As recently as 2004, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – Mormons – were excluded from participating in events organized by the National Day of Prayer Task Force, the largest Christian grassroots organizer of annual National Day of Prayer observances. The task force is chaired by Shirley Dobson, wife of James Dobson, founder of the conservative Christian activist group Focus on the Family.
Yet, just this year major Christian colleges such as Liberty University have welcomed figureheads of the LDS Church as commencement speakers. And some of the Christian community’s most prolific voices – Franklin Graham, Chuck Smith and Tony Perkins to name just a few – have been walking back the condemnation many evangelical Christians have long had for Mormonism.
What changed in eight short years?
A devout Mormon became the Republican Party’s best hope of making Barack Obama a one term president.
In the past, if you mentioned Mormonism to many evangelical Christians, the first word you’d hear back was this: Cult.
I’ve heard it among the pews, and I’ve heard it from the pulpit. "Mormonism is a cult."
Though Mormons share many family and social values with their Christian counterparts, Mormonism has never been accepted as an authentic “Christian religion” by the Christian establishment.
Despite the fact that the U.S. Constitution forbids religious litmus tests for candidates of public office, religious beliefs are a common and valid factor to consider in measuring the personal judgment and character of a candidate. It may not always be an accurate measure, but neither are political ads.
Alas, a presidential candidate in the U.S. avowing anything other than mainstream Christian beliefs stands little chance of getting elected today.
Thus the need to blur the lines between the two religions.
But therein lies the problem.
The differences aren't just vague misunderstandings of the Mormon belief system. They are well-substantiated doctrinal disagreements. To those who practice strict adherence to their Christian orthodoxy, Mormon theology is not only incompatible with Christian belief, it is considered a threat and heretical contradiction to it.
Like all religions when viewed from the outside, facets of Mormonism can cause outsiders to scratch their heads. But, according to my Christian tradition, an innocent man, our savior, was horrifically killed by his own people for the sins of all humanity -- whether you believe in him or not -- and we regularly drink his blood and eat his flesh to commemorate that. So let's be careful where we cast stones.
Whether Mormonism is a cult or a “Christian religion” isn’t really the point. Like evangelical Christianity, it is an established religious institution whose adherents are good, well-meaning, productive members of society in a country founded upon religious freedom.
Nor is this a debate over which, if any, religion best qualifies a person to be President.
The question as I see it is this: With self-identified evangelical Christians making up nearly half of the GOP electorate, how can so many willingly "hold their noses" to align themselves with a group they have always steadfastly reviled rather than vote for a Democrat who is a Christian? Or for that matter a Libertarian, a Green, a Peace and Freedom or an Independent?
How can self-professed “values voters” argue that a vote for anyone but a Republican is a vote for someone who lacks morals, when they have themselves forsaken their deepest held religious values by voting for someone they have labeled a cult member?
It seems an odd choice for those whose worldview is supposed to be eternal, not just for the next four years. It makes it appear as if it is permissible to throw one’s long-held, well-founded religious beliefs under the bus so long as one is doing it out of loyalty to their political party.
The tail is now officially wagging the dog it seems.
But progress is progress.
Though such equivocation by many on the far Right gives me pause, it heartens me to see that there might be wiggle room for debate and reinterpretation of other tent-pole beliefs.
Maybe we'll stop being angry at the poor for being poor, for they will always be with us.
Maybe being pro-life won't end at birth and will include affordable healthcare.
Maybe we’ll start having chicken sandwiches with our fellow sinners instead of checking them for green cards and kicking them out of the bread and fish line.
After all, letting Rick and Rick use the word “marriage” to legally define their same-sex relationship seems a far lesser threat to Christendom than letting a cult member near the doomsday button.
PATRICK CANEDAY is going to get an earful from readers this week. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more at www.randomthoughtsonbeinghuman.com.