—by Gifford Grobien
Luther is famously misquoted as saying that he would rather be ruled by a wise Turk than a foolish Christian, but this statement is utterly apocryphal. In fact, Luther deeply feared Turkish rule and wrote passionately that the empire should defend herself vigorously from Ottoman invasion. His fundamental concern was that Islamic rule would eliminate or hinder the freedom of the church to assemble and worship publicly, and that they would undermine faith in Christ by teaching falsely about Him.
What about a wise Mormon? Should a Christian embrace such rule or vote for it? Among the wider population, eighteen percent say they will not vote for a Mormon. To be sure, when such a question is asked in today’s context, most respondents are thinking of Mitt Romney, the Mormon Republican nominee for President. So some of this eighteen percent might really be saying they would not vote for Mitt Romney. Yet Gallup also suggests that the bias against Mormons is the only major bias to remain unchanged in the last forty-five years. The number of people who would not vote for a candidate because of a particular race or religion declined when considering Blacks, Jews, Catholics, and other groups. For Mormons, however, it remains effectively unchanged. Seventeen percent said they would not vote for a Mormon in 1967 (when Mitt Romney’s father was running for President), and eighteen percent said so in June of this year.
What is a faithful Christian to think of this? When considering whom to vote for, Lutherans typically appeal to the distinction between the two kingdoms. This distinction clarifies the authority for making such a decision. While God is the ultimate authority over all things, He exercises this authority in two ways: with law or with grace. Grace “rules” in the church. That is, by forgiving sins, God defeats sin and death and raises up believers to new life, a life that leads to resurrection.
In the secular, political realm, the law of God rules. Even the unbeliever has a limited awareness and understanding of God’s law via the natural law, the voice of reason that teaches human beings to pursue good and to avoid evil. So, when considering whom to vote for, one ought to vote for the candidate who will lead the country further toward good.
This question is obviously complicated by the numerous issues and laws that will be affected by the candidate. He may do good in some areas and evil in others. For example, some may judge that Mitt Romney will do a better job managing government finances, but are disturbed by his unwillingness to work actively toward the prohibition of abortion. Others may think that President Obama promotes an agenda that properly considers the poor, but has undermined the rule of law by his broad executive orders.
Although conventional wisdom speaks of an American separation of church and state, the practical reality is that Americans are deeply interested in a candidate’s faith. Faith is an indicator of values, and values indicate a person’s priorities, even in politics, where there are other strong influences, such as party platform, constituents, donors, and pragmatism. Indeed, this is what the two kingdoms distinction recognizes. The two kingdoms does not suggest that Christians check their consciences at the door, but that Christians participate lawfully in the secular political realm, obeying authority, but also using legal recourse to promote what is good (AC 16; Ap 16). Christians are to promote goodness in the law as they understand goodness through faith.
Perhaps faith is scrutinized heavily by some voters because they try to determine how a candidate’s faith stacks up in relation to other factors. Is a candidate’s faith strong enough to help keep him steadfast on an unpopular issue such as opposing abortion? Or is he only marginally religious, so that his espoused faith really would not play a great role in policymaking? To complicate matters further, his faith may interact differently between policy issues, so that, for example, his faith would play only a weak role in abortion policy, but a strong role in punishing criminals.
In theory, the question is simple: voters ought to vote for the candidate who will do more good, regardless of religion. In practice, however, determining who will do more good can be very difficult. Such a determination does consider a candidate’s faith and values, to what degree these will affect policy, and the relative importance of some issues over others. And such a determination requires a deep understanding of the doctrine’s taught according to the candidate’s faith, how faithful he is to these doctrines, and to what extent other factors may override his religious convictions.
Would you vote for a Mormon? The question is really better put: Would you vote for Mitt Romney? Or, would you vote for Barack Obama? Or would you vote for some other candidate? What is the faith of each of these candidates? What are the teachings of this faith? How loyal is the candidate to these teachings? What other values or loyalties does the candidate have, such as integrity to campaign promises, devotion to constituents, or allegiance to donors or party figures or policies?
As a faithful citizen you are called to participate in politics to the extent the law allows. As a dutiful citizen, these are the kinds of questions you should ask yourself and seek to answer as the election approaches. As a Christian, take part carefully yet joyfully and with thanksgiving in this process. Know that God works through means—and you are his means!—yet he directs events according to his will. He cares for his church and will not forsake her, even as the world faces great tribulation.
Gifford Grobien is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana.