Warren Cole Smith stirred up a hornet’s nest.
Writing at Patheos (where I’m also a columnist), the evangelical journalist had the courage to say out loud what many evangelicals think: that a vote for Mitt Romney is a vote for Mormonism. At last count, his column had generated more than 600 comments, hundreds of blog mentions, and a formal response from the LDS Church in The Washington Post. In short, Smith’s column went viral.
And I’m glad it did.
Why? Because — as Justice Brandeis famously said — “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” Unless issues are raised, they can’t be addressed, and Mr. Smith’s arguments are not at all difficult to rebut.
In 2006 I co-founded an organization — called “Evangelicals for Mitt” — designed to directly deal with the “religion question,” but not in the narrow sense. We’ve long argued not just that evangelicals can vote for Mitt Romney but they should — that he best represents the totality of our political and cultural values on the national (and international) stage.
But Smith is not convinced. And his objections to a Mormon in the White House echo those we’ve heard since we started our website almost five years ago. They are two-fold: First, we can’t trust people who believe allegedly false Mormon beliefs. Second, electing a Mormon president would result in those false teachings being directly promoted (and, presumably, believed).
At the outset I’d note that these objections almost precisely mirror the analysis that radical secular leftists apply to evangelicals. They mock our belief in divine creation as being “anti-science,” and they state that anyone stupid enough to believe in, say, the Flood or the parting of the Red Sea simply isn’t a rational human being. They say that we live in the strange country of “Jesusland,” and that we go to war because God told us to.
In other words, the secular left marginalizes evangelicals by mocking and caricaturing our beliefs. Smith has done the same thing to Mitt Romney. Does Smith really believe that Romney might think “historical facts are matters of personal opinion?” Does Smith actually believe that a man with a decades-long record of excellence — with particular expertise in turning around failing or struggling companies, organizations, and governments — lacks the capacity to understand and recognize facts? The very implication is almost comical.
But what about the idea that electing Mitt Romney will advance Mormonism? I think it’s fair to say that Barack Obama hasn’t done much for Jeremiah Wright’s now-famous “black liberation theology,” and George Bush’s well-known evangelical beliefs likely repelled as many people as they attracted. In fact, I can’t think of a single president that had a discernible impact on the theological beliefs of our citizens.
And that makes sense. Presidents aren’t pastors. We don’t look to presidents for pastoral guidance but instead for national leadership. We don’t think, “I like those Bush tax cuts. I think I’ll check out the Methodist church.”
Applying these same lessons to Mormons, does watching Harry Reid make you want to talk to a Mormon missionary? How about when you fly JetBlue? During a smooth, comfortable flight do you use the in-flight Wi-Fi to surf LDS.org? Does a particularly elegant turndown service at a high-end Marriott put you in the mood to download the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s greatest hits? If you’re a sports fan, did watching Steve Young connect with Jerry Rice make you complete an application to BYU?