”Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘We should never judge a president by his age, only by his works.’ And ever since he told me that, I stopped worrying.” —Ronald Reagan
“If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River the headline that afternoon would read: ‘President Can’t Swim.”’ —Lyndon Johnson
“If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?”
“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” —Abraham Lincoln
”I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” — John Kennedy, at a dinner honoring Nobel Prize winners of the Western Hemisphere, the White House, April 29, 1962
In the 236 year history of the United States there have been 44 Presidents. The 2012 National Presidential Campaign is now in full throttle. The party nominating conventions are scheduled for later this summer, but the outcomes are now forgone conclusions. As the election draws near, most evangelical Christians would probably say: “I would like to vote for a Born-again Christian. I want someone who is a genuine follower of Jesus as our nation’s leader.” That is probably a natural attitude for any believer to have.
That being said, however, at least in this election, believers really do not have that option. Now, far be it for us to judge another person’s heart to know if he or she is truly saved (we’ll leave that to God), but we can discern facts about the beliefs and practices of groups he or she associates with religiously. In this year’s Presidential election, we must choose for President between a Liberal Protestant – one steeped in the concept of Liberation Theology – or a devout practicing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Letter-day Saints – one steeped in Mormonism. In this article we will examine objectively both of those religious movements. We must then decide how they may impact the two candidates and how they may govern.
So, first, what is “Liberation Theology?” To begin with, it is a movement still alive in some mainline Protestant denominations and in some quarters of the Roman Catholic Church. It actually had its roots in the early 20th century. At about that time, an influential group of European liberal theologians came to the conclusion that the historicity of the Bible had been discredited by the Higher Critical School of biblical research. They argued that the Bible could not be trusted factually and that its supernatural elements were only mythological.
Many of those theologians were students of the writings and historical theories of 19th century atheist/naturalist thinkers like Charles Darwin, Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche. As a result, rather than surrender their status in their church communities, they began to apply those men’s theories to the Bible and so interpreted it in light of their radical philosophical ideas.
As Liberalism spread and began to dominate American theological seminaries in the 1900s, a subtle but significant alteration took place in the message proclaimed by ministers in many mainline churches. Many preachers began to expound what was then called the “Social Gospel.” That doctrinal perspective asserted that what really mattered in the Bible was not its supernatural elements or concern for people’s future salvation. They argued that what really mattered was the striving for economic equality, fighting for social justice, and/or establishing peace in this world.
This trend spawned a number of influential but morally disastrous theological movements in the mid-20th century including Joseph Fletcher’s “Situational Ethics” and Thomas J. J. Altizer’s “God is dead.” As a result, the mainline protestant denominations began to lose members at alarming rates while conservative evangelical groups prospered. Though many ministers and laymen in those church groups have tried to steer their denominations back to their biblical roots, this downward liberal spiral still continues today.
Liberation Theology, therefore, was a natural logical outcome of that liberal historical progression. In the 1960s, some theologians, in concert with various left-wing social movements of the time, were openly advocating radical political concepts and even violent revolution. Eventually that radical disposition waned in most protestant churches. Nonetheless, it still hangs on in a few ultra-liberal denominations such as the United Church of Christ (UCC) (not to be confused with the traditional conservative Churches of Christ). President Barack Obama was, for many years, an active member of Trinity UCC in Chicago. That church’s former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, was for many years an outspoken proponent of Black Liberation Theology – a racially charged version of Liberation Theology.
But on the other hand, what about Mormonism? The other presumed candidate, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). Many Christians think that the LDS is just an unusual form of biblical Christianity. Indeed, for many years the LDS has tried to plant in the minds of the public that it is not all that much different from traditional Christian churches. Those who have studied Mormonism extensively know that though the LDS uses biblical and Christian terminology, and teaches similar moral standards, doctrinally it stands well outside of the bounds of Christian orthodoxy.
For instance, one of Mormonism’s most radical deviations is its teaching that God, who they call Heavenly Father, is a human being who lives with his wife (or wives) on another planet in this universe. They believe he has a physical body of flesh and bone and at one time lived as a man like us on an earth-like world. Mormons believe, because of his righteousness and faithfulness to his god, he was raised to godhood (one among the innumerable gods of the universe).
The LDS maintains that we humans were the spiritual offspring of Heavenly Father and his wife in a preexistent spirit world. Our spirits were sent to earth at birth to receive physical bodies and to be tested as to our worthiness to someday perhaps be exalted to godhood and become like Heavenly Father.
Furthermore, the LDS denies the historic Christian doctrine of the Trinity. They say that Jesus was a lesser god in the preexistence who was literally the physical offspring of Heavenly Father and Mary in this world. They refer to him as the “Only-begotten of the Father in the flesh.” They assert that Jesus came to earth to restore immortality to mankind so that we could then progress toward exaltation.
Those doctrines of God and Jesus Christ are perhaps the most significant of the many teachings of Mormonism that are completely beyond the scope of orthodox Christian theology. All the major deviations of Mormonism from biblical Christianity have been documented by many researchers over the past decades (see for example: Mormonism Unmasked: Confronting the Contradictions Between Mormon Beliefs and True Christianity by R. Philip Roberts with Tal Davis and Sandra Tanner; Nashville: B&H Publishers, 1998, or the DVD The Mormon Puzzle: Understanding Mormonism, produced by and available from the North American Mission Board, 1997).
So, do you now understand the dilemma that evangelicals face in this year’s presidential election? We will be forced to decide between two individuals, neither of whom are part of what we would regard as biblical and evangelical Christianity. So what should be our decision? Should we just opt out of the election? If not, how do we then make up our minds? What principles come to bear on this election cycle for the believer? In the next installment we will look at some biblical concepts that may help us as we deliberate about exercising our right to vote in this year and every year.
© 2012 Tal Davis