On May 23, 2007, I did a post in which I looked at Mitt’s Mormonism, and concluded that it shouldn’t matter because his values are what counts, not the path he took to arrive at those values. Based on comments left in response to that post, I updated it to explain that, as far as I could tell, Evangelical Christians viewed Mormons in much the same way as Jews view Jews for Jesus — a purported religion that’s neither fish nor fowl, and that’s carpet bagging on an already established name. Here it is, seven months later, and Dennis Prager is saying exactly what I said (only better, of course, because he’s Dennis Prager):
Most traditional Christians regard Mormonism not merely as not Christian, but as a falsification of it. It does not matter to the vast majority of evangelicals if a candidate is a Christian. Most are quite prepared to vote for a non-Christian — a Jew, for example. And they are certainly prepared to vote for Christians with whom they differ theologically — whether non-evangelical Protestants or Roman Catholics.
But they do not regard Mormons as fellow Christians with whom they differ theologically; they regard them as having a theology so different from mainstream Christianity that they are no longer Christian. It is quite possible, even likely, that if Mormons simply announced they were not Christian, but a new religion, even one based on belief in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, evangelicals would have fewer objections to voting for a Mormon with whom they shared social values. Rightly or wrongly, many evangelicals resent Mormons calling themselves Christian.
It is analogous to the resentment among Jews of “Jews for Jesus.” What Jews resent is not that a Jew who adopts Christian beliefs has become a Christian — most Jews recognize that in a free society people convert to and from all religions. What many Jews resent is that “Jews for Jesus” call themselves Jews and not Christians after leaving Judaism (even while continuing to identify ethnically as Jews) and embracing Christianity. So, too, it is that Mormons call themselves Christians while embracing a different belief system that rankles so many traditional Christians.
The reason is — and I have come to this conclusion after a lifetime of interaction with people of almost all faiths and writing about and studying religion — theology does not appear to have much impact on people’s values. Liberal Christians and Jews share virtually no theological beliefs yet think alike about virtually every important social value. So, too, conservative Christians and conservative Jews share virtually no theological beliefs, yet they think alike about virtually every important social value.
Meanwhile liberal and conservative Protestants are in agreement on theological matters — both believe in the Trinity, in the Messiahship of Jesus, on Jesus being the Son of God, on salvation through faith rather than through works, and more — yet they differ about virtually every social value. Obviously, shared theology doesn’t create shared moral or social values.
Therefore the theological beliefs of a public figure should matter only when one is choosing a theological leader, never a political leader — unless those beliefs form the basis of social and moral values that one abhors. It is very important to know the theological beliefs of one’s clergyman or the head of one’s seminary, but as far as the head of one’s country is concerned, only his moral and social values matter. I would much sooner vote for an agnostic whose values I shared than for a believing Christian or Jew whose values I did not share.
I have to say, I’m quite flattered by comparing myself to Mr. Prager. Hah!