NPR had an item on Morning Edition on Thursday, about the difficulty evangelical Christians in South Carolina have in accepting presidential candidate Mitt Romney — mainly, it seems, because he follows Jesus in a different way from how they do. One woman they talked with, Cindy Mosteller, a former Republican county chair, points out that Governor Romney’s church didn’t allow blacks into the church until the 1970s, so there’s substance there, and a real reason for concern. But it’s clear that Mr Romney’s record is fine with regard to African Americans, and I don’t think anyone is accusing him of racism.
Most of the comments, though, go along this line, from Melanie Lott (quoting from the audio program, rather than the accompanying text):
I have a little bit of background, know a little bit about Mormonism, and there’s absolutely no way that I could vote for Mitt Romney because of that. It’s not a Biblical-based, Judeo-Christian religion, it’s a cult.Or this variation, from Ron Daymer:
They have another book that they believe in as part of their faith system, that’s not the Bible. And yet the Bible says this is it, this is finished, no jot, no tittle should be added to this. I mean, that’s a major difference.And this:
The pastor of Cooper East Baptist Church in Mount Pleasant is called “Buster”, because his last name is Brown. He told us that in his view Mormons are “desperately wrong”, as he put it, on who Jesus Christ is, and on salvation.The comments of Mr Daymer and Pastor Brown are explained further by Dr Kathleen Flake, a religious historian at Vanderbilt Divinity School:
On the question of cults, Flake said the main source of mistrust is the Book of Mormon. Published in 1830, it is considered by followers to be an extra-Biblical testament of Jesus Christ. Evangelicals, however, believe the Bible is the last word, indeed the only word.
“People who believe that revelation ended with the Bible are going to look at groups that have new canon, they are going to call that cultish, by definition,” she said.
I’m no fan of Mitt Romney, of course, but seeing people who otherwise agree with him ruling him out for these reasons just makes me shake my head. If we’re really at the point where we’ll only support a candidate that comes from our own church — from our own tribe, from our own village — we’re in danger of returning to a fractured, fragmented society of petty local kings and “warlords”. We can argue at length about whether magical thinking in general makes someone unfit to rule. But if we decide, as we clearly have, that it doesn’t, we have to let go of the minutiae and stop worrying about whether your magical thinking includes, say, a different version of Heaven from mine.
In grade school, I was taught that the Pilgrims came here on the Mayflower in the early 17th century, escaping religious persecution. That’s somewhat of an oversimplification and a bit of distortion, of course, as these things are — it was more an issue of avoiding assimilation, along with other socio-economic issues. Perhaps the biggest distortion in our learning was that we thought that religious freedom was the point. Quite the opposite was, in fact: preserving a homogeneous religious community was the point.
That our country was founded with religious freedom as a cornerstone was in spite of the Puritans who settled in Massachusetts in the 1620s, not because of them. I didn’t get that, as a kid learning American history. I get it now, as an adult observing how much we’re still, many of us, like those Puritans.
I think I need to be part of a group that escapes this lunacy, in the name of free and grounded thought. Maybe we can build a boat, call it, say, the Junebug, and sail off somewhere to found a colony where people don’t sacrifice chickens to make the crops grow, don’t expect to get rain by praying for it, and don’t pick their leaders based on whether they believe the right folk tales or not. In my nation, we’d judge people by what they do, not by what their “faith” is, not by what church they belong to, not by whether they do the right rain dance or know the secret handshake.
I’m not sure it’d work, though: I don’t think there are any places left with enough natural resources and a trusting indigenous population that we could displace and mistreat. Wherever we’d land today, the natives would greet us at the beach and Google us on their satellite broadband while they tried to sell us something from their eBay store.