During the 1992 presidential campaign pro-life provocateur Randall Terry infamously declared, “A vote for Bill Clinton is to sin against God,” because of Clinton’s positions on abortion and other moral issues. Four days before the election, a church Terry was associated with took out full-page ads in USA Today and The Washington Times with the same warning.
The ads brought the predicable wrath of liberal groups and the troubling scrutiny of the Internal Revenue Service, which ultimately withdrew the church’s tax-exempt letter ruling (not the same thing as its tax-exempt status) because the ad sought to influence the outcome of the election, was paid for by the church and the church sought donations from others for its effort.
This election year, some evangelicals are essentially asking, “Is a vote for Mitt Romney a sin against God?” Rather than primarily his positions on political issues, some are sincerely concerned about Romney’s theological positions and, more urgently, his spiritual condition, and how a ballot cast for him may advance his erroneous beliefs.
Unlike Randall Terry, I’m not seeking to influence the outcome of an election by answering this question. Instead, I want to take very seriously the concerns of those who believe it is wrong—indeed sinful—for an evangelical Christian to vote for a non-Christian, especially a Mormon. This isn’t about politics; it’s about Christian discipleship. Good Christians with the same commitments to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the Bible, I concede, may come to different conclusions. Since this matter is being discussed among us, I believe I have a duty to address it.
Don Walton, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Zephyrhills and founder of Time for Truth Ministries (www.timefortruth.org), has argued against voting for Romney on theological grounds. His views likely represent what some other Southern Baptists and other evangelicals believe.
“If Christians are scripturally forbidden from welcoming a cultist—someone propagating a false gospel and false Christ—into their house (2 John 9-11), lest they become a ‘partaker of [the cultist’s] evil deed,’ by encouraging the cultist in the propagation of their false faith, how do we with clear conscience and without violating Scripture vote a cultist into the White House? What greater way to legitimize Mormonism and encourage Mormons in the propagation of their false faith than to elect one of their own to the highest office in our land?” asks Walton in a recent column.
Walton, whose columns appear occasionally in the Witness, is quick to note that his opposition to Romney does not mean he will support President Barack Obama, “whose profession of Christ falls far short of possession of Christ.” It seems, instead, Walton will cast his ballot for a lesser-known candidate for president—or perhaps write-in an alternative.
He argues it’s time for Christians to reject the “lesser of two evils” electoral approach, especially since our first obligation is to save souls not win elections.
“My friends, God hasn’t called us to clean up the pond, but only to fish in it,” Walton writes. “Only Christ can clean it up! And He can’t do that if we’re politicking instead of preaching!”
Walton is the immediate past chairman of Florida Baptist Witness Board of Directors and my friend. I respect him greatly for his courage, and most of the time I agree with his conclusions. Not on this matter, however.
First, I don’t think John’s admonition is applicable to electoral decision-making.
In his New American Commentary volume on John’s letters, Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, says of 2 John 10, “This verse, perhaps more than any in the epistles of John, is open to abuse and misunderstanding if removed from its immediate context.” The context of John’s letter is the apostle’s concern about false teachers influencing the church. Akin rejects an interpretation that the verse forbids hospitality to unbelievers in Christian homes. “What he is saying is that we are not to provide support and aid (e.g., a place to stay and money) to anyone who is spreading false teaching and disseminating error.”
Further, other evangelical commentators note John’s command forbidding Christians from welcoming heretics into their homes may very well be a warning against permitting false teachers into the church meeting house since many congregations met in homes. “John is not therefore forbidding private hospitality, but rather an official welcome into the congregation, with the widespread opportunities which would then be available for the heretics to promote their cause” (Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 51: 1, 2, 3 John).
I understand Walton’s concern that Romney’s election may advance the cause of Mormonism by legitimizing and promoting this false teaching. I, too, am concerned about this possibility, but I don’t believe voting for a Mormon is to partake in his false gospel.
I agree with R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, that evangelicals need to understand that government does not have a priestly role.
“That is Christ’s alone and it belongs to His church, and we cannot give to the government a priestly role,” Mohler said in an Oct. 16 conference call with Florida pastors. “Insofar as we have ever done that in the past, it was our theological error.”
Indeed, we are electing a president, not a pastor, as Mohler and other leaders have argued.
Second, Walton’s approach suggests Christians have little to no duty to our society to seek its common good, at least as it regards our electoral obligations of citizenship.
Walton’s application of 2 John would inevitably mean that Christians must only vote for evangelicals for every political office. Since it is certainly true that in many, if not most, elections there would be few candidates who qualify as evangelicals, Walton’s model would result in Christians failing to participate in any meaningful way. Neither of these two options, it seems to me, adequately accepts our citizenship obligation, which is also a biblical duty (e.g. Rom. 13:1-7).
Walton’s analogy regarding cleaning versus fishing in the pond places an unnecessary dichotomy upon Christians. Christian discipleship must include concern for our neighbors—cleaning the pond—that inescapably includes responsible citizenship in a constitutional republic like ours. This concern is not in opposition to our parallel duty to evangelize—fishing in the pond. (For more on incorrect views of politics, see my July 26, 2012, editorial, “Why your view of politics may be wrong.”)
Even while noting that societal righteousness is only truly and permanently achieved in the regeneration of human beings, our Baptist Faith & Message also argues, “All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society. … Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love” (Article XV, “The Christian and the Social Order”).
This article of the Baptist Faith and Message also explicitly calls on Christians to be “ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.” Certainly, voting for non-Christians of “good will” would qualify as a “good cause” for which Christians can work.
While I don’t share Walton’s conclusions, I do share his concern about the mainstreaming and acceptance of Mormonism that Romney’s election could bring. These are not speculative concerns, as was clearly demonstrated recently when the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association removed from its website references to Mormonism as a “cult” soon after the famous evangelist met with Romney. Although it is true that the meaning of the word “cult” is subject to confusion, evangelicals must be unambiguously clear that Mormonism is a false gospel completely at odds with biblical Christianity. The North American Mission Board’s website leaves no question on this matter (see the “New Religions and Cults” section at www.4truth.net).
In his conference call with pastors, Mohler was unequivocal: “I consider Mormonism in itself to be one of the most insidious, false gospels imaginable, to be almost—indeed calculated to be—one of the most subversive and I think manipulative false gospels.”
The theological concerns of Walton and others are seemingly not widely held. Current public opinion polling suggests Romney will get strong support from evangelicals—perhaps approaching that of George W. Bush’s historically high levels in 2004.
While it seems there are relatively few evangelicals who are troubled by the prospect of voting for a Mormon, that likelihood does not invalidate those concerns. Further, an affirmative response to the question by this minority could very well decide the outcome of an expected close presidential contest.
The stakes, however, go far deeper than merely who wins the White House, as important as that is. This is a question many evangelicals are facing for the first time, and we all must be sure that our answer is driven first and last by eternal priorities—Gospel truth, fidelity to Scripture and sincere commitment to be the “salt” and “light” to our culture as Jesus taught (Matt. 5:13-16)—rather than temporal politics.
“Is a vote for Mitt Romney a sin against God?” No, not based on my understanding of our biblical duties. Indeed, I would go further and contend that declining to responsibly steward our citizenship is a sinful failure to God and our society.
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