Over at First Things, here’s what Baylor professor Francis J. Beckwith calls the Creedal Mistake:
This mistake occurs when a Christian citizen believes that the planks of his creed are the best standard by which to judge the suitability of a political candidate. For example, suppose a Presbyterian votes for one of Romney’s primary opponents solely on the basis of the governor’s rejection of the Nicene Creed. An elder who did this would not truly understand the purpose of creeds: to provide church members and the world at large a summary of beliefs that one must embrace in order to be considered an orthodox member of that body. Creeds are not meant to measure the qualifications of a political candidate in a liberal democracy. Not only does the formulation of Christendom’s most important creeds predate the existence of liberal democracies, their subject matter bears no relation to assessing those attributes that we consider essential to the leadership of a political regime. In practice, most Christians already fully grasp this truth.
For example, many evangelicals in the 1980 presidential election voted for Ronald W. Reagan over Jimmy Carter, even though Carter was clearly more evangelical in his theology and church participation than Reagan. For Reagan’s supporters, it was his policies and not his theology that was decisive for them. Although these evangelicals would have likely chosen Carter over Reagan to teach Sunday school, they preferred Reagan in the Oval Office because they believed that Reagan’s policies best advanced the common good.
If one believes that the common good is achieved when a political regime treats justly its citizens and the many institutions that help develop and sustain their virtue, a candidate who embraces these ideals, even if he or she is not a Christian, is a candidate that a Christian can support with a clear conscience.
Well put. Mentioning Hugh Hewitt’s book, he also says:
Hewitt also touts Romney’s social-conservative credentials on the issues of abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and marriage. He provides a convincing account of Romney’s apparent flip-flop on abortion, from pro-choice to pro-life. It seems to me that pro-lifers should not be too hard on Romney in this regard, since both Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush changed their positions on the issue.
Thanks to reader William for the pointer.