Voting on the Faith Factor

He spent his teens as an Eagle Scout, lived two years as a foreign missionary, earned his B.A. in International Politics, became fluent in three languages, served four presidents and reached 90 percent approval ratings as a Republican Governor of Utah. Jon Huntsman has an uphill battle to climb with the GOP base, but if he plays his cards right, his experience and centrist appeal just might place him among the most serious contenders this election season.

If this happens, many voters may face a double dose of what has been termed the “Mormon Problem.” A third cousin of Mitt Romney, Huntsman shares more than DNA with the man who made the issue national in 2008, and with both men in the race, the likelihood of a Mormon GOP nominee is looking probable. This would force many Christians into an uncomfortable reconciliation of their personal convictions with their public concerns, as Mormon theology is commonly understood to be at odds with Christian orthodoxy.

One approach says that we should select candidates as professionals, not pastors. If we need heart surgery, we do not care what the doctor believes, so long as he knows how to make us well. There is merit to that argument, but we must be cognizant of the important distinction between a position of leadership and a position of mere tactical knowledge. Leaders determine direction, and direction stems from values. Decisions in a business, church or body politic reflect the values of its leadership.

“Decisions in a business, church or body politic reflect the values of its leadership.”

Still, there is a more important criterion for measuring a candidate against his religious faith: the extent to which a president’s beliefs support the fundamental claims upon which a free and just society is built. It must revere and hold responsible the free choice of individuals; it must place a sacred value on both the human person and the family unit, including the institution of marriage; and it must allow room for the tough decisions that Commanders in Chief must make in the face of hostile evil.

Not all belief systems can support these concepts, but the “Church of Latter-Day Saints” does. Responsible stewardship and the strength of the family, for example, are central features of the Mormon faith, and members are urged to engage fully in civil service. Significant theological disagreements do exist between mainstream Christianity and Mormonism, but when it comes to the confluence of core values and social institutions, they are much more likely to stand together on key issues.

There is no reason to believe that a Mormon president would lead America in a direction counter to Christian principles. Furthermore, it is not guaranteed that a Christian candidate would not. Regardless of the faith a candidate identifies with, we must be attentive to the decisions that are made and the results they produce. If a president’s policies betray liberty, dignity and family, then it matters little what book or deity they claim to follow.

“If a president’s policies betray liberty, dignity and family, then it matters little what book or deity they claim to follow.”

Though the American Founders believed in the value of a strong religious—primarily Judeo-Christian—influence in society, they did not envision a nation governed by a particular doctrine. They viewed the roles of church and state as separate, and for good reason: the church should not wield the sword of law, nor be yielded by it. Therefore, our Constitution was designed to preserve freedom no matter the ruling party, and each president is sworn to protect that document by oath. It is not a president’s particular theology that should concern us, but whether or not that oath means anything to the person taking it.

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