Bruce Young on Christians, Romney, and Voting

February 12, 2008 | 22 comments
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A pro-Huckabee blog recently(ish) set out the (now somewhat dated) argument that (non-Mormon) Christians have a Biblical duty not to vote for Mitt Romney. In response, Bruce (husband of blog-butterfly Margaret) Young wrote a short rebuttal piece. (He’s also a BYU professor of some renown.) I thought the discussion might be of interest (to the T&S community), and so with the permission of Bruce and Margaret Young (have you asked her about her movie lately?), I’m posting it here.

My response (to Pastor Haisty’s argument that, according to John the apostle, Christians should not wish someone who believes in a “false Christ” well and should not welcome such a person into their home or any “house” that in some sense belongs to them):

(1) Even those who believe in absolute scriptural inerrancy must grant that, as human beings, we are seeking to understand the text (of which none of us, by the way, has the autographs from the hands of the apostles). Always, I believe, that understanding must take place in the light of Christ–that is, in harmony with “the mind of Christ” and with “the meekness and gentleness of Christ,” in a manner Christ himself would approve of, and with Christ’s direct words taking precedence and all other things being interpreted so as to be compatible with Christ’s words.

(2) With that in mind, John’s counsel not to wish unbelievers or antichrists well cannot be properly understood as contradicting Christ’s teaching to love your enemies, bless them that curse you, and pray for them that despitefully use you. And so I agree with those that have said John means we should not wish unbelievers or antichrists well in their false or destructive endeavors. But a Christian can–in fact, must–wish them well in general, in the sense of desiring their ultimate happiness and salvation. I think we can even wish for their immediate prosperity–that they will be safe, happy, and successful in any good endeavors–insofar as that is not incompatible with their salvation. But I suppose in wishing anyone well, in a temporal sense, we ought to add, “God willing,” since God of course knows what is best for all of us and when adversity might do us more good than success.

(3) Extending the idea of not welcoming an unbeliever or antichrist into one’s home so that it applies to any “house” that in some sense you have a part in could lead to horrific consequences. It could be used to exclude Mormons (or others deemed non-Christian) from shelter or care in any kind of hospital, homeless center, residence, or other facility supported in whole or in part by public funds or by any other contributions you have made. It could be used to exclude them from any role in government or public life. I doubt that’s what John had in mind.

(4) What the pastor says about Mormons has, in the past, been said about Roman Catholics. From the Reformation onward, some Protestants have explicitly identified Catholics as antichrist. Should what the pastor says about Mormons be applied to Roman Catholics? Should it be applied to Jews? (You could argue, for instance, that Joe Lieberman’s view of Christ [="the Messiah"] is not only defective but false in fundamental ways.) How about other Protestants who do not believe literally in the historicity of Christ, or in his divine Sonship, or in his resurrection, or in the virgin birth, or in his miracles? That would include plenty of Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, and others (not to mention Unitarians)–including not only some nominal members with little interest in theology but, in some cases, ministers and theologians themselves. Should John’s counsel be applied in the same way to them? Does that mean that, with each presidential candidate, we should seek to examine carefully if their view of Christ is biblical (not whether they BELIEVE it is biblical, but whether WE believe it is biblical) and then counsel others not to vote for candidates if they don’t meet the standard? If the answer is “Yes” (as the pastor’s logic would demand), why not treat all the candidates equally and put them all to the test? There could then be a “Biblical Case” against voting for Giuliani, or McCain, or any number of others–perhaps even Huckabee himself, if he should happen to fail the test.

(5) As for who counts as a Christian, I believe the best test (as someone else has noted) is that given by Christ: “By their fruits ye shall know them.” It’s difficult to apply this to large groups of people, since, in any group I’ve discovered, there is great variety. But we can perhaps make a stab at testing a professed Christian by his fruits. And what should be those fruits? “Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.”

With that in mind, I believe that, while there may be many grounds on which to determine that people are believing in a “false Christ,” the one that matters most is whether believers show in their own words and actions evidence of “the mind of Christ.” If not, then even if all of their statements about Christ are theologically correct, their real knowledge–their personal and spiritual knowledge–of Christ must be defective. When Jesus said, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent,” I’m confident he meant knowing the Father and the Son in a personal and experiential sense, not in a merely theoretical, abstract, propositional sense.

Besides the statement “by their fruits,” Jesus gave at least three other tests of discipleship I can think of: obedience to the Father (“Not everyone that saith unto me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ . . . but he that doeth the will of my Father”), love (“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another”), and care for others (“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me”). Interestingly the “doing” specified in this last standard is comfort and service–feeding, clothing, visiting–not correcting people’s theology. I would be most confident in identifying as a believer in the “true Jesus” someone who meets these standards.

