This post is an interview by Hugh of two top scholars and experts on the Latter-day Saints at Biola University in La Mirada. They look at the possibility of a Latter-day Saint as President from every possible aspect, politically, socially, philosophically, theologically, and from the perspect of whether it would advance the goals of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Find it on Amazon.com at this link.
Thanks very much,
Steve St. Clair
A Mormon in the White House?
10 Things Every American Should Know About Mitt Romney
Excerpts from the Appendix
Interview with John Mark Reynolds and Craig Hazen, October 2006
Hugh Hewitt: John Mark Reynolds and Craig Hazen, welcome. Can you begin by telling us who you are and what you do, John Mark Reynolds?
John Mark Reynolds: I’m John Mark Reynolds. I’m a philosopher of religion. I have a PhD from the University of Rochester where I specialized in Plato and Plato’s view of the human soul. I’ve been at Biola University for over a decade now, where I am the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute, which is the flagship honors program for the university where we look at the world of classical ideas from a biblical and Christian perspective.
HH: And Professor Hazen?
Craig Hazen: I’ve been at Biola for almost ten years, and I did my doctorate work at UC Santa Barbara in religious studies. My specialty was new religious movements and comparative religion. I run the MA program in Christian Apologetics, which has about two hundred grad students and is probably the biggest program of its kind in the world.
HH: Now, let’s go in reverse order. What’s your experience with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Craig Hazen?
CH: Wow, you know, I seem to bump into them no matter where I go. I used to live right next door to a ward. Every time I moved to a new home, I’d live next door to a Mormon bishop, there were missionaries flowing in and out. I’ve always had a fascination with the Mormon people. I have a deep love for Mormon people. When I became a Christian as a senior in high school, I was fascinated with what the differences were between an evangelical Christian and a Mormon and that carried through. I studied Mormonism fairly in depth for a period of time, and then with my graduate work actually made Mormonism part of my doctoral research.
HH: And you published in the area?
CH: Yes, that’s right.
HH: The book is The New Mormon Challenge, of which you are a co-editor?
CH: Yes, that’s right.
HH: Have you written other books about or articles about Mormons?
CH: Yes. There’s a whole chapter on Mormonism in my book called The Village Enlightenment in America. It’s on an early apostle named Orson Pratt.
HH: John Mark Reynolds, your experience with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
JMR: Well, at the University of Rochester, you are in what’s known as “the burned-over district.” And, of course, I was near Hill Cumorah where Joseph Smith allegedly had his visions and where the Church holds a festival every year. I attended that at least two or three times, because I like to think of the burned-over district as involved in some school projects, thinking about why revivalism was so mighty. Things like Charles Finney, Mormonism, spiritualism, all having their foundation within, let’s say, fifteen miles of my PhD program at the University of Rochester I spent a lot of time with Mormons, thinking about them and interacting with them and also found Mormons to be friendly interlocutors when I would give a paper at a place like Cornell University. At one point I challenged Mormons to be more Mormon-not to retreat from some of their claims and to try to defend those apologetically, and got a lot of good reaction from scholars at BYU at that time. I’ve had a lot of friendly academic interactions.
HH: Would you explain for the benefit of the audience or people reading this what the “burned-over district” is?
JMR: Yes. Upstate New York was a center for revivalism in the nineteenth century. It was a strange mix of New England Puritans moving to the far west of New York State and loosening up their constraints a little bit. It became a democratic place for religion. Craig’s an expert on this area, but if you lived in upstate New York or studied there, you had to have thought about the fact that groups like the Death of God movement near Colgate Rochester Seminary, was a sister seminary to the University of Rochester where I was a grad student. Spiritualism, the Fox Sisters with their “spirit rapping,” were in, I believe, Hyde, New York, also close to Hill Cumorah, Joseph Smith, and Mormonism. All these revivalisms, including Adventism with William Miller, saw upstate New York as their center.
HH: I want to locate you two again for our readers at Biola. Biola is a unique institution. It’s a lighthouse institution for Christian studies on the West Coast. Craig Hazen, how would you describe Biola University to someone who is reading this for the first time?
CH: Biola is about to celebrate its one hundredth anniversary and it’s been an interesting place. It started in the midst of the fundamentalist-modernists controversy. Biola would have taken the conservative side, the fundamentalist side and that was in a day when that term actually meant something good-people who didn’t necessarily strap dynamite to their bodies and that type of thing. But Biola really stood for the faith once delivered to the Saints in all of its intellectual prowess. It wasn’t an anti-intellectual movement whatsoever, and Biola remains steady on that course. One of the few colleges founded in that era that has remained solidly in the biblical Christian camp.
HH: Before we actually talk about how a Christian ought to approach the issue-if it is an issue-of voting for a Mormon for president, can we get you both to tell a little of your own personal faith and what tradition you’re in so that a reader can get a plumb line? John Mark Reynolds?
JMB: Well, I am a member of the Antioch Orthodox Church, which is claimed to be the oldest church movement in the world. Our headquarters is in Antioch in Turkey. The patriarch is now in Damascus for political reasons, so I’m part of what most people would call Eastern Orthodoxy.
HH: And Craig?
CH: I’m kind of an evangelical ecumenical. I grew up in this southern California mix where you go to Calvary Chapel on Saturday night and then maybe to an evangelical Methodist church, if you can find one, on Sunday morning, and right now I attend an evangelical Friends Church and that’s just been my tradition. Southern California evangelicalism.
HH: Are you both familiar with anti-Mormon literature?
JMB: Yes. I went to Bible college. I view myself as an evangelical and very excited to be an evangelical and so went to an evangelical Bible college where I spent a lot of time thinking about apologetics, cults, and world religions and read a lot of anti-Mormon literature, some of which was absolutely dreadful, and spent some of my life apologizing for that early exposure. So, yeah. I’ve read a good bit, but not as much as Craig.
HH: Craig, obviously you’re part of the colloquy under way between evangelicals and Mormons. Can you describe what that is?
CH: This is a huge breakthrough. It’s never been done before, where a group of thoughtful evangelicals, most of whom have advanced degrees in theology or religious studies or history, get together with the senior faculty of religion at Brigham Young University and hash out theological issues. We do this a couple of times a year, and it’s just been marvelous. We’ve formed some tremendous friendships, and I believe there’s a lot of progress being made. Perhaps the most important piece of progress is we’ve learned that modern Mormons do not necessarily embrace all that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young taught. In other words, the Mormon Church of the mid-nineteenth century is a different kind of thing than the Mormon Church today.
HH: Alright. Now I want to get to the issue of politics and the intersection with faith. John Mark Reynolds, would you vote for a Mormon for president?
JMB: Yes, absolutely, and I think that having Mormonism be a disqualifier for office is inappropriate. I’ve blogged pretty extensively on this issue, and this isn’t because I don’t think theology is important. I think Mormon theology is severely defective. It’s not clear to me that one can be a good Mormon and a good Christian and I’ve talked to my Mormon friends about this pretty extensively. People can disagree theologically, very seriously disagree, but make common cause in politics. Obviously, my home church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, has had some serious historical differences with Roman Catholics, yet clearly in pro-life issues we’ve been able to work closely with Roman Catholics and make common cause.
We’re not electing a pope, I’m not electing the patriarch of Antioch-they don’t ask me for that anyway. But would I vote for a Mormon for patriarch of Antioch? No. Would I vote for a Mormon for a president of the United States? Yes. In a blog post recently I’ve tried to outline three reasons why I think the Mormon theology is severely defective. But It’s not a disqualifier for a serious person to consider their theology as appropriate for the White House.
HH: Can you give the URL of the blog?
JMB: Yes, my blog is at JohnMarkReynolds.info. If you do a search for “Mormon” or “Romney,” I’ve written about this on at least three different occasions-multiple pages of why I think it’s appropriate to consider Romney as a candidate on his political merits and more or less dismiss the theological issues from consideration
HH: Craig Hazen, would you vote for a Mormon for president?
