Posts tagged ‘Republican’

Against Our Better Judgment

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Credit: Dan Mason

Yesterday, in the Bible class I teach at the church where I serve, I made the point that we can be very bad at making appropriate judgments.  We can, at times, judge incorrectly, inconsistently, or even incoherently.  This is why Jesus warns us, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1), and the apostle Paul echoes, “Judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes” (1 Corinthians 4:5).

I also mentioned in my Bible class that hardly better examples of our struggle with making appropriate judgments can be found than in the realm of politics.  When an elected official is not a member of whatever party we prefer, we can sometimes treat them as if they can do no right, even if they have some noble achievements or proposals.  But if a person is a member of our preferred party, we can sometimes treat them as if they can do no wrong, even if they have acted wickedly and inexcusably.  We minimize what they have done simply by pointing to an opposing political ideology that, in our minds, is “even worse.”

In his daily news briefing, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Albert Mohler, brought to my attention two op-ed pieces, both published a week ago Sunday across from each other in the opinion pages of The New York Times.  One was by the left-leaning Jennifer Weiner and titled “The Flagrant Sexual Hypocrisy of Conservative Men.”  The other was by the right-leaning Ross Douthat and titled “The Pigs of Liberalism.”  Here, conveniently divided by the fold in the newspaper, is our political divide laid bare, nestled neatly in newsprint.  Ms. Weiner decried the breathtaking schizophrenia of Representative Tim Murphy, a Republican from Pennsylvania, who, while taking a consistently pro-life stance as a politician and voting for pro-life legislation, quietly encouraged his mistress to get an abortion when she found out she was pregnant.  Mr. Douthat’s piece chronicled the all-around sliminess of Hollywood mogul and liberal icon Harvey Weinstein, who, in a bombshell piece of investigative reporting in The New York Times, was revealed to have harassed and, perhaps, even sexually assaulted dozens of women over the course of decades.

Though both Mr. Murphy and Mr. Weinstein’s actions, because of the egregiousness of their offenses, have been, thankfully, broadly and forcefully denounced regardless of their political commitments, oftentimes, excusing the inexcusable has become par for the course in many of our political debates, particularly, interestingly enough, when it comes to sexual misdeeds.  A desire to see a political ideology defeated can often eclipse a commitment to get some basic ethical principles right.

In one way, this is not surprising.  The Pew Research Center published a report earlier this month on the widening political divides in American life.  Most striking is this chart, which shows just how far apart Republicans and Democrats have drifted – or, as the case may be, run – away from each other ideologically since 1994.

Screen Shot 2017-10-10 at 5.34.29 PMWhen political ideologies become this disparate, it is not surprising that a desire to promote your preferred ideology generally can trump and excuse the public proponents of your ideological stripe when they do not practice your ideological commitments specifically.

So, what is the way through all of our excuses, minimizations, and rationalizations of people who tout a particular political ideology publicly while, at the same time, shirking it personally?  First, we must understand that such instances of hypocrisy are not, at their root, political.  They are spiritual.  A particular political ideology that we don’t like is not our ultimate problem.  Sin is our ultimate problem.  This is why both conservatives and liberals can fall prey to vile sinfulness, as the cases of Mr. Murphy and Mr. Weinstein illustrate.  The titles of the recent op-ed pieces in The New York Times could have just as easily, and perhaps more accurately, been titled “The Flagrant Sexual Hypocrisy of Sinful Men” and “The Pigs of Depravity.”  As long as we pretend that a particular political ideology is a categorical evil to be defeated, we will only fall prey to more evil.  Political ideologies certainly have problems, but they are not, in and of themselves, the ultimate problem.  We are.

Second, we must also be careful not to conclude that because someone espouses a certain ideology while not living up to it, their ideology is ipso facto wrong.  There are many factors that can make an ideology – or an aspect of an ideology – wrong, but a failure to live up to the ideology in question is not necessarily one of them.  A pro-life ideology is still morally right in principle even if Mr. Murphy was wrong in is his actions.  A strong ideology against sexual assault and harassment is still morally right in principle even if Mr. Weinstein was wrong in his failure to live up to this strong ideology.

Third, in a culture that regularly falls short of its values, we must not fall prey to the temptation to indiscriminately shift values to excuse behavior.  Instead, we must call those who espouse certain ideological values to actually live according to them.  In other words, we need to learn how to lovingly judge people’s actions according to rigorous ethical commitments and call people to repentance instead of downplaying and downgrading ethical commitments because we’re desperate to gain or to retain some kind of power.  After all, power without ethical commitments can never be exercised well, no matter which side of the political divide exercises it, because power that is not subject to a higher moral power can, if not held accountable, quickly degenerate into tyranny.

Jesus famously said, “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (John 7:24).  It is time for us to look beyond the surface of our political divides and peer into the character of our culture.  What we find there will probably unsettle us, but it will also call us to some sober reflection and compel us to want something better for ourselves and for our society.  I pray we have the wherewithal for such reflection.

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October 16, 2017 at 5:15 am 1 comment

When Politics Leads to Bloodshed

When 66-year old James Hodgkinson opened fire on a ball field in Alexandria, Virginia this past Wednesday, he seemed to be targeting Republican members of Congress, who were engaged in a friendly game of baseball.  Shortly before the shooting, the suspect asked two representatives if the congressional members playing that day were Republicans or Democrats.  When they responded that they were Republicans, he left.  But when he returned, he came toting a rifle, which he used to wound four people, including the majority whip for the House of Representatives, Steve Scalise, who sustained severe injuries.  He remains in critical condition at an area hospital.

Following the shooting, investigators sprang into action and quickly discovered that Hodgkinson had a sharp disdain for Republicans, posting many virulently anti-Republican messages on social media.

This is where we are.  Our nation has become so bifurcated politically that a difference in party can become a motive for attempted murder.

In general, recent times have not proven to be good ones for political discourse in our country.  From a magazine cover depicting a comedian holding a severed, bloodied head bearing a curious resemblance to the president’s head, to a modernized telling of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in a New York park that portrays the assassination of someone who, again, appears strikingly similar to the president, to the president himself joking during his campaign that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue in New York and shoot someone and his voters would still support him, political discourse has, to put it mildly, taken a nosedive.

So often, such reckless political flame-throwing is defended on the grounds of the blessed freedom of speech that we enjoy in our country.  “If we can say it, we will say it,” the thinking goes.  Indeed, no matter what political views you may hold, it is likely that some in your political camp have said things about opposing political factions that, though they might be legal according to the standards of free speech, are certainly not moral according to the guidances of God’s good Word.  Free speech does not always equate to appropriate speech.  Perhaps we should ask ourselves not only, “Can I say this?” but, “Should I say this?”

Part of the problem with our political discourse is that so often, so many seem to be so content with ridiculing the other side that they forget to offer cogent arguments for the benefits of their side.  But when we define ourselves by how we belittle our opponent, we turn our opponents into nothing short of evil monsters.  We stop disagreeing with them and begin hating them.  And our political discourse turns toxic.

President John F. Kennedy, shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis, gave a commencement address at American University where he called for a recognition of and an appreciation for the humanity we share even in the midst of stark political differences.  He said:

No government or social system is so evil that its people must be considered as lacking in virtue.  As Americans, we find communism profoundly repugnant as a negation of personal freedom and dignity.  But we can still hail the Russian people for their many achievements – in science and space, in economic and industrial growth, in culture and in acts of courage …

So, let us not be blind to our differences – but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.  For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet.  We all breathe the same air.  We all cherish our children’s future.  And we are all mortal.

President Kennedy had no qualms about vigorously defending American democracy against the dangers and evils of Soviet communism.  But he also never forgot that communists – yes, even communists – are people too.

The tragedy of this past Wednesday is a stark and dark reminder of what happens when we forget that our political adversaries are still our brothers and sisters in humanity.  To put it in uniquely theological terms:  our political adversaries are still God’s image-bearers.  This means a Republican has never met a Democrat who is not made in God’s image.  And a Democrat has never met a Republican who is not the same.  So may we guard our actions, guard our tongues, and, above all, guard our hearts as we engage those with whom we disagree.  After all, our hearts were made not to hate our opponents, but to love them.

Let’s use our hearts as God intended.

June 19, 2017 at 5:15 am 3 comments

Was Jesus a Liberal or a Conservative?

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People love to claim Jesus.  This is especially true in the realm of politics.  At the beginning of the year, the Pew Research Center published a report about the faith commitments of those serving in Congress.  As it turns out, Congress is a very religious place:

The U.S. Congress is about as Christian today as it was in the early 1960s…Among members of the new, 115th Congress, 91% describe themselves as Christians. This is nearly the same percentage as in the 87th Congress (1961 to 1962, the earliest years for which comparable data are available), when 95% of members were Christian.

Among the 293 Republicans elected to serve in the new, 115th Congress, all but two identify as Christians…Democrats in Congress also are overwhelmingly Christian (80%).

In a society where people who claim Christianity are on the decline, the fact that so many members of Congress would continue to identify as “Christian” is worthy of our attention.  But claiming Christ is not always synonymous with following Christ.  Indeed, both of our nation’s two major political parties have had moments where their actions did not comport particularly well with Christ’s commands.

Regardless of what politicians and parties may say about Jesus or how they may represent Jesus, in His own day, Jesus demonstrated a persistent refusal to be co-opted by any political power.

In Matthew 22, the Sadducees come to Jesus with a question about a woman who had been married seven times to seven brothers.  Their question has to do with whose wife she will be at the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day: “At the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her” (Matthew 22:28)?  Sadly, their question is dripping with insincerity because the Sadducees did not even believe in the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day (cf. Acts 23:8).  They were too enlightened to believe in something so outlandish.  Another theological distinction of the Sadducees is that they accepted only the first five Old Testament books of Moses as canonical rather than the 39 books that other Jewish religious groups accepted.  Though I have no historical proof of this, I am pretty sure the Sadducees had these five books printed in red and called themselves “Red-Letter Jews,” claiming that the rest of the Old Testament canon did not really matter – only what Moses had written.  In today’s terms, the Sadducees would be aligned with theological liberals.

As Matthew 22 continues, on the heels of the Sadducees come the Pharisees.  If the Sadducees were the theological liberals of their day, the Pharisees would have been the theological conservatives.  They also have a question for Jesus: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law” (Matthew 22:36)?  This was a hotly debated theological question in the first century with no uniform answer.  More progressive teachers like Rabbi Hillel summarized the law like this: “What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor.  That is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary” (b. Shabbat 31a).  Other more conservative rabbis asserted that, because all Scripture is given by God, to try to distinguish between greater and lesser commandments in the Bible is foolish.  When the Pharisees present their question to Jesus about the law, they want to know whether He will answer liberally or conservatively.

