Religion and Presidents

My last blog, “Et tu Franklin Graham?” seems to have caused some head scratching among my faithful friends. Those of you who know me personally will also know where my sympathies lie in this election for President, but I was not trying to use the blog as a platform to campaign for one candidate or another. I was objecting to what I perceived to be politically motivated theological shifts by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and its leader, Franklin Graham. If the BGEA had said, “It’s OK to vote for a Mormon if you believe he is the best candidate, even though Mormonism is on our cult list,” I would be fine. But that’s not what they did.

This makes me ponder the religious expectations we Americans have for our Presidents. I can barely remember the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, but I do remember his time in office a little and certainly I remember the day he was assassinated. It is forgotten by folks now, but when JFK was running for President, many were afraid of him because he was a Roman Catholic. This was not motivated by a hatred of Catholics in general, but because some feared that he would be taking orders from the Roman Catholic Pope. In other words, America could be controlled by a foreign power, an Italian clergyman living in Europe.

Of course this seems preposterous now. Other barriers for a viable presidential candidacy have been crossed since then. Jimmy Carter was the first unapologetic, born-again Christian, allied with the neo-evangelicalism that came into being after World War II. Ronald Reagan was a divorced man, a moral barrier previously unbreached. Barack Obama was the first non-white President, although he did not share the heritage of most American blacks since he was not the descendant of American slaves. I think I will live to see the day when we have a woman as President, and probably a Latino President. Maybe that will be the same person, a Latina POTUS.

If Mitt Romney is elected, he would be the first Mormon President, and (in my opinion) the first President in a long time who was not a Christian. But many of the early Presidents were barely Christian, Thomas Jefferson being the most famous example. Jefferson was Christian in his outlook and heritage, but not really in his beliefs. It is difficult for me to see a person as Christian who denies the deity of Jesus Christ, which is at the core of Christian religious faith. William Howard Taft was a Unitarian who denied this doctrine, and would not qualify to be a Christian in my eyes. Jefferson, despite many suitcases of personal baggage (such as being a slave owner who had children by his slave mistresses) is generally considered one of the country’s greatest Presidents, rightly deserving a space on Mt. Rushmore. Taft, on the other hand, is remembered for being the weightiest President in personal size, not in the depth of his policies. Carter, perhaps the strongest Christian President of my generation (he continued to teach Sunday School while in office) was an ineffective President who only served one term in office.

So my friends, if you want to vote for Romney, you have my blessing. He will be informed by his Mormon faith, but he will not be taking orders from Salt Lake City. But don’t try to rewrite the tenets of Mormonism or of biblical Christianity to justify your vote.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

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