Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Protestantism, and Mormonism?

Noah Feldman, writing at Bloomberg, argues that a Mitt Romney just could be the Mormon ticket into the “Christian Mainstream.”

Here is a taste:

As a deeply believing Mormon, he actually, sincerely (yes, sincerely) believes that his moral values are equivalent to those of evangelicals.

And as a Mormon, Romney is a participant — indeed, he is the most important participant — in the long-term project of convincing mainstream American Protestants that Mormonism is a normal denomination like all the others. Given this historic opportunity to “normalize” Mormonism, Romney is acting not opportunistically but on deeply felt principle. By embracing evangelicals and being embraced by them, he is bringing Mormonism into the denominational scheme that characterizes mainstream American Christianity.

Short-term politics is therefore making a long-term historic difference. Evangelical Protestants who once believed that Mormonism was a deviant sect, not a legitimate denomination, may come to believe something very different as they prepare to cast their votes for a Romney. The practice of pluralism can come first. The beliefs can come later. 

So once again, it will be evangelical Protestants who will decide who is, and who is not, part of mainstream American Christianity.  Does this sound familiar? Feldman seems to be suggesting something similar to what I argued in the first four chapters of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? (and what many others have suggested), namely that evangelical Protestants have played a significant role in defining the religious identity of this country.

For some evangelicals, this is a great thing.  But I am not so sure.

HT: Jon Rowe

3 thoughts on “Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Protestantism, and Mormonism?

  1. Part Deux, if I may—

    Prager also has a live speculation about the Mormon-“Christian” thing as well, which I haven't seen addressed by more secular writers such as Feldman:

    I may be mistaken, but I believe that what most annoys evangelicals (and some other Christians) about Mormonism is that Mormons call themselves Christian. In order for Jews to better understand evangelicals — and for evangelicals to better understand Jews — I think there is a parallel here.

    The vast majority of Jews understand that in a free society, people convert to other religions. Therefore, some Christians convert to Judaism and some Jews convert to Christianity. What particularly annoys Jews is not the existence of converts but the existence of “Jews for Jesus.” To most Jews, this is a misleading label because people who come to believe in Christ should call themselves Christian, not Jews.

    So, too, in the view of most evangelicals, if people wish to believe in the divinity of the Book of Mormon and the prophecy of Joseph Smith, that is their business, but to call these and other distinctive Mormon beliefs “Christian” bothers many evangelicals. Of course, Mormons respond that a religion that calls itself The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, can hardly be dismissed as non-Christian. But it is not my interest here to adjudicate this debate. I only wish to offer one reason that evangelicals might be disturbed by Mormonism calling itself Christian.

    This comports with my own observations, that a Rev. Frank Pastore can support Romney socio-politically, but has reservations that such a tolerance-acceptance is a theological endorsement of Mormonism as a theologically legitimate variant of Christianity.

    Many Christian sects remain kissin' cousins, and accept each others' legitimacy as authentic Christianity. But Mormonism with its additional book of revelation [like Islam]?

    No can do. Never.

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  2. In historical terms, this change is business as usual. Catholics came to be seen as a legitimate Christian denomination only after years of oppression. Then came the acceptance of Jews.

    This is the only part Feldman gets somewhat right, and only somewhat. Theologically, Christianity's relationship with Judaism has indeed warmed, that the Jews have a legitimate place in God's plan. But there will be no such dispensation for the unbiblical Book of Mormon [or the Quran, for that matter].

    However, in 2012 even the evangelicals have embraced the American Founding's vision of religious pluralism, that we park our soteriology at the door and concern ourselves politically only with the concerns of this world. This detente has been vitiated by the rise of secular-progressivism and/or libertarianism/libertinism, both of which reject any notion of natural law, that there exist objective and universal standards of morality that a society should govern itself by.

    I always find curious these opinionations on the evangelical milieu that ignore leftism's [for lack of a better term] place in the equation, and that religious right-evangelicalism-fundamentalism is a reaction to it.

    Perhaps too many of us have watched the “Inherit the Wind” movie and take it for the truth. Yes, that the Biblical account of creation was threatened by Darwinism was part of it, but William Jennings Bryan was strongly motivated against the mechanistic view of man that reduced the meaning of life itself to no more than the sum of our atoms and genes.

    The Mormon belief that the United States of America is a result of Divine Providence is enough for evangelicals to ally with, just as the Biblical morality of a conservative Jew such as Dennis Prager is not merely tolerated, but admired.

    A good essay by Prager here.

    http://www.dennisprager.com/columns.aspx?g=87930830-630e-4713-8b80-f9a1c62fb319&url=evangelicals_and_romney_should_theology_matter

    “Traditional Jews and evangelical Christians have quite different theologies, but they often have virtually identical values. (That is why this Jew is so supportive of evangelicals and why evangelical Christians syndicate my radio show.) Conservative Catholics and evangelicals differ on theology but share virtually every important value. The Founders differed on theology but rarely on values.
    It is hard to identify any area of life in which Mitt Romney's values and life differ in any way from the finest evangelical's values and life. And with regard to electing a president, that is what matters.”

    [I've heard some of the stations Prager refers to via the internet. Explicitly self-avowed “Christian” stations in the station breaks, like WORL in Florida.]

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  3. John, I think you (and Feldman) are certainly right that evangelicals are the primary arbiters in deciding who is and who isn't Christian in America today. But where Feldman's article falls short is in assuming that Mormonism seeks to just become another Christian denomination. Based on my own experience as a Latter-day Saint, that is patently absurd. Yes, typically speaking, Mormons want to be recognized as Christian. But they emphatically reject the claim that they are (and consequently are not pushing to be recognized as) “just another Christian denomination.”

    Feldman's claim that “Romney’s embrace by evangelicals is a great day for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” simply doesn't ring true to me at all.

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