I apologize to you unfortunates who don’t know the pure, sweet beauties of an obsession with politics. This post is not for you.
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80% of Americans would vote for a Mormon for President, according to Gallup. This is probably better than the number of Americans who would vote for a generic adulterer. By historical standards for how God’s saints have been treated, this is quite good. No one’s stoning us, no one’s slaying us between the temple and the altar, and no one’s driving us into the wilderness with killing and rape. No one here is listing us on an official registry of cults with attendant legal consequences, as some countries do. We spend too much time fretting about the mote in our American neighbor’s eye.
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Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, asks in an upcoming article, “Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?” This is a notorious smear meant to inflame passions. And, unlike the other Republican candidates and, I assume, the Democratic candidates, Huckabee has refused to agree that Mormons are not cultists.
I hesitate to post this news. I think a mild tribalism is healthy. I have no real problem with Mormons supporting Romney because he’s Mormon or evangelicals gravitating to Huckabee because he’s evangelical. But Mormon tribalism can sometimes go beyond that to seeing evangelicals as an undifferentiated mass or lusting for evangelicals to suffer even when it doesn’t benefit the spread of the Kingdom in any way. And this kind of news will stoke that. But if Mormons shouldn’t practice that kind of nasty tribalism, Huckabee shouldn’t either, and that’s what he seems to be doing here. Either he’s using religious smears for political advancement or he dislikes us so much that he’s willing to hurt his campaign to avoid being kind. Neither is walking Christ’s walk.
UPDATE: Huckabee approached Romney after today’s debate (12/12) and apologized. http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/12/12/huckabee.mormons/index.html This is walking Christ’s walk. Unless and until we see any backsliding, we should accept the apology and worry about more important matters.
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In Romney’s faith speech, he said the following:
And in every faith I have come to know, there are features I wish were in my own: I love the profound ceremony of the Catholic Mass, the approachability of God in the prayers of the Evangelicals, the tenderness of spirit among the Pentecostals, the confident independence of the Lutherans, the ancient traditions of the Jews, unchanged through the ages, and the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims. As I travel across the country and see our towns and cities, I am always moved by the many houses of worship with their steeples, all pointing to heaven, reminding us of the source of lifeâ€™s blessings.
The commentariat mostly thought this passage was cheesy and condescending. Kristol and a friend went farther:
Romney ‘wishes’ his own faith had these ‘features’? What does that mean? He presumably doesn’t ‘wish’ his own faith incorporated what these features signify (e.g., in the case of the Jews’ unchanged traditions, that there has been no new revelation, or revelations), since that would change the meaning of his faith
Apparently they haven’t heard of “holy envy.” (Times and Seasons’ holy envy post is here. See also here, here, here, and here.) Or else they believe that a Mormon can’t know that this is the one true church and still have holy envy. They are wrong.
Holy envy can come from opportunity cost. Our doctrines or practices or choices can be superior to their alternatives without necessarily offering the same goods that they do. A Mormon can know God’s wisdom in directing us to have a lay clergy, for instance, without pretending that our lay clergy are superior in every respect to professional clergy. “Master, he’s no Latiner.”
Second, they ignore that in Mormonism the Church’s perfection is only a transient perfection, the perfection of becoming. We are still waiting to believe the many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God that He will yet reveal. So a Mormon can see the benefits in an alternate way of doing things and even privately suspect that those alternates are superior. Even if he believe that as God’s church the Church must necessarily be superior over-all, he could see it as inferior in particular aspects.
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There’s a recent Huckabee contretemps about the role God plays in a political campaign. Because Huckabee isn’t one of us, we’re likely to get hot and angry about it. I did at first. But I ask you to look past that reaction. What Huckabee has claimed is compatible with what we believe if we think about it dispassionately.
Here’s the controversial exchange, and, yes, it will rub you the wrong way.
STUDENT: Recent polls show you surging… What do you attribute this surge to?
HUCKABEE: There’s only one explanation for it, and it’s not a human one. It’s the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of five thousand people.
Assume Huckabee is saying that God wanted him to win. So? We can’t say for certain that God doesn’t care about presidential campaigns or influence them in any way (in fact, I believe he probably does both), and even though Huckabee isn’t a Mormon and his politics don’t agree with mine doesn’t mean he couldn’t suit God’s purposes. If God can uses Assyrians He can certainly overlook the little matter of me not liking the Huckabee. What is more, I don’t see that much of a problem with Huckabee thinking that God wants him to win. I hope most presidential candidates think that God has agreed in prayer that they should run before they do it. Obviously most of them would be mistaken, or else would overlook that God’s purpose in their running was not necessarily their winning the campaign, but still, if candidates feel God has directed them to run, an assumption that He wants them to win is good enough for government work.
The real problem would not be Huckabee’s assumption that God cares about politics or interferes in politics or even Huckabee’s idea that God is interfering on his behalf. The real problem would be Huckabee saying so (on which more below).
As it happens, the Huckabee camp has clarified that Huckabee was not saying that God wanted him to win. They’ve offered two different explanations. The first is that
[l]ike most Christians, Governor Huckabee believes in giving God the credit for the blessingsâ€”particuarly the unexplainable good fortuneâ€”that come our way. That is all he was trying to say, as I’m sure, most people will recognize.
This is scriptural . The second explanation is that God answers prayers and lots of people are praying for Huckabee. Since I believe that God hears the prayers of his unbaptized evangelical children, and since I believe God will sometimes grant prayers just because He’s asked and not because He is necessarily endorsing the request (see, e.g., the episode of the lost 100 pages), I can buy that one too. (Note: not that I’m going to hit the floor and start praying for Romney. I like the guy’s candidacy but not that much).
But as I mentioned, none of these explanations justify saying what Huckabee said publicly. Saying it publicly is discourteous in the American context. It goes against custom and Americans don’t have ready at hand the kind of thinking about God and prayer and politics that would let them see his statement as something other than a claim of divine election. Saying it publicly also falsely claims a kind of spiritual authority over the listeners. I haven’t the time to work through why and how that is, but it seems to me that in Church practice we’ve learned over time that these kinds of statements do make a claim on the hearer even when they’re not meant to. Of course most evangelicals’ understanding and experience of authority is pretty palsied, so Huckabee is probably more to be pitied than censured.
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(This last section is personal, not Mormon)
Gosh! Golly! National Review has endorsed Mitt Romney.
I grew up on the National Review. I don’t remember where I first heard about her, but I started reading the magazine at the library and then bought a subscription with my paper route money. I mostly imbibed my politics with my mother’s milk, not from the magazine. But much of my basic cultural knowledge I first found through the National Review. And though most of you come from the wrong background to appreciate this, the National Review also broadened my mind and moderated my views.
She’s come down in the world lately, just a little bit, as Buckley has grown older and those closer to my generation have taken a larger role. But I still love the magazine. I love the carefully-crafted barbs, the contrarian articles making the conservative case for, e.g., global warming, the editors in love with books and culture and God and wordsmithing.
So I was stunned when I saw that she had endorsed Mitt Romney. I’m Mormon enough to see him as my champion even though I know better than that, so I can’t deny I’m excited. And I’m NRO-nik enough that I think more highly of Romney now.
But at the same time, picking candidates is a dirty business. We’re dear old friends, ma’am. Don’t value yourself less than I do.