The EFM Feature

There is a long profile of Mayor Giuliani in the current New Yorker. The vast majority of it is–as others have said–totally unremarkable. But one line among the many pages really struck me. Here is what the Mayor said:

The way to understand me as a Catholic is, it’s my religion. I have learned a lot from it. I am informed by it. But I am not directed by it.

Why do I bring this up? Simple–because of the rhetoric that is going around about religion in this race. Many evangelicals are concerned about voting for a Mormon because they so deeply disagree (as we do) with Mormon doctrine, and many of them are turning to Mayor Giuliani rather than Governor Romney. But here’s my question. What’s the more dangerous doctrine from an evangelical viewpoint: Mormonism’s misconception of the Trinity, for example, or Mayor Giuliani’s statement that his Catholicism does not “direct” him? I think that’s a tough question, because I can think of few purposes less integral to true faith than its directing one’s actions–and I don’t think Mayor Giuliani has ever disavowed that purpose so strongly.
Fortunately, I don’t think that’s a question we have to answer. Why? Well, we believe here at EFM that “When theology dictates policy, it is fair and proper for a voter to take that theology into account.” Otherwise, it doesn’t matter in a presidential race. That’s why we don’t think evangelical voters should lose sleep over the many problems we see in Mormon theology–they, unlike Governor Romney’s values on issues like life and marriage, will not affect his governance. But it is something different entirely to say that theology doesn’t matter–that it doesn’t “direct” one’s actions as an officeholder (or just as a person) at all. And we should be wary of giving credence to that view by voting for one who expounds it.
That is, in fact, the political box the secular left has been trying to put faith–your faith, dear evangelical reader–in for years. The conservative movement–and, generally speaking, the Republican Party that pretty much houses it–have fought that. They’ve generally done the same on abortion. Do we now–in the name of supposedly not endorsing bad doctrine–want to install as the presumptive leader of that party and that movement a man who disagrees with us not just on abortion, but on the proper role of theology in public life?
And if you think I’m blowing smoke about where the secular left stands on all of this, read this excerpt from a new column by Richard Cohen of the Washington Post:

Contrast JFK, or for that matter Giuliani, with Mitt Romney, the likely GOP presidential nominee and possibly the next president of the United States. In a recent interview with Jan Mickelson on Des Moines’ WHO Radio, Romney tried being JFKish, insisting (during commercial breaks that, of course, made it on YouTube) that he was “not running as a Mormon.” He said that several times, but his protestations, while laudable, sounded a bit hollow. That’s because at other times, Romney has cited the Bible to explain why he holds this or that position. He not only has emphasized his Christian bona fides — “the Bible for me is the word of God” — but he has cited the Bible to explain why he opposes gay marriage. Marriage, the Bible says, is for procreation.
For a lawmaker, gay marriage is and ought to be a policy matter: good policy or bad policy, fair to gays or unfair to gays. Once this or any other issue becomes a matter of religious conviction, it’s removed from the arena of public debate. George Bush has done this sort of thing time and time again — sometimes explicitly as in his cockamamie belief in the efficacy of pre-marital celibacy and sometimes implicitly as in his dogmatic faith in a happy outcome in Iraq, one that requires a rejection of evidence and reliance instead on magical thinking. He is the sometimes sorry consequence of religious conviction: a cheery but unassailable smugness.
Romney took a badgering from Mickelson, who established himself (on the spot) as something of an expert on the Mormon faith. I thought Romney handled himself well, but no presidential candidate ought to have to explain his religious beliefs since, in many cases, they are inconsistent and change over time. But if Romney wants to keep his Mormonism out of political bounds — as it should be — he ought to extend the boundaries to religion in general. He cannot have it both ways — as he has with abortion, gun control and, even, gay rights. He’s a hedger who, it is clear, could use some pastoral clarity. Rudy can show him the way.

I’m not sure we want to let Rudy show us the way on this one, guys. And we would be fools to let him do so in the name of preserving sound doctrine.
I should note here that we received a very thoughtful e-mail yesterday encouraging us to “get back to talking more about Mitt and less about whomever y’all view as the Governor’s biggest competition” and bemoaning “the site’s increasing tendency to attack Romney’s opponents.” We do appreciate the comments, and we actually think about this issue a lot. The reason for that should be obvious–in being part of EFM, we are putting ourselves out there as evangelicals, and it’s extremely important to us not to bring discredit upon our faith by what we say here. We do consciously try to spend most of our time talking about Governor Romney. However, political campaigns are by their very nature comparative. People shouldn’t be comparing Governor Romney (or any other candidate) to some idealized “Conservative Messiah,” as we’ve said, but rather to the other options available–all of which happen to be other fallen men. Such is life in this world. And there are several “big issues” in this race to which we think evangelicals need to devote significant thought–and, in some cases, re-thinking. One of them is the role of theology, and that’s why I wrote this post. Another is the role of changing one’s mind–especially in light of the Giuliani campaign’s recent efforts to paint their man as never having changed his position on anything. We think it’s important to point out that this race is not between one so-called flip-flopper and a bunch of other guys who haven’t changed their minds in 20 years, and I think Steve’s post did that in a fair and considered way. But again, we appreciate the comments and share our correspondent’s conception of what our site should generally look like.

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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