I haven’t decided on a candidate in the 08 election yet. Unlike Joe and some of the others who have anted up for Fred!’s campaign, I am still open to a Romney led ticket.

But as Joshua Trevino points out at NRO today, there is a dilemma for Christians when it comes to Romney’s Mormonism. On the one hand, a la Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth, we want to ensure that faith–or better, religious knowledge–is afforded a booth within the public sphere. The sacred/secular divide has marginalized religion to the realm of emotion and private faith, rather than recognizing that religions make truth claims that would be binding on all individuals.
At the same time, religious bigotry seems to be an unsavory position, and the Constitution prohibits religious litmus tests for candidates.

Which means that as Christians, if we wish to have our own Christianity taken seriously as a position of knowledge and as a guide to our politics, we must take Romney’s Mormonism seriously in the same fashion. At least it seems that way to me now, though I would be happy to be persuaded otherwise.
As Trevino writes:

Yet for all this, though faith must be reclaimed as a valid font of policy and participation in the public square, it does not follow that faith and the faithful should be rendered immune from critique within that square. Full participation is both benefit and burden, both to the faith itself — and its adherents. It means that Catholic officeholders may rightly be asked what they will do when their Church and their politics conflict; and it means that we may fairly discuss Mitt Romney’s Mormonism and what it signifies for his governance. We may further discuss Mormonism per se and its role in public life.

The guys over at Article6 blog disagree with Trevino’s piece, but it’s hard to see why. If faith has anything to do with how we vote, then it seems it should be an subject for proper consideration.

In a paragraph that could be construed as supporting Trevino’s piece, John Schroeder writes:

The American political structure, born of the ideas about freedom that appeared in the religious oppressions of state-established churches, and the historical lessons of how such religious/political alliances served to corrupt religion, decided to separate the religious and political “spheres” (I am here borrowing a phrase from Abraham Kuyper who wrote much later than the American Revolution, but whose vocabulary is quite useful in this discussion). These spheres must, of necessity, interact with each other, but they do not, under the American system, gain authority from each other. There is a difference between authority and legitimacy, one is temporal, the other ephemeral; however, unless the ephemeral can be levered into the temporal somehow, something the American system is designed to prevent, then it is of little consequence.

I agree that the religious and political do not gain legitimacy from each other, so I find the argument that voting for a Mormon would aid Mormon missionary activity a stretch. But as John writes, they do “interact with each other” and to the extent to which they do overlap, it seems the religious sphere should be fair game for discussion.

As Christians, we have given up on letting our faith have any place in public conversation, which is the equivalent of letting our faith be privatized. We run the risk of deepening that divide if we ignore religion’s role in a person’s politics entirely.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

23 Comments

  1. Don’t know if you’ve seen Beliefnet’s debate between Al Mohler and Orson Scott Card. Card’s latest, after a lengthy intro, goes into the potential effects of a Romney presidency.

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  2. Jim,

    I knew it was going on, but hadn’t been following it. Mostly, I disagree with Mohler’s dialectical position on the matter: that we should evaluate whether to vote for Romney on the basis of its potential effects (or side effects) on the Christian witness in America. I think it is sufficient to focus on his policy, not on any potential effects that may or may not occur. I am pretty tentative, though, about this whole thing since a lot of smart Christians really disagree on this issue….

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  3. I think Joshua Trevino’s arguments are right. Article 6 is a prohibition against government-imposed tests; the voters can — and must — impose any tests they want as they make judgments about whether a candidate is suitable for office. They can ask about policy and they can ask about matters touching on the soul. It is more relevant — for the sake of making predictions about performance in office — to understand how a candidate views human history and his place in it than to know what his thinking is on tax reform.

    I have a responsibility to look hard at what a candidate believes and to wonder how those beliefs will affect his/her decisions. A candidate who doesn’t believe in God should be scrutinized for how his atheism will color his public policy, and the same is true for a candidate who professes faith.

    Because, we are not fragmented between body, mind and soul. Faith (or non-faith) is almost genetic in the way that it inevitably informs our moral character and values.

