In his book God is Not Great, atheist Christopher Hitchens made a strong case that we need to be asking candidates about their religious beliefs. Romney, says Hitchens, needs to be asked in clear direct language why he was LDS back when the LDS church was discriminating against African-Americans. The practice ended more than 40 years ago.
I also recall, in the primaries four years ago, that Gov. Huckabee mentioned a few selective odd pieces of Mormon doctrine. He clearly meant those statements to scare voters away from Gov. Romney.
Because I don’t subscribe to the beliefs of Mr. Hitchens or Mr. Huckabee, I didn’t think too much about it. We Catholics, I thought, are different. We’re not threatened. But now, a Catholic whose opinion I value greatly – Jimmy Akin – has stated that we do need to consider Gov. Romney’s religion during the primary. He said it twice in columns over the past few weeks: |HERE| and |HERE|. Akin appears to agree with Pastor Jeffress, who stated that when given a choice between candidates, perhaps we should pick the Christian over the Mormon. Akin goes even farther than Jeffress when he says that electing a Mormon president would “do an enormous disservice to the cause of Christ in America.” (emphasis Akin’s)
Before I continue, I should preface the rest of what I’m about to say with the following information: I am a Catholic, and I’m married to an LDS woman. My kids are being raised in the LDS church. I live in southern Idaho, about 100 miles north of Salt Lake City. There are more Mormons per capita here than anywhere in the world. Can I pass myself off as a Mormon “expert”? Probably not, but I have lived in Mormon culture for 15 years so I’ve got some experience. Most of the people I interact with every day are Mormon. Today, I went to Mormon sacrament meeting (as I do occasionally) to see my youngest in a primary program.
Obviously, I am comfortable with Mormons. Yes, there have been countless conversations with LDS folks about religion. If I thought the LDS church was true, I’d join them. I remain an active Catholic, though, with no interest in joining the LDS church.
With all that said, I say this: I have no problem at all voting for a Mormon for President of the United States. I also think it’s important to say that I am not currently supporting Gov. Romney for President. His Mormonism, though, is a non-issue for me.
The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about this is that the importance of understanding that we Catholics are one group of many groups in this country. Together, all of the people in these groups make up The United States. The Constitution states that there be no religious test for candidates, and I believe that’s in there for good reason. We are a diverse bunch of people. Again, TOGETHER we are Americans. I refuse to exclude 5.1 million Mormons* from the Presidency. Not because they are Mormons.
As a Catholic, I also look at the Vatican’s Declaration on Religious Freedom (1965). It states “The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself.” Clearly we ought to respect the religious freedom and dignity of others.
The second thing that came to mind when Jimmy Akin said those things is that I wonder if he knows that folks like Pastor Jeffress believe that Satan is behind the Catholic Church. I’m certain that Akin understands that. So why be accepting of an evangelical president but not a Mormon one?
And then this uncomfortable question occurred to me: “Is there a person whose religious beliefs would exclude them from my consideration as president?” The answer, I have to admit, is Yes, without question Yes. I can imagine lots of people whose religious beliefs would exclude them from my consideration.
Yet there is a difference between what Akin is concerned about and what I’m concerned about. Akin is concerned about perceived difficulties for “the cause of Christ” should a Mormon be elected. From his column, I take him to mean that the Mormon church will obtain mainstream validation and cause confusion, both of which will lead to conversions into the Mormon church.
I, on the other hand, would exclude a candidate for religious reasons only if that candidate’s beliefs would prevent that person from running the country in what I consider to be a competent manner.
In my opinion, Mormons simply do not fall into that category. I don’t find the LDS religion to be in conflict with what I want in a President. For that reason, a Mormon candidate’s religion is a non-issue for me.