Whether it is the Sadducees or Pharisees who approach Him, Jesus refuses to play according to their liberal and conservative assumptions.  Contra the liberal Sadducees, Jesus affirms the resurrection of the dead (Matthew 22:29-32).  And contra the conservative Pharisees, Jesus says there is indeed a greatest commandment, but it is much weightier than the one postulated by Rabbi Hillel.  One should not just avoid doing injury to someone else, one should actively love that other person in the same way he loves God Himself (Matthew 22:37-40).

Ultimately, the problem with both the Sadducees and Pharisees was this:  both groups were self-assured.  They were smug in their superiority and blinded by their own self-styled orthodoxies.   And because they were so sure of themselves, they never could quite be sure of Jesus.

Of course, there is a third group of people with whom Jesus interacts.  The Pharisees derisively refer to this group of people as “tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 9:11).  This group, however, out of all the groups of people with whom Jesus comes into contact, seems to get Him the best – not because the people in this group are so spiritually astute, but because they need an assurance they cannot find in themselves.  So they find it in Jesus.

Regardless of your political persuasion, Jesus asks us: “Are you so sure of yourself that you cannot find security in Me?  Are you so smug in your superiority that you cannot see the shamefulness of your own sin?”  In the Gospels, Jesus lays bare all those who trust in themselves, whether conservative or liberal.  He will not be co-opted.  But He can be trusted.  Where does your faith lie?  In you, or in Him?

January 16, 2017 at 5:15 am 1 comment

A Nation Divided

The headline I saw the day after last Tuesday’s election says it all:  “The Divided States of America.”  It’s true.  We are a nation deeply divided.  For evidence of this, I simply had to peruse my Facebook news feed.  Wednesday morning, some people were ecstatic and even gloating.  Other people were somber and even angry.  What made the difference as to how these people felt?  Two letters:  “R” and “D.”  The “D’s” won.  And they were happy.  The “R’s” lost.  And they were, well, you get the picture.

The division in our nation unsettles me.  It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  Remember e pluribus unum?  Before 1956, when “In God we trust” was adopted, this was the de facto motto of our country.  If only the Latin rang true.  But it doesn’t.  Partisanship prevails.  When I survey our country’s political landscape, I see not e pluribus unum, but e pluribus plures.  “Out of many, many.”  We are many.  And we act like it.  We can’t seem to agree on much of anything.

I suppose it was bound to happen.  Trying to unify disparate constituencies with such dissimilar ideologies is no small feat.  And even if such a conglomerate of communities is unified for a time, such unity never lasts.  For humans, thanks to sin, have a proclivity to fracture from each other rather than to walk with each other.

There is an old story about a man who is marooned on a desert island for nearly a decade. One day, mercifully, some rescuers finally come along.  Upon arriving, the rescuers find two shacks.  Thinking there is another castaway on the island, they ask the man, “Why are there two shacks?  Is someone else with you?”  “No,” replies the man.  “I sleep under the stars.  The shack is where I go to church.”  “What about the other shack?” inquire the rescuers.  “What’s that for?”  “Oh,” replies the man with an edge of indignation, “That’s where I used to go to church.”  E pluribus plures.  It seems humans will always find a way to fracture from each other – even when there’s only one human.

Our nation wants unity.  Our unofficial motto preaches it.  But it continually eludes us.  So what do we do?  Where do we go from here?

As Christians, we go to Scripture.  For like our nation, the authors of Scripture held unity in high regard.  Consider the apostle Paul’s admonition:  “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).  Paul wants us to have unity.  The difference between Scripture’s call to unity and our nation’s motto of unity, however, is that whereas our nation takes the many and in vain tries to make them one, Scripture begins with One – God – and looks to Him to unify many.  Paul continues in Ephesians:

There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

Paul uses the word “one” seven times in these verses.  For Paul knows that God’s dream and desire for us is that we would be “one” – that we would be unified.  But rather than taking disparate, dissident factions and striving to unify them by human effort, Paul knows that God unifies people by beginning with Himself – the perfectly unified Godhead who can bring even the most dis-unified people together.  True unity is found not in politics, but in our Lord.

Rally around Him.

November 12, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Election Day 2012 – It’s Almost Here

Election Day is tomorrow.  I am, as I’m sure you are, praying for our country and for her leaders.  I am also praying that much of the fear that surrounds this election will be calmed by the peace of God that transcends all human understanding (cf. Philippians 4:7).

This week, my blog is a simple one.  Yesterday in Adult Bible Class, I talked about Mark 12:13-17 with a special emphasis on what Jesus says about paying taxes and honoring God in verse 17:  “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”  I wanted to put into transcript form (with some slight editing for the sake of readability) my conclusion from Adult Bible Class.  For as we head into voting booths across our land, I think it’s important to reiterate what we talked about – that no matter who occupies the Oval Office, there is only one Occupant on the throne of heaven.  And that alone should be enough to quell our fears and give us hope.  Here is what I said:

I’m going to go on the record today and say that I think it’s time for us to have a smaller government.  But when I say that – before you get too excited or too angry depending on your political persuasion – I’m not talking about tax policy and how we’re going to pay for this or that government program.  I’m not talking about what social programs we should or should not keep.  I’m not talking about whether we should be for or against the Affordable Health Care Act.  I’m not talking about the size of government in Washington at all.  I’m talking about the size of government in our imaginations.  For government – and its attendant greatness or ghoulishness – has captured far too large a place in our hearts and minds.

