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Mohler: Voters must exercise discernment

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–As the 2008 presidential election takes shape, no current candidate is tailor-made to suit the views of evangelical Christian voters as President George W. Bush was in 2000, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said on CNN’s “Larry King Live” May 14.

While religious conservatives such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are among the current crop of presidential candidates, Mohler said the lack of a clear fit for evangelicals gives them an opportunity to grow in their political discernment.

Because “there is no major candidate who is just tailor-made for an evangelical constituency,” Mohler said evangelicals “are learning how to ask some new and, perhaps, more deeply discerning questions about the political process and about candidates.”

In addition to Mohler, four other panelists addressed the question, “What role should religion play in politics?” — Jim Wallis, author of “God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It”; Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State; David Gergen, Harvard professor and editor-at-large for U.S. News and World Report; and David Kuo, Washington editor of Beliefnet.com.

While Lynn argued that Americans do not need to know much about a candidate’s religious convictions, Mohler said questions related to a candidate’s faith commitments will arise in a country that practices religious liberty.

“The most important thing is for persons to know what they believe and what they would expect of candidates,” Mohler said. “And since America is a land of religious freedom, inevitably issues that are related to faith, to Christianity, to whatever faith is held by the candidate or the voter, these things are going to become a matter of public conversation. It is inevitable.

“The only way to avoid that is to have some kind of atheistic regime and to outlaw religious liberty. So we are going to hear from the American people and we’re going to be hearing from candidates. And the big issue is, Is there a match in the convictions that voters are going to looking for from candidates?”

Host Larry King asked Mohler about the late President John F. Kennedy, who, in a 1960 campaign speech to Southern Baptist ministers, said his commitment to Roman Catholicism would not impact his decisions. While Kennedy’s openness about his faith was commendable, Mohler said his caveat has muddled the relationship between religion and politics.

“I want to know why a person’s faith and convictions shape them and how that will shape who they are,” Mohler said. “I think it was a mistake when President Kennedy made that statement. I think it set a bad precedent. And I think it led to some of the confusion we’re dealing with even now.”

Mohler said Romney’s Mormonism is potentially troublesome for evangelicals because Mormon beliefs are unbiblical. However, Mohler said that these differences do not necessarily mean that evangelicals cannot vote for Romney.

“I have to answer first as a Christian and say I believe Mormonism is a false way, that is antithetical to historic orthodox Christianity,” Mohler said. “But, at the same time, I’m not electing a theologian. I’m looking at electing a president, and I will have to consider all of those things in the context of what a candidate represents.

“If, for instance, Governor Romney is going to be a serious candidate for president — and it certainly appears that he is — he needs to speak very openly about what his Mormonism will mean for his candidacy, and we will take that into honest consideration.

“I do want all [candidates] to speak to evangelicals, but in terms of who they are. I want them to speak to us honestly about what they believe and how their beliefs work their way out into public policy.”

King alluded to the Democratic Party’s recent embrace of religious language which is obviously calculated to curry support from evangelical voters. Mohler said evangelicals will not be duped by this approach, but they also might flee from the GOP if the party continues to drift from its traditional stance on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

“I don’t think there’s any great danger of conservative Christians migrating to the Democrats because they have adopted this language,” Mohler said.

“I also think there is a great danger of conservative Christians becoming disenchanted with the Republican Party if it no longer seems to stand for some of the same values. I think that’s the big test on the minds of a lot of conservative people right now.”

Wallis singled out poverty as a primary current issue and argued that religious voters won’t focus on the “narrow two-issue agenda” of abortion and homosexuality as in past elections. While Mohler agreed that poverty is a crucial issue, he noted that poverty is directly linked to other social issues such as the breakdown of the family.

“I want to talk about poverty too but I can’t talk about poverty without talking about the breakdown of marriage, about the problem of children and single-parent homes. In other words, this is all tied together. It’s not like poverty is a separate issue from the issue of the family.”

Mohler said pastors must address issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage on the basis of biblical conviction, but they should not endorse a political candidate from the pulpit.

“I want to speak to the issues and help people to understand how to make morally discerning, theologically discerning and spiritual discerning choices,” Mohler said.

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  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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