With the U.S. Presidential election a few days away, the question of whether a Christian can and should vote for a Mormon has been raised by more than one person. The latest is Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion professor and author of a number of books on religion, including Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know – and Doesn’t and American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon. In his November 1 post on the CNN Belief Blog, titled “My Take: Billy Graham and Ralph Reed are putting politics before God,” Prothero, not a Christian himself, has lambasted Evangelicals who are planning to vote for Republican candidate Mitt Romney, who is a Mormon.
Prothero charges that, roughly three-quarters of white evangelicals [are] inclined to vote for [Romney] because politics matters more to them than religion.
He points out that “Until quite recently, many evangelicals saw Mormonism as a dangerous cult spreading false theology and dooming its followers to hell” and asks, “Did Mormons all of a sudden change their theology? … Have LDS Church members repudiated the Book of Mormon as ‘another testament of us Christ’ or their view that the Bible is the word of God only ‘as far as it is correctly translated’? Have they accepted the Trinity? Rejected their teaching that there are many gods?” and rightly answers that they have not.
Because of this, Prothero seems to think that a Christian should not vote for a Mormon. He avers that, I used to believe that the purpose of the religious right was to infuse American politics with Christian politicians and Christian politics.
However, due to the willingness of Evangelicals to vote for a Mormon, Prothero states that, I no longer believe that.
Then what does he think is the purpose of “the religious right”? “The purpose of the religious right,” Prothero charges, “is to use the Christian God for political purposes.” Evangelical Ralph Reed, for example, “is forsaking his theology for his politics” by “mobilizing his Atlanta-based Faith and Freedom Coalition to place voter guides in Ohio churches in the run-up to election day.“
In sum, then, according to Prothero, Christians should not vote for Mormons, who are not Christians (Prothero is certainly right about this; Mormons are not Christians), and to do so means we are “forsaking [our] theology.” Prothero does not tell us whether he thinks Christians should also not vote for Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or Atheist candidates, who are also not Christians. Would voting for these also constitute “forsaking [our] theology”? This is a rather strange position to take for one who previously wrote in USA Today that:
I do not want liberals or evangelicals to use this election as an excuse to attack the Mormon faith. I am glad there is no religious test in the Constitution, and I would be happy to call a Mormon (or a Hindu) my president. But I am chagrined to see our public square stripped of real religious conversation. Has the religious right pushed so hard to reinvest our politics with religion only to turn our religion into politics? (Prothero, Stephen. “Column: A Mormon moment.” Posted May 20, 2012)
Does Prothero really believe that “real religious conversation” is impossible if Evangelicals vote for Mitt Romney? Does he actually think that Evangelicals cannot vote for a Mormon and still point out forcefully that Mormonism is a false religion “dooming its followers to hell”? If so, he is clearly wrong. As Russell D. Moore, a dean at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary points out, "I don’t see a movement of evangelicals who are waiting to claim Mitt Romney as a brother in Christ … He’s won over evangelicals politically, not religiously." (Amy Chozick, “Idea of Mormon President Poses Dilemma for Evangelical Christians,” The New York Times, November 4, 2012, p. 24)
It is surprising, actually, that a Boston University religion professor is so woefully ignorant of the Christian understanding of government. The locus classicus for this is Romans 13:1-7:
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
So Christians understand that God has appointed governing authorities for specific tasks, viz. the protection of society from threats internal and external. These governing authorities may or may not be Christians; in the majority of cases, they are not. This does not mean that Christians cannot work with them, as Joseph worked with the Pharaoh, Nehemiah with Artaxerses, and Esther with Ahasuerus.
In a democracy such as the United States, the citizens, including the Christians, have the right and duty to make the best possible choice of the one to lead their nation. Of course we would prefer to have an Evangelical as president, provided he’s qualified and competent. But in this election, that is not an option, inasmuch as the Democratic candidate’s claim to be a Christian is simply not credible to Evangelicals. Since we have a choice between two men, neither of whom we can accept as a Christian, we must cast our vote based on who we think will do a better job of governing the country. The Christian who opts for the Mormon, then, is in no way “forsaking his theology for his politics.” For Prothero to claim this can only be seen as risible. For him to claim that Christians who vote for Romney “are putting politics before God” can only be seen as a calumny.