Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Should Christians Vote Romney?

Martin Luther famously said that he would rather be governed by a competent infidel (actually, he said a competent "Turk," but I'm updating the language to convey the thought) than an incompetent Christian. Luther's thought comes to mind as certain Christian evangelicals take to considering the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney.

I should hasten to add that my writing on this subject should not be taken as an effort to support Mr. Romney. I have not yet decided who to vote for in the Republican primaries, and I am sympathetic with those who would like to see a strong alternative to the former governor of Massachusetts , who has flipped and flopped too much along the path to his candidacy to suit my own tastes. However, while I don't care much about the candidacy of Mr. Romney, I do care intently about whether those who speak for the Church think Christianly, and that is why I address this subject.

Thus, when one Rev. Robert Jeffress thunders from the diminishing pulpit of the First Baptist Church in Dallas that Christians should not vote for Mr. Romney because he is a Mormon, my immediate question is, "Why?"

Well, the answer comes back, Christians should not support Mr. Romney because Mormonism is not Christian. That is true. Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, believe things, particularly with regard to the Trinity, but many others also, that Mormons do not believe. As an intellectual matter, Mormonism differs significantly from Christian orthodoxy. However, once we resolve that, my response is still, "So?"

If a person is not a Christian, that should deeply concern us about the state of his soul, but there is no biblical reason that would preclude him from being an acceptable President. A decision regarding my vote is dependent on the candidate's competence for office, agreement with my concerns and views on the issues of the day, and trustworthiness. None of these require the officeholder to be a Christian. Now, because trustworthiness is an aspect of general moral character, I suppose that it could be argued that a Christian has an advantage, but given that many non Christians have generally solid character, and given the number of very public Christian moral failings, both in the political and religious spheres, in recent years, one might be cautioned about making that argument with a straight face. Good Christian teaching notices that believers are saints and sinners at the same time, and life experience provides all too abundant evidence that both sides of that teaching are true.

Good Christian theology addresses two issues that are relevant here: 1) the church and the state, while both ordained by God, have fudamentally different functions and, thus, different qualifications for leadership; and 2) God's common grace to mankind means that there is a general moral order and disbursement of skills and gifts among all human beings. One does not have to be a Christian to excel as a writer, thinker, athlete, or politician, or in any other profession. God causes it to rain (meaning He brings refreshment to) on the just and the unjust alike.

In short, I don't have to be concerned whether my plumber or dentist is a Christian or not, as long as they are able to fix my pipes and teeth. Respectively. The same principle is true of those running for public office.

Christian engagement in politics has created a lot of confusion about Christianity in recent decades, both among Christians and non Christians. I note that Glenn Beck, who is also a Mormon, is now being introduced as a "Christian leader." While that is perhaps inevitable for a political movement that has come to define Christianity in terms of a set of moral guidelines for individuals and society, it is most unfortunate for those who understand Christianity to be a religion about what God has done in Christ. If opposition for Mr. Romney comes from the notion that he has shown too little principle by his frequently shifting positions, I can agree with that. If opposition comes from the notion that a non Christian should not be President, you're wrong.

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