A Mormon, a Catholic, and a Newt Walk Into a Church …

So, a Mormon, a Catholic, and a Newt walk into a Church looking for votes.  The Mormon keeps the religious talk to a minimum because, well, a good number of the members of the Church think he is part of a cult – and a good rule of thumb for cult members in church is to be seen and not heard on matters of religion.  Now, he has the right stances on the political issues that matter, but since he didn’t always have the right stances, he prefers to spend his time looking reverential and awkwardly singing hymns.  The Catholic is a true believer – not necessarily in the religious conversion sense – there are at least a few in the congregation that aren’t sure whether someone who prays to Mary can really be saved – but, rather, in the ideological sense.  He really believes in the deeply conservative social issues that fire up the Churchgoers deep within their collective loins, or, if you prefer, bosoms.  He is not afraid of strong language and dogmatic stances and doesn’t back down from invoking righteous indignation at everything from John F. Kennedy to Health Care Reform. The Newt, well the Newt is a special case.  The Newt speaks the language of the Church the best of all – redemption, retribution, and certainty in who to blame.  He declares war on the media elite. He warns of a war on Christians being conducted by the President.[1]  He is a prophet.  He is a defender of the faith.  He is a cultural warrior.  He is a man who twice left wives in their darkest hour for other women.  The congregation doesn’t know what to make of Newt.  They find themselves simultaneously saying Amen to his message while whispering about whether they want to invite him to Sunday dinner.  The Churches that comprise the Christian Right find themselves at an odd place this primary season:  being courted by a Mormon, a Catholic, and an Adulterer.  Somewhere, you have to think, that Jerry Falwell is rolling over in his grave.

It is a fascinating turn of events that sees the Christian Right led by men who have faiths and backgrounds that would not permit them to preach from most evangelical pulpits on matters of faith.  What started as a highly evangelical, overwhelmingly protestant, political movement in 1979 with the founding of the Moral Majority by Reverend Falwell, has become a loose association of mostly angry middle-class white folks, who hold a wide variety of faiths, but share a very passionate belief that President Obama is destroying their Country.   In 2012, the orienting principle of the Christian Right is no longer theological homogeneity, or an evangelistic crusade, but, rather, cultural preservation.  This shift may not be a bad thing, but it certainly is an interesting thing.

It is interesting because it appears that, within the Christian Right of today, a candidate’s theological purity or personal morality seems much less important than his stances on a few key political issues – abortion, gay marriage, and, oddly enough in this election cycle – something called “Obamacare.”   It seems that the end – defeating President Obama and preserving the cultural status quo – is important enough that it can be obtained by any means available – even if that means electing someone who you are unsure whether you will be sharing a mansion with in Heaven.  This marks a departure from the previous procedure of the Christian Right which placed a high premium on the evangelical, protestant bona fides of the candidates that it supported.  In 2000, George Bush distinguished himself from a pack of contenders in large part because of his evangelical faith.  He was, to most evangelicals, “Our President.”[2]  Yet, this year, the Christian Right quickly abandoned the candidate with the best evangelical pedigree, Rick Perry.  When Perry entered the race, it was in large part at the urging of a group of evangelical leaders who wanted him to run.[3]  But after he famously floundered in a series of Presidential Debates,[4] those who loved his faith quickly retreated from believing that he could win.  This retreat was evidence that somewhere, in the years since George W. Bush left the White House, the Christian Right had substituted political pragmatism for backing the candidate who best met the evangelical litmus test.  In so doing, the movement became far more inclusive and, as a result more, influential.  Catholics, mainline Protestants, cultural Christians who don’t regularly attend church, Jews, and Mormons were all welcome “under the tent” as long as they had the right political views on the key issues.  The result has been that the Christian Right has morphed into much more of a classic political movement, organized around issues and culture and not simply around religious ends.  It is no longer the Moral Majority or Christian Coalition – it is simply the “Conservative Wing of the Republican Party.”   Its voice is more diverse, but also stronger.