CH: I would. In the case of Romney, there’s something special going on here. If Romney were the governor of Utah or Idaho, I’m not sure that I’d leap forward and say, “Yes, no doubt about it. Here’s a guy that could be president.” I’d have to dig a lot more deeply, but Romney right up front is a faithful Mormon who’s governed Massachusetts for goodness’ sake. You don’t get elected in Massachusetts because you’re “Temple worthy.” That’s not the issue. A guy who can impress the voters of Massachusetts to vote for him has something going for him. The fact that he’s a Mormon actually can intrigue me at that point because his value system in terms of life and family and certain aspects of national security and political conservatism maybe those all come into play in a positive way. I might vote for a guy like that.
HH: I did not know your answers before we sat down. I’m going to ask you more generally, at Biola, among your colleagues on the faculty, and it’s a vast university with hundreds of colleagues, do you expect that there is a significant number who will say, “No. I could never vote for a Mormon for president”? John Mark Reynolds?
JMR: I think there are two answers to that question. The first is the initial answer and I can tell you from my own personal family, and my family is very well educated, very thoughtful. The first answer is “Oh! I’m not sure about that,” or “Maybe not.” But then, if they consider it for more than a minute and they have any kind of dialogue about it and they think about it for a few seconds, the answer is “Yeah, I guess I would be open to that. In fact, I’m tired of being taken for granted by Republican candidates, maybe somebody who is a Mormon and has been put down for his religious beliefs won’t be the kind of the person who mocks us from the White House or does things that some people in my family or some of my colleagues might be concerned about.”
So, there are two answers to that question. Initially, it’s probably 50/50. After a little bit of thought I’ve found that in my family and amongst my colleagues, it’s probably more like 90/10 that we would think about that.
HH: Craig Hazen, you do agree?
CH: Yes, I agree with that. I can only think of a very small handful of people who might step forward and just say, “You know, I just couldn’t in good conscience vote for a Mormon for president.”
HH: There are three objections which I’ve run into over and over again in the course of preparing this book. The first is “Salt Lake City will control the White House.” Does that concern you, Craig Hazen?
CH: I doubt they are controlling Massachusetts right now, so again I don’t think that’s going to happen. You know, we’ve seen this play out with George Bush, though there’s no controlling authority like the Vatican or the prophet in the Mormon Church. But nonetheless, George Bush, in order to govern effectively a national audience, cannot wear his evangelical Christianity on his sleeve. That’s just a requirement for the office if you have to govern all the people. Romney’s smart enough to know that. We know that for a fact because he’s governed Massachusetts.
HH: But are you concerned, John Mark Reynolds, that, of course, the Church is going to layoff if there’s not much to be gained if you have a governor taking orders from Salt Lake City, but the fact that the president could expect the prophet from Salt Lake to call up major issues of life and death and war and peace.?
JMR: I think there are two possible answers to that question. Let me say the controversial thing first. I hope Romney takes his Mormonism seriously when he’s in office and he uses his religion to guide him on major policy issues. The reason I don’t think a Mormon is disqualified from political office in the United States is that Mormonism has become a mainstream part of the small “r” republican movement in the United States. Utah isn’t governed as a banana republic …. Southern Idaho is dominantly Mormon yet the politics in those areas plays within the broad perimeters of republican values. So, I think to start with, I hope Romney takes his Mormonism seriously and uses it to guide culture of life issues when he makes a decision.
Secondly, I just think it’s absurd to believe that an adult human being in such a responsible position would take direct orders from a religious figure at this point in the twenty-first century on non-religious issues. The Mormon Church doesn’t have, to the best of my knowledge, a worked-out view on tax policy. So what in the world would the prophet call and tell Romney to do? Would the prophet call and have Romney impose Mormonism on the United States by dictate? That’s just such an absurd possibility that I don’t think it’s worth refuting.
