We don’t do much theology here, but I’m going to make an exception for Reverend Robert Jeffress, who made news by saying that Mormonism is a “cult” and that Mitt Romney is not a real Christian. I’ve heard this before: four years ago, a friend who is an evangelical told me that if Romney got the GOP nomination, she wouldn’t be able to vote for him because LDS is a cult. I think this sort of talk is unfortunate. To support that view, I turn to two excellent authorities.
The first is the Constitution, Article VI, which says inter alia that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” What we have here is not technically a religious test, but the spirit of Article VI is nevertheless highly relevant. The Founders recognized that theology should not be a basis for choosing elected officials. The potential for division, bitterness and discrimination is huge; in fact, such consequences are pretty much inevitable if we start judging one another’s religious beliefs. Is Mormonism a quirky denomination? I think so. But then, every religious faith seems quirky or worse to those who don’t believe it. The Founders understood that tolerance of religious diversity should not be undermined by politicizing the differences that constitute diversity.
My second authority is Jesus. “By the fruit you know the tree,” he said–words of singular genius, in my opinion. I am not quite sure what freight the word “cult” is intended to carry, but I have known many Mormons and if I learn that a person is LDS, experience leads me to expect that person to be above average as a colleague, a neighbor and a citizen. Statistics say that my experience is not unusual; Mormons as a group are successful and are good citizens. As for Mitt Romney, whether he is your first choice for president or not, I don’t see how anyone can deny that he is a man of extraordinary accomplishments and admirable character. So, paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln, if Mormonism is a cult, then the Republic could use more cultists.
We are at a critical moment in American history. It is vitally important that the Republican candidate, whoever it proves to be, defeat Barack Obama next year. The last thing we need is division over theology.