Friday, December 16, 2011

What Did Romney Preach and Teach?

Mitt Romney was Bishop and later Stake President of a Boston area Mormon temple for 15 years and yet I don't see the media asking much of what he believes, as conservatives did with Jeremiah Wright in 2008, even though Wright was only Obama's pastor and not running for office himself. This may be because, unlike Wright, Romney in his Bishop role may not have publicly preached much as that role is generally left to members. But it's very conceivable and highly probable that before Romney was elevated to Bishop that he preached sermons. What Romney preached would reveal important character traits. His sermons would reveal his beliefs, values, and what, if any, political issues he considered relevant enough to preach to his congregation about.  The only snippets we have of Romney's pastoral role (Romney called himself a "pastor" for the first time in one Iowa debate) come from a few articles which mention that he was a diplomatic team-builder whose biggest controversial stand was counseling women out of having abortions, something that helps his standing with conservatives since he has famously flip-flopped on this issue multiple times.

Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Seminary and a very evangelical conservative, wrote this blog post that seems to defend Romney from attacks about his religion--Mormonism:
"Furthermore, we must be honest and acknowledge that there are non-Christians or non-evangelicals who share far more of our worldview and policy concerns than some others who identify as Christians. The stewardship of our vote demands that we support those candidates who most clearly and consistently share our worldview and combine these commitments with the competence to serve both faithfully and well."

However, I find Mohler's argument problematic in Romney's case because Romney was not just some casual congregant at a Mormon church, he was an ordained Mormon Elder, Bishop, and Stake President-- high-ranking offices for which he was compensated, and offices that gave him the responsibility to defend doctrine in direct conflict with the Christian worldview.  A Stake President, according to the Church Handbook:

1. He is the presiding high priest,
2. He is a common judge.
3. He directs the Church welfare program and operations.
4. He oversees finances, records, reports, and properties.

The first role described by the Handbook:
"Members of the stake presidency are teachers. They teach the gospel in meetings, classes, and interviews. They also bear their testimonies often...They ensure that teaching is effective and doctrinally correct.

So, Romney's beliefs would have come out in his teachings, if not sermons per se.  Romney was baptized in a Mormon temple and swore a blood oath to protect the church and keep its secrets.  As Bishop, he would have had the role of keeping his congregants from questioning that doctrine and leaving to join other faiths, which Mormons officially see as "apostate" (see the Church Handbook of Instructions here).

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is very strict about its core beliefs, and Romney could not have held his  positions unless he agreed wholeheartedly to uphold LDS doctrine.  This matters because not only is core LDS doctrine entirely in conflict with orthodox Christianity, it requires one to accept various logical contradictions and tenets that contradict scientific and historical evidence. Furthermore, LDS bishops are given strict guidelines of how to deal with people who are questioning the Mormon faith or considering converting to another faith-- and these guidelines, such as excommunication, may look harsh to outsiders.  It is not without good historical, philosophical, and biblical reasons that Mormonism is labeled a cult universally by the Catholic church and all protestant denominations.

Jim Spencer, a former Mormon elder turned Christian apologist writes in his book Beyond Mormonism of what it is like to accept the logical contradictions of Mormonism and the shunning that occurs when one begins to question the church or ultimately leave, as he did.  He describes the phenomenon associated with all cults of chucking one's brain at the door as "snapping."  Spencer and other converts claim that all practicing Mormons suffer from this same well-documented psychological phenomenon, and I believe this is relevant to examine in a presidential candidate.

One question I would ask journalists following the campaign is how did Romney treat those in his church who were questioning Mormon doctrine and history?  Did he treat them similarly to how he treated Brett Baier of Fox News when he brought up various contradictions in Romney's statements over the years?  Or was Romney the sort of open-minded, highly-educated intellectual that he portrays during the debates?  His record as Bishop and Stake President would be helpful in this regard.

So far, the press has not openly discussed the doctrines Romney would have taught and expected his church members to believe as a Mormon pastor, which is odd because Jeremiah Wright's church's doctrinal statement was a major campaign issue in 2008, and Obama was pressured to disavow his membership.

