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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Opposing Romney on Religious Grounds Is Not Sensible: One Christian Thinker's Opinion

A couple of days ago, this article/blog entry from John Mark Reynolds, a professor at the Christian Biola University in California, has laid out the most reasonable argument of why Romney should not be rejected by conservative Christians on religious grounds.

I will quote many of the "highlights" . . . but, as with any well-thought-out and reasonable argument, I recommend reading the whole thing:

He is a traditional conservative from New England with Michigan roots who would put several Blue States in play for the Republicans. . . . Given a Southron running mate to tie down a shaky Southern state (George Allen?), it is hard to see anyone beating him.

But to be blunt, Romney carries extra baggage: He is a member of the LDS (Mormon) Church. Will Evangelicals and traditional Christians vote for a candidate that they believe worships in a fringe cult?

If Romney cannot get traditional Christian votes, he cannot win in the primaries let alone the general election.

Should Christians oppose Romney on religious grounds?

His answer is appropriately "No", but the way he gets there is different than I've seen laid out before.

A traditional American Christian will only be intolerant of those who will not play by republican rules of government or who wish to deny the self-evident, God given, right to life, liberty, and individual flourishing.

There is a stronger religious argument against Romney and that is that the LDS Church embraces notions so weird that they disqualify someone who holds them from the support of rational persons. I have heard this argument made on occasion in private by traditional Christians. In other words, to be a good Mormon (assuming he is one), Mitt Romney has had to adopt views that no sane man could hold. Failing the test of sanity in a major area is a good reason to doubt general personal fitness for the job of President.

It should be noted that this is a dangerous argument for any religious person to make without great care. Secular extremists often label any religious idea “nutty.” Minority views are often correct (as Christians in the early era were in my own view!) and so there is no easy majority test for what is acceptable belief in the public square.

Religious believers should also be wary of the trite response from pro-Romney folk that religion is a matter of the heart and religious beliefs should not count at all. Religion claims knowledge and some of that knowledge is testable.

As we shall see, I would be suspicious of supporting any candidate who had a general religious or irreligious point of view likely to lead to public policy in which I had strong disagreements.

He then suggests three tests that any religious group should pass before thinking one of its adherants could/should be President (and he shows how Romney/Mormonism pass all of them):

First, the religious beliefs of the candidate should be held by a significant number of people and by a group willing to defend them (even if unsuccessfully) in a rational manner.

Second, the group in question should not have religious claims that will naturally lead to horrific, or at least far out, public policy.

Third, the group should have a long track record of generally playing by republican rules in areas where it is dominant. No group is perfect, but the Presidency is too powerful a prize to trust to a new group that might have secret authoritarian leanings.

We have had an entire state dominated by Mormon politics for over one hundred years. It is republican in its constitution and allows free and fair elections. Mormons have shown (if proof is necessary) that they can govern within the bounds of the American mainstream. They have served in both House of Congress, in Presidential cabinets, in prominent roles in the Armed Forces, and as cultural and business leaders. Culturally, LDS members are not some unknown, frightening new group, but part of the American political fabric.

Opposition to Romney on the grounds of his religion is not, therefore, sensible. If not sensible, it is bigotry. Traditional Christians, commanded to love their neighbor, cannot vote their fears or prejudices. They must vote their best selves and that means they cannot vote irrationally.

Of course, traditional Christians might oppose Romney for his political beliefs. They might oppose Romney because they favor another candidate, but they cannot be consistent and oppose Romney for his religious beliefs. Mitt Romney should be a serious option for thoughtful traditional Christian voters.

Now, if every coservative Christian could just read and accept this reasoning! I'm fairly confident that the vast majority will eventually come around to this kind of thinking.

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