One of the issues that I know some Christians have in voting for Mitt Romney is that Romney is a Mormon. If I vote for Romney, am I giving my approval to his religion, the thumbs-up to the man in general?
As I said in the last post, I intend to vote for Mitt Romney and I would like to convince others to do so as well. A couple of things I am not going to do in this post- I am not going to pretend that Mormonism is the same as orthodox Christianity, or that his religion should be viewed positively. Mormonism is a false gospel, and must be rejected by Christians. Mormonism denies the sacrifice of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity. It teaches a fundamentally different view of human nature and its relationship to God than Biblical Christianity does. To speak of it as a sect of Christianity does it far too much justice; it is in reality a complete distortion, a totally different religion, than Christianity, though it bears some superficial resemblances.
I’m also not going to argue that a politician’s religion is irrelevant, or out of bounds for discussion. A man’s religion is fundamental to who he is. If a man’s religion was Wahhabi Islam, that would be highly relevant to whether that man should be the president of the United States.
That being said, it’s very important not just to identify the religion a man holds to, but also to recognize how that man understands that religion himself, and how it functions in his life. Nancy Pelosi is a Roman Catholic, and so is Paul Ryan. Yet it’s hard to imagine two more different political approaches than Pelosi and Ryan. Does that mean their Catholicism is irrelevant? Not at all. But it does mean that their understanding of their Catholicism, and how their faith informs their political views, are very different. Both of them come from recognized traditions within the Roman Catholic faith which emphasize different things. Some people hold their religion very strongly and some don’t. Some Christians emphasize the moral teachings of the Bible on sexual ethics while some focus more on the Bible’s teachings about charity toward the poor. Some who agree that care for the poor is extremely important believe that this is the responsibility of the state, while others believe that private charity should be the emphasis here. So if we want to talk about a man’s religion and how it informs his politics, it’s not sufficient to simply identify the religion and then talk about some aspects of that religion and why that’s problematic for a religious candidate. I know I would find it deeply unfair if someone said that a Christian should not be the president of a religiously pluralistic society since the Bible commands the death penalty for followers of other religions. I would say that such a criticism is not being fair to how I understand Christianity myself. Some other person’s opinion about what Christianity _should_ teach, or what is the most consistent understanding of my faith, is not relevant. What is relevant is how the person himself practices and understands his faith.
I do not believe that Mitt Romney knows the true God. He does not have faith in Jesus Christ. He does not understand the revelation of the gospel. I hope some day that he does. But I also believe in natural revelation, that there is a natural light that all people have, to understand right from wrong and truth from lies. I do not believe one has to be a true Christian to have true knowledge about many things, including how governments and economies work. People have different levels of understanding of this natural light, and different amounts of that natural light are present in different religions and philosophies. A religion such as Mormonism, especially in its modern manifestation, has a good deal more of this natural light than other religions, as is seen by the way that Mormons in general live their lives.
The civil state in the New Testament is said by Paul to have the job of punishing evildoers and protecting the innocent, of praising those who do good. In the Old Testament, in the infancy of the church, the church was annexed to a particular civil government, whose form was given by God Himself. God had particular redemptive-historical purposes for establishing the state of Israel, which are beyond the scope of this discussion. But to use those civil laws given to Israel to make specific statements about what a ruler today ought to look like is to fail to appreciate this redemptive-historical purpose. That civil government expired when the form of the church changed after the coming of Christ. God’s people then were not located within one particular entity, but spread out through all the nations. With that change, a change in the purpose of government came as well. The New Testament does not anticipate a government that promotes the true faith. More often, the opposite will be the case. What Christians ought to expect from the government is seen in Romans 13 and 2 Peter 2:14, that they punish evildoers and encourage good. How this is defined is a matter of great debate, but is not spelled out clearly. The Westminster Confession of Faith states that the Old Testament civil laws are applicable to New Testament government not in the particulars, but only in the sense of “general equity”- meaning the principles governing equity and justice between people that are illustrated by the Old Testament civil law continue to be applicable, but not the particulars of those laws, which were given only to Israel and expire with Israel as a civil state.
The civil state is not the kingdom of God. The civil state is nowhere in the Scriptures given the job of advancing that kingdom. Some of the early Reformers, still operating under largely medieval expectations, still thought that the state should enforce the Christian religion, leading to tremendous misery and suffering everywhere it was tried. The Reformed and Protestant world as a whole moved away from this view, starting especially with the American revision of the Westminster Confession of Faith in 1789, which largely removed the role of government in the affairs of the church. I believe this to have been a wise revision, and the relative health of the Protestant churches in America compared to the state of the Christian church throughout Europe shows the wisdom of this move.
Different unbelieving men can understand the purpose of civil government according to the natural light to better or worse degrees. Thomas Jefferson was a better civil magistrate than Adolf Hitler, despite the fact that neither of them were Biblical Christians. The Pharaoh who made Joseph his right-hand man was a better ruler than the Pharaoh that came later, who enslaved the Israelites and called for the murder of their male children. King Agrippa was a fairer man than Herod the Great.
All of this means that a Mormon, operating under the natural light, is perfectly capable of being a good civil magistrate. Mitt Romney understands and practices his religion, as far as anyone knows, in a way congruent with the “general equity” of the civil laws given in the Old Testament. He believes in charity, in honesty, in freedom. He does so according to the natural light given to all men, and I believe he has a greater clarity and grasp of the natural light with regard to the purpose of civil government and the general equity of civil law than many other politicians, even ones that identify with Christian churches closer to orthodoxy than the Mormons. Therefore I believe that a Christian with a Biblical understanding of civil government can in good conscience vote for a man, such as Mitt Romney, whose faith we would view as a perverted fakery of the real gospel, but whose understanding of the role and duty of civil government is nonetheless Biblical. We are not electing him to church office. We are electing him to punish evildoers, to protect the innocent, to provide order and justice and “general equity”. I believe Mitt Romney will do a passably good job of fulfilling these tasks.
One final note- to say that a Christian cannot vote for a Mormon for president is really, I believe, to say that the entire American form of government is unbiblical. I do not know how a Christian could consistently say that it is a sin to vote for a Mormon, but that it is not a sin to vote for the many nominal, liberal Christians that we have elected, or indeed to even support the existence of a government which forbids religious tests and counted as its founders Deists and Unitarians and which has from its beginnings had non-Christian officeholders. I can respect an argument from Scripture, such as the Covenanters make, that the United States is in its entirety an unbiblical form of government and cannot be supported, since it does not explicitly recognize Jesus Christ as king and enforce the Christian religion (though I disagree strenuously with such an argument.) But an argument which singles out Mormons specifically as unworthy of our vote, but still supports the pluralistic American project otherwise, begins to look more like personal animosity than a principled stand for the Biblical faith.