HH: The second perennial objection is that, as you write in The New Mormon Challenge, Craig Hazen, there are 60,000 Mormon missionaries at work at this very moment, maybe even higher since the book came out in 2002, and that their zeal would be increased and their message made more legitimate by the presence in the presidency of their co-religionist. Your response?
CH: I was wondering if you were going to bring it up because that’s the thing that I’ve been thinking a lot about. As an evangelical Christian and a fellow who thinks that Mormonism, as it stands today, presents an errant view of Jesus and the saving Gospel … I don’t believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. I believe he was mistaken and that he led a whole group of people into a mistaken notion about the identity of God and the nature of salvation. But given that-if you’re an evangelical with that on your plate-you need to wonder and I think take this question seriously: would a Mormon president, a candidate, a solid candidate, a guy who actually gets into the White House, would that further in some way the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? As an evangelical I don’t want the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be furthered. I think it actually leads many people away from God and not necessarily towards God.
It’s a mixed bag, and I’ll stick with some generalizations here. So here you’ve got: “If Romney is a candidate or he becomes the president, would that enhance the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Would they bring more people into their Church roles? Would their faithful be more encouraged to do missionary work? Would they see this as some sort of fulfillment of prophecy or some end-times event?”
Mormons are very millennial in that respect. They are looking for the end of the world and have been since their own beginning. Those are questions that Christians are going to have to think through.
In my best thinking at this point, I don’t think it’s an issue. I just don’t think that’s going to happen and, in fact, it’s going to be a mixed bag for Mormons in the exact same way it’s been a mixed bag for evangelicals having one of our own in the White House.
HH: John Mark Reynolds?
JMR: I think it isn’t a problem, and I think that one reason is that evangelicals are going to have to deal with the fact that Mormonism is no longer a tiny movement. It’s already dominant in one state politically. It’s going to be dominant in two or three states in terms of the Republican Party in any case. Mormonism is not a tiny group that’s going to go away. It has a first-rate university to defend its point of view, so is it possible that this will be a coming-out party for Mormonism as a mainstream group? Possibly, but it already is a mainstream group. It’s already part of
the American fabric and it has been for a hundred years. Mormonism isn’t going to go away.
Now, I don’t agree with Mormonism. I don’t think people should be Mormons, but we simply have to recognize that Mormonism is a player. We have to engage in dialogue. Just as my good friends who are Jewish don’t agree with me about the status of Jesus Christ, yet I am able to make common cause with them and not pretend that if I vote for a Jewish candidate for president, I’m making more people become Jewish …. I don’t think in the case of voting for a Mormon I’m doing anything other than recognizing the fact that Mormonism is here to stay as part of the fabric of the American nation.
HH: The third objection and perhaps the most pervasive, I have summed up under the heading “It’s Just Too Weird,” and by that I mean the objection that people of serious intellectual accomplishment cannot buy into the Mormon narrative. I heard this on a number of points and the governor does love and believes his faith and we have to take it at face value that he accepts the claims made by his denomination. Does it concern you that he would believe a story this outside of the mainstream of the Christian narrative? We’ll start with you, Professor Reynolds.
JMR: Well, I think traditional Christians-and I’m certainly a traditional evangelical Christian-should always be hesitant about using the “it’s too weird” argument. After all, my church believes that when we approach communion, it’s the very body and blood of Christ and that a mysterious thing happens. I have secular friends who think that’s “just too weird.” How can you be rational and believe in it? When I’ve written about this, I’ve suggested that the “it’s too weird” argument is only legitimate if the “it’s too weird” belief has political overtones, if the particular belief is going to cause me to have some strange notion that will have political ramifications.
For example, I think a Mormon would have been disqualified for running for president in the 1970s because of the church’s views about African Americans that have since changed. And that Romney is now on the record as saying that he was opposed to them and was very glad when they were changed.
