Friday, October 28, 2011

The Christian and the Vote

“every true, born-again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian.” ~ Robert Jeffress, Senior Pastor, First Baptist Dallas
On the off chance this particular deceased equine hasn't been sufficiently flogged, let me ask the question: Is that true? Should a Christian always prefer the Christian candidate in any particular political race? What if the candidate in question is a fool, or his/her theology is off more than half a bubble out of plumb? How much theological heterodoxy is permitted before a person can be safely declared "not a Christian" and thus no longer require me, a "true, born-again follower of Christ" to vote for him or her?

These are not idle questions, but cut to the heart of the matter: How should a Christian vote?

In my mind, it comes down to the following criteria:
  1. Proven character. A good leader should be a good man or woman first. If he or she has not proven faithful in smaller matters, like being able to police his/her passions, why should he/she be trusted with a position of leadership? Personally, I was never comfortable with the idea that a person can be privately immoral, but publicly lead well. A person who has integrity in private will exercise it also in the conduct of his/her official duties, and who lacks it privately sooner or later won't be able to demonstrate it publicly either.
  2. Effective leadership. Can the person inspire people and get important tasks accomplished. Is there a record of such accomplishments? Any politician will have to lead not just people of his/her own party, but also those of the opposition. Can he/she make even enemies be at peace with good decisions, well executed?
  3. Enforcing justice fairly. This is one of the areas of our society which is always under challenge. Biblically, we must not grant special favors to the rich or connected because of their riches or connections. Cronyism or class-based favoritism is prohibited. But similarly, we must not put a thumb on the scale for the poor against the wealthy. We in the church are called to help the poor, but government's role is to enforce the law fairly for all. Does the candidate understand that, or does he/she stand on one side or the other?
  4. Policy proposals that focus on results rather than intentions. Nothing is easier than endorsing policies which sound good and make their promoters feel good about themselves. But as the old proverb says, "The road to hell..." Good intentions matter less than good results where people are concerned, and politicians do well to remember that Murphy was an optimist, and most policies have unforseen consequences. [Consider for example the push for so-called "electric cars." What they really are in most parts of the country is "coal powered cars," since the electricity they run on is provided by coal, a less-efficient and dirtier form of energy than gasoline. If everybody buys a taxpayer subsidized electric car, that will effectively result in a need to construct a whole lot more coal-fired electrical plants and much dirtier air].
  5. Minimization of the role of the state. If we believe what the Bible says that man is sinful and that man given power is prone to not just mischief, but destruction, then we should seek politicians who want to minimize rather than maximize their own role and their own scope of power over others' lives. This applies whether the pol in question seeks war or just do goodery "for the children." The power of the state seems to operate on a one-way ratchet, so look for pols who are either seeking to undo the ratchet a few clicks or at the very least, advance it no further.
  6. No political messiahs. This is related to last one. It seems that every election brings out the messianic in every pol. This is natural, as it seems you have be an above-average narcissist just to run for office. Thus, they promise "heaven" to those who vote for them and that "hell" will result if they are not elected. They scare the voters, hoping that the glories they promise for support and the hell of their own loss will result in their elevation. But knowing that this is the nature of politics, we as Christians ought not be bamboozled. There is one Messiah, Jesus, and all others are mere pretenders. Don't vote for a man or woman who is there to save the world; they can't. Vote for the fellow who takes the tragic view that our best efforts can only improve things a bit, if at all. It's downbeat as a philosophy, but realistic in it's expectations of fallen people.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Is Mormonism a Cult?

In a certain sense, no. That is, if by "cult," you mean the sort of mesmerized, secretive organization which demands unquestioned allegiance to the leader and which leads to the deaths of many of its adherents, a la Jonestown, David Koresh, etc. then Mormonism isn't a cult in that sense. At least, not today, though even cursory reading about early Mormon history certainly leads one to conclude that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were more akin to Koresh than to Paul or Jesus.

But moving over to the theological realm, the answer is certainly an emphatic "YES." Consider the following:
  1. Mormonism was founded by Joseph Smith, who claimed that he was told via direct revelation that he needed to found a new church of "Latter Day Saints' specifically because all other churches and Christian denominations were false and corrupt. Thus, their differences with historic Christian orthodoxy are not incidental, but central to Mormons' self-identity and reason for existence.
  2. Mormonism rejects the unique authority of the Scriptures, and considers them their inerrant nor complete, adding to them not only the Book of Mormon, but also Doctrine and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price.
  3. Mormonism emphasizes the continuing nature of revelation through official prophets. Through the Mormon hierarchy of President, First Presidency, Twelve Apostles, First Quorum of the Seventy, and Second Quorum of the Seventy, Mormons can receive authoritative interpretations of both the Scriptures, the Mormon additions, and entirely new authoritative revelations. It is uncharitable to point out that some of these "new revelations" have come about because of the changing of social mores or desire for social acceptability in the wider culture, but with issues such as polygamy and the admission of blacks to the Mormon priesthood, such certainly seems to be the case.
  4. Mormonism affirms a primordial spiritual existence before birth as God the Father's spirit sons and daughters, who receive bodies when humans procreate here on earth. How the first humans got their bodies I do not know, since there seems to be a need for a first set of bodies for the Father's spirit children to inhabit, but whatever.
  5. Mormons are non-Trinitarian. They affirm the Father, Son, and Spirit as unity in purpose and mind, but not in essence, and such unity as there is not eternal. Moreover, Mormonism is explicitly polytheistic, with Brigham Young teaching, "How many Gods there are, I do not know. But there never as a time when there were not Gods and worlds."
  6. To Mormons, Jesus is Redeemer, but his deity is derivative and lesser than that of God the Father.
  7. For the Mormon, humans are not inherently sinful. They do not possess an innate sinful nature, but are basically good.
  8. Mormonism teaches that eternal reward can come to Mormons by their own efforts. Salvation is thus essentially not by grace, but by works.
  9. Mormon salvation means that good Mormons ascend to the highest level of reward (the Celestial Kingdom), where they and their spouses (to whom they are still married for eternity!) continue to procreate as Gods, whose spirit children will one day inhabit other worlds. Less good people, who aren't quite righteous, go to the Terrestial Kingdom, where they don't suffer, but also aren't ruling as gods. The Telestial Kingdom is for the wicked and includes suffering. And finally, the Devil and fallen angels are confined to the Lake of Fire.
That is not even an exhaustive treatment of Mormon theology and its departures from historic Christian orthodoxy. But it is quite enough to say that while Mormonism is something, it is not "Christian" in any recognized theological sense of the term. At best, it is a religious movement which incorporates some Christian terminology and uses the Christians Scriptures. But it is not inaccurate in the least to label it a "cult."

