Evangelicals should seize educational opportunity as US faces a “Mormon Moment” during election

Communications Staff — September 11, 2012

During the 2012 election cycle, evangelical Christians will learn about the importance of clarifying theological distinctives when voting for a candidate with shared values, but who is from a different religious belief system, according to a panel discussion at Southern Seminary, Sept. 11, “The Mormon Moment: Religious Conviction and the 2012 Election.”

Seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr. moderated the panel, which featured Russell D. Moore, senior vice president for academic administration and dean of the School of Theology; Mark T. Coppenger, professor of Christian apologetics and vice president of extension education; and Greg Gilbert, senior pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church, Louisville, Ky.

“The Obama and Romney campaign is a good thing for evangelical Christians,” Moore said, because believers can proclaim the gospel even as they give serious thought to the political arena.

This election cycle is also offering increased scrutiny of Mormonism, an effort that can help distinguish their teachings from orthodox Christianity. Mohler said he hopes that Christian voters will think with deep theological concern and receive guidance from their pastors to help them make sound decisions

“This is an educational moment for evangelicals, and it could turn out to be a healthy thing for the church if they can learn to think more carefully about how to agree with a person’s policies while disagreeing with his theological beliefs,” Gilbert said.

Mohler identified the greatest problem with American Christianity in the past as the priestly role believers have assigned to politics, rather than focusing on theological and political clarity.

As for the present state of affairs, Mohler noted, “The hardest issue is not priestly, it’s not merely political, but it’s representational: What does it mean worldwide for a Mormon to be elected president of the United States?”

“It becomes increasingly important for Christians to clarify what they mean by the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Gilbert said in regards to the potential respect Mormonism can gain from the election. “In order to be faithful, we’re going to have to tighten up our theological understanding of what the Gospel is, that it’s not just the social effects but the theological doctrines and truths.”

Coppenger assessed the current political situation with concern that Mormonism can gain a foothold and dismay that evangelical Christians are no longer representing the faith in the political sector.

The panel members also discussed the Constitutional clause stating that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Gilbert responded that such a clause does not affect how individual voters can consider religious beliefs before voting for a candidate, only how the government can intervene.

“Our religious beliefs do affect how we see public policy,” Moore stated. “We need to ask how are these religious beliefs affecting whether or not the person is going to be able to work for the common good.”

Americans last faced the reality of Mormonism on a national scale in the late 19th century, when Mormons migrated to Utah and sought statehood. After pointing out this historical development, Mohler noted that “America has been transformed since that time, and so has the Church of Latter-day Saints [the office name of the Mormon church].”

Forum members discussed that, although they often are fine citizens and neighbors, Mormons  run contrary to orthodox Christianity with their essential doctrines. These teachings include the rejection of the Trinity; the Book of Mormon as completing Scripture; Jesus’ life as a model human; and Jesus’ appearance in the U.S.

Mormonism is “theologically, a brand new start,” and is therefore an American religion, Moore said, affirming a popular quote from writer Harold Bloom. Mormonism teaches dynamic revelation and living prophecy, doctrines that allow for evolution of Mormon thought.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints suddenly changed on polygamy just in time for statehood and changed their mind on priesthood right after the triumph of the American Civil Rights movement,” Moore said.

The Latter-day Saints exhibit a dedicated Americanism and a fastidious commitment to family life. Coppenger explained that these admirable characteristics are merely an outworking of their beliefs that the New Eden and eschatological fulfillment will take place in the U.S. and that marriage is eternal — Mormonism teaches that marriages are necessary for facilitating the population of new planets.

“Theologically, Mormonism is very dangerous; sociologically, there is much to be commended,” Moore said, responding to Mormons’ American and family values.

Gilbert countered Moore’s point: “As a pastor, I think it’s crucial to make sure that my people understand the distinctions between Mormon and Christian theology and be able to make the next step, which is to say that it doesn’t matter what the social effects are, what finally matters is whether or not the gospel is right or true.”

Mohler, stating that Mormonism is a false gospel that leads to eternal destruction, also noted that even Christian values are not enough to provide salvation.

Indeed, reconciliation with God is the most important contention of the Christian faith, Moore added, but he also promoted siding with Latter-day Saints and pro-life atheists over social issues in politics.

Closing out the discussion of Mormonism and politics, Mohler closed by reminding attendees: “Above all we have a gospel responsibility, that we are first and foremost citizens of the heavenly kingdom and our concern is that others will become a part of the kingdom through the proclamation of the gospel.”

Audio from the panel is available here. Video from the panel discussion is available here.

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