I have had quite a few conversations with fellow Christians (interestingly enough, always initiated by them) in which the subject of Mitt Romney being Mormon comes up, and inevitably the question is asked “Should I vote for a Mormon?”
I will address this issue in two parts, the first focusing on the question of Mormonism as a theological question, the second focusing on Citizenship.
This is an issue on which I say here and now that I have no absolute claims to truth or being right. I have my own thoughts, but I could very well be wrong. If you think I am, let me know. If you just want to attack, take your small mind elsewhere.
Let me cut to the chase: I do not have a problem with voting for a Mormon. But of course, someone’s religious background, cannot be the only criteria by which I would decide to vote for or against someone. Many a President has claimed to be Christian, and many of those who claimed most fervently this mantle of being “born again” I would have most fervently voted against. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton come to mind. But as our current incumbent President is fond of saying, “Let me be clear”: my vote for the proverbial “other guy” (Reagan in ’80 and Bush in ’92) would have been based on policy concerns, and while more faith-oriented issues would certainly have played a role, this would have been my primary criteria for voting for them. More on this in the second post.
I recently had a friend say something to the effect of “I’m considering voting for Obama because at least he’s a legitimate Christian, while Romney is a Mormon.” This point bears a clarification on my part as well. Do I consider a Mormon a Christian? The answer is simply “I don’t know.” I have serious issues with Mormon theology. I do not believe it is a Biblically-based theology, and I do believe it is profoundly in error. I do not believe it is what most people would call “Christianity,” if by “Christianity” you mean a bunch of theologically correct individuals. You may ask, “Well then, how can you say ‘I don’t know’ when it comes to whether a Mormon is a Christian or not?”
The reason I can so emphatically say ‘I don’t know’ is because I not only don’t, but in many ways I can’t. Jesus said “You will know them by their fruits.” I have the additional problem (perhaps you do as well) of a legalistic flesh. My flesh wants legalism, but of course applied to everyone else, not myself. But the more we think about it, “You shall know them by their fruits” is pretty darn vague when it comes to answering the question all of us are too often too keen to pounce on: “Who is a real Christian?” by which we mean “Who actually is righteous in God’s eyes?” It is usually far easier and more appropriate to identify those who are not. Someone who is blatantly living a life of the flesh while claiming to be a Believer should be challenged in love. We are called to do that. But many of us go a step further: we not only want to challenge them on their sin, we want to be able to have a say in how they stand before God. Somehow we always tip the balance in our favor and against others. But when I look at the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, patience, etc. and while I see these characteristics exhibited in people who most of the time are Christian, sometimes they aren’t, and some of the best, at least in my experience, are Mormons.
Have you ever been in a situation where someone else believes they know your heart better than you do? Additionally, have you ever been treated by someone else like they knew what is really going on in your heart, and they are so certain about it that they are unwilling to entertain the thought that they could be wrong? Worse yet, have you been that person? I can say that I have been on both sides, I have been the accuser and the accused. Don’t get me wrong, if we think a friend or brother is having an issue, we often times (though not always) should approach them about it. But when we claim to peer into another’s soul, we ought be very careful in claiming absolute righteousness in doing so, for only God see’s the heart, as is attested to so often in His Word. Given this fact, we must be profoundly humble when it comes to the heart of another. “But the heart is deceitfully wicked, who can know it?” I am so often told. Fine. Then don’t trust your deceitfully wicked heart, trust mine. I’ll just assume you said “touché.”
So why do I bring this up? The reason why, beyond the fact that it has come up in this election year, is because so often, other Christians will say to me “Well, Mormon’s only act so good (speaking generally) because their religion is works-based and they are just doing it to earn brownie points with God!” Maybe so, maybe not. God has said only He sees on the inside. Only He can peer into the heart with utter clarity. So is that oft said statement a logical conclusion? Perhaps. But how often is our world logical and reasonable, especially when it comes to human behavior? So I submit to you the astounding thought that perhaps Jesus meant to accomplish two things when he said “You shall know them by their fruits.” Perhaps he meant to be utterly clear on who was not a Disciple, and utterly ambiguous on who with absolute certainty was? If this is the case, it certainly isn’t because Jesus Himself is confused as to the matter, but because He knows how utterly destructive we can and so often have been when we try to assume God’s mantle as judge and peer into the heart, pronounce sentence as expeditiously and carelessly as we so often do with others, and be that much more convinced of our own righteousness. Oh how quickly we become what we hate!
I will go even further on the question of spiritual fruit and say what perhaps few who make this argument are willing to say: Mormons, regardless of motive or intent, are often times very effective at doing what the church ought to do. In other words, I often see a great deal of the fruit Jesus spoke of. There are incredible Christian ministries, leaders, churches, etc. all over the world who exhibit the same, but, speaking from my own experience, looking at a group of people as a whole, Mormons are quite impressive (I’m not in the comparison business). Rarely have I seen a regular church congregation able to help a member out with their mortgage, or feeding their family during hard times. Rarely do I see as strong of families so consistently abounding in a congregation. Rarely do I see parents as attentive to the education and moral training of their children as among Mormons.
