By Nathaniel Torrey
Are Mormons Christians? What significance will Mitt Romney’s Mormonism have if he is elected president? These questions were asked at “A Mormon President? Religious & Political perspectives,” an event at Roanoke College on September 14th. It consisted of four speakers: Dr. Robert Millet, a Mormon theologian from Brigham Young University, Dr. Gerald McDermott, a theologian from Roanoke College, Dr. Harry Wilson, Roanoke College political scientist, and Dr. Robert Benne, director of the Center for Religion and Society at Roanoke College.
Dr. Millet and Dr. McDermott see the main difference between traditional Christianity and Mormonism in the rejection of the consubstantiality of the three persons of the Trinity. Quoting Jeffrey R. Holland, a leader in the Mormon Church, Dr. Millet said:
We believe these three divine persons constituting a single Godhead are united in purpose, in manner, in testimony, in mission. We believe Them to be filled with the same godly sense of mercy and love, justice and grace, patience, forgiveness, and redemption. I think it is accurate to say we believe They are one in every significant and eternal aspect imaginable except believing Them to be three persons combined in one substance, a Trinitarian notion never set forth in the scriptures because it is not true…
In their view, Mormons are the original and only truly Biblical Church. They are rigorous in their application of Sola Scriptura. They reject any and all “post-New Testament” teachings beginning with the Council of Nicaea, the first ecumenical council that established the precise relations of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that are accepted by almost all Christians today. They also simultaneous believe in a new and on-going revelation, beginning with Joseph Smith and continuing today.
According to Dr. McDermott, this shouldn’t bother us too much when we cast our ballots. Americans have a long tradition of electing presidents with unorthodox beliefs about God. Dr. McDermott points out that:
George Washington was a deist who usually referred to the deity in vague and impersonal terms. He never seemed to have the personal relationship with God or Jesus that evangelicals think is necessary to true faith. John Adams, a Unitarian, wrote to his son John Quincy that the idea of an incarnate God suffering on a cross made his “soul start with horror at the idea.” Thomas Jefferson believed the doctrines of the Trinity, atonement and original sin were essentially pagan, and rejected the possibility of most miracles and any bodily resurrection. Lincoln biographer Allen Guelzo reports that our 16th president also rejected the Trinity, believing hesitatingly in a “remote, austere, all-powerful, uncommunicative” God without either Son or Spirit.
It seems that Mitt Romney’s particular theological stances shouldn’t be much of a problem for voters if history is any indication. Also, where orthodox Christianity and Mormonism agree, and where orthodox voters and Mitt Romney agree, is significant. Both affirm that termination of a fetus is not a right and that it is in the interest of everyone that the traditional unit of society, the family, be protected.
It seems these shared values will be enough for most orthodox Christians to assuage their consciences this November. 28 Christian leaders, both Catholic and Protestant, have signed and sent a letter to Mitt Romney, applauding his stances on abortion and same-sex marriage in particular. In contrast, the Democratic Party has affirmed a woman’s right to an abortion and endorsed gay marriage. For many traditional Christians and Mormons this fall, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” may be a common mantra on the way to the ballot box.