The EFM Feature

It occurs to me that during this busy week, there were a couple of things I meant to–but forgot to–weigh in on. So here goes.
First of all, I keep thinking about Richard Land’s recent comment that liberals see Mormons as “people of faith on steroids.” I think he’s right–and I think that in many respects, that should make us as evangelicals deeply sad. While we feud about whether we can support a presidential candidate whose doctrine is different, Mormons are showing us up in one of the things that matter most–living their lives the way God commands in the sight of others–and it’s so obvious that one of the prime movers in the Southern Baptist Convention admits it publicly. Isn’t that, after all, what this business of “on steroids” means–that the Mormons are doing something we’re not? And by the numbers, they are. Just to pick one indicator, divorce figures are no better–if they aren’t worse–among self-described evangelicals than in the population at large. I’m not sure whether Dr. Land meant to admit as much as his statement really does, but I’ve just been struck by it. It’s not that I’m sad about the way Mormons live their lives–not at all. It’s that we evangelicals–much as we may say we’re the ones who’ve got God’s commands figured out–are doing such a pathetic job living out those commands. In fact, it’s so bad that in order to describe a population group that actually does a good job, “on steroids” has to be appended to the moniker “people of faith.” While we, in so many ways, put our faith in politics, our witness to unbelievers has suffered immeasurably. We call ourselves “people of faith,” especially when we demand that politicians respect us, but we don’t live like it. Again…how sad.
Secondly, I’ve been thinking about a post Matt Lewis put up over at in response to the Patrick Ruffini post on “flip-flopping” we mentioned. Basically, Lewis says that he’s suspicious of Governor Romney for having changed his mind on something as “fundamental” as, say, abortion, “at the age of 50.” Now, I don’t know Lewis, but I’ve read his bio here and here. On that basis, I’m going to go out on a limb and say he’s (a) a DC politico and (b) he’s not that old. And with that in mind, I’d like to gently suggest that he is falling into the same trap as many not-that-old DC politicos–namely, thinking that normal people think about politics anywhere near as much as folks like him do. And I say this because even though my day job doesn’t revolve around politics, I fall into that trap all the time. For instance, one recent night my wife and I walked into our church small group meeting at 7 p.m. on a Thursday, whereupon I kiddingly announced that everyone was pretty lucky I was there because I could have been at home watching “the debate.” Everyone looked up at me–ten successful, smart, young people (don’t ask why they keep me around) who live in the DC area–totally befuddled. “What debate?” someone finally asked.
Naturally, it hadn’t occurred to me that everyone else might not have been aware that that night was the first Democratic presidential debate. I’d been hearing about it all day. In fact, I’d been reading the words of folks like Matt Lewis–all of whom simply referred to the event, as I did, as “the debate.” Hadn’t our friends?
Of course not. Because they’re normal. They were thinking about the legal briefs they had to write, or the kids they had to raise, or the physics papers they had to write, or whatever, all day–not eagerly awaiting Mike Gravel‘s next utterance.
Something similar happens whenever my wife and I return to the church where we were baptized, which we do every chance we get. It’s a small, very conservative, Southern Baptist congregation in rural Pennsylvania. Our friends there know about this website, so they always want to know: “How’s that Romney fellow doing?” And they ask for the very reason that they, unlike me, don’t haven’t been reading everything they could get their hands on about the 2008 presidential race since 2005. They have better things to do. (Like taking care of the houses they own and the lawns they have, in contrast to those of us who live in urban one-bedrooms with, at best, a patio out back.)
All of this is a long way of saying that here in DC, it’s easy to forget that for most people, politics is not a way of life or even something to think about every day–and detailed political ideologies aren’t something one acquires at 22 while licking envelopes on the Hill. Politics is an occasional annoyance that surfaces every so often, and an ideology is something that forms slowly (and even morphs) over time and with experience. Both take a backseat–and rightfully so–to things like running a business, raising a family, getting an education, and so forth.
And what does that have to do with Mitt Romney? A lot. I would argue, at least, that in 1994 our guy was much more a businessman and a father than a politician. Sure, he’d thought about politics, in some cases very deeply. But was his ideology as formed as we in DC like to think ours are? No. Had developing it been the focus of his life and had it consumed his days? No. Incredibly long days at a real job, raising five boys, and leading his wife had. Politics had gotten what was left over, and economic issues–as befitting a businessman–had gotten the bulk even of that attention. The left’s incredible assault on values like the sanctity of life and the traditional family had not.
With that kind of backdrop, I actually find it totally unsurprising that Governor Romney would change his mind on the public policy aspect of abortion, for instance, at the supposedly advanced age of 50. His stance had never been all that internally consistent, if you ask me–personally against it but politically against restricting it. And as he got older and focused more attention on it–never more than during the stem cell controversy–the contradiction got resolved. Had he thought about it constantly throughout his twenties, I bet the same shift might have happened then. But he didn’t–not because he’s some kind of closeted liberal, but because he, unlike a lot of us here in DC, was a normal person who devoted the vast majority of his energy to other matters.

About Charles Mitchell

EFM's resident Yankee, Charles Mitchell, works in the non-profit arena in his native Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Charissa, live near the state capital of Harrisburg with their daughter, Adeline, and are members of a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America.

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