An editorial in World Magazine dated 10 November 2007 takes a look at one way in which Mitt Romney’s Mormonism may be a valid concern in his bid for the U.S. Presidency. In “Trifling with the Truth” (subscription required) Joel Belz writes,
“When it comes to politics, I’ll admit that God doesn’t call His people to be theological nitpickers or perfectionists. I agree with those who regularly remind me: ‘We’re not electing a pastor or a theologian; we’re picking a president.’ But if in letting ourselves off that hook we also head for the first time in our nation’s history toward electing someone who is a committed lifelong member (in Romney’s own words, ‘true blue, through and through’) of what we Christians have always called a ‘cult,’ we ought to know what kind of bargain we’re striking.
“By theologian Norman Geisler’s count (he’s written two books about Mormonism), Mormons reject more than half the 16 main tenets of historic Christianity—held jointly by Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and traditional Protestantism…
“What’s the problem, in practical terms? Just this.
“It’s not a trivial matter that Mormonism, as a cultic movement, has a bad reputation when it comes to getting its own story straight. Check out the public record, if you will, including fairly recent interviews with Mormon officials in venues like Larry King Live, 60 Minutes, and Newsweek. Do these officials hold to the fantastical 1827 golden tablets of Mormon founder Joseph Smith—or not? Well, they seem to say: We believe it when we want to, and we don’t when it’s less convenient. Where Mormonism isn’t shrouded in deliberate secrecy, it is covered with confusion.”
I’m not aware of any LDS officials disclaiming Joseph’s story of the gold plates, but regarding other controversial LDS teachings, Mr. Belz’s comment is on the mark (for example, see Finessing an Off-Putting Mormon Doctrine). In that vein, Mr. Belz wonders if Mr. Romney has already imposed his LDS beliefs on the American people in that he appears to hold to both (opposing) sides on some issues, much like his religious leaders. Mr. Belz writes,
“[W]hen such a deviously confusing approach seems to be consistent with his faith rather than counter to it—that sets off alarm bells for me.”
He has made an interesting point — important in politics, but all the more essential in regard to faith.
Pinning down “official” Mormon doctrine often seems like an exercise in futility; and even Mormons know “official” LDS history is more faith-promoting than it is true. In my experience Mormon missionaries, when teaching investigators, regularly follow the public lead of the Church’s representative authorities: Depending on the topic and the circumstances, they teach that Mormons believe it (when they want to), or they don’t (when it’s less convenient).
This sets off alarm bells for me. When an organization tampers with the truth, buyer beware.
Unfortunately, in the 21st century the perceived value of truth continues to decline. Truth-seekers are dwindling; self-seekers are multiplying. We are more and more prone to embrace those who soothe our itching ears over those who speak the truth (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
While the conclusion of Joel Belz’s editorial is about politics, the thought is relevant to the topic of Mormonism as well. I leave you with a paraphrase of his words:
I want a religion that tells the truth. And I worry deeply when people are overly ready to believe a Church whose religious convictions, of all things, suggests that the truth is a negotiable commodity.