WORLD magazine, a Christian pub, has a point/counterpoint debating whether a Mormon can be president. I’m reading the dueling viewpoints, and it seems to me that the whole “can Mitt or Jon be a Mormon and be president” debate is getting as old-fashioned and absurd as the debate over gay marriage in a secular society. Opponents of both positions are moving toward extreme examples to justify positions that seem hysterical upon inspection.
Take the Mormon/prez debate in WORLD. (read) The pro side can basically be summed up in two ways: “He’s running for president, not pastor, who cares if I don’t think he’s a Christian”; and I restrict my choices if I put a theological requirement on my vote.” Both are common-sense positions that over time gain strength ad adherents. Correct, humane positions tend to grow in popularity.
The anti-Mormon-as-a-prez guy, Wallace Cole Smith, takes the exact opposite position, that a vote for Mitt is a vote for Mormonism, legitimizes the anti-Christian religion, and unless Mitt renounces LDS beliefs, Christians should not support him.
Who would extend those same reservations to orthodox Jewish candidates, or Muslims who seek office? Would Warren Cole Smith urge we vote against a candidate who shares the traditional yet odd Christian belief that God is going to rapture millions of people in a single second and ignore the consequences? Would Cole Smith vote against a candidate who shares the pessmistic Christian belief that deadly unrest in the Middle East is a sign of the End Days?
Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review Online has pointed out that many evangelicals won’t vote for Romney because they don’t think he’s a Christian, while many liberals won’t vote for him because they think he’s too much of a Christian. Warren Cole Smith and other Christian conservatives seem locked in a strange netherworld that I believe is getting smaller and zanier.
In regards to absurdity and the gay marriage debate, let’s look at a column from the Mormon Times’ media columnist, Lane Williams, (read) a professor at BYU Idaho. I worked with Lane at BYU a generation ago and I enjoy reading his columns but when making a key point he leaves out a critical part of a column that quotes gay marriage advocate Howard Chua-Eoan, published in Time. (read)
Williams, I assume, is displeased that gay marriage is now legal in New York. He links to Chua-Eoan’s column and includes portions of it where the author expresses frustration that even with the new law, he still can’t be married in certain New York churches. At that point, Williams ominously asks, “Is this writer demanding that government compel religions to violate their beliefs? Would a religion still be allowed to say homosexuality is sin under his view?”
Well, no, not even close. If Williams had wanted to, he could have included this later part of Chua-Eoan’s column where Chua-Eoan assuages Williams’ fears: “The state cannot force a church to change its beliefs. Even gay people realize that is wrong.”
In other words, Williams creates an argument with evidence that does not warrant it. But he does cleverly use his writing skills to create fear in his core audience that churches may one day be forced to allow gay marriages. It’s an irrational fear I hear often in priesthood lessons every sabbath. In the unlikely event government orders the church to conduct gay marriages in temples, I’ll be glad to join with Williams and others in opposing that, but I’m not as worried as some.