Saving souls and governing democratically don’t mix – at least both cannot exist as a top priority in one’s mind as a governing leader. Either saving souls is more important or the principles of democracy are, because the concept of “salvation” in the Christian church is not a democratic notion. Salvation means submitting to not only God, but to the long list of rules that salvation centered religions have pushed as a requirement for salvation.
Mormonism is the center of curiosity today because it is Mitt Romney’s religion and he just semi-officially became “the contender” for President on behalf of the Republican party. If you’re not in Utah, Mormons aren’t very evident in daily American life, they aren’t as numerous, loud, or show stealing as evangelicals tend to be. If we are going to be governed by a man who believes as Mormons do, we have a need to know what Mormons believe.
Mormons do believe in salvation but it isn’t quite like the salvation that Fundamentalist Protestant Evangelical Christians believe in. All religions are free to believe anything they’d like, that’s no problem, the conflict of mission happens when a devotee is required by their faith to put the push for salvation above their duties to the general public (particularly those that don’t share their belief systems). Evangelism amounts to attempts at indoctrination, attempts to convert another person into a particular belief system – they are like permanent lobbyists for their faith. A person may feel that evangelism is necessary for their spiritual health, but you cannot evangelize and govern simultaneously without theocracy being implied.
The simple fact is that today there is a large segment of Fundamental Evangelical Christians that want a Theocracy; they do not believe in separation of church and state. They would like the government to be an extension of their church and their self annointing philosophy makes it impossible for them to be wrong or for consideration of diversity to be figured into the picture. I was able to experience a crowd of such folks firsthand recently.
I went to a county school board meeting where a policy on religion in schools was up for debate and a vote – various outside (often religious) groups wanted access to the kids. The county has a very high percentage of Southern Baptists – typically fundamental and evangelical – and they filled the meeting. The public comments (which lasted for hours) were dominated by folks evangelizing to the school board and audience. Never mind that the whole community was discussing a policy decision and wanted to go about it fairly, the people of the county were so focused on saving souls (or being right?) that consideration for others was never mentioned. For them everyone in that room was going to hell and they were the only thing that could throw us a lifeline. Many used that same line of reasoning for wanting in the schools – they felt sorry for the kids that did not have the opportunity to have the correct Bible and correct teachings and emphasized how those kids burning in hell would weigh on the conscience of the board and the county’s citizens. They called separation of church and state a lie and claimed we have a Christian nation.
Now, no matter the rhetoric at the upper levels of government, this room was full of the people, these were Americans. They were serious as a heart attack about damnation and the end times, they represent a good chunk of voters. Their potential leader needs to make himself clear where his allegiances lie. Would he ever buck the authority of the Mormon church? Can he put a mission of salvation for others on hold while he attends to the needs of everyone? Does he believe in the separation of church and state?
As faiths new to the office of presidency have their shot at representation, we must repeatedly assure ourselves that there is a separation of church and state. This was established with the First Amendment to the Constitution (even though we are in a constant struggle with maintaining this separation today). Kennedy had to distance himself from the authority of the Pope when he was running for President, even Obama had to answer for attending the church of Rev. Wright (and answering to a specific minister, not his religion). What they both did was reassure us that all Americans – even those with strange religions or no religions – are still fully worthwhile Americans and wanted in the democratic process, and that they would govern us all as equitably as possible.
Have a look at this excerpt from Kennedy’s speech in 1960:
…But because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected President, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured–perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again–not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me–but what kind of America I believe in.
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute–where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote–where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference–and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish–where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source–where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials–and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.
For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew–or a Quaker–or a Unitarian–or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim–but tomorrow it may be you–until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.
Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end–where all men and all churches are treated as equal–where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice–where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind–and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.
That is the kind of America in which I believe…
Thanks Beliefnet.com for the text.