A Southern Baptist leader says he could not rule out ever voting for a Mormon for president, but he would fear it might lend credibility to worldwide missionary efforts of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., is quoted as saying so in a new book by broadcaster and blogger Hugh Hewitt, A Mormon in the White House? 10 Things Every American Should Know about Mitt Romney.
Mohler implied he would hesitate to vote for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in 2008–not because he thinks he is a poor candidate, but because Romney is a Mormon–a religion Mohler views as theologically false.
“I can’t say categorically that I would never vote for a Mormon candidate for president,” Mohler said. It would depend on how the election was shaking out.
“With my concerns about the character of Mormonism,” he said, “I would be hesitant to do anything that would draw attention to Mormonism as a mainstream part of American culture and, therefore, more likely to appear as a legitimate Christian denomination, when I do not believe that it is.”
Mohler said he would be no more concerned about LDS church officials attempting to influence a Mormon president than he would worry about a Catholic president receiving marching orders from the pope. (He also views the Catholic Church a “false church” teaching a “false gospel” and the papacy a “false and unbiblical office.”)
But Mohler said he would worry about the impact a Mormon president might have on worldwide missional efforts of the LDS.
“That is one of my central concerns, and it especially would be directed at nations where Christian efforts and evangelism now continue and where there are also Mormon efforts,” he said. “The election of a Mormon president would be an enormous boost in terms of publicity for those efforts among the Mormons.”
Mohler conceded that Massachusetts does not appear to be a hotbed of Mormonism after four years of Romney as governor. But he said is more concerned with the international scene, “especially in many countries which are or might be described as the Third World.”
In such places, he said, “the aspiration to be like America would be tied in all likelihood to the aspiration to be like an American president.”
One Southern Baptist Convention leader, Ethics & Religious Liberty President Richard Land, has said he doesn’t believe Romney’s Mormonism would be a “deal breaker” for most Christian voters. Land said he expects Romney will face a bigger problem with the unchurched than with people of faith. But Mohler isn’t so sure.
“I don’t think the question is whether or not a candidate is an orthodox Christian in any traditional sense,” Mohler said. “I think the issue is what is the worldview held by this candidate and what difference would that make materially in his leadership of the nation.”
“If a person holds a basically secular worldview with some mild religious attachment, then nobody really feels threatened by that,” Mohler said. “But if this is a heartfelt commitment, whether it be Hindu or Mormon or Islamic or Christian, I think the citizen will take that into full consideration.”
Land, the ERLC head, was among 15 evangelicals invited to Romney’s home last October for a private meeting arranged by Mark DeMoss, former spokesman for Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell. In 1991 DeMoss founded an Atlanta public-relations company with clients including the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Samaritan’s Purse and Franklin Graham, Prison Fellowship and Chuck Colson, Focus on the Family, T.D. Jakes and the AmericanCenter for Law and Justice.
DeMoss said in an interview on a blog titled Article VI, referring to the part of the Constitution that says no religious test can be required as a qualification for public office, that he respects Mohler but doesn’t believe there is any evidence that electing Mormons to public office promotes their religion.
“People have said to me occasionally, Mark, you don’t understand what these people believe,” DeMoss said. “And my answer to that is, on a personal level, I care what Mitt Romney believes about Jesus and about heaven and about hell and so on. On a political level, I don’t care. And I am not trying to be smart-alecky about it. I just don’t care, because I don’t think it is relevant.”
“I do think it is important that he has a moral basis, which nobody would say he does not have,” DeMoss said. “I do think it is important that he has a personal faith, which nobody would say he does not have. I don’t think it is important that he has a faith that mirrors mine.”
Public pronouncements by Southern Baptist leaders regarding Romney have been ambivalent ever since–despite his membership in the Mormon church–Romney aligned himself with the Christian right, noting he shares their values on issues like gay marriage and stem cell research.
Baptist Press gave high-profile coverage of Romney’s efforts to pass a marriage amendment to the state’s constitution after a 2003 ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Court that the constitution currently does not allow the state to deny marriage to same-sex couples.
Mohler compared the day the state began issuing marriage licenses to homosexuals to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Calling it “a day that will live in moral infamy,” Mohler echoed FDR’s famous quote about Dec. 7, 1941, in asking for a declaration of war.
But some are disturbed by Romney’s membership in a denomination that considers itself to be Christian, but the SBC North American Mission Board classifies as a non-Christian cult.
“Mitt Romney is a temple-worthy Mormon, and one of the conditions for being temple-worthy is that you have to swear allegiance to the Mormon president, whom they believe can receive from God direct revelation,” Phil Roberts, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., said on the PBS program “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. “So Mitt Romney, in a very real sense, has an allegiance to a personality and a person that in most religious circles is unprecedented.”
Other politically active Southern Baptists are more pragmatic. “I would hope most people in the Christian conservative movement are mature enough in their politics not to just write him off because he’s a Mormon,” Vision American founder Rick Scarborough said. “But I do think that gives a lot of people pause.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.