    It isn’t bigotry to examine a candidate’s faith. It’s merely part of the free exchange of ideas that is a core value of the American system.

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  4. Charlie,

    “Article 6 is a prohibition against government-imposed tests; the voters can — and must — impose any tests they want as they make judgments about whether a candidate is suitable for office.”

    I think this is a very salient point.

    Really, the “bigotry” charge has been very effective at instilling fear in people for even raising the question of whether we should question Mormonism’s (or any) faith’s effect on policy. I’ve been on the fence about posting for a while about it simply because I’m not sure what counts as bigotry anymore.

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  5. I agree, Matthew, that the “bigotry” charge is very unfortunate. I think it’s mostly inaccurate, and is certainly chilling the discussion we ought to be having about how faith informs politics.

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  6. On the point of bigotry, I would like to point out this quote from the article to which Jim linked because it clearly indicates a bigoted position on the part of the Mormon author.

    “However, I believe that the only Church that has the authority to act in the name of God and speak for him in the world today is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

    Whether or not Romney believes this to be true may impact his public policy but he has shown the malleability of his political principles, which would likely extend to his religious beliefs, when it came to winning votes and currying public opinion.

    As Article VI clearly states, there is no religious test to hold public office in America but a de facto one obviously exists. If it did not, Romney’s Mormonism would not be an issue. And it shouldn’t.

    It is disturbing to me that over 200 years after the United States instituted the revolutionary “no religious tests” clause in its very Constitution that it has yet to actually implement it in practice.

    Regardless, I will not vote for Mitt Romney.

    And, really, how does anyone think that Fred Thompson would make a good President? That is embarrassing to me as an American.

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  7. Prufrock writes:
    On the point of bigotry, I would like to point out this quote from the article to which Jim linked because it clearly indicates a bigoted position on the part of the Mormon author.

    “However, I believe that the only Church that has the authority to act in the name of God and speak for him in the world today is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

    Why is that statement bigoted? It strikes me merely as a statement of belief that his religion is true.

    Is any claim that one’s beliefs are true a necessarily bigoted statement? Surely there’s no point in holding an opinion about anything unless one thinks it correct?

    My belief that “environmental conservation is morally good” is not a bigoted position against those who disagree with that statement, is it?

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  8. Prufrock, I’m with “Nobody.” I fail to see at all how making a truth claim–even if it’s false–is a bigoted thing to do. I’d be curious to hear an explanation…

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  9. I don’t think Card’s statement is bigoted, which to me connotes an intolerant prejudice.

    What counts as a “truth claim,” though? If I were to say, “All X‘s are stinking cowards,” would that be a “truth claim?”

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  10. Jim,
    Depends on whether the set X contains mainly men unwashed and home sans shield or not.

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  11. Looking at the context from which I extracted that quote, I acknowledge that the person writing is not intolerant in his interactions with others in society but the “truth claim” that he makes about his religion is bigoted.

    Although he may be tolerant of those who do not espouse Mormonism in his civic life, his stated religious belief “that the only Church that has the authority to act in the name of God and speak for him in the world today is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” is an intolerant and prejudicial statement that implies a lack of respect for other religions, including “other” Christian ones.

    The tenets of the Mormon faith may produce morally exemplary people in many cases but they also produced the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Nonetheless, it is a moot point because Mitt Romney, if elected President, would likely not use his position to proselytize or even live up to his religious beliefs once in office. If his excellent leadership inspired some people to become Mormons…so what?

    More likely, he will be a good Mormon President like Richard Nixon was a good Quaker President. In other words, corrupted by power that he ostensibly craves, if only to help people and perhaps “fulfill his mission.”

    Finally, it is religious bigotry to base your electoral decisions on the religious beliefs of a candidate rather than their policy objectives.

    But do what thou wilt.

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  12. Jim,

    I didn’t mean that his “truth claim” is actually true. I just meant that he was asserting something as true. Hence, a “truth claim” as I used it would be any assertion that a proposition is in fact true. Does that work, or am I missing something?