Mormonism in the news...

Mormonism and its beliefs are back in the news because two of the candidates for the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, are devout Mormons. Additionally, Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Dallas (one of the largest congregations in both the SBC and the world), "helpfully" pointed out that Mormonism is a cult and that Christians shouldn't vote for a Mormon when they have a choice (such as Rick Perry, whom Jeffress evidently finds more to his personal taste).

This touched off a series of highly predictable events:
  1. Pastor Jeffress was denounced as a "bigot" by pundits both right and left.
  2. Rick Perry "backs away" from Jeffress, apologizing and damage controlling for comments he neither made nor solicited.
  3. Mitt Romney, the Republican frontrunner, gives yet another tiresome speech, of the same variety given by politicians at least since the Catholic Al Smith, in which he tries to walk the tightrope of a religious man whose faith isn't shared by the majority of Americans--that is, "my faith will guide me enjoy to give me political credit as a good and decent person, but won't influence me so much that I will say, follow the pope's guidance on foreign policy, or make wearing "temple garments" (aka "holy underwear") compulsory for all federal taxpayers."
  4. Debate ensues among the punditocracy about whether the constitution's prohibition of religious tests for office precludes voters from allowing their thoughts about a candidates particular faith or lack thereof to be a determining factor in their vote. The fact that the Constitution is meant to restrict the powers of government rather than individual voter behavior escapes notice.
But none of these reactions gets really down to the heart of the matter? Is Mormonism, in fact, a cult? And related to that, should Christian theology and a candidate's beliefs be the determining factor in a voter's choice?


I forget to pray. And often, in a variation of the same phenomenon, I pray for things for a while, and then stop praying for them because it doesn't seem like God is actually doing anything. In the past month, I've gotten three different reminders that God is at work even long after I've stopped asking.

I heard from a friend that he had finally apologized to someone and begun the process of healing that long-since broken relationship. I know both men and knew that my friend was, at least partly, in the wrong. So it cheered me to see the Spirit's work in his heart to repent and attempt reconciliation. It had been years since they had spoken. Where, except in the Body of Christ, does this happen?

I also heard through the grapevine about an old friend. I had helped bring her to Christ years ago, but she had shortly afterward wandered away from church and from Karen and I. I was deeply grieved over her, almost physically pained that someone genuinely converted could slip so easily back into a former life. At the time, I found myself doing some re-thinking about my theology of conversion, and wondering if indeed she was the type of "believer" described in Hebrews 6, whose conversion only seems genuine, but isn't. As I saw the slippage happening, I prayed that it would end, but I stopped after it seemed permanent. But wonder of wonders, I have since heard she is not only back in church, but has re-committed herself to Christ and is married to a man who is also a Christ follower. Color my cynical, faithless heart shocked, but joyful!

And last of all, I've found myself restoring relationships with a few people that I had hurt and who had hurt me. Years have passed since the original incidents, allowing the pain to ease, but never really heal. I had forgiven, but not reconciled. And honestly, I held out little hope that real healing would ever happen. I had stopped praying for it, just as I had stopped praying for these other things. Yet God was gracious to me, as He ever is, and kept working to bring about what could not happen without Him.

Oh the depths of both the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and His ways past finding out!

Favorite Sins

"It's always your favorite sins that do you in." ~ You and Tequila
It really is true what Dad used to say: "Even blind hogs can find acorns once in a while," so every now and then, even secular culture finds some true things to say. After 10 years as a pastor, what I find over and over again is that it is the sins we can't quite repent of that destroy us and the area of life in which that sin promised the greatest fulfillment. A girl with eating disorders finds her body destroyed by her attempts to perfect it. A man with a sexual addiction eventually finds no pleasure in actual sex. An alcoholic or a drug addict no longer enjoys, but still must have, that which now only adds to the pain he starting out trying to medicate. And on and on...

Sin promises what it will not, ultimately, deliver. And with it comes the Thief, whose aim is to steal, kill, and destroy. Over time, the Father of Lies is revealed for who he is, though not before destruction has poured forth from every corner of the destroyed person's life. And then repentance is a long journey home from a far country, smelling like pigs.

I am thankful that we still get to come home and still get that glorious welcome from a Father who runs to meet His children. But my pastor's heart grieves for those I see wandering, doing the very thing that will destroy them in the end.