Thus has begun the latest tempest in the already tiresome 2012 presidential campaign. Reporters are asking Perry and other candidates in the Republican field if they agree that Mormonism is a cult and whether being a Mormon should disqualify a person from being president.
The word, cult, is, of course, a loaded one. It evokes images of people like Jim Jones or practitioners of voodoo, mind control, or witchcraft, all of whom use a variety of techniques to brainwash and subjugate people. If culthood is defined in these ways, Mormonism can hardly be labeled as a cult.
But, traditionally, orthodox Christians have said that sects or groups that claim the label of Christian while departing from central teachings of the Bible are cults.
Without going too deeply into the subject, Mormon doctrines are significantly different from the teachings of the Bible. Whether in its understanding of the Trinity (God's disclosure of Himself as one God in three Persons, seen in the Bible, though the term "trinity" isn't used); how a person is saved from sin and death; or what happens to believers who die; and the role of Jesus Christ in salvation, among other topics, Mormonism can't be defined as a Christian group.
But the more pressing issue before the country, is whether Christians should, as the Baptist pastor seemed to imply, refrain from voting for Mormons for president.
I think that Christians should refrain from voting any candidate for president (or any other office) who intends to force her or his religious beliefs on others. That would apply to Christian candidates, too.
But however deeply I disagree with Mormon doctrine (and I do) and however desperately I may want, as a Christian, to see Mormons come to faith in the God of grace revealed in Jesus Christ (and I do), I don't think a Christian should refrain from voting for a candidate simply because the candidate professes a different religion.
If we Christians believe that the God of the Bible is the sovereign Lord of history, we must also believe that God can use believers and unbelievers alike in the pursuit of His purposes.
Since March, members of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, where I'm pastor, have joined me in reading and discussing the Bible over the course of a year's time. This past week, we've read Isaiah, chapters 44 and 45. These chapters fall in the part of Isaiah in which God uses the prophet to tell His people, Israel, that He's about to let them return to the promised land. God's people had lost the land God once had given them because of their faithless reliance on false gods, military power and alliances, and economic prosperity instead of on God alone. Many of God's people had been exiled and would eventually live under the rule of Persia and its king, Cyrus, who ruled his country during the 6th.-century BC.
Although Cyrus didn't worship God, God said that He would set Cyrus apart to free Israel free from exile. In Isaiah 44:28, God says of Cyrus:
"He is My shepherd and shall carry out all my purpose."Then comes this in Isaiah 45:
Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him and strip kings of their robes, to open doors before him— and the gates shall not be closed: 2I will go before you and level the mountains, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, 3I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. 4For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me.The term, anointed, used for Cyrus in our English translations of the Bible, is a stunner! The Hebrew word it translates is messiah, the term that was used for Israel's kings and which came to be applied to the specially anointed king God promised to one day to send into the world to set sinners right with Him for eternity. In the Greek of the New Testament, the term is rendered Christos, which is in turn transliterated into English as Christ.
The passage from Isaiah isn't saying that Cyrus was THE Messiah, the focal point and Savior of the universe. Christians believe that Jesus is that Messiah.
But the Isaiah passage does tell us something useful: That God can use even those "who do not know" Him to accomplish His purposes. Nor would Cyrus be the last unbeliever to be used for God's purposes. So, in my judgment, it doesn't make sense for Christians to refrain from voting for a candidate for public office simply because the person isn't a Christian.
None of this should be taken as an endorsement of Mitt Romney and people who have tried to guess my political beliefs, to the extent that I have any political beliefs any more, from things I write here are usually way off, often wildly so. But I thought it might be worth mentioning to those who regularly read the blog that while I do think that Mormonism is a cult, I don't think that Mormons should be excluded from consideration for Christians' votes in civil elections.