    Prufrock,

    You said: “Although he may be tolerant of those who do not espouse Mormonism in his civic life, his stated religious belief “that the only Church that has the authority to act in the name of God and speak for him in the world today is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” is an intolerant and prejudicial statement that implies a lack of respect for other religions, including “other” Christian ones.”

    Again, I fail to see how Romney’s faith is “intolerant” and “prejudicial” any more than my faith that 2+2=4 is “intolerant” and “prejudicial” against those in the world who are ignorant of it or happen to disagree. What makes believing something like that “intolerant”? It seems he could clearly believe that and engage in rather civil behavior with all of his religious neighbors, even while respecting their differences of opinion.

    Finally, you wrote: “Finally, it is religious bigotry to base your electoral decisions on the religious beliefs of a candidate rather than their policy objectives.”

    That’s not what I’m proposing. Is it religious bigotry to ask the question, “How will his religious beliefs affect his policy objectives?” The only argument I have made at this point is that it is not.

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  13. Matt, you had written:

    “I fail to see at all how making a truth claim–even if it’s false–is a bigoted thing to do.”

    I was trying to test that proposition with a truth claim–“All X’s are stinking cowards”–that could be considered bigoted. Unless it wouldn’t count as a truth claim, in which case I’d like to know why.

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  14. Jim,

    I see. That’s a good question, and I don’t have an immediate answer for it. My intuition is that bigotry is an attitude that accompanies truth claims, a way in which certain truth claims are expressed. But your example is making me question that.

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  15. I think the main issue lies in how we define bigotry. I think the word connotates a prejudice such that someone’s conflicting claims are immediately dismissed without any serious inquiry. For instance, Al Sharpton’s comment that the people who really believe in god will take care of Romney (asserting that Romney doesn’t believe in God) strikes me as bigoted. However, its hard for me to immediately dismiss Matthew’s question of how one’s faith effects one’s policies as bigoted, provided there is a serious inquiry into that person’s faith and its implications on policy. I think that for the most part, objections to bringing up his mormonism mostly display a distrust that serious inquiry will occur in our contemporary political climate and that the discussion will quickly descend into mere bigotry. I also think that most of the people objecting on the grounds of bigotry do so because they don’t think Romney’s mormonism will effect his policy in any way different than a generic Protestant or Catholic candidate.

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  16. We’re not talking about something that is objectively true, like your example of 2+2=4, and I realize that “objectively true” is a loaded term. With that said, the Mormon belief that only they have the authority to act in the name of God is prejudicial because it is an assertion that is not based on reason.

    The statement is intolerant because, despite the Mormon’s capacity for civil interaction with those who do not share their beliefs, the Mormon ‘knows’ that only they possess the truth to the exclusion of all others. Additionally, Mormons actively proselytize, which indicates an active refusal to allow others to hold differing beliefs.

    The above arguments are based on the denotations of the words bigoted, prejudice, and intolerance and not their connotations which are quite subjective.

    To reiterate, asking how a candidate’s religious beliefs will affect his policy objectives is still religious bigotry because one should only consider the policy objectives themselves.

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  17. Prufrock,

    I think the claim actually is supposed to be taken as “objectively true,” like 2+2=4. After all, what’s the difference between the two statements? If it’s true (in any sense) that “the only Church that has the authority to act in the name of God and speak for him in the world today is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” then you can disagree with him, but you’ll be wrong (again, if it’s true). Simply because we don’t (right now in this discussion) know whether his claim is true does not make it a different claim than 2+2=4 (or, for that matter, some higher level mathematical equation that we would have to do some hard work to find out whether it is true).

    On your definition of intolerance, I am decidedly (and comfortably) intolerant. I do think that traditional mere Christianity is true, which means that people who don’t affirm it are wrong and will go to hell. Is that intolerant? Not at all–people are free to be wrong all they want. I’m not going to stop anyone from being wrong–why should I? It’s their life, not mine. (That said, because I care about people, I do my best to persuade them that Christianity is in fact true, but if repeatedly rebuffed I imagine that I will cease to cast “pearls before swine” (which is not to say that they are swine–it’s a Biblical allusion).

