Values Vs. Theology

After making a nice effort to fact-check the ludicrous accusations being thrown around by some anti-Mormons on its discussion forum, Slate has now reverted to form– deliberately obtuse and mockingly dismissive of religion. The latest iteration comes in Slate’s coverage of the recent endorsement of Romney from Bob Jones III, who operated the famously fundamentalist college that bears his name, and is the grandson of its founder.

Slate’s blog-bite coverage in full:

Losing his religion: Check out Bob Jones’ official “endorsement” of Mitt Romney:

Asked whether Romney’s religion was a stumbling block for him, Jones replied, “What is the alternative, Hillary’s lack of religion or an erroneous religion?”

“As a Christian I am completely opposed to the doctrines of Mormonism,” he said. “But I’m not voting for a preacher. I’m voting for a president. It boils down to who can best represent conservative American beliefs, not religious beliefs.”

Wait, what? I thought the whole point of an endorsement from Bob Jones was that he—or any other fundamentalist Christian university president, for that matter—does pick based on religious beliefs. No one cares what Bob Jones thinks of the health-care plan or tax cuts or plan for Iraq. They want to know who worships the best God! It’s like a master chef recommending a restaurant even though he hates the food.

People always discuss Romney’s beliefs as a weak spot. Who knew he’d be our nation’s last defense against a pagan Giuliani or Clinton administration?

In other words, “I, Slate writer, can’t think of any reason why any religious leader or follower would care about anything besides theology! What’s up with this wacky guy- endorsing someone from a church he doesn’t believe in? These Christians just keep getting crazier and crazier!”  Clearly, Bob Jones III has conducted himself in a way unbecoming of a Christian stereotype.

This angle is repeated elsewhere. Here’s Ted Rall, writing in YahooNews:

Mitt Romney is one-upping McCain, misrepresenting Mormonism as well as the secular nature of American government. “The values of my faith are much like, or are identical to, the values of other faiths that have a Judeo-Christian philosophical background,” he said in New Hampshire. “They’re American values, if you will.” Or if you won’t. As The New York Times notes, “Mormons do not believe in the concept of the unified Trinity; the Book of Mormon is considered to be sacred text, alongside the Bible; and Mormons believe that God has a physical body and human beings can eventually become like God.” Also, the Mormon Jesus will eventually return to Independence, Missouri. “Much like.” Right.

Again there’s a disconnect. Romney says “Look at my values.” Rall says: “You say values, all I see are some wacky beliefs in your religion. I refuse to acknowledge you as a three-dimensional person in light of those doctrines.” In other words, it seems some people are getting a little hung up finding the distinction between values and theology.

When Mitt Romney says he holds certain values, he is referring to priorities, ideals, issues of significance, deeply-felt principles. When a reporter breathlessly lists doctrinal differences between Mormonism and other strains of Christianity, one never hears any differences in values at all. Rather, the differences are found in theology- what the different groups believe about the nature of God, the meaning of life, God’s plan for humanity, etc.

Why would anyone want to confuse the two? Well, most likely, it’s because readers like you and me care about values, and will read stories about values. Not so much about theology. While it’s conceivable that some person in some state will take into account Mitt Romney’s beliefs about the trinity while in a voting booth, the vast majority will dismiss such matters in favor of evaluating core principles that Romney cares about. But only by writing about theology can you find any real area of difference. So there’s real incentive to conflate the two concepts.

Despite the willful blindness of many in the media, there is a big difference between theology and values, and Mitt Romney is right to play up that contrast. Consider it this way: Can you list some of the values of past presidents? What did John F. Kennedy value? What did FDR and Truman and Eisenhower value? Okay, now tell me some of the details of each man’s theology. No, don’t just use their religion as a proxy- describe what each man actually believed about God’s nature, the way to salvation, etc. That’s not so easy, is it?

Couldn’t it be that theology means almost nothing at all when it comes to the presidency, whereas values mean practically everything? If that’s true, shouldn’t Mitt Romney’s core values be far more important than his theology? Of course, to make that determination, we’re going to have to get to the point where people can see the difference between those two terms. So far, our media is not helping.

UPDATE: New Romney-endorser Wayne Grudem, former president of the Evangelical Theological Seminary, has the same issue on his mind:

What about his religion? Romney is a Mormon, and I strongly disagree with a significant number of Mormon theological beliefs, which I find to be inconsistent with the Bible and with historic Christian teachings. But many Mormon teachings on ethics and values are similar to those in the Bible, and those teachings support Romney’s conservative political values.

Can evangelicals support a candidate who is politically conservative but not an evangelical Christian? Yes, certainly. In fact, it would demonstrate the falsehood of the liberal accusation that evangelicals are just trying to make this a “Christian nation” and only want evangelical Christians in office. For evangelicals to support a Mormon candidate would be similar to supporting a conservative Jewish candidate—someone we don’t consider a Christian but who comes from a religious tradition that believes in absolute moral values very similar to those that Christians learn from the Bible. Here in Arizona a few years ago I voted for Matt Salmon, a Mormon candidate for governor. He lost, but his policies would have been much more conservative than those of Janet Napolitano, who has now vetoed dozens of pro-life, pro-family bills.

Or have we come to the point where evangelicals will only vote for people they consider Christians? I hope not, for nothing in the Bible says that people have to be born again Christians before they can be governmental authorities who are used greatly by God to advance his purposes. God used Pharaoh, King of Egypt, to raise Joseph to a position of authority over the whole country, so he could save his people from famine (Genesis 41:37-57). God used Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, to protect and raise up Daniel and his Jewish friends to positions of high authority over Babylon (Daniel 2:46-49). God used Cyrus, King of Persia, to restore the Jewish exiles to their homeland (Isaiah 45:16; Ezra 1:1-4), and used Darius, King of Persia, to protect the Jewish people as they rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 6:1-12). God used Ahashuerus, King of Persia, to raise up Esther as Queen and to give Mordecai high authority and honor in his kingdom (Esther 6:10-11; 8:1-2, 7-15). In the New Testament age, God used the peace enforced by the secular Roman Empire, the Pax Romana, to enable the early Christians to travel freely and spread the Gospel throughout the Mediterranean world.

Here in the United States, God used not only Founding Fathers who were strong Christians, but also Deists such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, to build the foundation of our nation. Jefferson even became our third President in 1801, a demonstration of the wisdom of Article 6 of the Constitution, which says, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

The whole column is worth reading.

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