Saturday, October 20, 2012

How Romney's Mormonism Will Affect His Presidency

Mitt Romney is poised to become America's first Mormon president. His debate performances have won over a number of independents, evangelicals have gone from saying they'd never vote for a Mormon to openly campaigning for him, and he is running against a man with as dismal a record as any modern president. While the election is too close to call, it is certainly close enough to consider exactly how Romney would govern as a Mormon in the White House.

Americans tend to hold to separation of church and state and our presidents are not to be theocrats, but there is no doubt that they bring their religious convictions into the Oval Office. Barack Obama may be the least religious president of them all, but his own brand of Christianity - black liberation theology – was certainly in line with his policy choices. We should expect that Mitt Romney’s Mormon conviction will guide his presidency. After all, he is not only a Mormon, but a deeply committed Mormon. He is, as opposed to the likes of fellow Mormon Harry Reid, a true believer.

 Now many might be saying, "So what? Mormonism is just a branch of Christianity, so what's the big deal?" I can see where one might think that. High profile meetings with Billy Graham and the tide of evangelicals supporting Romney without carefully delineating how Mormonism is not a branch of Christianity can lead to that confusion. In some ways, Mormonism has become mainstream. In other ways, it is receiving more scrutiny.

 What I want to try to answer is how Romney's Mormonism will shape his presidency. I think it will in three ways. First, Mormons have a peculiar relationship with the American experience, for better and for worse, and that will underscore Romney's vision for America and his relationship to the Constitution. Second, Romney is a utopian, and that will shape his policy goals. Third, Mormonism is a works-based religion, so Romney will want to succeed.

 The first issue is the largest, most ambiguous, and most complex. Without retelling the entire story, let's just say that Mormonism is a distinctly American religion (or religious cult) and it has thrived because of America's grand history of religious freedom. Its beliefs are pretty unusual and non-Christian in almost every respect. But their story bleeds American. The Book of Mormon (albeit inaccurately) speaks of American places and Jewish tribes who traveled to America. In Mormon folklore, America is the Promised Land. Their holy books reference America. Americans don't have to just imagine Jesus in Israel. Their own prophets ended up right here in the US of A! How could a Mormon not love this place? And how different that is from a president whose liberation theology has led him to conclude America is a source for evil? (Trust me, that is what liberation theology teaches. Jeremiah Wright is just the tip of the iceberg.)

 Mormonism's experience in America has not always been happy, though. They were persecuted, or at least rightly pursued on many occasions by U.S. law enforcement. They ended up in Salt Lake because Utah was not yet a state and they were free to practice their faith, including polygamy. Only after intense pressure when Utah sought to become a state did Mormons give up polygamy. Joseph Smith was assassinated and that persecution is part of what has historically bound this group together.

 This is the paradox of Mormonism and their relationship to America: they are free to be Mormon for the most part, but at times, they experienced legal rebukes to end their more extreme prophecies. In the end, it seems that Mormons have moved on from those persecutions and have decided to make a go of it. They now say that they are Christian, whereas in the past, they said they were not. They work on conversion, not on starting militias. And there are even those strange prophecies that speak to a Mormon president saving the American Constitution, which hangs by a thread. Some persecution aside, Mormons know that the Constitution protects their right to belief (false) prophecy. So whereas Mr. Obama sees the constitution as incomplete and/or inadequate, Mormons want to see it protected. That will certainly shape Mr. Romney's presidency.

 The second area is, at least for conservatives, far more problematic. Mormons are utopians because they deny original sin. While they say they affirm the Protestant (Pauline) doctrine of "justification by grace alone," they operate on a works-based theology. Good works earns favor in the eyes of their god (who was once a man). This means that they believe men are capable of building a better world. If you hang out in Salt Lake City, you might tend to agree. If you are in control of your eternal destiny and your good works earn you special dispensation in that eternity, you are a utopian.

 This will benefit you if you have Mormon neighbors. But its not a good guide for government policy. Utopians are stubbornly optimistic and hope for the best in people. This is why he will never be as conservative as many conservatives hope for. He will defend the Constitution, but he won't be bashful about social programs with good intentions. The core of conservatism is a fundamental belief in original sin, and therefore the need to limit government and protect man from man. A utopian who believes in human/social progress will want to help men along rather than stop them in their tracks. This optimism will almost certainly be a blind spot for Mr. Romney.

 Finally, there is a flip side to this works righteous heresy. Mr. Romney will bust his butt trying to be a successful president. For a mind like his, there is no sting worse than failure, and, for better or worse, he will not want to leave a legacy of failure. He will want unemployment to go down, the economy to improve and the debt situation to improve as well. Unlike Mr. Obama, whose liberation theology teaches that America's lack of success is itself a success, Romney will be more motivated than most to see to it that he is a successful president. He believes he answers to a higher power with special dispensation towards America. If America is the Promised Land in your religion and you are her leader, you definitely don't want to blow your opportunity to succeed.

 To a degree, Romney's own personality will shape his presidency. He is a frugal, detail-oriented, managerial tightwad. After four years of detached, professorial cool, I’m perfectly okay with that. For the first time in years, we will not have a lazy president or one so rigidly ideological that they let their stubbornness impede progress. I can't believe I'm saying this as I certainly did not support him in the primaries, but I think that Romney has a rare combination of skills and motivation to have as consequential and successful a presidency as Ronald Reagan.

