Mitt Romney takes on Mormon ‘cult’ comments and the religious test for office

Ethan Miller GETTY IMAGES Romney called on Americans to understand the constitutional principle rejecting a religious test for office at … Continued

Ethan Miller

GETTY IMAGES

Romney called on Americans to understand the constitutional principle rejecting a religious test for office at Tuesday night’s debate.

It was only a few seconds, but at Tuesday night’s debate, Republican presidential hopeful (and Mormon) Mitt Romney gave some of his most extensive religious comments yet of the 2012 presidential campaign, saying, “That idea that we should choose people based on their religion is the one that I find to be most troubling.”

After Gov. Rick Perry said that he did not agree with comments by his fellow Texan, pastor Robert Jeffress, that Mormonism is a cult, Romney responded with a case for a secular approach to the nation’s highest office:

But despite the unconstitutionality of the government applying a religious test for public office, many Americans are clearly wrestling with their understanding of Romney and his Mormon faith.

A new Washington Post/ Pew poll asked for “single-word descriptions” of a number of GOP candidates, and for Romney, the word that dominated was “Mormon.” The poll was conducted from Oct 13-16, in the wake of widely covered comments by Jeffress, who declared that Mormons are not Christians at the Values Voter Summit.

Will the close association between Romney and his faith help or hurt him with voters? The answer may lie in two factors –how Americans perceive Mormons, and whether or not prominent Christian leaders convince their congregations that it is not acceptable for them to vote for a Mormon candidate.

So what do Americans think about Mormons? During Romney’s previous presidential bid, the Pew Forum conducted nuanced research into American attitudes on the Latter-day Saints and found that 53 percent reported having a favorable impression of the faith — the same percentage that said they had a favorable opinion of Muslim Americans. When that same survey asked for one-word impressions of Mormonism, ”polygamy or bigamy” were the most popular mentions, followed by “family or family values,” “cult,” “different” and “dedicated,” a mixed bag of positive and negative associations for any candidate.

While Romney has avoided confrontation when challenged to speak about perceptions of his faith, he may find it impossible to avoid. Even at this stage of the campaign, a number of prominent Christian leaders have raised questions about the permissibility of voting for a Mormon candidate.

Jeffress wrote Wednesday in an op-ed for The Washington Post that the faith of a president matters to religious people. “During this firestorm I’ve reignited over the role of religion in politics, some have quoted Martin Luther as saying he would rather be governed by a competent unbeliever than an incompetent Christian. Yet evangelicals should remember that the purpose of the primary process is to keep us from having to make such a choice. At this point we have the opportunity to select both a competent leader and a committed Christian.” In other words, not Mitt Romney.

And before Jeffress was bestowing his blessing upon Rick Perry, Warren Cole Smith, associate publisher of the conservative Christian publication World Magazine, wrote an essay for Patheos.com that encouraged Christians to believe that “A vote for Romney is a vote for the LDS church.” “Placing a Mormon in that pulpit [the presidency] would be a source of pride and a shot of adrenaline for the LDS church.” Smith wrote. “It would serve to normalize the false teachings of Mormonism the world over…To elect a Mormon president is to advance the cause of the Mormon Church.” Romney’s faith, Smith added, “disqualifies him from my vote,” adding “We make him our president at great peril to the intellectual and spiritual health of our nation.”(You can read Mormon leader Mike Otterson’s response to Smith here.)

In a column published at On Faith this week, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler asked, “Can a faithful Christian vote for a Mormon candidate?”After exploring some Mormon theology, Mohler concluded “Mormonism is not Christianity,” but left the answer open to his own question about voting for an LDS candidate, concluding “These questions will call for our most careful, biblical, and faithful thinking. We need to start thinking urgently — long before we enter the voting booth.”

Marc Driscoll, the take-no-prisoners pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, wrote Tuesday in an extensive examination on his blog that “Mormonism is a cult theologically.”

From Driscoll’s post:  

No word from Driscoll yet on whether this means Christians are advancing the cause of Mormonism by voting for one.

Still, Jeffress, Smith, Mohler and Driscoll stand out precisely because so few Christian leaders have raised public questions about voting for a Mormon candidate. The Southern Baptist Convention’s Richard Land last week said that he, and many conservative evangelicals, including Jeffress, would back Romney in the general election.

In fact, Jeffress himself said that if the 2012 election ends up as a choice between Obama and Romney, he’d vote for Mormon Mitt Romney over Christian Barack Obama.