What does the Christian Right lose in this exchange?  Mainly, it loses the ability to lay absolute claim to God’s favor and blessing for its candidates.  After all, it is hard to say with religious certainty that God wants as President someone who you aren’t even sure is a Christian.  To be clear, it is not a fringe position within the evangelical community that Mormonism and Catholicism are not true Christian faiths.  Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary[5], articulates a common conservative evangelical position on Mormons and Catholics, quite well.  Mr. Mohler is quick to say that he shares many political views with Mormons and Catholics, considers them to be “good neighbors” and does not question their sincerity.  He is rational, unapologetic, and matter-of-fact in his belief that both religions are false representations of Christianity.   On Catholicism, Mr. Mohler states, “I believe that the Catholic Church is a false Church and teaches a false Gospel.”[6]  On Mormonism he states, “I do not believe that Mormonism leads to salvation.  To the contrary, I believe that it is a false gospel that, however sincere and kind its adherents may be, leads to eternal death rather than eternal life.”[7]  These positions create an interesting dilemma for the Christian Right.  One of the defining characteristics of the Christian Right is that they are certain that their candidates are the candidates that God wants to be elected.  They rely on God delivering the victory by his power, no matter what the odds.  But how can they be certain that God will deliver victory when they have supported candidates that many of their leaders feel are not Christians?  While their move towards political pragmatism in candidate selection certainly gives them a greater practical chance to defeat President Obama, selecting a candidate who they feel is a member of a cult or a false religion may have, in effect, opened themselves up to the criticism that they are trusting in their own understanding for political victory rather than trusting in God for His victory.  For people of faith, this is a damning criticism indeed.

And so, a Mormon, a Catholic, and a Newt walk into a church to vie for the Conservative Wing of Republican Party’s votes in 2012.  None of them offer the evangelical, protestant religious message that is being preached from the pulpits of the majority of churches that they are courting, but each offers the right political message that often emanates from these same churches.  Each candidate promises to fight the good cultural fight to preserve the family, secure the sanctity of marriage, and defend a decentralized, anti-government approach to health care.  And each is making inroads in the demographic.  Their messages are resonating with the frustrated middle class like never before.  A sweeping victory for preserving the cultural status quo is within reach.  One of these men will lead that political charge into the general election.  It will be polarizing.  It will be harsh. It will define the sides as good and evil — as Patriot and Enemy.  To be sure, there will be religious undertones and overtones in all that is said and done, but most voters of the Christian Right simply want each candidate to answer one question:  can you beat Obama?  In 2012, which ever candidate provides the best answer to that question will be “God’s candidate” in the eyes of the new, more pragmatic, Christian Right.

— David Davies, Editor-in-Chief



[1] 1 Newt Gingrich, “The Obama Administration’s War on Christians,” Human Events, http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=49217.

[2] For an interesting treatment of this subject, please check out,  Bill Sammon, The Evangelical President: George Bush’s Struggle to Spread a Moral Democracy Throughout the World, (Regnery Publishing 2007).

[4] His worse gaffe came when he failed to remember the third department of the federal government that he intended to close if he were elected.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/nov/10/rick-perry-forgets-agency-scrap.

[5] Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is the Flagship Seminary for the largest Evangelical Denomination in the U.S.

[6] Al Mohler, comments made on Larry King Live in March of 2000, reiterated on albertmohler.com, http://albertmohler.com/2005/04/21/us-sen-salazar-launches-an-attack-on-me/.

[7] Al Mohler, “Are Mormons Christians?, albertmohler.com, http://www.albertmohler.com/2007/07/26/are-mormons-christians-ending-where-i-began/.

 

About David Davies, Editor-in-Chief

David Davies is the Editor-in-Chief of Media Rostra. He is also a lawyer and a licensed minister, so he is basically distrusted by everyone on some level. He received his Political Science degree from the University of Tulsa and his Juris Doctor from the University of Arkansas. He is a former Assistant Attorney General for the State of Arkansas, a former "good athlete for his size," and current owner of The Law Offices of David Davies, PLLC -- an Estate Planning and Elder Law firm that has offices in Arkansas and Tennessee. He co-authored, with fellow editor, Aaron Brooks, the article entitled: “Exploring Student-Athlete Compensation: Why the NCAA Cannot Afford to Leave Athletes Uncompensated," in the University of Notre Dame’s Journal of College and University Law.

Comments

  1. Well written and a little scary. You have articulated what I have been feeling.  “trusting in their own understanding for political victory rather than trusting in God for His victory” – that line sticks out more than anything. Fox news is not salvation. Republican conservatism is not  salvation either. Jesus is our salvation (and he is the same salvation for Democrats and Independents, too).  I did like one thing Newt said at one of the debates. He said that the role of President was limited and unless the nation as a whole changes, very little in politics will change. Grassroots, individual and community level responsibility, fruitful lives and real evangelism that loves people well – God centered personal revival. Nothing short of it will be powerful enough to stem the tide of a great cultural fall. 

  2. Mitsu KuboNo Gravatar says:

    Well written.  You’ve definitely given me something new to think about, concerning the Christian Right.