Have you heard? Mitt Romney is a Mormon. That, and the fact that Mr. Romney apparently really believes
what the LDS Church teaches, has led to a great deal of speculation about whether Republican primary voters - particularly the evangelical Christians who make up a large part of the GOP base - will even consider nominating a man whose religion is viewed by many of them as a heretical sect or even a cult.
Mr. Romney sought to address those concerns in a speech he delivered at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library today.Here's
the video, and here
is the text.
There are always nits to be picked whenever anyone discusses faith and politics, but all-in-all, I thought Gov. Romney's speech was excellent - both in terms of substance and delivery. Near the end, Romney his exactly the right note when he said:
Recall the early days of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, during the fall of 1774. With Boston occupied by British troops, there were rumors of imminent hostilities and fears of an impending war. In this time of peril, someone suggested that they pray. But there were objections. “They were too divided in religious sentiments,” what with Episcopalians and Quakers, Anabaptists and Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Catholics.
Then Sam Adams rose, and said he would hear a prayer from anyone of piety and good character, as long as they were a patriot.
And so together they prayed, and together they fought, and together, by the grace of God ... they founded this great nation.
Earlier, Romney briefly addressed the theological topic that divides him from the majority of Christians:
There is one fundamental question about which I often am asked. What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. My church’s beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths. Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history. These are not bases for criticism but rather a test of our tolerance. Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree.
"My church's beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths." What does that mean? And why does it matter?
The answer to the last question seems pretty clear: 1) a considerable number of Christian voters - who are by no means limited to members of the "religious right" - are at least a tad bit uneasy about electing someone as President who they believe to be a non-Christian; and 2) a considerable number of nominally-religious or "secular" voters are uneasy about electing someone whose religious practices they believe to be even more strange than what is practiced by most devout Christians.
I think that both of these groups deserve a word of caution. I happen to identify more with the first group, so what follows is probably directed more towards them.
I'm not very literate in Mormon theology, but it seems beyond dispute that Mormons do not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity as it is expressed in the two great creeds of Christianity - the Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed. Some would say that means that Mormons are not Christians.
Now, here's where the word of caution comes in.
If we contend that Mr. Romney's unorthodox views about Christ and the Trinity make him a "non-Christian," then the same could be said of several other men who have not only run for President, but who have actually served.
At least four Presidents - John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, and William Howard Taft - were Unitarians, members of a sect that literally made its name by rejecting the doctrine of the Trinity. Thomas Jefferson was even more of a heretic. He almost certainly rejected the divinity of Christ, as attested both in his writings and in his "Jefferson Bible," and while he likely believed in a God, that God seems to have been more like the distant, unknown God
of the philosophers than the personal, loving God of Christianity.
Did those men's unorthodox views make them unqualified to be President? If not, is there some foul, perverse doctrine peculiar to Mormonism that should disqualify Mitt Romney or any other Mormon from being President? The only think I can think of is that their abstinence from caffeine might deprive them of the some of the energy that the job requires. Everything else I know about Mormons is that they tend to be decent, humble people who love their families and take care of their communities. While those traits may seem foul and perverse to a world that worships at the altar of materialism, they're pretty admirable in my book.