I think the second thing is: Do Mormons defend their “weird beliefs” using standard rational arguments and traditional philosophical apologetics? And the answer is, whether they are successful or not, they try. They have a first-rate university. They run apologetics programs. They try and make rational arguments defending their point of view. Now I personally think those arguments fail, but then my atheist friends think that my arguments for the Christian faith fail. So, I think in the open public square, if you’re trying to play the game, if you’re trying to be rational and your beliefs have policy within the mainstream of, let’s say, the Republican and Democratic parties, your religion should cease to be “weird” and we give you a pass.
HH: Professor Hazen.
CH: I think it’s going to be a problem for a small group of evangelicals who study these things and think “how can anybody believe that?” I think by and large for Americans it’s not going to be a problem because, unfortunately, Americans in the big picture approach religion in a very different way. It’s all something internal, and the objectivity of a particular religious view just doesn’t come into play for them. They think everybody’s got a religious view and it’s their personal view and I think that’s how they are going to look at it at the end of the day with somebody like Romney.
So, in other words, they are not going to be] critiquing it- “How can you possibly believe that there were literal gold plates with some language called ‘Reformed Egyptian’ etched on them?” I’d actually like to see Romney answer that question, to see if he actually tackles those kinds of things. On the other hand, I’d like to see George Bush defend the resurrection too, and I’m not sure he could.
HH: You lead me very nicely into the ultimate of our subject matters which is what is appropriate to ask a political candidate about their practices. Governor Romney has been asked if he wears the sacred undergarments of the faith. I cringed at that. I cringe actually at the whole conversation. It strikes me as going against the civic religion of America to probe too deeply into somebody’s religious practices.
Mark Halperin of ABC News told me that he’s got to answer these questions. He’s a secularist, but they are fascinated. I think they’re fascinated because they want to embarrass religious believers about the particulars of faith. What is appropriate, Craig Hazen? That he ought to draw a line on and say, “Beyond this I shall not answer”?
CH: I agree about the sacred underwear issue. That ought to be off limits. But it seems to me that it is fair game. If you’re a faithful LDS man, and you’re going into the public square, there are a lot of curious people out there who want to know about this religion you’re drawing to their attention for the first time. All along they’ve put it in kind of the “offbeat religion of Utah” column, and you’re bringing it right into the center of the nation. So he’s going to have to be prepared to answer some fairly in-depth questions about Mormonism, and he’s probably going to have to do it on his own as best he can. So in other words, he can’t be turning to BYU because that actually digs him deeper in the LDS trough.
HH: This is fascinating. John Mark Reynolds, we did not ask Jack Kennedy-even at the height of the questions and scrutiny-to discuss with us the Vatican Council.
JMR: Or transubstantiation, or his belief about Our Lady of Fatima, or whether the Virgin of Guadalupe really appeared.
If we start down this road of probing-I think here if! were talking to reporters as a philosopher-I would argue that you have to make distinctions between what matters in the public square and what doesn’t. And what matters in the public square is what’s going to have public policy implications. What kind of underwear a man wears, so far as I can tell, has no public policy implications whatsoever. My own beliefs about the Mass or the Eucharist-where I do have views that aren’t in the mainstream of, let’s say, Christianity in the United States orthodoxy-is a minority movement inside of traditional Christianity. They are just not relevant because, as far as I can tell, they have no public policy implications.
Now, suppose Mormonism still believed in polygamy, which plainly the Church does not. That would have a public policy implication in an era when marriage is being defined, when the definition of marriage is under assault, and Romney would have to answer how his church’s views of marriage play out. But since the Church now has adopted-and has for a hundred years-a traditional view of marriage, I don’t think it or similar questions are relevant questions to ask a Mormon about their more unusual or esoteric religious beliefs, if they don’t have public policy implications.
HH: Do you think the MSM has a different agenda at work when they pursue Romney on issues related to his LDS practice and beliefs other than curiosity?