Now, before any of you get angry, thinking I’m implying that this must somehow be reflective of their theology, you have committed the same error as before. No, none of these things justifies us before God. None of them. I believe in grace, and desperately need it myself. Perhaps instead of anger, we should be convicted? If we supposedly have the true Gospel of Grace on our side, then why are those we so often accuse of being part of a Cult often times out-doing us in terms of simple obedience? I would say to you that a group who claims theological superiority and is grossly deficient in obedience is perhaps more cult-like than the opposite. It is a thought provoking question which I leave you to stew in on your own. “Yes, but Jesus is the Lord of my life!” Is He? And yet you do not obey. Now who is trying to earn brownie points with God?
As relates to more theologically abstract questions: “Mormons don’t believe in the Trinity. Mormons believe you can become a god and create your own worlds. Mormons this, Mormons that.” I know, and I find those ideas I mentioned contrary to scripture. However, I am saved by a person, not by a theology. How about you? I can just hear the pouncing feet: “You don’t care about theology!” Nonsense. I would be willing to bet that there are proportionally few human beings who enjoy rigorous theological discussion as much as I do. We should have good theology, for good theology can be the fountain of good fruit, both external and internal. But God has given me and you only a partial role over judging the external. We must leave the internal fruit to Him. Motive, heart, intent: those are in God’s corner, not mine, and not yours.
The other provocative question that I feel compelled to ask is this: Do we really think that when we come face-to-face with God that our own theology will be able to stand up to the beauty which we will behold? Yes, we may be “right” on God’s nature, God’s plan of salvation, God’s power, God’s love, God’s justice, etc. ad infinitum. But I would submit to you that on that day, if the most theologically correct person on this earth does not find that his theology falls utterly and completely prostrate upon beholding the King of Kings of whom it could only in comparison catch a glimpse of before, then that theology will have been for naught. Speaking for myself, I expect to be surprised in more ways than one when I meet God face-to-face. I expect to have my socks blown off actually, because at the end of the day, my “correct” theology isn’t God. God is God. A truism, perhaps, but one which we ought consider deeply as we dismount the high-horse of our own religious egos. Did you notice that Jesus didn’t really have a checklist when he approached someone? No. He simply said “Follow me.”
The last point I shall make: no person on this earth can have perfect theology. That’s right. No person, no religion, no book, no nothing can have perfect theology, meaning a theology that perfectly describes God. Why? Because that theology would be an idol, and God would not be God. Can you describe the infinite perfectly? We can quote the Bible speaking of the “unsearchable depths and riches” of God, get our theological brownie points, but then we act as if that’s the end of the story, as if our mental assent to that point somehow garnered us the approval from God which we say we can’t earn anyway. I would submit to you that it is the beginning of the story, and one which even when we live eternally with Him we will never, ever be able to finish! That used to annoy the hell out of me. Now it pumps me up. Now I say “My Lord and My God!” Now I can say with utter sincerity how incredibly thankful I am that the self-imposed burden of completely understanding God is no longer mine to bear, because I’ll never be able to do it. “So you’re saying that you don’t even try?” On the contrary. I love getting to know God more and more and more. That is what the heart of every disciple should be. But instead of being afraid of a never-ending maze, I instead embrace a never-ending adventure. All of us know generally what the Mona Lisa looks like. I say generally because we could never reproduce it exactly ourselves, even those who may be artistic geniuses. Not even good old Leonardo da Vinci could do that exact same thing twice. But if we saw the Mona Lisa with a part of the face missing, would we not think to ourselves “This painting is messed up/incomplete/inadequate/imperfect”? Of course we would! So if we would declare that so easily about an incomplete little painting that all of us are very familiar with, why are we so arrogant to presume that the same does not apply to our incomplete understanding of God?
This makes it a certainty that all of us will in one way or another (probably many ways or another) be wrong about how we view God. In other words, our theology will be wrong. So am I a Universalist? Am I saying that all roads lead to Jesus? No I am not. My beliefs are quite the opposite. I am simply saying that all roads do not end at theology, and that we ought instead bow in humility before the God of whom theology can only be a mere shadow, and we ought have the same humility before we ever presume to know the inner recesses of one another’s hearts, both those who agree and disagree with us theologically. That is not my privilege, nor yours, and at the end of the day, thank God for that.
Let’s debate theology. “Let us reason together,” as God Himself said to the prophet Isaiah. Let us stand for what is right. But let us never value what is correct more than that which is right, and that which is right, in human terms, is what God requires of us. Judgment is not required of us, so let us never presume to sit on the throne that alone is God’s. We are entitled to conclusions about actions and ideas. We are not entitled to the judgment of souls.
“Screwy theology!” I’m guilty. “Idolatry!” Yep, guilty of that too. “Works based! Controlling! Unbiblical!” I have been all of those things, externally, as well as internally. Guilty, guilty, guilty. But thank God in Heaven that the judge’s gavel is not yours, and thank God in Heaven that it is not mine, for just as those who inappropriately and presumptuously tried to bear the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament died, such will be the case for those of us who presume to pronounce judgment on the soul of another, “For with what measure you use, it shall be measured against you.”