Here’s what’s happened:  whether Republican or Democrat, many people have bought into this myth that if the wrong guy makes it into office – which always happens to be the guy they’re not voting for – that’s the end of the line.  That’s the demise of our nation.  That’s the disintegration of everything good and moral and noble and righteous in our world.  And people get all revved up and riled up, determined to save what is most important to them by getting their guy into office.

Folks, when this happens, you’re not voting for a president, you’re seeking a Messiah.  And that job has already been filled.

I love what a New York Times columnist named Ross Douthat writes about this:

The party in power claims to be restoring American greatness; the party out of power insists that the current administration is actually deeply un-American – heretics in the holy temple of the U.S.A., you might say – and promises to take our country back…And the country keeps cycling through savior figures, hoping each time that this one will be the One that we’ve been waiting for.[1]

Folks, the One we’ve been waiting for has already come.  And His name is not Barack Obama.  His name is not Mitt Romney.  His name is Jesus Christ.  And, by the way, not only has He come, He’ll come again.

So cast your vote. Be a good citizen.  But remember that even if Caesar gets the coins, Jesus holds your heart.

And that’s what matters most.


[1] Ross Douthat, Bad Religion:  How We Became a Nation of Heretics (New York:  Free Press, 2012), 269.

November 5, 2012 at 5:15 am 3 comments

The Problem with Our Politics

“Our politics is broken.”  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard a political pundit utter these words on a cable news show.  Usually, when a pundit speaks of broken politics, he or she is referring to the divisive and downright derogatory displays that so regularly parade across our national stage.  These pundits long for the days when politicians could reach across the aisle and work with others who held different points of view to get things done and to move our nation into a bold and bright new future.  “Why can’t we all just get along?” these pundits wonder.

This dream, of course, is encapsulated in our nation’s de facto, though not official, longtime motto:  E pluribus unum.  “Out of many, one.”  We dream of the day when those in the halls of power – and the population who votes for them – will finally be able act civilly.  And yet, as nice of a sentiment as E pluribus unum is, it is neither Scriptural nor realistic.  Simple observation verifies this.  We may be many in this nation.  But we are certainly not one.

This is why the Scriptural vision of unity, rather than being ad hoc and accidental, is grounded in Christ and is intentional. The apostle Paul explains:

There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

Paul uses the adjective “one” seven times in these verses.  And in each instance, the adjective modifies God and His gifts.  Thus, true unity can only be founded in the one true, Triune God.  Scriptural unity begins with oneness of God and not with the multiplicity of man, as does our folksy national motto.

But our problem goes deeper than a simple lack of political unity.  For disunity is merely a symptom of a more systemic and sinister problem.  Our deeper problem is that we buy into so many of the impossibly lofty things our politics and politicians promise.  We have saddled our politics with the responsibility of:

Fostering unity, creating jobs, saving the environment, caring for the poor, reducing the deficit, cutting spending, supporting unions and workers’ rights, formulating corporately friendly economic policies, reforming entitlements, ensuring the long-term fiscal solvency of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, providing for a world-class education, both deporting illegal immigrants and providing them a path to citizenship, and restoring prosperity.

If we just had all of that, then we would be happy.  Hmmm.  Is it any wonder we’re disaffected and disillusioned?  Does anyone really believe any human institution can deliver on all that?

Last week, I came across a column by New York Times writer Ross Douthat, where he poetically and succinctly summarizes the problem with the demands we make on our politics.  Douthat writes:

When strong religious impulses coexist with weak religious institutions, people become more likely to channel religious energy into partisan politics instead, and to freight partisan causes with more metaphysical significance than they can bear. The result, visible both in the “hope and change” fantasies of Obama’s 2008 campaign and the right-wing backlash it summoned up, is a politics that gives free rein to both utopian and apocalyptic delusions, and that encourages polarization without end.[1]

This is precisely right.  For all the help politics and politicians might be able to offer, and for all the good they might be able to do (cf. Romans 13:1-5), they are not up to carrying the weight of the metaphysical freight of the divine.  The expansive power of God is simply too much for them to bear.  Indeed, it is too much for any human to bear.  This is why strong religious institutions, as Douthat duly notes, that strongly trust in and teach the providence of God are so important.  For they proclaim the message that there is only one Messiah of metaphysical proportions and powers –and His name is Jesus.  Anyone else who attempts to do Jesus’ job for Him will fail miserably.  It is foolish to place superhuman hopes on simple humans, be they politicians or anyone else.

The upshot of placing superhuman hopes on simple humans can do nothing but result in the disastrous vacillation between “utopian and apocalyptic delusions” to which Douthat refers.  When a new politician is elected, we speak of him as if he will be able to usher in an eternal golden age of prosperity and unity.  When he unsurprisingly fails, we cry that the sky is falling.

I would submit that the Church stands at a particularly privileged position in our current political environment.  For we can serve as advocates for the One who can and does do what politics and politicians can only dream of.  We can serve as advocates for the One who not only provides for human beings, but changes human hearts.  We can serve as advocates for Jesus.  Sadly, many Christians have all too readily and willingly traded an advocacy of Jesus for advocacy of a certain candidate or political position.  Not that it is bad in and of itself to thoughtfully support a candidate, but we must remain clear on what our politics and politicians can and cannot do.  For our politics and politicians will not last.  And they also will not deliver – at least not in the way we might hope.  Jesus and His promises, however, will last and they will deliver.  In fact, not only will Jesus last and deliver, He will prevail.  As the Church, then, our call is to advocate for Him first.