About

Elizabeth Tenety Elizabeth Tenety is the former editor of On Faith, where she produced "Divine Impulses," On Faith’s video interview series. She studied Theology and Government at Georgetown University and received her master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. A New York native, Elizabeth grew up in the home of Catholic news junkies where, somewhere in between watching the nightly news and participating in parish life, she learned to ponder both the superficial and the sacred.
  • eddikon

    The principle of no religious test for office governs the actions of the government. The voters are free to vote as they wish. We’ve always had an unofficial religious test for the top office. It’s virtually impossible for an atheist, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. to get elected as president. We can call it bigotry, but all people will identify with, and support, others who share their values and beliefs. Personally, i think all religion is absurd to the extreme and all religious people suffer from a delusional disorder, but I’m willing to overlook it. Yes, the beliefs of Mormonism are historically racist and sexist, but show me any religion that is not historically racist and sexist. If it were not for The Age of Enlightenment and the rise of the secular state there would still be public burnings for apostates, blasphemers, witches, Jews, heretics, people of other religions, etc. What difference does it make if Mormonism is a cult? Stupidity, ignorance, intolerance, and insanity reign supreme in all religions.

  • kycol2

    So many of you are confused and in need of revelation. The Bible, itself, explains why we still use religion as a test. In order to confuse the people and stop them from building the Tower of Babble, God cursed them with multiple languages in order to confuse and confound them. The religious have been babbling ever since.

  • neelysusan

    What a candidate puts his faith in is significant. If a candidate puts his faith in gibberish, we could expect less than sound judgement in matters of state.

  • usapdx

    All religions end were are government begans. A person elected to a government office must fully live up to their OATH of office and leave their religion and sex life out of our government. NEVER TRUST A PERSON RUNNING FOR OFFICE THAT USES A RELIGION AS A POLITICAL TOOL.

  • DaveHarris

    Just ask an atheist if there is a “religion test” for public office.

  • spamsux1

    I have more faith in polls of likely voters instead of simply “adults” when it comes to opinions of the candidates.

  • ccnl1

    Why the Christian Right no longer matters in presidential elections:

    Once again, all the conservative votes in the country “ain’t” going to help a “pro-life” presidential candidate, i.e Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Ron Paul or Rick Santorum, in 2012 as the “Immoral Majority” rules the country and will be doing so for awhile. The “Immoral Majority” you ask?

    The fastest growing USA voting bloc: In 2008, the 70+ million “Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers” of aborted womb-babies” whose ranks grow by two million per year i.e. 78+ million “IM” voters in 2012.

    2008 Presidential popular vote results:

    69,456,897 for pro-abortion/choice BO, 59,934,814 for “pro-life” JM.

    And all because many women fail to take the Pill once a day or men fail to use a condom even though in most cases these men have them in their pockets. (maybe they should be called the “Stupid Majority”?)

    (The failures of the widely used birth “control” methods i.e. the Pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and S-TDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or condoms properly and/or use other safer birth control methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.)

  • Aeschylus

    How about voting for a Jew, or even a Muslim? Or voting for a Muslim, and even a Jew?

  • jfv123

    The Government cannot keep Mr. Romney from running because of his religion.
    The Government cannot keep Mr. Romney out of the White House if he wins a majority of the electoral college becaiuse of his religion.
    Beyond that, the Constitution imposes no prohibition on candidates and religion. Certainly, the Constitution protects the right of voters to take anything they want into account (incliudng religion) in deciding whether or not to vote for someone.
    People make judgments all the time about religions. Every time a Mormon missionary approaches me, I make a judgment that I don’t want to be a Mormon.
    Despite Mormons being a little too pushy about converting other people for my tastes, I’ve had a general positive experience with Mormons. On the whole they have shown themselves to me to be hardworking people who make good decisions about how to live life.
    So, in my book Romney is a net positive because of his religion, but I respect the right of other voters to reach a different conclusion based on ther own experiences.
    Mr. Romney has other non-religious negatives that will probably cause me not to vote for him in the primary.

  • eduardo2

    As a non-religious type, I find the practices of mainstream Mormonism to be no more absurd than say, standing in front of a bloody guy on a cross each week and drinking wine and eating a wafer every week pretending it’s his body. Plus Mormons truly practice what they preach in terms of family values and clean living and have an impressive track record of running successful businesses and accumulating wealth.

    So since it’s a foregone conclusion that we MUST select a devout individual with absurd, whacky beliefs as our next president, I’d say a Mormon would be preferable to another evangelical yahoo like Rick Perry or Michelle Bachmann – if for no other reason than to watch them scream and swear when Mitt gets sworn in on HIS book, not theirs.

