Profs probe ‘Mormon moment’

A panel of Southern Baptist scholars discussed the dilemma for evangelicals deciding whether to vote their values or their theology.

By Bob Allen

Evangelicals going to the polls this November aren’t voting on whether Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is a Christian, but if he would make a better president than Barack Obama, a panel of Baptist seminary professors said in a campus chapel forum Sept. 11.

The discussion at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., probed a question on the minds of many evangelical voters since Romney’s official nomination Aug. 28: Can a Christian vote for a Mormon while opposing Mormonism?

“The same thing happens when you have a woman candidate for president or for vice president,” said Russell Moore, Southern Seminary’s theology dean and senior vice president for academic administration. “Somebody says, ‘How can you vote her for president or vice president and you wouldn’t call her to be pastor of a local church?’ Because those are two entirely separate things, and the church is more important in the long term.”

Seminary President Albert Mohler said many things about Mormonism are to be commended, like their devotion to the family and conservative social values, but not their theology.

“We’ve got to be clear that this is a false gospel,” Mohler said. “This is a belief system that we believe is taking people to eternal destruction.”

That doesn’t rule out the possibility that he might vote for a Mormon, however.

“Because of the issue of the priority of the sanctity of human life, born and unborn at every point of development for me, because of the issue of the integrity of the family, I really don’t struggle a great deal with how to vote,” Mohler said.

Rather, Mohler said he struggles with the ambiguity of having to choose between two candidates with whom on certain issues he strongly disagrees, but acknowledges that has been true “to one degree or another for every vote I’ve ever made.”

“I don’t apologize for saying I’d rather elect someone just like me, right-thinking people all around, to every political office, but I don’t get to,” Mohler said. “We’re electing fallible human beings who aren’t even necessarily so predictable once they get into office.”

Moore said at a personal level, the question of whether or not Mormons are saved is far more important than politics, but that isn’t the issue being decided Nov. 6.

“The question is not John 3:16, in terms of reading the regeneration of the person’s heart,” Moore said. “The question is Romans 13. Does this person have the kind of wisdom to bear the sword on behalf of God’s authority that he has granted to the state, and can I trust that person to protect society? That’s the fundamental question.”

Moore said he has talked with Mormons who object to evangelicals saying they aren’t Christians and are bound for hell, yet they have no problem saying that as a Baptist he is not part of the true church.

His response to Mormons: “When an evangelical says to you, ‘We think that you’re going to hell; believe in the gospel,’ if the evangelical is wrong, then there is no harm done to you. But if the evangelical is right, that the scriptures are true that what you need is the kind of atonement that can’t come by working yourself up to another celestial level, then it needs to be taken seriously.”

Mark Coppenger, vice president for extension education and director of the seminary’s extension center in Nashville, Tenn., said the whole discussion points to a need to “encourage evangelicals who believe the Bible correctly to be engaged and to be players, because it’s hard to complain when we’ve quit the field.”

“The same would be the problem with filmmaking and other things,” he said. “We quit the field sometimes and criticize.”

“Sometimes I say Muslims can’t build cars but they can sure blow them up,” Coppenger said. “Well, we can blow up candidates and we can blow up movies and we can blow up a variety of things, but can we build them? Can we build political engagement at the very best levels?”