JMR: Yes. I think if I were Romney I wouldn’t do those. But what I would be tempted to do is ask a secularist in the MSM, “Are you asking these questions to embarrass a religious believer or do you really want to know the answer? In which case, here are a series of books you can go read. Why haven’t you read them to start with?”
And then the second thing I think he should say is, “Look, I know I’m running for public office, so my life’s a bit of fair game for everyone. But you also have a public microphone, so let me ask you as a secularist, do you believe in free will and if you don’t, how come you’re cashing your paycheck and taking credit for something that you didn’t really do?”
Now I know that Romney can’t do that because you can’t get into that kind of interaction with the media. But I do think there is a secularist agenda to pick on things in each religious group-whether it is Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism or evangelical Christianity-that the other groups will think that are odd about the Orthodox or odd about Roman Catholics or odd about Pentecostal Christians such as “Do you speak in tongues?”
I was once at a meeting where the head of one of the Gannett Newspapers-in Rochester, New York-told my Pentecostal high school students that she believed they were disqualified from office if they spoke in tongues because it was just too strange. I called the ACLU and the City of Rochester and said, “Gosh that seems like such an odd thing for this woman to be saying who’s writing editorials about Pentecostal candidates for office. What do you think of this?” (Of course the ACLU said, ‘Well, we don’t like it but we’re not going to touch it,” because it wasn’t the favored group that they like to defend.)
I think we want to be very careful with religious believers to not let secularists divide the united, while they themselves dislike each other, they have their own internal “atheists vs. agnostics” wars, and only unite when they are talking to religious people. So we have to be careful not to let them-like slicing baloney-slice off strange beliefs we have from everybody else’s point of view and make every religious believer look absurd in the pubic square. What they do to Romney today, they might do to a Pentecostal who prays in a prayer language tomorrow, to a Catholic on the Virgin of Guadalupe the next day, and to an Orthodox Christian about weeping icons the next week. So we want to stay out of that game.
HH: Craig Hazen?
CH: Just thinking politically, I don’t think Romney’s particular religious views or practices are going to cause him a lot of trouble except for a couple of big blocs. For example, the Southern Baptist Convention. I can image the SBC coming out and being fairly firm against having a Mormon in that office. It’s just been the way that they’ve approached the Mormons. When the SBC had their convention in Salt Lake City, they kind of stormed into some offices at BYU and made films and asked tough questions. It did not really warm the Mormons’ hearts with regard to the SBC’s outreach. They just have a particular stance. It’s not done well in bringing the Southern Baptists and the Mormons together for mutual evangelism or anything else.
Another group might be the Evangelical Free Churches of America and some of the reformed churches who have a tougher stand. Beyond that, by and large I think that Americans have a very favorable attitude towards Mormons. If you ask a guy on the street about the Mormons, they go, “I don’t know much about them. I know most of them are in Utah, but you know, the ones I’ve met are really good. They really take care of each other. They are good folks. If I was going to live next door to somebody, I’d like it to be a Mormon family.”
HH: Last question. Call on your theological training. You are both theologians, you’re both skilled apologists and you spend a lot of time training people in Christian apologetics, so this is a theological question. For a “mere Christian,” is it sinful to not vote for a Mormon because of their Mormon belief?
JMB: I believe it is sinful to not vote for a Mormon in the American political system solely on the grounds of their Mormon beliefs because it is irrational. If you began to examine why you wouldn’t vote for a Mormon, it’s very difficult to come up with non-bigoted or informed reasons for doing so. The only exception to that that I’ve ever been presented is your earlier argument that it might advance the Church of Latter-day Saints, but I don’t feel that that’s a probable account. I think that bigotry is always a sin, and that most of the people that I’ve talked to who won’t vote for a Mormon are simply basing their non-vote on a prejudice and a misunderstanding of the open public square in a republic and the function of civic religion
inside the United States.
HH: Craig Hazen?