(6) But perhaps, as I believe Governor Huckabee himself has suggested, there is a danger in trying to figure out who the true Christians are out there, when we are told, “Let a man examine himself.” Each of us needs to look in our own hearts. Each needs to ask, “Am I a true Christian–a follower in word, deed, and heart of the Son of God?”

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22 Responses to Bruce Young on Christians, Romney, and Voting

  1. Jonovitch on February 12, 2008 at 5:08 am

    And the walls came tumblin’ down.

    At the risk of sounding un-Christian, Bruce Young makes it appear a bit too easy to deconstruct the lame arguments of the Mormon haters. But of course people believe what they want to believe, and tripe puts butts in seats. Oh well.

    I think once a hater gets to know a good Mormon, up close and for real, the cognitive dissonance starts to take over to the point of either pushing them off the deep end (‘they must be stopped at all costs! just look at the elaborate facades they pursue in order to drag more souls down with them to eternal hell!”) or they start to admit that it wasn’t the Mormons trying to pull the wool over their eyes.

    Jon

  2. Adam Greenwood on February 12, 2008 at 9:10 am

    Good stuff.

  3. Dave on February 12, 2008 at 11:14 am

    Ironically, an Evangelical pastor posting an article on the pastors4huckabee blog arguing that no Christian ought to vote for a Mormon probably does more to disqualify Evangelical pastors, including Huckabee, from holding office than it actually hurts the targeted Mormons. Huckabee must read stuff like this and think, “With friends like this …”

  4. BHodges on February 12, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    A great response.

    It will likely make no difference to the majority of people who would accept the original “don’t vote for a Mormon” arguments, however.

  5. David Clark on February 12, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    I am always amazed that we Mormons say things like, “of which none of us, by the way, has the autographs from the hands of the apostles” and then go on to 1) offer up whatever reason we feel like for why we don’t have the Golden Plates and 2) say that we do have the originals for at least some of the Book of Abraham but it is not particularly relevant.

  6. Bruce on February 12, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    I’m a little surprised to see a comment calling me (?) on a brief parenthetical statement: “of which none of us, by the way, has the autographs from the hands of the apostles.” Remember that I posted this on a site with an evangelical or fundamentalist audience, where belief in scriptural inerrancy is standard. But the better informed among evangelicals state as a corollary, “of course, when we say the Bible is inerrant, we are referring to the autographs [meaning 'written by themselves'] as they issued from the hands of the writers.” You can find almost exactly that wording in textbooks used in evangelical/fundamentalist Bible courses. My parenthetical comment was intended as a reminder that we don’t know whether we have John’s exact words, to which I added the comment that, even if we do, we still have to interpret what he meant.

    As a matter of fact, I don’t believe in absolute scriptural inerrancy for several reasons: (1) for the Bible in particular there is a long line of transmission making it difficult to know whether we have the exact and complete wording of the original writers (neverthless, I believe what we have is very, very close); (2) the process of translation and interpretation requires us to work hard and humbly to try to understand what the writers are saying; (3) I believe that God inspired the writers of scripture and sometimes even spoke to them directly but that he spoke to them in their own language and according to their own understanding. So there is a human element in scripture. Evangelicals tend to say that, since the Bible is the sole and sufficient guide to all matters of faith and all things necessary to salvation, God would not have allowed them to represent anything less than a perfect expression of his mind and will. I believe, by contrast, that God allows a lot of the human element, including some imbalance and imperfection that require us to view the scriptures as a whole (rather than focusing on a few selected passages that support our favorite points) and that require us to give special authority to the words of Christ himself. And of course we need to read with the guidance of the Spirit and with the aid of living prophets and apostles who have been charged with helping us understand both the central, eternal truths of the gospel and what God’s will is for us right now.

    Most of what I’ve just said applies to the Book of Mormon as well as the Bible and would do so even if we had direct access to the plates–or direct access to the autographs of the New Testament documents.

  7. Ray on February 12, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    #6 – Well said, Bruce.

    It is very interesting to me that the preponderance of scripture / authority that is quoted or referenced in my conversations with most evangelicals is from Paul or the “early Christian fathers” who wrote the creeds. I often point out that our interpretations that differ from theirs often are based on the Gospels and James and the epistles of John – and I get countered with Pauline pronouncements with nary an acknowledgment of the irony.

    For example, I have a hard time seeing how there would be an argument over the whole grace/faith/works discussion – or the individuality of the separate members of the Godhead – or, especially, the physical nature of the resurrection – if the Gospels were used as the doctrinal foundation, with the apostolic epistles interpreted through the lens of the Gospels.

  8. Adam Greenwood on February 12, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    #6, good comment. I was a little surprised too.

  9. David Clark on February 12, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    I’m a little surprised to see a comment calling me (?) on a brief parenthetical statement The devil is always in the details.

