Robert Jeffress: Mitt Romney and Other Mormons Are Not “Part of the Christian Family”

At RD Magazine, Sarah Posner reports that Rick Perry supporter, the Rev. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church Dallas, excludes Mormonism from Christianity, quoting him as saying the following:

[Mormons] have never been considered by evangelical Christians to be part of the Christian family.

By contrast, Jeffries describes Rick Perry as “a proven leader, a true conservative, and a committed follower of Christ.”

I think the way JFK frames Mormonism in the below video is certainly more expansive and generous—and, dare I say, more obviously Christian than the Dallas minister.

But, given the way that Mormons have, historically, treated blacks and gays—and the way that Romney has so shamelessly played anti-gay politics in pursuit of the Republican nomination—you can hardly be blamed for feeling a bit of Schadenfreude in watching him struggle with evangelical voters. Like blacks and gays, Romney seeks to be treated as an individual, not a caricature.

I wish him luck. If he wins the Republican nomination, I’m far less worried about the country’s general political direction than if he loses. It’s far, far better to know that either Romney or President Obama will be at the country’s helm in 2013 than thinking that a chaotic potato-salad-head like Rick Perry might be. 

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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11 Responses to Robert Jeffress: Mitt Romney and Other Mormons Are Not “Part of the Christian Family”

  1. Iain McMahon says:

    I think the two streams of polite ecumenicalism and orthodoxy are being confused here.

    It might be considered to “be Christian” to be generous and humble, etc., and join together in the Christian bonds of love with the Mormon brethren. But if the question is, “according to orthodox definition, are Mormons Christian?”, then the answer is clearly not.

    If being Christian is about holding (/believing/living) a particular christology concerning Jesus then we can identify whether Mormons are Christian by looking at their christology. Mormon christology and, er, christian christology are distinct. Mormonism is an offshoot from Christianity (a sect, perhaps?), that much is historically obvious, but they are now a distinct religious entity with distinct and additional religious beliefs. In fact, the two christologies are sufficiently distinct that orthodox christianity must only conclude that mormon christology is actually heresy.

    p.s. none of this is important to me particularly, I just think its important to get terms and definitions right.

    • santitafarella says:

      Iain,

      What I like about Kennedy’s comment is his ability to step back and see the broader picture of what animates the Mormon soul. Religion is never literally true in its particulars, but it often bears the seeds of truths that compel it forward (a longing for love, truth, beauty, justice, meaning, etc).

      As for christology, Christian christology is utterly artificial and arbitrary—a preference to interpret the whole of the Bible in light of the Gospel of John and not, say, the Gospel of Mark. Most Christians (ridiculously, in my view) don’t break out the authors of the Bible and try to discern their individual christologies and ideas, but instead simply conflate them. The distance, for example, between Mark’s christology and John’s is large enough to call Mark and John members of different religions.

      —Santi

  2. andrewclunn says:

    I think you’d enjoy this video:

  3. David Yates says:

    I have to say, I find it more than a little disingenuous — not to say, at least somewhat arrogant — to have people who are not members of an particular group telling those who are what they should or shouldn’t be doing, saying, or believing in order to be better or truer members of that group.
    The fact is, the Church of Latter Day Saints is simply not another denomination within the wider Christian Church and has never been considered as such, put simply because Mormon beliefs are not regarded as orthodox by any of the major Christian traditions. For example, Mormons are not monotheists. That alone would disqualifies them, not only as adherents of orthodox Christianity, but as members-in-good-standing of the entire Western religious tradition.

    • David Yates says:

      Sorry. I meant to say, of course, that Mormon polytheism alone “would DISQUALIFY them” as orthodox Christians.

    • santitafarella says:

      David,

      I’m sorry, but the arrogance is with you. You don’t own Jesus. Christianity doesn’t own Jesus any more than Mohammad is owned by Muslims.

      Jesus is part of the Western cultural tradition and belongs to everyone. I’m not going to let Christians of any sort tell me who Jesus was or what his meaning is or must be. As for Mormons, I would remind you that Greco-Roman paganism is also part of the Western tradition (and the American tradition). You need look no further than the Statue of Liberty to see that. You do know that the statue depicts the goddess of liberty, yes? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertas

      —Santi

      • David Yates says:

        Santi:-
        To the extent that any historic figure can be “owned” by anybody, I would think that those who have dedicated their lives toward the study of, and learning about, them would have a greater claim to that than would those whose knowledge of said figures is, let’s say, casual, at best. If Christians cannot speak with greater authority about who Jesus is and what it is to follow his teachings, and Muslims cannot speak with similar authority concerning the figure of Mohammad, then who can speak with greater authority on any subject?!? (And why would anybody other than Muslims WANT to make such a claim on Mohammad?)
        Yes, it’s certainly true that Jesus Christ is part of the Western cultural tradition. But that’s only to the same extent that Christianity itself provides the foundation and bedrock of Western civilization. (Which, of course, brings us to my previous point.)
        Re: “As for Mormons, I would remind you that Greco-Roman paganism is also part of the Western tradition (and the American tradition).”
        My apologies, but I don’t know what you intend to convey by this. So what if Greco-Roman paganism is also part of the Western tradition? What has that to do with the ostensible legitimacy of the Mormon interpretation of Christianity?
        Re: “You need look no further than the Statue of Liberty to see that. You do know that the statue depicts the goddess of liberty, yes?”
        Perhaps. But again, I’m not sure how that touches on the topic of our discussion. Nevertheless, whatever your point may be, I’m quite certain I can safely say that, even so, the vast majority of Americans don’t worship the statue as a goddess — at least not in the same manner in which they would Jesus Christ. Not to mention that somebody such as yourself would have a thing or two to say to somebody if they said they did.

