Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Richard J. Neuhaus on Romney's Mormonism


Is it unreasonable and biased to vote against Romney merely because he is a Mormon? I think so. While my faith is certainly different from those of the Mormons, my service in the Legislature, and my friendships with many Mormons over the years has given me nothing but the highest respect for both the faith and its adherents. In any event, this is America. We don't have religious tests for public office. Period.

Father Richard Neuhaus, a former Lutheran Minister turned Catholic priest disagrees:

There is no Mormon vote comparable in size to the Catholic vote. Christian suspicion of Mormonism, concentrated in but by no means limited to evangelical Protestantism, is strong. Nor is that suspicion entirely unreasonable, as I have discussed on several occasions in First Things.

I believe that many Mormons are Christians as broadly defined by historic markers of Christian faith. That does not mean that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christian. It is indisputably derived from Christianity and variations on Christianity, but its distinctive and constituting doctrines are irreconcilable with even a very liberal construal of biblical Christianity. It is, as Rodney Stark and many others have argued, a new religion and, by the lights of historic Christianity, a false religion. It is true that there are Mormon scholars who are working mightily to reconcile the LDS with Christianity, and one wishes them well, but they have their work cut out for them.

It is not an unreasonable prejudice for people who, unlike Alan Wolfe et al., care about true religion to take their concern about Mormonism into account in considering the candidacy of Mr. Romney. The question is not whether, as president, Mr. Romney would take orders from Salt Lake City. I doubt whether many people think he would. The questions are: Would a Mormon as president of the United States give greater credibility and prestige to Mormonism? The answer is almost certainly yes. Would it therefore help advance the missionary goals of what many view as a false religion? The answer is almost certainly yes. Is it legitimate for those Americans to take these questions into account in voting for a presidential nominee or candidate? The answer is certainly yes.

For millions of other Americans, the above questions do not matter. And for those for whom they do matter, they are not the only questions that matter. Mr. Romney is a very attractive candidate in both substance and style. As in most decisions, and not least of all in voting, the question comes down to what or who is the alternative. We will not have an answer to that question for some months. But I can now register a respectful disagreement with John Fund when he writes, “We will be a better country if even people who don’t support Mr. Romney for president come to recognize that our country is better off if his candidacy rises or falls on factors that have nothing to do with his faith.” On the contrary, we are a better country because many Americans do take their faith, and the faith of others, very seriously indeed. Also when it comes to voting.

Does this line of argument mean that anti-Catholicism should have prevented the election of JFK? No. Anti-Catholicism is, in my judgment, an unreasonable prejudice. Others, of course, will disagree, but not enough others to prevent the election of a Catholic president. Anxiety about the strengthening of Mormonism by virtue of there being a Mormon president is not unreasonable. One may or may not share that anxiety, but it is not unreasonable. Those who think it is unreasonable are, more often than not, people who think it is unreasonable to take religion so very seriously. For the millions of citizens who do take religion so very seriously, the fact that Mr. Romney is a Mormon may not be the determinative factor, but it will be a factor, and, for many, an important factor.

I am sure Mr. Romney is aware of that, and I hope he finds a way of addressing it that does not suggest that his religion does not matter—or that those who think it does matter are guilty of unreasonable prejudice.


Read it all here.

I hardly know where to begin to challenge this view. To begin with, doesn't this logic suggest that it is acceptable to vote against any religious believer for fear that their religion will gain credibility if he or she is elected? Would Neuhuas allow similar reasoning to a voter who voted against a candidate merely because they were Jewish? Remember, Neuhaus is positing a voter who accepts Romney's views on issues (and who likes his character), but still votes for another candidate merely because of a dislike of Mormonism. Sounds dangerously un-American to me.

4 comments:

carl loeber said...

1. I can't say I'm an expert like Dr. Neuhuas ... but .... from what I have heard the reason why he says the Mormon doctrine is not Biblical is because orthodox Trinitarians like he cannot bring themselves to believe that Jesus was actually the Son of God. The orthodox Christians are something like the Gnostics in this case ... they think that when Christ and the Apostles repeatedly claimed that He was the Son of God that this was actually a sort of metaphorical symbolism for the incarnation of God. And further, that God is not really "God the Father" ... that title also is a type of Gnostic metaphor.

2. Let's see .. if say President Bush was a Mormon would that be a plus for Mormonism in the world given his popularity ? Well we could expect an increase of baptisms in Albania I guess. So what the Doctor's argument means is that if the president is a Mormon ... the better a president he is the worse it will be .. because Mormonism will appear favorable .. while if he is a lousy and unpopular president .. it might even be a drag on Mormon missionary work ..

This idea is from science fiction author Scott Card.

bls said...

Well, I wouldn't vote for a Christian Reconstructionist for that reason alone. Is that the same sort of thing?

Alice MacArthur said...

I take my religion seriously, as I know you do also, Chuck, and find it insulting that Neuhaus states that unless you consider the religion of the cnadidate an important factor you do not take your religion seriously!

And while we celebrate Independence Day no less.

Question:What is a Christian Reconstructionist?

gabriel said...

What Neuhaus is saying is that while it's permissible to take into account a person's religious beliefs, that shouldn't be the sole means by which we determine who to vote for. A concern (whether accurate or not) that a rival religion will gain a missionary advantage through electing one of their own is an acceptable consideration. It certainly is not indicative of a prejudice.