New Hampshire's primary results cemented Mitt Romney's front-runner status and made the question even more urgent: should Christians vote for a Mormon?
More and more evangelicals seem to be answering in the affirmative. Romney received 31% of the evangelical vote; Rick Santorum came in second with 23%. Surprisingly, the two Mormon candidates combined for 62% of the Catholic vote; Catholic candidates Newt Gingrich and Santorum received 11% and 8%, respectively.
Franklin Graham recently told the Christian Broadcasting Network, "the fact that Mitt Romney is a Mormon doesn't bother me at all." He stated that voters should select a candidate who is most qualified. And Joel Osteen has stated that he believes Mormons to be Christians.
However, Internet televangelist Bill Keller disagrees strongly: "When you have someone like Franklin Graham going on CNN and saying he has no problem voting for a Mormon like Mitt Romney and Osteen saying Mormons are Christian, it is clear that politics are being put before the eternal soul of man."
The most thoughtful piece I've seen on this issue was written for The Washington Post by Ken Starr, president of Baylor University. Judge Starr cites our Constitution's rejection of religious tests for those seeking public office. He affirms the Supreme Court's defense of the right of all persons to participate in the democratic process, whatever their religious convictions.
Judge Starr cites our Constitution's rejection of religious tests for those seeking public office. He affirms the Supreme Court's defense of the right of all persons to participate in the democratic process, whatever their religious convictions.
He then states, "the litmus test for our elected leaders must not be the church they attend but the Constitution they defend." And he concludes: "Life experience, personal qualities and policy views are the pivotal points to guide Americans as they go to the polls in 2012."
After reading Judge Starr's perceptive essay, I wondered: are there religious commitments that affect these "pivotal points" to the degree that they should be considered by voters? I believe there are. My position does not relate specifically to Romney and Mormonism; it applies to any candidate from any political party.
Let's consider some examples. Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinckley nearly 30 years ago. If he had been a faithful Jehovah's Witness, he would have died – his church's teachings would have forbidden the massive blood transfusions that saved his life. In 1991, President George H. W. Bush was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, which caused a rapid irregular heartbeat and atrial fibrillation. Drugs were effective in returning his heart rhythm to normal. If he had been a practicing Christian Scientist, would he have refused medical treatment? Do we want presidents whose lives could be endangered by their religious beliefs?
How would a Sunni president have prosecuted the war in Iraq? Would a Shiite view Iran more sympathetically? Would a chief executive who was a Tibetan Buddhist be more sympathetic to the Dalai Lama in his ongoing conflicts with the People's Republic of China?
Admittedly, none of the current presidential candidates espouse religious commitments so contrary to mainstream America. But would their policies be influenced by their religious beliefs? I would hope so. Our Constitution makes no laws establishing or prohibiting religion, a separation of church and state I gladly affirm. However, our culture has interpreted this bifurcation as a separation of faith and state. We compartmentalize religion and the "real world," Sunday and Monday. God is a hobby, a weekend pursuit to be kept private.
Scripture could not disagree more vehemently. Jesus inaugurated the kingdom of God (Matthew 4:17), that realm where God's will is done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10). If God is King of my life, he owns the computer on which I'm typing these words and the device on which you're reading them. He owns the chair in which I'm sitting and the air I'm breathing. He's King on Thursday, not just on Sunday. His biblical revelation should guide every decision I make, whatever its venue.
Would Mormonism's distinctive beliefs influence a Romney or Huntsman administration? Would evangelical commitments affect Rick Perry's presidency? Would Catholic moral positions gain consideration in a Gingrich or Santorum White House? Would Baptist convictions influence Ron Paul's policies? Do the United Church of Christ's theological positions alter Barack Obama's worldview and leadership?
You and I may disagree on the answers to these questions, but we should agree to ask them.