        -: David

      • santitafarella says:

        David,

        Who can speak with some measure of plausibility and authority on who Jesus and Muhammad really were? That’s easy. Academic scholars—the contemporary experts who study the subject using the historiographic, textual, and archeological methods that have been developed since the Enlightenment.

        Bart Ehrman (for example) is thus a far more reliable guide to what the individual gospel writers were trying to say than either the pope, Billy Graham, or Joseph Smith. Not because he’s an agnostic and has drawn agnostic conclusions about religion, but because he has studied the subject of the gospels in detail and has followed and participated in very high level debate in academic journals and conferences about the evidence (as we have it).

        His opinion carries far more weight (or ought to) than suburban-dwelling Christians and Mormons arguing on a Saturday morning on a front door step about this or that passage in the Bible.

        Indeed, it’s precisely Christian, Mormon, and Muslim “interestedness” in Jesus and Muhammad that makes their judgments about them suspect. Most of the religiously committed rely utterly on tradition (based in authority) to tell them who their champions are and what they did. Biblical scholars, whatever their faith tradition (or lack thereof), rely on evidence and reason to draw conservative (as opposed to fanciful) conclusions.

        And the average religious believer has the atrocious habit of conflating authorship (“the Bible says this” or “the Bible says that”). The Bible actually doesn’t say anything. Individual authors with rhetorical purposes say things. Traditions, sects, and cults downplay authorship because then they would have to admit that the texts don’t speak with one voice—their voice.

        By contrast, academic scholars have actually studied the primary documents and data surrounding the individual authors in question and have argued about interpretation and what the individual authors were up to. In this sense, Christianity prevents understanding of the early Jesus tradition (by making, say, Mark “fit” with John, and vice versa).

        I’m not trying to be mean (at least, not consciously). I’m simply trying to name things for what they are, and with respect to the conflation of the biblical authors favored by the Orthodox, my conclusion is that it is an appealing and imaginative associative interpretation that binds everything up in a tidy package. And there’s no good reason to think that that package’s relation to reality is anything more than a mirage.

        —Santi

  4. David Yates says:

    Santi:-

    Neither am I trying to be deliberately mean, but in a way, you’re violating the very principle you’re proffering here. You wish to advocate for the superiority and, therefore, greater authority of the voice of scholarship — in the context of our discussion, regarding biblical textual criticism, its exegesis, and (hopefully) the resulting doctrines derived therefrom — and (again) I’m in large agreement with you. However, you then go on to negatively describe “the way Christians are” based on… what? Personal observation? One-on-one experience? Surely you realize this amounts to anecdotal evidence at best. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that your conclusions are based on rather vague perceptions, themselves drawn from little more than deductive reasoning? I have to say, based on my nearly 30 years spent amongst Christians of various and diverse denominations all across N. America — and, admittedly, judging only from what I’ve read of your ecclesiastical and theological musings here on your blog — it would appear you’ve really little authority to speak on this matter yourself.
    Yes, I’ve certainly come across more than my share of terribly ignorant believers who obstinately cling to rigid, erroneous and even harmful dogma educed from egregious misunderstandings and misinterpretations of Scripture, usually of a wooden literalist nature entirely unsupported by a proper reading of the text, and which could be easily mitigated by a simple appreciation of the particular genre in which the given passage is written. But the fact is, with only relatively few exceptions, once this has been pointed out, most of the Christians I’ve encountered are not only willing, but even eager to have their beliefs challenged and, when it’s legitimately warranted, either revised or completely changed.
    For instance, I was most recently in a very conservative, evangelical North American Baptist church where I instructed a congregation of about 400 people, teaching them that their reading of Genesis 1 was almost assuredly incorrect; that when we recognize the poetical nature of the text and then compare and contrast the creation account of Genesis 1 with the other extant “creation” stories of the ancient Near East, we find certain recurring motifs that lead us toward a largely inevitable revision of our understanding of its actual intent, and that it’s most definitely NOT to be read as a chronological, much less scientific, retelling of God’s creation of the universe. Of the overwhelming response I received from the congregants afterwards, only one person (I’m serious — a single person!) reacted negatively to my lesson, declaring that since “…this is God’s revealed word, we don’t have to ‘read between the lines’,” as I was allegedly advocating. On the other hand, another of the church members who approached me afterwards informed me that he was a geologist for an oil company, and then went on to express his total relief that he now no longer had to accept Genesis 1 as constituting a “literal” account of creation, suggesting that he no longer had to live this bifurcated existence between his profession and his profession of faith. Prior to that I was in an Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, a congregation of about 350 people, and there the reaction was even more enthusiastic.
    All this to say that many, if not most, Christians are perhaps not nearly as deaf or intellectually allergic to the purported results of sound scholarship as you seem to think. In other words, take heart, Santi!

    -: David

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