KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–The “overarching and primary concern” why evangelicals likely will not vote for a Mormon for president is the Mormon claim to be the only true Christian church, a Southern Baptist seminary president said during the International Society of Christian Apologetics’ annual meeting in Kansas City, Mo.
If Mormons were to call themselves “a new religious movement,” that would be one thing, said R. Philip Roberts, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, which hosted the June 1-2 meeting.
“But I have a very difficult time with the perspective [the Mormon church holds] that, ‘We are the true expression of Christianity and all other forms of it are wrong and false and apostasy and heresy,'” Roberts said, paraphrasing the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Roberts, who led a breakout session titled “Mitt Romney: Should Evangelicals Vote for a Mormon President?” during the June 1-2 meeting, is one of Southern Baptists’ leading experts on Mormonism and author of a book on the church, “Mormonism Unmasked.”
Roberts began his presentation by referencing a World magazine poll the previous week showing that 25 percent of Americans and 33 percent of Republicans say they would not vote for a Mormon president. Roberts, however, then honed in on evangelical voters — why they probably will not vote for a Mormon for president; what would have to happen to change their view; and potential ethical issues facing those who might endorse the former Massachusetts governor.
Roberts acknowledged that there is no “religious test” for any presidential candidate; they are free to hold whatever belief — or non-belief — they choose. At the same time, voters have every right and reason to allow their “substantive informed religious opinions to inform [their] voting habits” without being faulted for bigotry, he noted. When stepping into the polling booth, Roberts said, he does so both as a U.S. citizen and as a Christian.
The nation’s conservative constituency and their spokesmen “must be very careful about how they speak to Christian voters,” Roberts continued. “They must understand that we can’t … divide up and deconstruct a Christian personality … or position so that, ‘Yes, you can vote as a Christian on one issue, but not on another.'”
Voters have the freedom and duty to consider the whole candidate, not only in terms of competency but also in terms of morality and the spiritual compass that will direct a potential presidency, Roberts said.
In addition to citing the Mormon claim to be the only true Christian church, Roberts stated that the view Mormons hold of God, Jesus, salvation and the end times are as far from historic Christianity as possible.
“They have an epistemological subjectivism that is way outside the realm of modern thinking and Christian reason,” Roberts said. “Subjectivity rules within the Mormon church. Subjectivism trumps reality; it trumps rational thought; it trumps objective investigation.”
Roberts voiced doubt to those who believe that Mormons are waking up to the problematic facets of their belief system, asking, “Where’s the evidence?”
For evangelicals to consider a Romney candidacy more seriously, Roberts said the candidate must be more open about his faith; he must do more than say that he is proud of his religion, then divert questions about it. Evangelical voters “ought to be uncomfortable with a candidate who’s not more expressive about his religion,” Roberts said.
Roberts said two other scenarios are unlikely: Romney may voice a change in his own faith outlook or his appeal may be enhanced if his opponents prove to be radical secularists or even anti-Christian.
Concerning evangelicals who might publicly embrace Romney’s candidacy, Roberts said, “When we endorse a candidate, that [endorsement] carries with it enormous implications, and if Mitt Romney is elected as president of the United States, there’s a great [spiritual] responsibility on the part of those who have advocated his candidacy.”
One of those implications, Roberts said, is that a Mormon president would, in essence, “give every LDS missionary the calling card of legitimacy anywhere in the world.”
“All of us are proud and blessed to be part of a nation where religious practice is protected and honored,” Roberts said in concluding his remarks. “Simultaneously, because we live in an open, free and competitive marketplace of religious ideas, it is important that our candidates for public office — if they are practicing religious persons — be as candid and open about their religious convictions and practices as possible. It is also recognized that they may choose not to do so, but in being transparent, trust and admiration in a candidate’s honesty will only be enhanced.
“As believers and followers of Jesus Christ, a candidate’s spiritual values are not the only criteria, by any means, for public office, but as voters, exercising our rights as citizens, to ignore altogether candidates’ religious perspectives would be potentially unwise, irresponsible and possible disloyal to our allegiance to Jesus Christ, Lord of lords and King of kings.”