[1] Ross Douthat, “A Nation of Osteens and Obamas,” The Washington Post (5.16.12).

May 28, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Pastoral Response to Mormonism in the Public and Political Square

With the election cycle kicking into full gear, politicians, pastors, and pundits are beginning to offer endorsements with regard to who they would like to see elected President of the United States.  At the Values Voter Summit, in an endorsement for Rick Perry, a Republican candidate for president, Robert Jeffress, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, asked, “Do we want a candidate who is a good, moral person, or do we want a candidate who is a born-again follower of the Lord Jesus Christ?”[1]  Following his remarks, Pastor Jeffress was asked to clarify his comments and explain specifically what he thought of Rick Perry over and against another frontrunner candidate, Mitt Romney, to whom he seemed to allude when he spoke of a “good, moral person.”  The pastor replied, “Rick Perry’s a Christian.  He’s an evangelical Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ.  Mitt Romney’s a good, moral person, but he’s not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity.  It has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of Christianity.”[2]  These remarks sparked a firestorm, with many voters and reporters alike indignant that the pastor would designate Mormonism as a “cult.”

Because of the attention and ire that Pastor Jeffress’ comments have drawn, we have received many questions concerning the Mormon Church[3] and its relationship to mainstream Christianity.  In light of these questions, we thought it would be appropriate to briefly address the teachings of Mormonism theologically, the status of Mormonism religiously, and the duty Christians have as voting citizens vocationally.  Here is a broad overview of what is to follow.

First, we will discuss how Mormonism cannot be considered a part of historic, orthodox Christianity.  Its teachings concerning the Trinity, the nature of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, are far removed from biblical and historical Christian teaching.  Mormonism does not confess the Trinity nor does it believe that a person is saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone.  Rather, Mormons believe they are saved by grace and their works.

Next, we will tackle the question du jour, “Is Mormonism a cult?”  Theologically, we can say that Mormonism is a cult, for it claims new, advanced, divine revelation in addition to the Bible. Psychologically and sociologically, the validity of calling Mormonism a cult becomes less clear.  A cult, as the word is used in its secular sense, denotes a body which is explicitly psychologically and sociologically subversive.  Mormonism does not necessarily bear this hallmark of a cult.  Thus, when we call Mormonism a “cult,” it is important that we define the term.

Finally, we will ask the question, “May Christians vote for a candidate who is not a Christian?”  In this section, we will discuss how because those in political offices rule in the kingdom of the world and not in the Kingdom of God, they can be competent to rule even if they are not Christian.  Christians are free to pick the most competent candidate, even if he is not a Christian candidate, for political office.

With this overview, we now move to discuss each of the above points in more depth.

The Teachings of Mormonism

First, we turn to the teachings of Mormonism from a theological perspective.  As stated previously, theologically, we must understand that Mormonism cannot be considered a part of historic, orthodox Christianity.  Indeed, Mormonism explicitly rejects claims that it is part of the Christian tradition.  Mormonism teaches that before May 15, 1829, there was no true Church on earth.  It was on this day that John the Baptist allegedly visited Joseph Smith and conferred upon him and his friend, Oliver Cowdery, the Aaronic priesthood.  Before this prophetic encounter with John the Baptist, Mormons claim, “There was no one living in mortality who held the keys to this Priesthood.”[4]  In other words, before this time, Mormons teach that no one had the priestly pedigree to be a part of true Christianity.  It had been completely lost from the days of the apostles.  Thus, according to their own statements, Mormons claim to be the restoration and repristination of Christianity and not a part of the history or orthodoxy of the Church over the past two thousand years.  Therefore, we should take Mormons at their word and not call them “Christians” in any historic or orthodox sense.

A brief survey of Mormon beliefs reveals that Mormons are indeed far removed from traditional and foundational Christian doctrines.

The Trinity

To begin with, Mormons reject the doctrine of the Trinity which states that there is one God, consisting of three co-equal and co-eternal persons:  “Latter-Day Saints reject the doctrines of the Trinity as taught by most Christian churches today.”[5]  Mormons also have beliefs about the individual persons of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that are at wide variance with traditional Christianity.  For instance, they teach, “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s.”[6]  It should be noted that this flatly contradicts the Scriptural witness that “God is spirit” (John 4:24)[7] and “a spirit does not have flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39).  Moreover, Mormons teach that God was once a man:  “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!”[8]  This, of course, denies the immutability and the eternality of God (cf. Malachi 3:6, Psalm 90:2).

Christology

As for Christ, Mormonism teaches that Jesus is the spirit brother of Lucifer.  Mormons espouse that when the world was in need of a Savior, both Jesus and Satan presented their cases before the Father as to who would make the better Redeemer.  Then, “after hearing both sons speak, Heavenly Father said, ‘I will send the first.’ Jesus Christ was chosen and ordained to be our Savior.”[9]  Certainly this fanciful meeting between the Father, Son, and Satan is far outside the pale of biblical Christianity.  Jesus is consistently referred to as God’s “only Son” (John 1:14, 3:16, 18, 1 John 4:9) and, as such, was not chosen to be the Savior over any other Messianic contenders, especially Satan.  Instead, God planned our salvation in Christ from “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).  Salvation in Christ was God’s original and eternal plan.