    As for the idea that your arguments are based on “denotations,” I’m not sure such denotations have helped us establish a decent understanding of “bigotry.” (I’m also not sure you’re “denotations” are as “objective”–that is, right!–as you claim they are). If you’re right, the person who thinks 2+2=4 is bigoted against people who think it’s 5, but that seems to admit too much into the definition. One can think they know the truth without being bigoted with respect that truth.

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  18. I will accept that one can think they’re right without being bigoted but would you concede that you do not respect the beliefs of others that conflict with your own? I’m guessing that your lack of respect for others’ beliefs is what makes you comfortably intolerant, at least by *my definition.

    Back to your original post, why would you as a Christian voter support a candidate who likely believes that you are not actually a Christian and that you also will probably burn in hell? It must be Romney’s conservative stance on social issues** and his viability as a candidate, both of which (in themselves) have nothing to do with his Mormonism.

    *I noted that I used the denotations of the words so we could have a common starting point for argument. There was no claim of objective truth to these definitions.

    **I do recognize that his social conservatism is a product of his religious belief but, while you identify with his conservatism, you do not subscribe to his religious beliefs.

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  19. I hate asterisks and I don’t think I used them properly.

    Who cares?

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  20. Prufrock,

    You wrote: “I will accept that one can think they’re right without being bigoted but would you concede that you do not respect the beliefs of others that conflict with your own? I’m guessing that your lack of respect for others’ beliefs is what makes you comfortably intolerant, at least by *my definition.”

    I would absolutely not concede that I have a “lack of respect” for other people’s beliefs. To pick an instance, I have nothing but the highest regard for a pure Platonic philosophy. I think it’s deeply misguided and will lead its adherents to hell, but it is so intellectually rigorous that it is extremely respectable.

    In other words, I do not think I am a bigot at all. It seemed like the determining factor in your definition of bigotry was that Orson Scott Card made a statement that he thought was true that excluded other positions from also being true. That says nothing, though, about whether he respects other positions or not. In fact, the fact that he engaged Mohler so long about the issues indicates that he has a high degree of respect for the position he disagrees with. If “respect” means that we have to think that the differing positions are “subjectively true” (whatever that might mean), then that’s clearly admitting too much into “respect.” As C.S. Lewis said of his friend Owen Barfield, “Opposition is true friendship.”

    “Back to your original post, why would you as a Christian voter support a candidate who likely believes that you are not actually a Christian and that you also will probably burn in hell? It must be Romney’s conservative stance on social issues** and his viability as a candidate, both of which (in themselves) have nothing to do with his Mormonism.”

    Right. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to ask how his beliefs affect his policy, as they might affect them in interesting and potentially troubling ways. I will only vote for someone on policy grounds, but I want to figure out what those policy grounds are as best I can.

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  21. I did not call you a bigot, only intolerant, and you freely called yourself intolerant. It’s not active intolerance but a form of intolerance nonetheless.

    To my mind, respect does not require that you grant the subjective truth of a person’s beliefs. It is obvious that not everyone can be right but there are objective truths upon which everyone can rationally agree. But beliefs are not always reasonable so such agreements are difficult to reach.

    In closing, vote for the candidate whom you think will best represent your values and use whatever criteria you deem appropriate.

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  22. Prufrock,

    To be clear, I granted that I am intolerant on your definition of intolerance. However, I think your definition has serious problems (namely, that it is too broad in that anyone who thinks something is true is by definition ‘intolerant’).

    Fun discussion–reminds me of old times. (Insert smile here).

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  23. There are degrees of intolerance and I think that someone who thinks that something is true is intolerant to a lesser degree than someone who actively discriminates based on that belief. I agree that it is a broad definition but contains a wide spectrum of values.

    The End.

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