Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ye Shall Know Them By Their Fruits

It is a nearly a week since the Values Voter Summit, in which a Dallas pastor introduced Rick Perry with a hint at maligning Mitt Romney’s religion—which was followed up with media afterward and verified by said pastor. I don’t know what else happened at that summit, or who else spoke. That pastor’s bigoted comments (and in my opinion, they were bigoted) were what came out. 

Perry’s campaign has tried to do damage control, not totally effectively. Should they have known the risk that came with allowing this man to take the microphone? I think so. As we try to make decisions about who to vote for, this can be a big black mark. 

What was the offensive remark? Pastor Jeffress insists that it is better to vote for a Christian (even a marginally moral one, he verified later, without implying that Perry was less than morally committed) than to vote for a moral person who isn’t Christian. He verified afterward that indeed he views Mitt Romney’s (and John Huntsman’s) religion as a cult. He says it matter-of-factly, as if that is the standard belief. 

Huckabee did this to Romney last time around; we’ve had plenty of time to deal with this kind of attack. Romney has spent plenty of time dealing with it. You might want to review his "Faith in America” speech from December 2007. 

This sort of drive-by media hit probably doesn’t deserve any further attention. But I’d like to look at some underlying truth related to civilization. 

The official statement of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in response to this particular attack is:  

We really don’t want to comment on a statement made at a political event, but those who want to understand the centrality of Christ to our faith can learn more about us and what we believe by going to 

They noted at today that they are getting a lot of media questions since last week, adding this statement:

Over the past several days, the Church has received a flood of inquiries from media asking about the Church’s belief in Christ and other tenets of our faith. As part of the ensuing conversations, Church representatives have referred media to pages on that explain clearly our belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of mankind, and to the following scripture from the Book of Mormon:

“…we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” (2 Nephi 25:26)

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe in, study and seek to live by the teachings found in the Old and New Testaments. We also believe in the Book of Mormon as another testament of Jesus Christ. As the verse above plainly teaches, Christ is at the center of our worship, study, service and faith, and we believe this is clearly demonstrated in the lives of more than 14 million members in over 130 countries around the globe.

You should know something about the definition Pastor Jeffress uses for “cult.” You probably picture (and he may want you to picture) a charismatic Jim Jones style leader, people pulling themselves out of society and behaving in weird, incomprehensible ways. But his actual definition more or less distills to “had a founder and started small,” and differs from the 4th Century Nicene Creed definition of "homoousios," a Gnostic word meaning technically that God the Father and Jesus Christ are one in substance. You can look it up in Wikipedia, but you can’t look it up in the Bible; it isn’t there. On this point Mormon theology does indeed differ from Catholics and Protestants. But this definition puts absolutely every other world religion in the “cult” circle as well—all of Islam, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Taoism—all cults.  

Another point Jeffress probably has in mind is the Protestant belief that a literal belief in the infallibility of the Bible is all the authority needed. Latter-day Saints believe authority comes from someone in authority, tracing back to Jesus Christ himself. This is also the Catholic view of authority, that they trace it back to Peter, the first pope, who got his authority from Christ. So Jeffress apparently includes even Catholics as a “cult.”  

And since every church and even every individual has a different view of what the Bible means, it may be that Jeffress includes as a “cult” anyone who interprets the Bible differently from him. It’s probably true that any religion looks strange to an outsider, but I look at Jeffress’s religious views, and I see strangeness. No offense intended. 

So, what if we go by the Bible’s suggestion that “ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16)? I’d like to do that. 

A couple of years ago I went to a statewide homeschool conference and attended a lecture by Pastor Voddie Baucham, of Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, Texas, on taking a multigeneration view—about passing on our virtues and values to subsequent generations—thinking not just about teaching our children but thinking of how to influence our children so that they will pass the values on to our grandchildren and beyond. Pastor Bacham is fun to listen to, and most of what he said that day resonated with me, so I have kept my notes. He told us some surprising statements and statistics. 

First, he defined having a Biblical worldview as believing in Jesus who lived a perfect life, died for us and suffered for our sins as our Savior. I don’t know what this Baptist’s views are specifically on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but that matches the church’s official statement above. 

Baucham said that less than 10% of professed Christians have this Biblical worldview, and only 51% of pastors have it. Yet all professed Mormons believe this, and all of their lay pastors teach it. There are a few more Mormons worldwide than the number of Jews, and a little under half live in the US. I haven’t done the math, but it might be there are more US Mormons with this Biblical worldview than there are other Christians with it. I’m not sure what the 49% of Christian pastors teach, if they do not teach of the divinity of Christ and his atonement for our sins. 

Pastor Baucham pointed out that only 5% of professed evangelical teens are doctrinally literate enough to be called Christians. I do not know how he measured that. But in Mitt Romney’s religion, children from age 3-18 receive weekly Sunday lessons, with additional mid-week supporting activities from age 8-18. (This includes but is not limited to Boy Scouts; the LDS Church sponsors more Boy Scout troops in the US than any other organization.) During 9th-12th grades students get daily religious instruction, often at 6:00 AM—every school day. It is unusual to find a committed LDS youth without a pretty good religious education. This might explain why LDS youth are more likely to score high on social markers like education, celibacy before marriage, and abstaining from alcohol and illegal drugs. In today’s world, even in the best of families, sometimes youth succumb to the influence of the worldly culture that surrounds them, but Mormons have a very good track record. 

One of Pastor Baucham’s purposes in this lecture was to persuade us that it is up to parents to educate their own children in religion; the churches are there only as support. In a standing-room-only crowd of over 500 people, he asked us to raise our hands if we were raised in a family that regularly worshipped at home (which he said should include a song, prayer, scripture study, and doctrinal discussion). Three of us raised our hands—yes, I was one of these, and we have done it with our children. Romney and Huntsman, had they been there, would have raised their hands. And so would any of their children. Family Home Evening, a weekly worship service provided by parents to their own children in their own homes, has been a worldwide practice for Latter-day Saints since about a century ago—to make sure parents understood how to pass along their values to multiple generations. 

Romney pays 10% of all his gross income (yes, gross, not net), plus additional offerings to the poor, as a typical practicing Mormon. As a wealthy man, he probably gives much in addition to various charities. He declined a paycheck when he ran the 2002 Olympics and also when he served as governor of Massachusetts. He has served as a lay minister, giving on average probably 15-20 hours weekly of personal time for zero pay. At age 19 he spent two years as a full-time missionary—not just without wages, but even paying his own way. 

There is a large body of testimony from those who have actually worked with him that he is honest and trustworthy in his business dealings. He has a beautiful family, a strong marriage. No one even suggests the possibility of infidelity, because he has so consistently lived his religion for so long. In other words, the fruits of living his religion are good. 

Mitt’s religion may be different from most of the other candidates’, but it looks like it has been good for him. If there are still concerns, maybe it’s a better idea to find out from Mormons what they believe, instead of depending on rumors of “cultism” spread by someone with a stake in doing damage to Mitt Romney or his religion. 

We can look at his policies and politics another day. But, for the love of God and country, when we do it, it should be untainted by religious prejudice.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Linda. This is a very good commentary on what is going on recently. I appreciate the statistics and notes that you have kept and shared.