Mormons maintain that all LDS presidents are infallible prophets.  Joseph Smith and Brigham Young's prophecies are considered to be correct and infallible, or else they would be false prophets.  This includes examples such as Smith's claims that men dressed as Quakers live on the moon, and Young's claim that men also live on the sun (Journal of Discourses 13:271-2).  It requires belief in the Book of Mormon's teaching of various warring ancient tribes living in the Americas, who were visited by Jesus, for which there is no archaeological evidence.

The LDS' religion is also very America-centric.  Romney would have taught his church that Elohim chose to re-establish his "lost" church in America via Joseph Smith, and that Jesus' next coming would be to a small town in Missouri, not Israel or anywhere else.  This has implications for how Romney looks at the rest of the world and conducts foreign policy.

There are other problems that I believe deserve scrutiny. Romney was a Mormon missionary in Europe from 1966 to 1968, achieving the highest possible position as a missionary. This was before the Book of Mormon was edited (in 1978) in order to allow African-Americans to hold Elder positions (they were denied such authority until then) after the LDS President received a "revelation" from God.  This means Romney had to support and promote the official 1966 LDS position-- that blacks were spiritually inferior to whites. While Ron Paul gets criticized for some racist writing attributed to him in the early 1980s, Romney has not faced any such criticism for swearing to promote officially LDS doctrine that was overtly racist.

Romney has had to teach other official doctrine, such as Jesus and Satan being spirit-brothers (along with everyone reading this) from the same father --Elohim-- and that man's sin is not atoned for by Jesus' blood alone, but can be atoned for by man's own blood (Journal of Discourses 4:53-54).

As a Christian myself, I find the lack of questions in regards to Romney's faith curious and problematic. I find evangelicals such as Al Mohler claiming that Romney shares a Christian worldview highly problematic given how contrary Mormonism is to the Christian worldview. If he were a Muslim, would there not be more scrutiny, even if he was a pro-life, pro-Israel Muslim?

If you do not believe a person's worldview is relevant to his effective leadership, then none of the above should trouble you.  But I believe a person's worldview is at the core of his decision-making process.  Romney hasn't answered key questions about his worldview, and I think it's high time we start pressing him--and ourselves--with those questions.

2 comments: said...

I find it troubling that Mohler, who spends a vast amount of time speaking and writing on the topic of worldview, would use the term so loosely. In his post he addresses the doctrinal differences between Mormonism and Christianity so while he is clearly not saying our worldviews are exactly the same I think the way in which he affirms the similarities to be highly problematic. Obviously there will be some commonalities, after all we are observing the same world, however; I think it better to note that these apparent commonalities are not pure similitudes. They are not equals; they are driven by different motivations, founded upon different narratives, and ultimately anticipate different ends. This is exactly what Paul does in Acts 17; he takes similarities and explains them while adding contrast. The Athenians have a altar “to the unknown god” and Paul informs them that there is a God whom they do not know but that this God does not live in temples made by man.

You said, “I find evangelicals such as Al Mohler claiming that Romney shares a Christian worldview highly problematic given how contrary Mormonism is to the Christian worldview. If he were a Muslim, would there not be more scrutiny, even if he was a pro-life, pro-Israel Muslim?” I could not think of a more poignant question in regards to co-belligerency. Would evangelicals act the same in that situation? Would they rejoice in a Muslim president’s monotheism? Or his/her stand for a heterosexual definition of marriage? What about sexual purity in general? I think it is hilarious how horribly intellectually inconsistent evangelicals are as a group at times. This moral agenda/Manhattan Declaration nonsense, or whatever you want to call it, seems to be clouding our thoughts and our message. Is it just me or are we actually supposed to be about the gospel? I am all about cultural transformation but only if it comes through living and proclaiming the gospel. I think the religious authorities of Jesus’ day tried to legislate morality and if I my memory serves me right then Jesus was not too happy about their attempt.

JDTapp said...

Keith, thanks for thinking I'm not out-of-bounds. That's unfortunately the reaction I've gotten from everyone else.