Salvation

With such a skewed Trinitarian theology and Christology, it is no surprise that the Mormon gospel of salvation is really no gospel at all.  For Mormons, salvation is two-fold.  First, salvation is a person’s personal progression to divinity.  That is, Mormons believe humans can become gods.  Joseph Smith explains:  “Here, then, is eternal life – to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves…To inherit the same power, the same glory and the same exaltation, until you arrive at the station of God, and ascend the throne of eternal power.”[10]  This is not only an untrue statement, but resonates all the way back to the Garden of Eden where Satan tempted Adam and Eve to believe they could usurp God’s position and prerogative.  This is why he says to Adam and Eve, when he is trying to entice them to eat God’s forbidden fruit, “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5).  Mormons jettison a fundamental distinction of Christian theology:  the distinction between the created and the Creator.  They imagine that creatures can become like the Creator.  This is flatly false.

Second, Mormons teach that salvation is ultimately a product of a person’s moral progression.  Though Mormons believe that humans are saved by grace, they do not believe they are saved by grace alone.  A famous and oft-quoted passage from the Book of Mormon makes this clear enough:  “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”[11]  Contrast this with the apostle Paul’s famous words concerning God’s grace: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this isnot your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Jesus’ work on the cross for our salvation is complete.  There is no work we can do to contribute to our salvation.

This is only a small sampling of the false teachings promulgated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Other teachings, as well as the historical and moral veracity of Mormonism’s sacred writings, are highly suspect as well.[12]  Therefore, whatever one may believe about Mormonism’s moral value or theological worth, it cannot be said that Mormonism is “Christian” in any traditional sense of the term.  Albert Mohler summarizes the problem with Mormon theology well:

Mormonism borrows Christian themes, personalities, and narratives. Nevertheless, it rejects what orthodox Christianity affirms and it affirms what orthodox Christianity rejects. It is not orthodox Christianity in a new form or another branch of the Christian tradition. By its own teachings and claims, it rejects any claim of continuity with orthodox Christianity. Insofar as an individual Mormon holds to the teachings of the Latter-Day Saints, he or she repudiates biblical Christianity.[13]

In short, Mormonism is not Christianity, nor is it a branch or part of Christianity.  If you’d like to learn more about Mormonism and its theological teachings, you can find a wealth of resources at http://www.evidenceministries.org.[14]

The Status of Mormonism

Having addressed the teachings of Mormonism theologically, we now move to discuss the status of Mormonism religiously.  Pastor Jeffress called the religion a “cult.”  Is it?

In its original context, the word “cult” did not carry with it the negative connotations it has today.  The word comes from the Latin cultus, originally describing merely the worship of a deity.  Today, however, this word carries with it a wide variety of definitions, many of them sounding sinister.  For the sake of brevity, we will examine two definitions of this word – the first being theological in nature and the second being psychological and sociological in nature – and evaluate the status of Mormonism as a cult accordingly.

Theologically, a good definition of a “cult” can be found in the book, The Future of Religion:  Secularization, Revival, and Cult Formation.  In this work, sociologists Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge define a “cult” thusly:  “The cult is something new vis-à-vis the other religious bodies of the society…The cult adds to that culture a new revelation or insight justifying the claim that it is different, new, ‘more advanced.’”[15]  According to this definition, Mormonism clearly qualifies as a cult.  It is a new revelation and religion which objects to the historic, orthodox Christian position as something corrupt and apostate.  Indeed, the very byline of The Book of Mormon, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ,” is a claim of additional, peculiar, and advanced revelation.  In this sense, then, Pastor Jeffress is correct.  Mormonism is considered to be a cult by most major evangelical denominations and is often called a cult within our own church body, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.[16]

Psychologically and sociologically, we can use a definition of a “cult” from Louis Joylon West:

A cult is a group or movement exhibiting a great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea or thing and employing unethically manipulative techniques of persuasion and control (e.g. isolation from former friends and family, debilitation, use of special methods to heighten suggestibility and subservience, powerful group pressures, information management, suspension of individuality or critical judgment, promotion of total dependency on the group and fear of leaving it, etc.) designed to advance the goals of the group’s leaders.[17]

According to West, a cult is that which is explicitly psychologically and sociologically subversive.   It brings to mind people such as Jim Jones and David Koresh and their movements rather than The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.[18] Much of the outrage in the media over Pastor Jeffress’ words calling Mormonism a cult would seem to stem from defining the word “cult” psychologically and sociologically rather than theologically.

As Christians, who are called to think theologically about issues such as this, we can indeed call Mormonism a “cult” because of its claim to additional revelation apart from and outside of Holy Scripture which results in the maligning of Christian theology.  This designation, however, does not necessarily imply that Mormonism has all the psychological and sociological hallmarks of a cult.  A Christian’s designation of Mormonism as a cult is primarily a theological rather than a psychological and sociological one.

