Tuesday, January 5, 2010

But Andrew, Don't You Know Mormons Aren't Christian

Andrew Sullivan linked to this under his "Christianist Watch" with the following quote:

"To think that we can save the Constitution without God's help when the government of the United States is corrupt is absurdity. We are in America's second Revolutionary War to save our freedom, which we paid for with blood. We need God's help and I'm not ashamed to ask for it," - Rex Rammel, Idaho gubernatorial candidate.

This could have come from the mouths of David Barton, Peter Marshall, etc. But when I clicked on the link I saw Mr. Rammel, a Mormon, appealing to the prophesies of Joseph Smith for authority that God Founded America.

I hope those sympathetic to the "Christian Nation" movement listen to his speech and react to the invocation of Joseph Smiths' prophesies to "take back America" for the God who founded her. See how they feel.

Now yes, Mormonism didn't exist during America's Founding; so unless you believe in the tenet of Mormonism that teaches the Mormon God founded America and inspired the Founding Fathers, reclaiming America on the basis of Joseph Smith's prophesies probably won't motivate you.

Likewise, those who share neither the theology nor the political agenda of the Christian Nationalists aren't motivated by their appeals to history, which are just as "imaginative." (At least it's an authentic tenet of Mormonism to believe God founded America; it is not of Christianity.)

The Founders did not appeal to a Triune God who inspired an inerrant, infallible biblical canon. The "Providence" to whom they appealed was more ecumenical, and inclusive. Their God was one who perhaps Mormons of today (or the Swedenborgs of yesteryear, the closest Founding era counterpart to Mormons), Jews, orthodox Christians, Unitarians, Universalists, Providential Deists (if that's not a contradiction in terms) even uncoverted Native Americans who worshipped "the Great Spirit" could equally embrace.

However, ecumenicism in political-theology comes with a price: It means stressing common ground, like belief in Providence and avoiding altogether divisive doctrinal issues -- such as the Trinity, whether the biblical canon is infallible, whether God will continue to reveal more Holy Books in the future, whether Swedenborgianism (or Mormonism for that matter) qualifies as "Christianity."

That's not what Rex Rammel does when he appeals to the specific authority of Joseph Smith's prophecies as a political motivator. And that's not what Christian Nationalists do when they engage in their divine command theory prooftexting.

In that sense, neither the Christian Nationalists nor Mormon Nationalists like Mr. Rammel emulate the Founding Fathers. It's actually recent American Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama who sound more like the Founders in their God talk. Indeed, they walk in the shoes of a Presidency that the key Founders, who were the first four Presidents, established.

That is, Bush & Obama maintain formal attachments to Christian sects (Bush was, to be fair, a moderate evangelical). But then they intimate that all good men of all religions worship the same God. That, for instance, Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God (as GWBush claimed). That's American Founding political theology 101.

As John Adams put it:

“It has pleased the Providence of the first Cause, the Universal Cause, that Abraham should give religion not only to Hebrews but to Christians and Mahomitans, the greatest part of the modern civilized world.”

– John Adams to M.M. Noah, July 31, 1818.


King of Ireland said...

Jon stated:

"However, ecumenicism in political-theology comes with a price: It means stressing common ground"

It is really not much of a price since all are free to keep the doctrinal differences in thier private church settings. The common ground is for the public discussions of what was best for the commonwealth. The two need not be mutally exclusive.

Jonathan Rowe said...

What I meant by that was, if you want to resonate with America's Founding politics, talking about God is fine, but invoking specific doctrinal theology (including the Trinity, whether the Bible is infallible) is a no go. You are free to do it; but don't be surprised if the American People look at you like you are from Mars. Washington didn't do it. Jefferson didn't do it. Madison didn't do it. Lincoln didn't do it. John Adams came close to doing it and claims he was turned out of office for it.

King of Ireland said...

No disagreement. I think at least some of rational orthodox where content with the fact that they knew that God could speak to people they thought were not regenerate/born-again via natural law for the purposes of public morality and running the country.

The main thing that separated rational/enlightenment Christians from more orthodox and traditional Calvinist types was their view on the level of degradation of man due to the fall. I think this theme was the main bone of contention between Hobbes and Locke too. Though my understanding of Hobbes is via the writings of others about him not any thorough reading of his view.

I think we solved a lot of the Calvin issues when Gregg clarified some things but it might be worth exploring his view of depravity vs. someone like Witherspoon who believed in the natural law. I think we will see a difference. I think the more tolerant people had a good balanced view of human nature that showed up in something like Adams prayer for magistrates in his proclamation I have quoted.

I see the image of God and the fall their in man in need of the sword yet worthy of praise. This heightened view of man seems to be the catalyst for calls of liberty instead of control.

Just some theological background to support what you are saying here. I think this is what they all could rally around. I personally think it is the sober self realization that God is looking for:

Us to realize we are glorious because we are still capable of bearing his image but dangerous because that image is tarnished. Grasping one without the other causes one to stray to arrogance or a feeling of worthlessness. Neither one is any good at all.

Tom Van Dyke said...

In that sense, neither the Christian Nationalists nor Mormon Nationalists like Mr. Rammel emulate the Founding Fathers.

Let's go slow here. I think Mormons are entitled---and are protected by the laws of the United States---to believe what they wish to believe.

And as a pluralist, I wouldn't say that what they believe is false. What the hell do I know?

That was indeed one thread during the Founding---I believe what I believe, and cannot believe in what I can't believe, but hey, mebbe I'm wrong.

That's particularly the attitude I get from Ben Frankin. He contributed to the building of many churches, none of which he particularly adhered to, because he adhered to none.

And even John Adams, who theologically despised popery and was a non-Trinitarian himself, contributed to the building of the first Catholic Church in Boston.


That was the Founding ethos. Religion is good, evn if it's not mine, and the more the merrier. Jefferson, that theistic rationalist, also contributed to churches not his own, and attended religious services when held in Washington, DC, when the federal government lent its buildings to churches whose buildings hadn't been constructed yet.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a uniquely American religion/sect. However, its belief in America as uniquely sanctioned by God among all nations of this earth, ever and always, is by no means out of kilter with the Founding and post-Founding eras, be it Manifest Destiny or Lincoln's more cautious "his [the Almighty's] almost chosen people."

What, am I arguing Mormonism here? For the record, I'm no latter-day saint. Ain't a saint of anykind. But there's a lot here to be discussed. I'm not exactly ready to give a speech about it, but I've done some homework on the Mormon faith to get up to speed.

Regardless of what Mormons believe, I'll stand up for them not to be buried.

Brad Hart said...

Well, as a practicing Mormon elder I admit that I have heard the rhetoric of Rammel many times. As for the Mormon faith being a parallel with that of the founders, I agree that Jon's "heresy" example (where the beliefs of Mormons and some founders can be seen as "infidel" through the lens of "traditional" Christianity) does seem to work. However, comparing the theology of Mormons compared with almost any founder is hard to do. I've heard tons of Mormons try to make the case (especially when we look at vicarious baptism for the dead being done for the founders) that the founders eventually BECAME Mormons in the afterlife. I mention this component because I believe it is fundamental to the Mormon "Christian Nation" concept. The founders may have been of whatever faith in this life. The compelling factor is that many Mormons strongly believe that many (if not most) of these same founders are now Mormon in heaven.

Call it what you want. I only mention it to help illustrate the concept of the Mormon 'Christian Nation' not to engage in a theological war.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I find little with which to disagree on both comments.