    Remember that I posted this on a site…we still have to interpret what he meant I have no problem with a hermeneutical argument showing that there is no one, objective interpretation of passages from the Bible. Most of your argument was based around a different and more charitable interpretation of the passages. This is a fine argument and I applaud you for making it.

    As a matter of fact, I don’t believe in absolute scriptural inerrancy for several reasons Nor do I believe in scriptural inerrancy.

    The nut of the problem is this: while you can dismiss the importance of the statement as simply being parenthetical, you still put it there to bolster the rhetorical weight of the argument. In fact, it does, because not only is there a hermeneutical challenge to understanding the Bible, there is a textual barrier as well, because no one does have the autographs. My problem is when the evangelicals turn the argument around and say there is a textual barrier to believing and/or understanding the Book of Mormon because you don’t have Moroni’s autograph. Even worse, we arguably have at least part of the autograph of the Book of Abraham, yet I have never seen anyone claim that it sheds light on the text of the Book of Abraham as is currently in the Pearl of Great Price.

  10. Kevin Barney on February 12, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    Very nice, Bruce.

  11. Jonathan Green on February 12, 2008 at 3:21 pm

    David Clark, I still don’t see what point you’re trying to make, or why you’re trying to make it on this thread. We don’t have autograph manuscripts from Moses, John, Abraham, or Moroni. So what? Scriptural inerrancy is not our schtick. And what does any of that have to do with qualifications for office?

  12. Kevinf on February 12, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    In relation to this post, and your comment, Bruce, about actions vs theology, I noticed NPR did a short piece this morning on “Morning Edition”, and interviewed Elder Ballard and Jan Shipps, along with some ordinary church members who had worked on the Romney campaign. It all had to do with our uncomfortable discovery of religious bigotry against Mormons.

    Jan Shipps in particular mentioned that the Romney campaign seemed to attract discussions of our theology, whereas the Olympics focused on our actions, ie that we were family friendly, helpful, industrious, and lots of other good things. The Romney campaign became a focal point for attacks on our theology, and thus, in spite of our actions, getting us labeled as “not Christian” or a cult.

    The suggested course of action, perhaps then, is to live Christlike lives, but acknowledge the theological distinctions without, as I have read on somebody’s blog, getting our “sacred undies in a bunch”. I know I’ve been guilty of getting a little hot at the evangelical treatment of us, but reality points to living our religion, perhaps being less insular, and let our fruits show our faith.

  13. Margaret Young on February 12, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    We’ve had a couple of pastors of other faiths comment on our various blogs. I found one to be extremely thoughtful and open. He was the one to whom I addressed my “letter to a Pastor” which was on BCC awhile back. The other is clearly bright, but also comes with an obvious agenda.

    I’ve been very open about my love and admiration for Pastor Cecil “Chip” Murray (featured in the footage trailer Kaimi so kindly linked to). One of my friends took a young Mormon man to talk to Pastor Chip about his faith struggles. The young man was deciding whether or not to go on a mission. Quite a scene, that–taking the issue to an AME pastor! Pastor Chip listened (I have rarely met anyone who listens so intently to everyone who speaks to him) and then, having been invited to give counsel, said, “It sounds to me like you should serve a mission for your church.”

    I do find it sad that I have NEVER been inside a Baptist church without seeing anti-Mormon material prominently displayed. And I found deep incongruity in the presence of _The Godmakers_ in a NON-denominational bookstore. (Non-denominational–except for…)

    One more quote from Pastor Chip, which will be in the doc’s Special Features: “Believe as you will, but if you think there’s a God in this universe who has patted you on the head and told you you’re the best thing since toast, you are still living in another century…The question is, what can we do TOGETHER under the banner of God?”

  14. Jeremiah J. on February 12, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    Is this an argument against the idea that one could have a Christian duty not to vote for Romney, or something else? I’m wondering because I’m not sure we want to concede that it’s okay to refuse to vote for non-Christians on religious grounds.

    The theological anti-Romney argument seems to be:
    1. Mormonism is a false gospel, perilous to salvation
    2. A Romney presidency would help spread this gospel by lending an aura of legitimacy to it.
    3. Therefore in the interest of saving people’s souls, we cannot support Romney

    1) is false but it seems within the bounds of American civil society to hold this view–and it is *possible* for doctrines to be dangerous to salvaton, despite the importance of actions; 2) may indeed be true. So the argument has something compelling about it, which a different interpretation of John (i.e. emembering to love our enemies and care for their salvation) doesn’t seem to deny.

    To be clear, I don’t like this form of argument at all (besides the fact that I completely reject the first premise). I’m not sure exactly why, but I don’t care for proposals to subvert the decisions of the republic to this or that evangelization or counter-evangelization effort. So even if we weren’t Christian (the subject of points #5 and #6) I wouldn’t think that should matter. And I think my sentiment on the issue is a fundamentally American republican sentiment. And yet I’m not sure that this post has responded to the anti-Romney argument directly.