CH: Given the complexities of what goes into a person’s voting
choice: who they are running against, what state they live in, and all these things, I don’t know that I could land on the “I know it would be sinful” side. But here is a scenario under which it could be sinful to vote for Romney: if the voter believed in their heart that by votng for Romney they were somehow going to push forward the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that preaches a false Jesus and a false Gospel-if they believed in their heart that that might be a result of voting for Romney, it could be a sin to vote for Romney.
HH: Interesting. Concluding thoughts for this roundtable. I just want to make sure that I give you an open opportunity.
CH: I would vote for Romney in a heartbeat and primarily because I’m looking for a candidate that has a set of values that resonates with me, and I think he’s the guy. Because he’s been governor of Massachusetts, that takes away all the angst that I might have if he were more politically inexperienced and from, say, a state like Utah.
HH: John Mark Reynolds?
JMB: I’m very close to the signing on to vote for Romney in the primary, though I haven’t made a decision yet. But I’m very close to deciding to vote for Romney, and this is for four reasons.
First of all, I think that in the post-Bush era we need an articulate defender of both the war in Iraq, and general republican values – small “r”-towards government and family values. Up to this point both Reagan and Bush have, in my opinion, been fantastic presidents, but they haven’t been skillful defenders of our perspective. They’ve been congenial and they’ve been supportive.
We need someone with the intellectual horsepower that can connect. I don’t think either Bush or Reagan were foolish, but none were connected to strong rhetorical skills as defenders of our perspectives, and I think Romney has had to be in a tough situation in Massachusetts with a tough religious perspective and has been a skillful defender of our values.
Secondly, I think that in the case of Romney we have a person who is also helping mainstream Mormonism. To the person with the concern that Craig Hazen so eloquently talked about, which I think is a legitimate concern, I would say this: my Mormon friends better be concerned that having someone such as this in the public eye will tend to mainstream their own beliefs. In other words, when you’re hiding, it’s easier to have strange, or what we would call “aberrant,” Christian beliefs. When they are out in the public square, when Romney’s out defending their point of view, when BYU is going to be called on to explain what’s going on, I think this will have a main-streaming effect on Mormonism far more than it will have an effect on Christian views about Mormonism. So actually, if I were Mormon, I would be more concerned about this than as an evangelical.
CH: I agree with that. I think it’s entirely possible that a successful Romney presidency could actually open the door for deeper talks and engagement with evangelical Christians. And any time that happens-if evangelicals go in with a loving spirit, presenting the true gospel of Jesus-I’ve discovered Mormons move in our direction. It could actually help to mainstream them in a very positive way from the standpoint of an evangelical Christian.
JMR: Yes, I think that’s right. I think that’s exactly right.
Third, I think evangelicals-and again I include myself in that traditional Roman Catholics, traditional Orthodox, and traditional evangelicals have often been accused of being intolerant, unable to separate theology from civil religion, believing in some sort of weird Constantinism or theocracy. This is an excellent opportunity for evangelicals to show their political maturity-just as evangelical maturity in supporting Lieberman in a race where Lieberman is the best of the choices offered to Connecticut voters has shown a maturity and puts a lie to those slanders – so an evangelical ability to consider Romney. I didn’t say support, that will have to be made on political grounds, but to consider Romney, will show critics the coming maturity of the “religious right.”
And then finally, I think, the final positive about a Romney candidacy is that we are all talking about religion and the public square and we’re not pretending that religion can be separated from the public square. People care about their religion. Romney cares. Bush cares. Barack Obama cares. Hillary Clinton cares about her religious beliefs. And the more we can dialogue about this in open ways-not in ways where we are playing “gotcha” about Mormon underwear, but trying to understand how people’s religion interplays with their reason-then that’s going to be a positive and Mitt Romney forces us to do that.
HH: John Mark Reynolds and Craig Hazen, fascinating. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
NOTE: I provided a copy of the transcript of this conversation to two members of the General Authorities of the LDS Church, as well as to its spokesman, Michael Otterson, along with the invitation to provide one or two responses to any or all of the points discussed within it. Mr. Otterson declined the invitation on behalf of the Church.
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