POLITICS AND RELIGION
The charge by Robert Jeffress, the Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, that Mitt Romney is “not a Christian;” that “Mormonism is not Christianity;” and that Mormonism is “considered a cult” is indicative of a degree of intolerance antithetical to the free exercise clause of the First Amendment and, moreover, an opinion born of ignorance.
Mormonism is indeed a Christian faith: Are not all who proclaim Jesus Christ to be their Savior and who adhere to his teachings appropriately called Christian? The term Mormon is ascribed to those who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The Church of Jesus Christ considers: (1) Jesus Christ the head of the church and teaches its members that Jesus is the messiah, the only begotten son of God; (2) that Christ is the prophesied messiah of the Old Testament (Jehovah) and created the earth at the direction of Heavenly Father; (3) that Christ was the only perfect, truly sinless human to live upon the earth; (4) that Christ made an ultimate sacrifice for mankind, atoning for the sins of the world through his suffering at Gethsemane and his crucifixion on Calvary Hill, making it possible for man, a sinner, to return to God free of spot through the intercession of Christ; (5) that Christ suffered, died, and was resurrected from the dead; (6) that he reigns in Heaven at the right hand of Heavenly Father; (7) that Christ will return to earth in a second coming at which time there will be a final battle between Satan and his minions and Christ and the saints, the dead will be resurrected, Christ will have a millennial reign, all will be judged, and there will be a final establishment of Heavenly order; (8) that the teachings of Christ are paramount; and (9) that true prophecy can be discerned to be such only if it is in complete conformity with the teachings of Christ. There is in this faith nothing but Christianity, all consecrated to and in fulfillment of the teachings of Jesus Christ. It is for this reason that the Mormon church is officially named the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. While other Christian faiths have doctrinal differences with the Church of Jesus Christ, it is beyond peradventure of doubt that the members of that church are Christians and that Mormonism is Christianity.
members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints include in
addition to the Old and New Testaments, the Book of Mormon, which is
by title and content another testament of Christ, complementary to and
not in derogation of the Old and New Testaments. To declare people who
hold Christ and his doctrines the essence of their religion to be non-Christian
renders the term Christian nonsensical or, perhaps, schizophrenic (meaning
that only some who believe in Christ may be designated Christians rather
than all who do). The Church of Jesus Christ also believes fundamentally
in free agency: in the right and power of each person to exercise freedom
of choice, albeit recognizing that choices in violation of the commandments
and teachings of Christ will be addressed on Judgment Day. That commitment
to free agency as a part of God’s plan ensures that Mormons are
not members of a cult, if by cult one means mind control by religious
leaders. There is in the Church of Jesus Christ no theocracy, no presumption
of the church as having jurisdiction or power over the functioning of
civil governmental authority.
I think it prudent for intelligent people to reject the pronouncements made by Pastor Jeffress. We should recognize, as the nation largely did over five decades ago, that such commentary endeavors to divide people based on religious intolerance and would, if followed, lead to a destruction of that comity and respect for others’ religions that is inextricably a part of our First Amendment. We are free in no small measure because we are free to choose the religion of our preference and to practice that religion according to its dictates, so long as we do not violate the equal rights of others.
On September 12, 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy, then running for President of the United States, confronted similarly ignorant and bigoted comment in a speech he delivered to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association at the Rice Hotel in Houston, Texas. Critics mused that Kennedy would be a servant of the Vatican if elected and that the Pope would effectively run America. With characteristic wit and intelligence, Kennedy put those charges to rest in the following passages:
But because I am a Catholic and no Catholic has ever been elected President, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured -- perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again -- not what kind of church I believe in for that should be important only to me, but what kind of America I believe in.
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute -- where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be a Catholic) how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote -- where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference -- and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish -- where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source -- where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials -- and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.
For, while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew -- or a Quaker -- or a Unitarian -- or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim -- but tomorrow it may be you -- until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril.
Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end -- where all men and all churches are treated as equal -- where every man has the same right to attend or not to attend the church of his choice -- where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind -- and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, both the lay and the pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.
That is the kind of America in which I believe. And it represents the kind of Presidency in which I believe -- a great office that must be neither humbled by making it the instrument of any religious group, nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding it, its occupancy from the members of any religious group. I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair, neither imposed upon him by the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.
I would not look with favor upon a President working to subvert the First Amendment's guarantees of religious liberty (nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so). And neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test -- even by indirection -- for if they disagree with that safeguard, they should be openly working to repeal it.
I want a chief executive whose public acts are responsible to all and obligated to none -- who can attend any ceremony, service or dinner his office may appropriately require him to fulfill -- and whose fulfillment of his Presidential office is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation.
This is the kind of America I believe in -- and this is the kind of America I fought for in the South Pacific and the kind my brother died for in Europe. No one suggested then that we might have a ‘divided loyalty,’ that we did ‘not believe in liberty’ or that we belonged to a disloyal group that threatened ‘the freedoms for which our forefathers died.’
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Mitt Romney would do well to echo Kennedy’s pronouncements in addressing the scurrilous charge of Pastor Jeffress. It is worth noting that unlike some ministers who have tried to insinuate themselves into power by endeavoring to influence the decision making of certain American presidents, none was either the Pope or any President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Indeed, such action would be inconsistent with the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. That church long ago adopted Articles of Faith (which confirm the primacy of Christ and his teachings). Those articles are the basic tenets which describe the belief structure of the church. The twelfth article of faith of the Church of Jesus Christ calls on its members to be subservient to, and not in opposition to, the rule of law. That twelfth article reads: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” Ironically, were the intolerance for religious plurality that Jeffress preaches mirrored by a President of his choosing, we would indeed see a real threat to the nation and, in particular, to the First Amendment.
© 2011 Jonathan W. Emord - All Rights Reserved