Our Duty as Christians

Lastly, we move to consider how we, as Christian citizens, can respond to this controversy vocationally.  The word “vocation” is from the Latin vocatio and means “calling.”  The doctrine of vocation states that all Christians have been called by God to serve in different stations in life – whether that be the station of an employee, an employer, a husband, a wife, a mother, a father, a child, a volunteer, etc.[19]  One of the vocations, or callings, God has given to Christians is that of “citizen.”  On the one hand, we are citizens of God’s Kingdom by faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:19).  On the other hand, we are also citizens, either by birth or by naturalization, of a particular country.  This earthly vocation of citizen, in turn, comes with both duties (e.g., Luke 20:21-25) and privileges (e.g., Acts 22:25) as determined by governing authorities which are themselves instituted by God.[20]  One of the duties and privileges United States citizens carry is that of voting for the country’s president.  As Christians, the question arises: “How can I vote in a way that is faithful to God while also seeking to elect a person who will do the best job leading the country?”

It must be noted that there is no easy – or singular – answer to this question.  Nevertheless, there are some guiding principles which can help us cast an informed vote.

First, it is important to understand that, while we, as Christians, live in two kingdoms – the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of man – the leaders we elect rule over only one kingdom – the kingdom of man.  Thus, our primary concern should be with their competence to lead in this kingdom.  This means that when we vote, we should consider a candidate’s familiarity with our Constitution and laws and his ability to navigate the intricacies of our legislative process.  If he is inept in either of these areas, this should give us pause.  A public official’s inability to operate effectively inside our nation’s governmental system can spell disaster for our public policy and welfare, for the official will be unable to execute the demands of his office.  Competence is key.

Second, we must also understand that some of the spiritual concerns of the Kingdom of God are part of the natural, moral law which God has placed in this world and thus pertain to the political and public policy making of the kingdom of man.[21]  Issues such as abortion, which pertains to the natural, moral duty we have to uphold human life (cf. Exodus 20:13),[22] homosexuality, which goes against the natural design of creation (cf. Romans 1:26-27), and care for those who cannot care for themselves, to which we are naturally inclined despite our depravity (cf. Matthew 7:9-11), ought to be taken into consideration as we decide for whom we will vote.  If a candidate runs a platform contrary to natural, moral law, this too should give us pause, for this candidate can potentially do harm to our nation’s citizens.

With these two criteria in mind, then, we have a Christian duty to vote for candidates who, on the one hand, are capable and competent to rule in the kingdom of man, for this is what they are called to do, while, on the other hand, are at the same time aligned with those concerns of the natural, moral law of God which pertain to the political and public policy making in the kingdom of man.

All of this is to say that a candidate does not have to be Christian to be a suitable candidate for public office, though we can certainly be thankful that there are Christians in public and political offices. Ultimately, Luther would advise us to vote for a competent candidate, even if he is not personally moral or Christian:

The reasonable question has been put whether it is better to have a good but imprudent ruler…or a prudent but personally bad one.  Moses here certainly calls for both [ref. Deuteronomy 1:13-16]: a good and prudent ruler.  However, if both qualifications cannot be had, a prudent ruler who is not personally good is better than a good one who is not prudent, because a good one rules nothing but is only ruled – and only by the worst of people.  Even though a prudent but personally bad ruler may harm the good people, he nevertheless rules the evil ones at the same time; and this is more necessary and proper for the world, since the world is nothing but a mass of evil people.[23]

Because a politician rules in the kingdom of man, his competence to do so should be the primary criterion used in discerning his fitness for office.  If he is a Christian, great!  If not, it is better to have a competent ruler who is not a Christian than an incompetent ruler who is a Christian.

Finally, Christians, out of theological conviction and consecrated consciences, can and do vote for different candidates.  Because we live in a sinful and fallen world and, as such, we vote for sinful and fallen candidates, Christians come to differing conclusions as to which candidate would best serve in a particular public office.  Christians’ consciences need not be unduly bound in such decisions.  The pastors of Concordia believe that, given the choice between two candidates of equal competence, if one is a Christian and the other is not, wisdom instructs us to vote for the Christian candidate because he will not only serve his country skillfully as a politician, but faithfully as a Christian as he seeks God’s guidance.  This guidance will make his leadership in public office all the more effective.

Pastor Jeffress has endorsed Rick Perry for President of the United States.  As a citizen, he is certainly free to make this endorsement.  As a pastor, however, he must be careful speaking on behalf of a political candidate in a public forum such as the Values Voter Summit.  For his primary vocation as a pastor is the faithful stewardship of the gospel.  Anything that jeopardizes this stewardship is to be rejected.  The Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod explains: “The church is a precious institution for us, which dare not be jeopardized by immersion in secular politics.”[24]  We, as Christian citizens of this country, are also free to endorse and vote for our preferred candidates.  However, our preferred candidates need not be the same as Pastor Jeffress’.  Each Christian can come to his own conclusions concerning for whom he will vote.

As citizens of this country, we are free to vote for whomever we want.  As citizens of the Kingdom of God, we are free to vote in accordance with our consecrated consciences.  Thank God for both freedoms.


[1] Robert Jeffress at the Values Voter Summit, October 7, 2011, http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700186158/Video-of-Pastor-Robert-Jeffress-at-Values-Voters-Summit.html.

[2] Associated Press, “Perry Backer: Romney in a ‘Cult,’ Not a Christian,” http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/10/07/perry-backer-romney-in-cult-not-christian/.

[3] “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” is the official and legal name of what is colloquially called “the Mormon Church.”  Both names are used interchangeably throughout this statement.

[4] Joseph Fielding Smith, Essentials in Church History (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1922) 68.