 It is only the Mormon factor, particularly his stubborn optimism, that will slow him down. It will keep him from seeing the full truth of a broken humanity. But in the end, it could propel to him to a consequential presidency. Two things are for sure: first, Mormons are not Christians; second, a deeply committed Mormon like Mr. Romney will absolutely take that into the White House and it will guide almost everything he does.


Benedict Augustine said...

I appreciate this analysis, particularly your point about utopianism. I think many of us forget why understanding and accepting Original Sin is important. This can't become a crutch, but an impulse to seek God.

Mormons are certainly different, but they tend to be pretty nice people.

I'm surprised Harry Reid was a Mormon. I guess I'm surprised to see any politician profess to some kind of faith. Most seem pretty removed from it.

rgrantherron said...


I stumbled upon your blog by accident, but the title intrigued me because I am a student of architecture. As I scrolled down the page, I noticed a lot of Christian-based posts, which seemed appropriate, given the title of the blog. I then saw this post about Mitt Romney, and read it.

I appreciate the politeness with which you speak of Romney and those of the Mormon faith. What I disagree with, though I frankly am not surprised since I hear the claim fairly often, is your statement that those of the Mormon sect are not Christians. I think a lot of the confusion comes from the fact that we are often referred to as "Mormons" because of the convenience the term affords, both in terms of quickness and in ambiguity.

The official name of our church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have always claimed to be Christian, though many find that laughable, because the yardstick by which all Christian faiths tend to be measured is the Catholic Church, which claims the Apostolic lineage. However, if I am correct, you are a Lutheran minister, and by definition, recognize some form of apostasy within the Catholic church.

After Christ was crucified, the church that he established quickly fell into apostasy, due to the extreme persecution of its members, and its speedy growth. The church failed to consolidate and maintain a close eye on its members. False teachings spread despite the best efforts of the Prophet and his Apostles, and the line of the Priesthood was broken as they were hunted down and killed.

Martin Luther, as you know, recognized that the Catholic Church's teachings lacked consistency with Christ's biblical teachings, and wrote his 99 Theses, thus creating the Protestant movement. Men tried to reform the church, but were unable to do so perfectly without direct priesthood authority from God.

I am not telling you this to be condescending, but to provide mutual understanding as a backdrop to what I am about to say--something I'm sure you've heard a thousand times.

Joseph Smith, an unpretentious 14 year-old boy, was conducting his own personal search to find which of the Christian sects was most correct, and when he escaped to a secluded spot in the woods behind his home and found a quiet spot to converse with his Father in Heaven. He was surprised to find that none of them contained a fullness of doctrine (although they all contained parts of it). This was surprising for two reasons:
1. He had never supposed that none of them could be correct.
2. Not knowing what to expect when he prayed, he never would have imagined that God and Jesus Christ themselves would visit him personally to tell him.

But his work on this earth was divine, because he was foreordained to restore, once and for all, the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness. The biblical Apostles appeared to him, conferring upon him the ancient priesthood power, and instructing him as to what he should do. As you know, a new book of scripture emerged as a "New Testament of Jesus Christ" which does not compete with the Bible for followers, but complements its teachings, and fills in the holes created through years of persecution of the early Christians and errors in translation.

To be continued...

rgrantherron said...

Continued from above...

I do not wish to cause an argument. I do not wish to be condescending. I simply wish to bear my testimony that "Mormons" are in fact Christians. That we believe in the same Christ that all other sects claim as the Messiah. We testify of His divine mission every chance we get. He is the founder and head of our church, he is the light that guides our members in times of darkness and light. I have a personal relationship with Him, and know that the purpose of the Atonement was not simply to absolve the penitent sinner, but to provide each and every member of the human race with the means to return to live with God and Jesus Christ. Each of us grows up to look like and be like our parents, and our Heavenly Father has provided a way for each of us to grow up to be JUST like Him. The Atonement provides the way for each of us to become perfect like Him. Why would God want it any other way? Why would any true Christian want to be anything less than just like their Heavenly Father?

I know that we have some considerably radical claims, when compared to other Christian sects. That doesn't make us less Christian. We don't deny the truth and goodness inherent in other Christian sects. We don't, despite our claim as the only church to have the fullness of the Gospel, claim that other churches aren't Christian. No other church dares to make claims as bold as ours. We have everything to lose if our claim about the Book of Mormon is not true. Either it comes from God to testify of Christ, or it has come from the Devil to tempt men away from the Son. I have read that book several times, and I cannot deny the truths contained in it.

As one of our current Apostles said: "Tell me whether in this hour of death these two men [the brothers Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith] would enter the presence of their Eternal Judge quoting from and finding solace in a book which, if not the very word of God, would brand them as imposters and charlatans until the end of time? They would not do that! They were willing to die rather than deny the divine origin and the eternal truthfulness of the Book of Mormon."
Full text can be found here (a great read, if you have time!):

That book is true. Mormons are Christians. I bear my testimony that Jesus is the Christ, and that He died for all of us.

I hope that you were not offended by my remarks. I don't hope to have changed your mind about Mormons being Christians, but I couldn't go through my day knowing that I had a chance to bear my testimony and didn't take it.

My best to you in all that you do, and my hopes that we can find some common ground, rather than argue semantics.

Grant Herron

P.S. - Architecture and Morality is an interesting subject! I've often thought, as a Christian, that many of my beliefs will be called into question regardless of my profession. It pays to have a strong testimony and set of morals!

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