Saturday, August 6, 2011

Can a Catholic in good conscience vote for a Mormon for president? I think so

I don't typically read a lot of what is called Catholic apologetics. While I concede that such efforts have a constructive place in the Church, I think the space for this kind of endeavor is very limited for a number of reasons. I guess I can most charitably summarize my reasons by simply noting that it is possible to be correct to no constructive end, what we might call the "clashing cymbal" effect (1 Cor. 13:1-3). So, I would not have come across an article by Jimmy Aiken, Should America Elect a Polytheist Who Claims to be a Christian?, unless a brother deacon, who saw it on The Deacon's Bench, mentioned it to me. I will jump straight to Aiken's conclusion:
When a candidate’s election (or even nomination) would do grave damage to the American public’s understanding of what Christianity is, a value so important is in play that I personally don’t see how I could vote for such a person
As one might guess Aiken is referring to the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Currently, Romney is leading the pack vying for the Republican presidential nomination. Of course, Romney also sought the Republican nomination back in 2008. At that time the issue of his belonging to the Mormon Church was thoroughly hashed over by the media. Attempting to address this issue, he gave a speech at the presidential library of President Bush the elder in College Station, Texas. I posted on this matter in the wake of that speech, in which, among other things, I dealt with some far too little known aspects of LDS belief. But the first thing I noted, even back then, was that Gov. Romney's main problem among Republican voters was not being LDS, but, given that all of his previous political experience was in Massachusetts, where he served as governor and darn near beat the late Senator Kennedy in an election, was being reliably conservative enough on social issues.

It's funny that at one point in his race against Kennedy his opposition tried to play the religion card against him. Romney easily defused this tasteless ploy by invoking the religious bigotry encountered by JFK while running for president as a Roman Catholic in 1960. In that race, religious bigotry essentially forced candidate Kennedy to go to Houston and kowtow to a group of Protestant leaders. While Romney's speech in Texas left a lot to be desired, he stopped short of eviscerating his conscience, which is too high a price to pay for anything in this world. It is also worth noting that by seriously endeavoring to conform his life to what he believes, Gov. Romney strikes me as possessing more of the kind of integrity I look for in an elected leader than, say, JFK, or even his now Catholic rival for the Republican nomination, Newt Gingrich, who while loudly and publicly calling for the impeachment of Pres. Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky, managed to be having an extra-marital affair of his own with a staff member.

Rank anti-Catholicism is not dead by any means. It seems wholly suitable in this context to mention the recent uproar when it was discovered that Michelle Bachmann's former church in Stillwater, Minnesota (Salem Lutheran), a member of the Wisconsin Lutheran Synod, believes and publicly professes that they "identify the anti-Christ as the papacy. This is an historical judgment based on Scripture."

It is certainly no great secret that Mormons do not believe that God is a Trinity of divine persons. However, given that many Catholics are practically-speaking modalists, I fail to see how orthodoxy in this regard informs how we vote. So, I am certainly not disputing that the LDS do not share our belief in God, something I very recently dealt with in a post responding to Glenn Beck's speech to the Israeli Knesset (Beck being a Catholic who became a Mormon). Neither do Jews or Muslims, who can easily see Mormonism as kind of the logical conclusion of Christian theology. Besides, since when do we as Catholics living in a religiously pluralistic society look at political candidates to cement our theology? Ronald Reagan's non-church-going biblical apocalypticism was downright odd, but it's really beside the point. If you're a Catholic, the criterion proposed by Aiken can logically extend to any non-Catholic candidate. I was gratified to see that at least one of Aiken's readers takes a far more Catholic approach:
I’m not persuaded that Christians need to vote against an LDS member simply to catechize the nation. I voted against Obama, but not because of who his daddy is—and prior to the last election, I was encouraged to vote against him precisely because of that reason. I may well vote against Romney, but not because of his religion. I will continue to cast my vote based on the candidate’s stand on the issues.
Along with this commenter, I think this is an instance where we are certainly better off foregoing abstraction and engaging with reality. It may surprise people to learn that there are over 200,000 Catholics in Utah. It also might surprise Catholic readers to know that, as in many places, Catholic politicians who seek office in Utah are often Democrats who disagree with the Church on important matters. For example, we had a Catholic who ran for the governorship in 2010. During the campaign he publicly said that he agreed with what the Catholic Church teaches with regard to the sacredness of human life and then proceeded to say how he supported legalizing abortion in cases of rape and incest. He also made it quite clear that even in a state with an overburdened public education system, he opposed parental choice in education by opposing school vouchers at the behest of the public teachers' union. So, for these and a few other reasons, instead of voting for a Catholic, I voted for a pro-life, pro-family, pro-faith Mormon! I am no more interested in Newt Gingrich's ability to articulate an orthodox understanding of the Most Holy Trinity than I was when deciding who to vote for governor.

It also bears noting that in Utah we have a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as being solely between one man and one woman, despite the fact that Mormons still theologically accept plural marriages between one man and multiple women, even permitting it in countries where it is not against the law. The LDS Church led the way, making common cause with the California Catholic Conference, in the passage of Proposition 8. I could multiply examples, such as their opposition to the legal mandate to teach gay history in California public schools. Here in Utah, many LDS legislators continue to advocate for private school vouchers. My point? How many Catholics who have voted for fellow Catholics or other mostly orthodox Christians could write the same things about their political leaders?

The representative to the U.S. House from my district, along with both of our senators, is a practicing Mormon. I routinely vote for our representative, but in the last senatorial election I voted for the Democrat, who is also an active member of the LDS Church, but who's Dad, an Italian immigrant, was Catholic.

One of the lovely and frustrating things about living in the U.S. is that we are free to vote for whomever we wish using whatever criteria we choose. However, for Catholics to apply such a narrow-minded religious test is to fail in our duty to seek the common good. While Mormonism certainly fails the test of Christian orthodoxy, it is not like Gov. Romney is saying he is one thing while actually being another. Stated simply, he holds his LDS beliefs conscientiously and in good faith. So, whether you choose to support Mitt Romney for president or not, I would hope that religious bigotry is not the basis for your choice. If I am not mistaken, I believe that both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom rejected the divinity of Jesus Christ, would have failed this test.

1 comment:

  1. Very well articulated. Plus, I agree with you so I would say very insightful.

    ; )


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