[5] Daniel Peterson and Stephen Ricks, “Comparing LDS Beliefs with First-Century Christianity” (March 1988) http://lds.org/ensign/1988/03/comparing-lds-beliefs-with-first-century-christianity?lang=eng.

[6] Doctrine and Covenants, 130.22, http://lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/130?lang=eng.

[7] Scriptural citations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2001).

[8] Achieving a Celestial Marriage: Student Manual (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1992) 129.

[9] Gospel Principles, Chapter 3, http://lds.org/library/display/0,4945,11-1-13-6,00.html.

[10] Joseph Smith cited in R. Philip Roberts, Mormonism Unmasked (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1998) 55.

[11] The Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1981) 2 Nephi 25:23.

[12] For instance, The Book of Mormon makes an inaccurate historical claim that Jesus was born in Jerusalem (Alma 7:10).  He was born in Bethlehem.  The Book of Mormon becomes morally suspect when one realizes that Joseph Smith plagiarized large portions of the King James Version of the Bible and inserted them wholesale into his work (e.g., compare Moroni 10 with 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, 2 Nephi 14 with Isaiah 4, and 2 Nephi 12 with Isaiah 2).  Moreover, Joseph Smith claimed to have translated The Pearl of Great Price, part of the Mormon canon of scriptures, from Egyptian scrolls which he explained, “Contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc.” (History of the Church 2:236).  Egyptologists have since found that these papyri are nothing more than standard Egyptian funereal documents, speaking of Egyptian gods and goddesses (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Abraham).  Richard John Neuhaus says of Mormonism, “There is…the surpassingly awkward fact that not a single person, place, or event that is unique to the Book of Mormon has ever been proven to exist. Outside the fanum of true believers, these tales cannot help but appear to be the product of fantasy and fabrication” (http://www.irr.org/mit/neuhaus.html).

[13] Albert Mohler, “Mormonism, Democracy, and the Urgent Need for Evangelical Thinking” (October 10, 2011) http://www.albertmohler.com/2011/10/10/mormonism-democracy-and-the-urgent-need-for-evangelical-thinking/.

[14] If you would like to know more about the religious worldview of the Mormon Church, click the third slide on the Evidence Ministries home page. This article was written by the Mormon Church and appears in one of their official teaching manuals. In the opinion of Evidence Ministries, it is the best thing a Christian can read in order to understand the clearly non-Christian nature of Mormonism.

[15] Rodney Stark & William Sims Bainbridge, The Future of Religion:  Secularization, Revival, and Cult Formation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985) 25-26.  Surprisingly, the authors later assert that Mormonism is not a cult, even though they admit that, according their own definition, Mormonism qualifies to be classified as such: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints presents problems of classification.  Clearly it is not just another protestant sect….The Mormon Church has added so much novel doctrine to the Christian-Judaic tradition that it represents a new religious tradition in its own right, and there can be no doubt that this tradition is deviant….Clearly, Mormonism fits our definition of a cult.  However, because the Mormons succeeded in building their Zion in the empty deserts of the West, most Mormons do not experience life as members of a religious minority.  In Utah, Mormonism is the dominant religious tradition, and this feeling sustains Mormons in nearby states as well.  For this reason…we classified schismatic Mormon groups in Utah as sects, coding such groups as cults only if they developed outside of Utah” (245).  Stark and Bainbridge do not classify Mormonism as a cult simply because of the number of Mormons in some western parts of the country.

[16] For instance, Edgar P. Kaiser’s short book, How To Respond to the Latter-Day Saints, is filed under “Cults” in Concordia Publishing House’s cataloging system.

[17] L.J. West & M.D. Langone, “Cultism: A conference for scholars and policy makers. Summary of proceedings of the Wingspread conference on cultism, 9-11 September” (Weston: American Family Foundation, 1985).

[18] It should be noted that Joseph Smith was known to be quite coercive, threatening damnation on young ladies so that he could procure them as his wives (http://www.irr.org/mit/neuhaus.html).  In this sense, Mormonism, during its formative stage, displayed some cult-like tendencies as they are defined above.

[19] For more on vocation, see Gene Veith, God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in all of Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2002).

[20] Lutherans have always affirmed a legitimate role for government in the kingdom of this world.  Accordingly, we ought to pray “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2).  For a good discussion on the government’s role in the Christian’s life, see Render Unto Caesar…A Lutheran View of Church and State, A Report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (September 1995) http://www.lcms.org/page.aspx?pid=465.

[21] Whether or not a person is a Christian, the Bible reminds us that God has instilled in each human being a natural, moral compass:  “For when Gentiles [i.e., pagans], who do not have the law [of God], by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law.  They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Romans 2:14-15).  These verses remind us that there are basic moral strictures incumbent on every human being whether or not they are Christians.

[22] Exodus 20:13, “You shall not murder,” is one of the Ten Commandments.  Lutherans have classically understood the Ten Commandments to be an expression of natural, moral law.  “The Ten Commandments had spread over the whole world not only before Moses but even before Abraham and all the patriarchs” (Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 47, J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, eds. [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999] 89).   “In some way human reason naturally understands the [Ten Commandments] (for it has the same judgment divinely written in the mind)” (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, Paul McCain et al, eds. [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005] Ap IV 7).

[23] Martin Luther, What Luther Says, Ewald Plass, ed. (St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 1959) 582.

[24] Render Unto Caesar…A Lutheran View of Church and State, 91.

October 21, 2011 at 1:36 pm Leave a comment


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