Growing up as an evangelical, voting Republican was a moral responsibility. Democrats were baby-killing socialists whose ultimate agenda included flushing God from the public sphere and eventually outlawing the freedom of worship. Republicans, by contrast, carried on in the tradition of our forefathers: they wanted to bring this nation back to its Christian roots.
It’s tempting to launch into what a Christian nation would actually look like, with the division of property (Act 2:41) and hospitality to strangers (Hebrews 13:2). Or even to look at the one simple statement that Jesus actually made about civic government (the Roman Empire, not exactly the bastion of moral integrity), “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s (Mark 12:17)”, i.e. pay your taxes. But I won’t go there.
It is my suspicion that with a couple of exceptions evangelicals have been played for fools by candidates who realized that they could have the support of an entire voting block if they said the words “Christian nation.” Never mind that the founding fathers they tend to tout, and the ones who actually crafted our Constitution, espoused a sort of deist-Christian hybrid that historian Gregg Frazer calls “theistic rationalism” and were more concerned with the Magna Carta than with the Bible.
Nevertheless, the hardliners among the religious right have promoted whoever the outspoken Christian on the ballot is. Most famously, George W. Bush (who, once out of office, upset many fundamentalists by endorsing some of the more liberal positions on evolution and inerrancy of Scripture, per his Mainline Protestant affiliation). Meanwhile they have taken a hard stance on the doctrines of Christian fundamentalism such as Creation and the deity of Christ, with their hallmark being unwillingness to compromise.
But now the choice is between a Mormon and Democrat. Regardless of Barak Obama’s religious beliefs, for many evangelicals his party platform means that, as I overheard at a Houston Chick-fil-a, “No man who calls himself a Christian could vote for Obama.” So, Mitt Romney is the default choice of most evangelicals. That’s actually not a big deal to me. He’s pro-life (today), he’s small government (ish), and he likes churches (and temples). All of this jives with the cherished beliefs of the religious right, and most evangelicals in general.
I’m even excited that my evangelical brothers and sisters are voting for a Mormon. I’m glad that they could recognize that personal beliefs about whether or not Jesus is the Son of God don’t have a huge bearing on one’s plans to stimulate the economy. They really don’t. So vote your values, vote your economic policy, vote for the candidate you like.
However, here’s what did finally disturb me. Rev. Billy Graham, like most hardline evangelicals, considers Mormonism a cult. Right or wrong, they’ve been teaching this for decades, I’ve heard it with my own ears. It was not until Mitt Romney’s campaign sought the endorsement of Graham that Mormonism came off the list of cults on Graham’s website.
Ken Barun, in a statement to the Charlotte observer said, “We removed the information from the website because we do not wish to participate in a theological debate about something that has become politicized during this campaign.”
Here’s why I don’t buy that: when Barak Obama came out in favor of gay marriage, the organization didn’t take down their page on homosexuality. In fact I’d argue that homosexuality is more politicized than Mormonism will ever be, unless Mitt tries to reinstate polygamy, which I doubt he will.
Do not be mistaken. Billy Graham did not have a change of heart on the subject of Mormonism. Nor has any hardline evangelical. What they have had is something far more profound: a change in savior. What the Graham crusade effectively said is NOT, “We’re willing to endorse this man, even though we disagree about religion.” Instead their action said that “truth” comes second to getting a conservative in the White House. Whether or not you believe that Mormonism is a cult is not the issue. Billy Graham’s organization does. And that would never have come down from his website if Joe and Sally Latter-Day-Saint had come to his door asking him to remove it. It wasn’t a display of tolerance, it was a display of faith in the conservative movement as the hope for America.
Rather than just coming out and endorsing Mitt in spite of the difference in faith, the organization decided to erase the difference. As Stephen Colbert so aptly put it, “All you have to do to be reclassified as a legitimate religion by Billy Graham is field a viable Republican candidate.”
If we Christians really believe what we say about Jesus’s love being the hope of the world, and not whoever sits in the White House, then we are free to vote for the best candidate regardless of his religion. We shouldn’t use religion as a campaign strategy, or edit our beliefs accordingly.