  15. Adam Greenwood on February 12, 2008 at 5:03 pm

    I think, Jeremiah J., that Bruce Young is responding to an argument that would justify a lot more exclusion and discrimination than just in the Presidency. The argument you outline would prevent evangelicals from putting Mormons in positions of great public trust and influence. The argument Bruce Young is responding to would prevent evangelicals from putting Mormons in any position whatsoever, be it employment, voluntary associations, or politics.

  16. Josh Smith on February 12, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    Jerimiah J.,

    I think you have the line of reasoning about right. I think Bruce’s point is that the argument you’ve outlined also applies to any number of faiths (Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, many forms of Protestantism). The point of this post, as I see it, is that the Biblical-duty-to-vote-against-Romney argument applies to every religion other than the Evangelical faith–and its not really clear what we mean by Evangelical faith. If one is to apply a Christian test to a political candidate, it is unclear what that test should be. Great answer to the original blog.

    Of course Bruce’s post was only a response to one blog posting; it was not meant as a response to Evangelicals generally. In general, I’m sure Evangelicals grapple with all sorts of moral issues, other than religion, that determine who will be their candidate: the environment, welfare, foreign aid, education, SSM, abortion, war and peace, etc. My guess is that most Evangelicals have many issues that influence their vote–not just some oversimplified pick-the-Christian test.

  17. Ray on February 12, 2008 at 7:05 pm

    Very few people who won’t vote for a Mormon simply because of religion don’t understand the larger can of worms they are opening. Bruce addresses this by applying that standard to its logical conclusion – by addressing how one defines an “unbeliever” as it applies to the public and political forum.

    The best example of this currently in America is the general election if Huckabee gets the Republican nomination – or even if he is McCain’s running mate. If that happens, each of the reasons for not voting for Romney could be applied to not voting for Huckabee – and in Huckabee’s case there are examples from his time as governor where he actually did let his religious conviction cloud his political judgment. Southern Baptists, specifically, and evangelicals, in general, who refuse to vote for Romney due to his Mormonism will have no base for complaint when others refuse to vote for Huckabee (as Pres. or VP) due to his Southern Baptist-ism. There are millions of Americans who believe that Southern Baptists aren’t “Christian” in their actions and attitudes toward others – a simplistic stereotype that is no less true than the one that classifies Mormons as “not Christian” based on our differing view of the creeds. Essentially, taken to its logical conclusion, this mindset has the potential to place the role of governance solely in the hands of the largest religion / denomination in the country – and that is a scary proposition, indeed.

    The larger, world application is the refusal of “non-Christian nations” to allow Christians a place in their governments, even though doing so fits *perfectly* into the argument Bruce is addressing in his response.

    Many of the issues others have with Mormonism would disappear if those others understood the double standard to which they are holding Mormonism – and in almost all cases it really is a double standard that is being applied.

  18. Alison Moore Smith on February 12, 2008 at 8:43 pm

    Great piece, Bruce, and great comments.

    But while the rest of you are philosophically pondering each careful turn of a phrase, I’m just down in the muck wondering what makes someone accept one guy who leaves his wife and kids to marry a rich, young honey (or another who is intent on having his way with every women within ten feet of him) because he checked the box indicating an approved religious affiliation, while they must reject the guy who’s honest and faithful, because he actually believes that when God introduced his Son he wasn’t playing ventriloquist.

  19. kurt on February 12, 2008 at 11:38 pm

    well put Alison.

  20. Adam Greenwood on February 12, 2008 at 11:54 pm

    Huckabee appears to have a blameless family life, FYI.

  21. Ray on February 13, 2008 at 12:08 am

    Alison, I read your comment to be about Pres. Clinton. Was it directed at Huckabee?

  22. Jeremiah J. on February 13, 2008 at 2:56 am

    “,..I read your comment to be about Pres. Clinton…”

    McCain. Clinton in parentheses. But perhaps the Huckabee voters (many of whom may have never voted for Clinton or McCain) were the ones to have been more prone to object to the Mormonism of Romney. I have my doubts. At any rate I agree that there is something wrong with our system to the extent that it produces too few talented, competent, appealing candidates with histories of clean living. And too many of the other sort.

    “The point of this post, as I see it, is that the Biblical-duty-to-vote-against-Romney argument applies to every religion other than the Evangelical faith–and its not really clear what we mean by Evangelical faith”

    Perhaps, but this seems to put words in their mouths. It’s perfectly legitimate to ask: “Where would you stop, with your religious tests?” Their answer to this question is not very good, in my opinion, but they do seem to have an answer (“no proselytizing non-trinitarians”). So the slippery slope claim I think misses the mark. Their religious test seems bad in itself, but doesn’t necessary lead to other, more obviously bad, kinds of religious tests.