One of the most compelling was James Walker, president of the Watchman Fellowship, which fancies itself a Christian discerner of new religious movements, cults, the occult, and New Age-ism. On the Sunday he visited my church, Walker preached about the folly of Oprah Winfrey-ism, exposing her New Age beliefs and showing a clip from her program in which a Christian confronted her (and her panelists) with Bible truths.
While Oprah wields enviable influence throughout the country, Walker has also seen a noticeable uptick in inquiries to Watchman about a certain presidential candidate’s faith. The curiosity is over the Mormonism of Republican Mitt Romney, and let’s just say Walker — himself a former Latter-Day Saint church member — is concerned.
So what’s the worry — that his religion taints his stance on political issues?
“There are a lot of things I find in common with him,” Walker said with sincerity.
Is it that their beliefs are a little, uh, wacky?
“An atheist could make the same case about a Christian,” Walker responded, obviously thinking about seas parting and Lazarus rising.
So what’s the problem, then?
“My main concern with a Romney presidency is the hundreds of thousands of new converts that would be brought into the Mormon church,” he said.
While Walker gives pause, others in the conservative movement — even Christians like talk show host Hugh Hewitt, who wrote a whole book backing Romney, and Bob Jones III — have supported him. They argue for his morally upstanding lifestyle and principled stances that place him in the social conservative fold, despite his theological aberrations.
The former Massachusetts governor himself was dismissive of the potential influence he would have upon the growth of Mormonism should he be elected. From Hewitt’s book, A Mormon in the White House:
Does Romney think he will be held up as a role model of Mormonism, part and parcel of the missionaries’ pitch in the remote regions of the world?
“That would kill us,” he said with a laugh. “It’s hard for me to know what the impact of that would be. I think certainly that’s not the reason I’m considering a run and I think it overstates dramatically the impact of the faith of a particular president.”
He laughed again. “I haven’t actually looked. My guess is that if you looked at the conversions here in Massachusetts, you wouldn’t see any change between before and after I became governor, and I don’t think Democrats are flocking to the Mormon church because Harry Reid is the majority leader….”
“It certainly hasn’t worked that way in Massachusetts,” he said, with a final laugh at the idea….
It’s easy for Romney to dismiss his religious impact in the Bay State as irrelevant, but seriously, when was the last time you heard that any governor generated passion and conversions because of his faith?
“Massachusetts is Massachusetts,” Walker said. “It’s a little bit different when you look at the country as a whole.”
The point is — and Romney should know it — is that the presidency is an entirely different circumstance. As the leader of the free world, a Mormon in the White House would wield significantly greater influence than a governor from a New England state.
“Something like this would be a huge shot in the arm [for Mormonism],” Walker says. “It would be instant credibility.”
Walker says he can envision American missionaries working to spread Mormonism to other countries asking, “Would you like to hear about the faith of our president?” So for Christians to contribute to the election of a Mormon would mean that they are not just endorsing a man, but also a false (to them) belief system, for the highest profile post in the world. Almost any publicity-seeking organization would delight in such an earned media campaign that costs next-to-nothing.
Critics of these evangelicals’ approach to voting say to deny Romney support because of his religion amounts to prejudice. But for the most part Christians believe that Mormon theology leads its adherents to an eternal separation from the Lord. Undoubtedly poll data following the primaries and general election will identify which candidate(s) the evangelicals supported. Do you think they want to stand before God, after they die, and explain why they helped elevate to the highest level of global influence a person who represents false Christianity?
This outlook is anathema to those who believe that the most important and effective means to achieve goals is through the political process. But for many evangelicals allegiance to God trumps all, and they trust that He ultimately determines who becomes president anyway. In current practical terms the presidential primaries offer a broad variety of candidates. There are choices.
Walker acknowledges the decision becomes much more difficult in a general election, but that bridge can be crossed if it is erected. In the meantime he sees Romney’s candidacy as a chance to get his information out.
“We see this as an opportunity for us to educate people on what Mormons really believe,” he said.
“We believe Christians should be equipped anyway. Maybe now this will motivate them.”
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