Mitt Romney, Evangelicals and the End of Religious Tests

Once upon a time, conservative evangelical and fundamentalist Christians had principles. And one of those principles was: theology matters. They would rail against the slightest deviation from the evangelical creed: the inerrant Bible, the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, bodily resurrection and dual nature of Christ, and his imminent second advent.

No faithful conservative evangelical would ever think of casting a vote for a member of a fringe Christian sect like Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Unification Church (the “Moonies”) or the Latter Day Saints (the Mormons). Of course, that was before they got drunk with Constantine’s chalice. Power corrupts even the ostensibly incorruptible.

Because suddenly somebody who believes that God used to be a man on another planet, that the Bible is not only errant, but superceded by “another testament,” that salvation is earned through a combination of faith and works, and that the ultimate destiny of faithful humans is to become a God is a contender for the Republican nomination in 2008 among conservative evangelicals.

Today’s Spartanburg Herald-Journal notes: “Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who still hasn’t officially committed to a presidential run, is shaping up to be a strong contender for the crucial GOP nomination in the Palmetto State.” Even among South Carolina’s notoriously sectarian Baptists like Jared Young of Romney’s Commonwealth Political Action Committee. Young told the Herald-Journal:

“Gov. Romney has always stood on the side of life, he’s been a fierce defender of the sanctity of marriage, and will continue to fight for those conservative principles. Gov. Romney is a person of faith, and that’s important to most Americans. He leads by example with character and integrity, and has been married to the same woman for more than 30 years.”

Young, observes the newspaper, is a Southern Baptist and graduate of Bob Jones University, whose president has called Mormonism a “cult.”

If John Kerry or Barak Obama said that Jesus was not born of a virgin, and that God used to be a man, you can bet that the right-wing South Carolina blogs would be all a-twitter. I can imagine that Crunchy and Gross would rail against “wolves in sheep’s clothing” trying to fool the voters into thinking that they were orthodox Christians. But of course, what really matters to evangelicals now is power, not theology. So they’re lining up behind the Governor of Massachusetts, because he’s “electable” and could help bring Congress and the federal courts back into their orbit. (Or do Congress and the courts orbit around evangelicals on their pre-Copernican flat earth?)

Frankly, it matters not a whit whether a president believes God used to be a man or a yellow squash or whether he believes in God at all. What matters is whether or not he believes in the Constitution of the United States, and whether or not he’s prepared to preserve, protect and defend it. That Constitution bars any “religious test” for elected office. Which is why we’ve had Deists, Unitarians and Catholics alongside good Baptists and Methodists and Episcopalians in the White House. (We’ve undoubtedly had practicing atheists, as well, though none openly. Nixon comes to mind…)

But evangelicals and fundamentalists have made religious testing a precursor to elected office. Now, their power suddenly shaky, they are willing to say that religion is unimportant as long as someone is committed to conservative political positions.

In a strange sort of way, this is actually good news. Maybe our next President won’t believe that he (or she) has been anointed by God to save America and the world from infidels. Maybe a Mormon President would actually be a religous liberal, committed to freedom for all beliefs and non-beliefs. Especially if that Mormon President were incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Whoops. Sorry. He’s a Democrat.

Besides, did you know that Harry Reid believes that God used to be a man?

Endnote: As to whether or not Romney is even a “conservative,” (as if that term means anything in the reign of George Bush) check out this from the Boston Globe. But he’s been married to the same woman for 30 years, so that must count for something.

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