Monday, October 29, 2012

Theology and the Presidential Election

Dr. Brian Mattson has the text from a recent address he gave entitled: The Theological Stakes in the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election over at his website.  In his address Dr. Mattson discusses the theological ramifications that flow from either a President Obama win or a Governor Romney win.  He begins by laying out some framework from which to reason on this issue:
How does one go about probing the “theological” stakes of a presidential election, much less any other cultural event? Where do we start? I have developed my own rubric or framework for evaluating such things, and it begins with God. I lay this out in my bookPolitics & Evangelical Theology, and I will summarize it for you. At its root, I seek to ground our political evaluations in what God has told us about himself. For this is our preeminent creaturely task. Reformed theologians, particularly from the Dutch Neo-Calvinist tradition, call this “Thinking God’s thoughts after him.” For my taste, that is a bit narrowly intellectual for a general rule, with slightly too much emphasis on “thoughts” and “thinking.” My own version is simpler and more down-to-earth: As creatures made in the image and likeness of God, we must seek to love what God loves. Love comprehends more than just our intellects; it tells us not just of an object of apprehension, some nugget of truth we should know, but also an object of affection and desire. “Love” is a more well-rounded term than “thinking,” which is why I prefer “loving what God loves” to “thinking God’s thoughts after him.”
In and of himself, as the Triune being, God is love. If this is so, his revelation of himself has to be a revelation of what he loves. When it comes to the distinctly political questions facing our nation and culture, I find three of God’s loves particularly significant. God loves people. God loves prosperity. And God loves justice. In those three categories I believe I have captured all of the great relevant political questions of our time. That God loves people means something for issues of the dignity and value of human life and sexual well-being. That God loves prosperity means something for economics, wealth creation, and helping the poor. That God loves justice means something for our earthly systems of justice, foreign and domestic.
Dr. Mattson goes on to assess President Obama in relation to these categories of  people, prosperity, and justice.  His comments, although brief, are well worth reading.  In coming to assess Governor Romney the theological ramifications are also worth noting.  Dr. Mattson writes:
It is a happy coincidence that when it comes to public policy issues, the worldview of Mitt Romney contains substantial overlap with that of orthodox Christian teaching. This is partly due to the fact that Mormonism is a uniquely American folk-religion of the 19th century. The American values promoted by Joseph Smith were therefore 19th century American values, a time when human life, prosperity, and justice were far more informed by the Christian worldview than they are today.
Mitt Romney is therefore pro-life, pro-marriage (thankfully the 20th rather than 19th century Mormon version), pro-economic freedom, against partiality before the law and various race and class quotas, and he seems to believe in that old-fashioned distinction between good and evil. They do not seem for him to be relative terms.
But his election to the office of President presents its own set of theological problems, and I think it wise that we face them squarely. I have in mind this: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has wanted nothing more than to be culturally included as a respected and legitimate branch of orthodox Christendom, and having one of their own as the President of the United States will go a very long way to achieving this aim. This will present a theological and cultural challenge for orthodox Christianity, especially since we might, frankly, agree with a President Romney on many things.
As a Christian theologian I believe we must resist the mainstreaming of Mormonism. In other words, I believe we must join in common cause with Romney on many political issues, but the ground of our agreement needs to be kept crystal clear. There is, as I said, substantial overlap between the cultural views of Mormonism and orthodox Christianity. The word “overlap” suggests that we must not conflate the two. The theological ground for Mormonism’s views of people, prosperity, and justice is, frankly, the imagination of a 19th century religious fanatic who happened to land on some truthful things. The ground for orthodox Christianity’s views of people, prosperity, and justice is the Word of the Living, Triune God, revealed to us infallibly in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
I believe we need to resist the inexorable slide into “conventional wisdom.” Let me give an example. We can see already even in the conservative political movement a certain conventional wisdom that homosexuality is a perfectly legitimate lifestyle choice. Oh, yes, the National Review set might agree with us on the issue of the definition of marriage, but it is fast becoming conventional wisdom that opposing homosexual conduct itself is bigoted and beyond the pale. I foresee something similar with respect to Mormonism. With the election of Mitt Romney, Mormonism will be well on its way to becoming legitimate and sacrosanct, insulated from critique. It will soon be considered bigoted and out-of-bounds in polite society to oppose Mormonism as antithetical to orthodox Christianity. I do not know of an easy solution to this coming problem. But I do know we need to be able, as an aphorism has it, to walk and chew gum at the same time, maintaining our substantial overlapping agreement on many issues while simultaneously making clear our foundational theological divergences. If we fail to do this we will be damaging the true Church of Jesus Christ, inviting cultural confusion, and ultimately harming the message of the gospel. This will be the foremost theological consequence of a Romney presidency, and we must be prepared for it.
These are important words for evangelicals in the days ahead should Governor Romney be elected president.  Already the evangelical church is downplaying the differences between Mormonism and orthodox Christianity and this trend will only become more pronounced with a Romney presidency.