  • bucinka8

    He happens to be correct. And I think everyone here knows it. It’s ridiculous we even have to have this dialogue in a national public forum.

    As for Jeffress, I think he’s just enjoying the media attention right now. He knows there’s no such thing as bad publicity. He’ll be forgotten by November (of this year).

  • WayneDequer

    Should Presidential candidates, Mormon or otherwise, be subjected to a private religious test by “Christian” voters? After all, the voting booth is private. No there should not be a religious test, and here is why.

    Past U.S. Presidents with “potentially questionable” religious beliefs according to current standards used by some of the “Christian Right”:
    -Unitarians (do not believe in the trinity; like Mormons, deny the creeds and don’t believe in absolute reliability of the Bible): John Adams, Jefferson (according to many Unitarians), John Quincy Adams, Fillmore, Taft
    -Quakers (unsure of Bible use; like Mormons, deny the creeds): Hoover, Nixon
    -Not Religious (or religious views in doubt): Madison, Monroe, Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler, Taylor, Andrew Johnson, Grant, Hayes, Arthur
    -Deist (non-Christian): Lincoln (but he did know and quote from the Bible)
    And as an added bonus — Past Free-Mason U.S. Presidents (who, somewhat like Mormons, have secret/sacred rituals): Washington, Monroe, Jackson, Polk, Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Garfield, McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Taft, Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Ford.

    It is not just a “Mormon” thing, is it? If you insist on only U.S. Presidential candidates who pass a strict religious litmus test we’ll exclude a lot of past Presidents, some of them pretty good. How many of the “Founding Fathers” would be excluded? Should we boycott Mt. Rushmore? All of those Presidents were “questionable,” and anyway did you know there is a “Mormon” connection with Mt. Rushmore? We will also probably exclude some pretty good potential future Presidents if we continue this venomous nonsense.

    What candidates have said, written, tweeted or done is fair game as long as they are considered in the context they originally occurred. Character issues and morality are politically “in-bounds.” But religion should be out-of-bounds in considering political qualifications of candidates as Framers of the Constitution wisely directed long ago.

  • WayneDequer

    Appreciate your post. By the way, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hold sacred and use the Bible so Mitt would be fine, but when we have a Jewish president we could use the just the Old Testement. Similarly when we have a Muslim president we could use the Koran. However, maybe it would show forsight to drop the tradition of using any sacred book because when we have an atheistic president what are we going to do?

  • AnneChovies

    I am continually amazed by the people who make the argument that Mormons are not Christians because they don’t believe in the Triune God see no problem with the fact that Mormonism more closely resembles the Christian community in the decades immediately after the crucifixion than most modern Christian churches. The concept of three in one wasn’t solidified in the Christian church until a couple of hundred years after Christ died. If what Christ taught was Christianity, and he never taught the three in one concept, how can they reconcile that in their minds? Have we lost sight of the fact that so much of modern Christianity has strayed from teachings of the ancient church? Does no one see a problem in that?

  • WmarkW

    The two Mormons are the two most sensible candidates in the Republican race.

    Belonging to that church is probably good training at keeping ones doctrinal beliefs separate from your operating cognition.

  • usapdx

    Just vote for the best person for our country and people in your mind but VOTE. Religion ends where our government begins.

  • wgscribe

    The heresy of Mormonism is just a part of it, Anne. You are not Christian by choice. You are Mormon. If you were Christian, you could step away from the LDS, but you cannot. You would lose your salvation, and that, in effect, causes you to not be Christian.

    Please sever your membership to the LDS and then proclaim your “Christianity.” Don’t ask, ‘why should I?’ or ‘why would I?’ The question is ‘can I?’ The answer is no, you can’t, and I see an amazing problem with that!

    The “church” is Jesus and two or three gathered in his name. There are no denominations, no tenets or creeds, and certainly no repercussions from walking away from man’s idea of church. The Mormon church (and it’s not the first to do this) would strenuously warn you against leaving and then wash its hands of you once you were gone.

    Jesus doesn’t need such a “church.” His power and love are evidenced throughout generations of believers – some with and some without the labels of denominations. Two or three gathered together, Anne. The apostasy, the murders, the lies and the corruption were through man’s idea of church, but the two or three continued on in truth.

    Any “church” that says it’s THE “church” has simply announced it is not. It is still two or three – Jesus Christ – the same yesterday, and today and forever.

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