Son of God and the savior of mankind through his resurrection. However, due to their rejection of the Trinity, Mormons do not believe that Jesus was God on earth. Rather, Jesus came from the same spiritual state Mormons believe all of humanity comes from.
The differences in the views of God, especially as related to Jesus Christ, have a major impact on the route to salvation in both groups. They each have a concept of the afterlife. Ideas about what happens after we die vary amongst both groups, but they do both embrace some form of eternal life and possible eternal punishment. So how do they get there?
In traditional Protestant Christianity, it is widely accepted that humans are born in sin and are in dire need of God’s grace to be saved and to do good. This salvation is achieved through faith, and the works that humans do are an expression of that saving faith. In Mormon groups people are free to do good or ill. As a result, salvation is achieved by works first and faith second. This difference comes from the idea that all of humanity was once spiritual beings who lived with God that have come to earth to learn to live honorably, at which point they can return.
This prime difference between traditional Christianity and Mormonism is exhibited in the faith backgrounds of both men. President Obama’s faith came at a later age, and it is clear that he bases it on salvation through Jesus Christ. His faith, while inspiring good works, is rooted in ideas. In Mitt Romney’s case his involvement in his church, his college mission, and his service are a part of his Mormon faith. That level of involvement is something that is central to his belief systems. Both approach their religion in entirely different ways because of who they are and what they believe.
This article can only serve as a brief introduction to the faiths of two men who have achieved impressive heights in their political careers. These differences are just the beginning, and while these differences are major, the many disparate beliefs amongst groups within each faith blur the lines. When considering the faiths of President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, both of which seem to hold moderate positions in their respective religions, it can be difficult to grasp what the actual differences are and how it affects your choice for president. I hope this article encourages you to learn more about the two men and the belief systems they hold, because there is so much more to consider. While religion and politics are separate entities, the faiths that influence these men will continue to influence their politics, and that will ultimately affect your life. CLICK to Continue to:The Politic-O-Matic Quiz!