SAN DIEGO, October 18, 2011—Yes, once again, that electrically charged subject of religion continues to dominate our election. The latest is from Rev. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas. Introducing Rick Perry to conservatives at the Values Voters Summit, Rev. Jeffress said the following:
“I think Mitt Romney’s a good, moral man, but those of us who are born again followers of Christ should prefer a competent Christian… Rick Perry’s a Christian. He’s an evangelical Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ … Mormonism is not Christianity. It has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of Christianity.”
Romney called the comment “poisonous language.”
Jeffress may indeed have made a tactless, unnecessary statement, but the word “poisonous” probably won’t win any prizes in the annals of diplomacy either.
With all due respect, Governor Romney, people are allowed to have any opinion of religion that they wish. If you disagree, prove the man wrong. Tell us why you don’t think Mormonism is a cult.
Or, if instead, you think such discussions do not belong in the campaign, that they aren’t worth gracing with a response, then perhaps it would be best to take the higher ground and not react at all.
Meanwhile, let’s be clear, if you are entitled to your beliefs as a Mormon, Rick Perry is entitled to his own beliefs, as is Rev. Jeffress, and if such tenets include a critique of Mormonism, so be it. Because it can be so personal and emotional, thinking is often left at the door when religion is discussed but any fair minded person will admit that for somebody to be convinced that his religion alone is true, than conversely, any contradictory religion must be viewed as false.
Unfortunately, where as Perry has the right to respond as an Evangelical, he is instead acting like a politician
Trying to clean things up, Perry’s campaign said, “The governor does not believe Mormonism is a cult.”
On one hand, such a disclaimer is better than allowing Jeffress to (perhaps unintentionally) put words in the Texas governor’s mouth, but much as Perry might wish this pastor had held his tongue, the milk is spilt and responding in a mealy- mouthed manner doesn’t really help the situation.
If Perry is really an Evangelical Christian who believes the teachings of the Bible, then of course he does not accept Mormonism. Perhaps the word “cult” could be replaced with a softer word. There’s no sense scaring people away with undefined terms, but whatever the description, Perry is entitled to speak accurately about his beliefs without compromise.
Politically and morally, Mormonism is very compatible with Evangelical Christianity but doctrinally, the beliefs are not compatible. That doesn’t mean Evangelicals shouldn’t vote for Romney or support the very courageous work of Glenn Beck.
The problem here is that we are confusing two totally separate questions:
Question One: Are Mormons really a legitimate denomination of Christianity that should be embraced by Evangelical Christians?
Question Two: Should any of this make a difference in choosing a presidential candidate?
Naturally Mormons don’t like being called a cult. Obviously that sounds bad. Nobody wants to believe they are involved in a cult and people find the term derogatory.
Now there are different definitions of the word “cult.” Would a Mormon leader take his people to Guyana and have them commit suicide like Jim Jones did? No, of course not. Mormons are usually pretty sane people. They don’t act weird or whacked out at all. So if that’s your definition of a cult, a group which acts weird, I would agree; Mormons are not cultic.
Amongst Evangelical Christians, there is another definition in play and understanding this definition may help to eliminate some of the confusion. Christians tend to define “cult” as a religion, which claims to be Christian but contradicts even the most basic tenets of the Bible.
With those criteria in mind, Mormonism teaches many things Evangelicals do not agree with. Parsing every doctrine is not the purpose of this article but one example may be in order to at least demonstrate that the differences are not trivial or unimportant: Polytheism as opposed to Monotheism. I realize Mormons believe there is only one God for this earth (They make that clarification quite often.) But they do accept the existence of additional gods elsewhere in our universe and the Bible teaches there are no other gods at all. Many Mormons (not all) also believe that they themselves will become gods someday. Here are the words of LDS founder, Joseph Smith:
“I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea and take away the veil so that you may see.
It is the first principle of the gospel to know for certainty the character of God and to know that we may converse with him as one man with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ did.
Here then, is eternal life-to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you” (Joseph Smith Jr., King Follett Discourse, pp. 8-10. See additional notes after this article).
Compare Smith’s words to Isaiah 43:10:
“Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me.”
