Evangelicals and the Upcoming Election
As a continuation of a previous MUblog post, this post explores how evangelicals can graciously engage Mormonism as the 2012 U.S. elections approach. The following is a column written by Multnomah's Dr. Paul Louis Metzger earlier this year for evangelical voters in Florida’s Sun Sentinel prior to the Florida primary.
CNN.com reported a prediction earlier this month that the Republican Party will make Mitt Romney its 2012 presidential nominee. Following the prediction, it read, “As evangelicals try to figure out whether they can support a president who practices Mormonism, the rest of us will try to figure out whether Mormonism is a cult, a form of Christianity, or something in between” (what CNN calls its #1 faith-based prediction for 2012).
While Newt Gingrich’s victory in South Carolina may make some question this prediction, it is still important for evangelicals to prepare graciously and civilly for the strong possibility of experiencing the Mormon moment. Reasons include the cultivation of better relationships with Mormons, a better representation of evangelical faith, and a better and more civil society.
While Mormonism (the faith of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) has traditionally been called a cult within evangelical and other religious circles, it is more meaningful and missional to consider Mormonism a religious culture or subculture with different beliefs and distinctive religious practices. Certainly, there are critically important doctrinal issues that distinguish evangelicals and other orthodox Christians from Mormons, including views of Jesus, Scripture and salvation, but there are also many things that connect us.
Like evangelicals, Mormons seek life-changing spiritual experience, relational security, and vibrant and lasting community. As Robert L. Millet of Brigham Young University claims in his response to my chapter on Mormonism in the forthcoming work, “Connecting Christ,” “For Latter-day Saints, true religion, revealed religion, is all about relationships.”
When evangelicals like myself try to establish common ground on shared values with Mormons, we are better able to journey with them in pursuit of the truest understanding and richest experience of Jesus and common ground on ethical matters. We will also be less prone to stereotype and demean them, for we will come to see that if we demean Mormon teachings and their customs, we are demeaning them as persons as well as their familial and social ties. Such sensitivity will allow us to cultivate better relationships with Mormons and they will also look more favorably on our faith.
How do we relate our faith to political and societal issues? When it comes to matters of public faith, we must vote for candidates who we believe would promote the greater good more than alternative candidates. With that in mind, I would rather vote for a Mormon (or someone else of another faith perspective) who is a better politician in caring for the greater good than an evangelical who is less skilled as a politician in pursuit of civic virtue.
American society at large often has a hard time thinking of evangelicals as caring for the greater good. Whether evangelicals vote for former Gov. Romney, former Speaker Gingrich (Roman Catholic), President Obama (mainline Protestant), or another candidate, we must move beyond tribalism to engage meaningfully political leaders from diverse religious traditions. If we do, preparation for the possible Mormon moment would be momentous for evangelicals in our public witness. We would demonstrate to society at large that our faith in the uncommon God revealed in Jesus’ life leads us to pursue the common good of all.
Dr. Metzger explores the same topic in his new book Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths. Click here to read chapter 11: "The Burning Bosom," which includes Metzger's more in-depth essay on engaging Mormonism and a response from Brigham Young University's Dr. Robert Millet.