Is There Anything Wrong With Voting for a Mormon for President?
It's good to heed the apocryphal quote summing up Martin Luther's understanding of civil governance: "I'd rather be ruled by a wise Turk than by a foolish Christian." For some voters, though, there is still danger in casting such a vote. That's because they confuse the role of a President with the role of a pastor. While both are positions of leadership, they serve very different functions.
Mitt Romney fully acknowledged the many distinctions between his Mormon beliefs and traditional Christianity in his May commencement address at Liberty University. "People of different faiths, like yours and mine, sometimes wonder where we can meet in common purpose, when there are so many differences in creed and theology," he said, going on to make the case that the different religions share enough moral convictions to meet in shared service.
Voters should remember that support for any political candidate is support for the exertion of authority in the earthly realm and not leadership in the spiritual realm.
Luther explained that every Christian is a citizen in two kingdoms—a spiritual realm and an earthly realm—but even non-believers are citizens of the earthly kingdom. In one, God's Word is preached, the sacraments are administered, and sins are forgiven. God works through other means, such as natural laws, physical causes, and history, in the earthly realm.
Luther said that while reason cannot fathom the mind of God, it's a tool given by God for managing civic affairs. "Christians are not needed for secular authority. Thus it is not necessary for the emperor to be a saint. It is not necessary for him to be a Christian to rule. It is sufficient for the emperor to possess reason," he wrote.
In the spiritual realm, the gospel—the free forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus—prevails. By contrast, the earthly kingdom runs on compulsion, law, and force. That contrast between gracious forgiveness and law is the reason that, in Luther's mind, Christians should not seek to put the church in charge of the temporal government or otherwise work through compulsion.
That's not to say that the two realms must be or are in conflict. In fact, they should serve each other. The spiritual realm informs and supports the civil realm by preaching the gospel. Secular rulers serve the spiritual realm by preventing chaos.
It is entirely possible that in the next few months, the country will have its first Mormon President. No matter which man wins the office, it's vitally important that Christians understand that his authority is limited to the secular realm and he should not be viewed as a spiritual leader.
No worries, just vote
Richard Mouw is the author of Talking with Mormons: An Invitation to Evangelicals (Eerdmans, 2012) and numerous articles on Mormonism, and president of Fuller Theological Seminary. He announced he would retire in 2013.
The United States Constitution stipulates that a person's religious affiliation should not be grounds for barring that person from running for public office: "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." The drafters of that clause showed much wisdom. But we should be clear about the fact that the stipulation applies to a person's right to seek election. It does not tell us as citizens that we cannot think about religious affiliation in deciding whether or not to vote for a given candidate.