And so, according to one definition; a church with a biblical claim that teaches unbiblical things, some will call Mormonism a cult. Once again, the term is unnecessary. The statement that Mormonism is in tension with Scripture would be more accurate. Naturally, Mormons insist they are in harmony with the Bible and would reinterpret problem passages. In a society of free religion, they are entitled to that viewpoint. Disagreeing with their doctrine must also be tolerated and taking time to point out what a religion teaches is not the same as showing disrespect.
Before we leave the subject of respect, most Christians view a denomination as one of many viable alternative organizations, churches which agree on important matters but have different styles of worship and varying beliefs on doctrines of minor importance. One of the reasons they do not list LDS as a denomination is because Mormons themselves see their church as much more. Many Mormons believe that they are the one true church. They’ll point out how Joseph Smith was given a vision of God saying all churches in his day were following a faulty path. His calling was to bring back the true church.
Does viewing oneself as part of “the true church” include a view that Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, etc. follow a significant amount of false beliefs? It’s a fair question and an interesting phenomenon to ponder when Mormons accuse those who critique their church of being anti-Mormon.
In short, the word cult is not necessary but differences between Mormons and Evangelicals need not be shied away from either and if somebody chooses to use an unpopular term while being careful to define it, not much is accomplished by calling his speech “poisonous.”
Moving on to the second issue: SO WHAT?
If I were electing a pastor for my church, I would never pick Mitt Romney. But could he be president of the United States? Presidents do not have the authority to enforce their religious doctrines and Romney does not strike me as the kind of guy who would do that even if he could. He certainly never did so as governor. People forget that the man already has a public record, which can be examined at any time.
No, his record is not as conservative as I’d like it to be and at this point, he is not my first choice. But I would vote for any of our GOP candidates ahead of Obama. I’d vote for Donald Duck ahead of Obama.
Fellow conservatives, if Mitt Romney gets the nomination, don’t let his Mormonism get in the way. Mormons may not be compatible with Evangelicals doctrinally, but again, morally and politically they are on the same page. Isn’t this the crux of the matter?
No modern day president made his Evangelical Christianity more of a campaign issue than Jimmy Carter. He even used that controversial phrase, born again. But Carter was the worst president we ever had…until Obama came along.
Bible beliefs are important but we still need to be a bit savvy when entering the political arena. In that regard, Romney’s Mormonism is much ado about nothing. If Romney gets the nomination, please don’t punish him for being Mormon by putting Obama back into office. It’s not worth it. Who do you want, after all, a man who might possibly believe he’ll become a god someday or our current president who seems to think he’s a god already?
Bob Siegel is a weekend radio talk show host on KCBQ and columnist. Details of his show can be found at www.bobsiegel.net.
Many comments to posts are discussed by Bob over the air where anyone is free to call in and respond/debate. Call in toll free number: 1-888-344-1170. Read more Forbidden Table Talk in The Washington Times Communities.
1) Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE New International Version NIV Copyright © 1973, 1979, 1984 by International Bible Society Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.
2) There has been some dispute amongst Mormons about the King Follet Sermon as recollected through notes of those in attendance but the church’s fifth president, Lorenzo Snow, offered a kind of summary:
“As man now is, God once was:
As God now is, man may be”
In 1950, the sermon made its way into a revised edition of The History of the Church.
At a general conference meeting in 1994, Mormon president Gordon B. Hinckley (president until 2008) said:
..[T]he whole design of the gospel is to lead us onward and upward to greater achievement, even, eventually, to godhood. This great possibility was enunciated by the Prophet Joseph Smith in the King Follet sermon and emphasized by President Lorenzo Snow. It is this grand and incomparable concept: As God now is, man may become! Our enemies have criticized us for believing in this. Our reply is that this lofty concept in no way diminishes God the Eternal Father. He is the Almighty. He is the Creator and Governor of the universe. He is the greatest of all and will always be so. But just as any earthly father wishes for his sons and daughters every success in life, so I believe our Father in Heaven wishes for his children that they might approach him in stature and stand beside him resplendent in godly strength and wisdom
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