Mormonism’s Bad Reputation

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.

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
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12 Responses to Mormonism’s Bad Reputation

  1. Megan says:

    I believe this article’s point was that Mormons are evasive with the truth about their own faith, so how could we trust a Mormon president with truth in general? I may be interpreting the message of this article, so anyone feel free to correct me. I don’t know….I get so tired of evang. implying or outright stating that we need to have a Christian president.
    Many of the Founding Fathers were deists, and weren’t the true-blue Christians evang. make them out to be. How is that any worse than having a Mormon president?
    I absolutely despise how entwined American Christianity has become with politics. When the average non-Christian thinks of a believer, he/she probably thinks, “oh, they’re against gay marriage and abortion”. (Both things I’m against, but I don’t want that to be the defining feature of my faith). Romney’s faith is problematic for evang. because he professes to be a Christian but his beliefs are so contrary to the Bible. It’s difficult, if not impossible for Christians to delicately explain that we are not of the same faith.
    I am against Mormonism because I believe it to be a false religion. But I am not against the idea of Romney being president simply because I am a Christian and he isn’t.

  2. While I think one’s religious worldview is important to consider, I also tend to think some people, especially politicians, don’t have a perfectly integrated, coherent, consistent worldview. I personally think folks like Romney largely compartmentalize their politics from religion. This isn’t new. Postmodern folks assume a correspondence theory of truth when they fill out mortgage contracts :-). Given this ability to compartmentalize, I think an atheist or Mormon or deist could in many cases make a better government leader than a liberal protestant.

  3. Michael P says:

    I have no doubt a Mormon president would do all he could do to uphold the Constitution, seeing as they view it as a divine document. Romney, though, is not going to get my vote in the primaries, and it is not because of his faith, but rather, he seems too “political”. Too slick, too perfect, to stiff.

    But I agree with Sharon that Mormonism doesn’t embrace truth as a soldified item.

  4. Renee says:

    I might vote for a Mormon for president if he were a jack Mormon, but Romney is “true blue, through and through.” To me this means means he is working his way to godhood, and cannot get there without following all the LDS rules and the prophets every command. The potential for the prophet running the country instead of the elected president is very real. I want a man in office who cares more about the country’s interests than his own. And a man who won’t let someone else make important decisions about my country and my future for him.

  5. falcon says:

    I thought this author captured accurately how Ev. Christians view Moromonism. It’s a perception we didn’t create. So it’s difficult to think about voting for Romney. I’ve asked myself if I’d have a problem voting for…say…a Hindu. I wouldn’t. So what’s the rub with Romney? There is an issue of trust there considering his various political stands on certain topics. If it came down to him and say a liberal democrat that doesn’t share my political views at all, I suppose I’d have to grit my teeth and pull the lever for the Mittster. I don’t know, it’s really a tough one for me.

  6. Rick B says:

    Aaron said

    Given this ability to compartmentalize, I think an atheist or Mormon or deist could in many cases make a better government leader than a liberal protestant.

    Others have also said that they would have a hard time with an LDS being president. What people fail to understand is this, a president it not like a King, where what he says is law. Our government is flawed in so many ways it’s not even funny, but still the president can get kicked out of office, or over ruled on many things. But my thought is this, I dont want an LDS who is not honest in where He stands on his beliefes because if he is vague or lies about those, how can I trust him to tell me the truth in other matters.

    But I kind of want an LDS to be president, because then the LDS church will be more open to Christians and other people in general as to what they believe so we can better witness to them. Rick b

  7. falcon says:

    I was a Catholic kid in grade school when JFK ran and won. It was a big deal for us as Catholics, but I don’t think there was anyone that thought that the Pope would run the country or even influence the president. Quite the contrary. We understood clearly the dividing line between church and state. His election wasn’t a boom to Catholic conversions as far as I know or made the Catholic religion legitimate. We didn’t think in those terms. But, as an aside here, none of us had any idea of JFK’s proclivity for the flesh. That would have shocked us to no end.

  8. Megan says:

    Falcon, this has nothing to do with anything, but I really enjoy your comments.

  9. falcon says:

    Well thank you very much Megan. Mormon Coffee has become a second home for me. Perhaps some day we can all get together and have a family picture taken. Although the older I get, the less I like to look in mirrors or at pictures of myself. Typical vain Baby Boomer!

  10. bsb says:

    How far are we willing to go to ignore the impact of religion on one’s character, behavior and allegiances? I don’t know the answer, but I take the Mitt issue and kind of stretch it out logically….

    What if Mitt were a Jehovah’s Witness?
    What if Mitt were a Scientologist?
    What if Mitt were a [ fill in the blank: cult member ]

    At what point does his character and faith cross over to the point that it’s not tolerable?

    What I mean by that is, I think most people would see cult members as having some sort of character flaw — to the point that we would not trust them, and certainly not trust them to be President. I mean really, if he were a Moonie, would we be having a debate about it?

    I also have a couple of questions about him and his capacity to govern the nation. Has Mitt looked at the evidence of the Book of Abraham and written it off as a matter of faith in light of all the evidence that literally and objectively proves that Joseph Smith Jr. lied about his ability to translate Egyptian? I don’t know the answer to that. But what evidence in the office of President will he dismiss as a faith issue when (not if) Hinckley or Monson tells him it’s his duty to do something that a non-Mormon would not do? We can only speculate on the possibilities.

    However, we need not speculate on one very significant issue in this situation. Has he sworn allegiance to the LDS Church above all other things on earth? Yes.

    Is the problem really so murky?

  11. Megan says:

    Well, fair is fair. Haven’t we sworn allegiance to Jesus Christ above all other things on earth? Maybe this is different because we don’t answer to a hierarchical organization. People were also afraid decades ago that Kennedy would take orders from the pope. Which didn’t turn out to be the case. To me it’s kind of similar.

  12. bsb says:

    Megan, respectfully, do you really see giving your life to Christ as the same thing as someone swearing allegiance (under penalty of death) to an organization that is ruled by men (who, notably, have a history of staging rebellions against the US Government)? Is that really the same thing to you?

    I must have missed the blood oath and penalties portion of my Christian inculcation.

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