Saturday, May 19, 2007
But What God do the Mormons Believe In?
The Rev. Al Sharpton indicated he was simply making a comment about a presidential candidate and did not intend it to be a slight against the Mormon faith. But you know how words can be. They are usually interpreted, it seems, in the worst possible light. For the record he stated that "as for the one Mormon running for office [Mitt Romney], some who really believe in God will defeat him anyway, so don't worry about that, that's a temporary situation."
He claims that he "wasn't saying that Mormons didn't believe in God. I was saying that we weren't going to have to rely on atheists" to defeat Romney.
OK. But what is wrong with admitting that Mormons believe in a different "god"? I know, I know, it's a horrible faux pas to even imply that people of any 'faith' do not believe in the same generic god. Admittedly Romney's faith, whatever it is, is somewhat immaterial to his competence as a public official. Granted, I would prefer a true Christian over one that is not. But the left kingdom can be run well even by those who do not believe. Yet the issue for me is not politics. It's a matter of properly defining God. It's about the clarity of Christian witness.
For centuries upon centuries the orthodox Christian faith has been defined by its carefully crafted creeds. These confessed boundaries allowed the Church to determine what was false and what was true in any statement or belief regarding God. And all the ecumenical creeds are clear about the confession of the true God as triune - One God, three persons: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. They are also very clear about Jesus, the Son of God, as equally God and man. This, it should be noted, the Mormons do not believe. The "god" they confess does not fit inside the boundaries of the historic creeds.
Yet we are compelled, it would appear, to insist publicly that Mormons "believe in God," without qualifiers, so as to imply that all religions, no matter how diverse, all have a common commitment to a similar generic deity. And naturally, this 'deity' must be referred to as "God" with a capital "God." So, of course, this would also be true for those world faiths of Islam, Judaism, Hinduism (even though it is admittedly polytheistic), and Buddhism (even though it is basically a godless faith).
Now this is not about 'bashing' another belief system. Note that no one is saying anything about Mormons and their lifestyle. This is not about calling people of a particular faith "terrorists" or some other moniker. It's about a clear witness to the world. People deserve to know the differences. For one things it's honest. Any serious student of traditional Christianity and Mormonism can quickly tell you that they believe differently about how they define "God." So let's tell it like it is.
Now having said all that I still think the the Rev. Sharpton would have been better served to have avoided any comment at all regarding the Mormons and God. It would have been far less complicated, politically speaking. My whole point is about his simple statement that he "wasn't saying that Mormons didn't believe in God." That muddied the waters of Christian witness. And unfortunately it's all too prevalent in today's highly pluralized culture.