The Mormon Difference, and Romney’s Other Church

Thomas Jefferson once vowed that he would never “bow to the shrine of intolerance or admit a right of inquiry into the religious opinions of others.” During this election season, pollsters have repeatedly inquired into the religious opinions of voters, especially evangelical ones, to find out just how many of them are genuflecting specifically at the altar of intolerance toward Mormons, who include in their fold the Republican presidential frontrunner. The polling and analyses could use a little redemption.

The pivotal question in those surveys is whether Mormons should be considered Christians. And the casual assumption, among too many pollsters and pundits, has been that people who say “no” are probably disposed against Mormonism as well as a former Mormon bishop named Mitt Romney. (In the Mormon Church, a bishop is the leader of a local congregation.)

The approach undoubtedly ferrets out some bigots, but it’s a crude device. I’m not sure what I’d say if I were rung up for such a survey. In my mind I’d probably start enumerating the breaking points between Mormon and Christian theologies. But my answer would be off the subject of who I think is qualified to lead the United States.

This question of whether Mormonism is Christian or a different religion really needs to be spun off from the question of religious intolerance.

Bill Tammeus, in his always perceptive Faith Matters blog, spoke wisely when he wrote last week, referring to the Mormon/Christian matter: “I suspect there will always be this kind of divide about Mormonism in America. What there should not be is fear of and prejudice against Mormons because of their religious beliefs—even if a majority of Americans would describe some of those beliefs as unbelievable.”

Tammeus was commenting on the latest survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, which found that one-third of all American adults don’t look upon their Mormon neighbors as Christians, and another 17 percent aren’t sure if they’re Christians. My guess is that the ranks of the religiously intolerant are thinner than that. And, as other polls have indicated, scarcely few of those adults would be so theologically vigilant as to slight the Mormon Romney in a matchup with the Protestant Christian Barack Obama.

The Theological Divide

One theological perspective often described as a deal-breaker between Mormonism and Christianity has to do with God and Jesus. Mormons do not consider Jesus to partake in the same being as God; Jesus is seen as physically separate from the Godhead. In other words, Mormonism doesn’t really uphold the Christian Trinity, the “Three in One.”

As a Christian who would prefer to see a tad more daylight between God and Christ, in popular faith discourse if not theological commentaries, I wouldn’t be inclined to enlist in a jihad against Mormonism on this point of difference. Still, it is an essential difference that could lead someone without a bigoted bone in his body to conclude that Mormonism isn’t Christian.

Then there’s the lesser cosmic distance that Mormons place between God and humans. According to authoritative accounts of the Mormon faith, the divine and the human are of the same species. God is himself a flesh-and-blood man with a wife in heaven. (Jesus was his literal son.) Many Christian scholars, liberal and conservative, cannot square this doctrine with their sense of the chasm between the Creator and the creature.

True, the Mormon view could make it harder to contemplate the utter transcendence of God, the One who is beyond our ken, beyond human grasp. Then again, a lot of Christians, too, don’t seem to fully appreciate the Otherness and ineffability of God. I’m thinking, for example, of Christians who speak as though they know with certainty what God thinks about Obama-care, and what God had for lunch today. They and others would appear to be worshiping the Most Effable One.

What does all this say about Mormons as citizens and contributors to the general good? Nothing I could think of. In a Jeffersonian spirit, I’d wish the questions about Mormon theology weren’t even surfacing in the public square (or, to be specific, in the context of one candidate’s qualifications). But they are. See the New York Times article this past Sunday, “The Theological Differences Behind Evangelical Unease With Romney.”

In the past few days, with the South Carolina primary upon us, attention has turned from Romney’s Mormon faith to another church in which he is an active communicant. It is the Church of the One Percent, which holds, among its many influential doctrines, that fabulously wealthy people like him deserve to pay taxes at a lower rate than their secretaries.

Now that is a belief worthy of intense theological inquiry in the public square.

Comments

  1. I am a LDS member (member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Ladder Day Saints) or in other words I am Mormon… We believe in a trinity Godhead that consists of our Heavenly Father who is God and Jesus Christ his beloved son who was crucified to atone for our sins and was resurrected. We also believe in the Holy Ghost as part of the Godhead who is a spiritual being that gives us guidance, and spiritual uplift. Therefore I would conclude that YES we are Christian’s and we honor our God, our Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost. As for Mitt Romney, I don’t have an opinion on him on a personal level considering I don’t know him on a personal level but I do not agree with some of this policies and stance on certain issues. I support Ron Paul and believe he is the best and only choice. Hope this helps those who are a little confused or uncertain of the Mormon/LDS religion. God Bless You All.

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