Evangelicals, Mormons, and the Camp of the Saints

A subject I meant to address yesterday was the eyebrow-raising “validation” of a LDS presidential nominee by conservative evangelical superstar Mike Huckabee during his Convention Speech. Here’s the key passage from Huck:

Let me clear the air about whether guys like me would only support an evangelical. Of the four people on the two tickets, the only self-professed evangelical is Barack Obama, and he supports changing the definition of marriage, believes that human life is disposable and expendable at any time in the womb or even beyond the womb, and tells people of faith that they must bow their knees to the god of government and violate their faith and conscience in order to comply with what he calls health care.

Friends, I know we can do better!

The attack on my Catholic brothers and sisters is an attack on me. The Democrats have brought back the old dance the “Limbo” to see how low they can go in attempting to limit our ability to practice our faith.

This isn’t a battle about contraceptives and Catholics, but of conscience and the Creator. I care far less as to where Mitt Romney takes his family to church than I do about where he takes this country.

A lot of observers thought this was some sort of startling, landmark recognition of Christian Right ecumenism. By contrast, Dave Weigel thought it was a grudging, defensive formulation that showed Huck tolerating Mormons through clenched teeth.

I think both takes are wrong. What it really represents is the long-established (if occasionally violated) decision by conservative evangelical activists that positions on secular issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, and even the role of the judiciary and of the Constitution, are more important not just politically but even morally than all the ancient arguments over doctrine and dogma. It’s part of what some of them would consider a “prophetic stance:” an eschatologically necessary submission of all “normal” religious priorities to the defiance of a wicked society in sinful rebellion against God’s moral laws.

It’s the perspective that made what we think of as the Christian Right possible in the first place. It was most conspicuously formed by Chuck Colson and Fr. Richard John Neuhaus in establishing the group “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” aimed not only at promoting tactical alliances on “social issues,” but on encouraging ancient theological enemies to understand themselves as engaged as fellow-saints in a religious struggle against secularism. Mormons have long been regarded as within the charmed circle of this prophetic fellowship, despite a formal theology far outside the bounds of orthodox Christianity. Huck’s formulation of what he does and does not care about in religiously-motivated political allies is old hat, even a cliche. Even evangelical Mormon-baiters who consider the LDS a non-Christian “cult” just as quickly suggest Mormons are essential allies, as I noted earlier this year:

[One] prominent evangelical critic, the homophobic American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer, has said repeatedly that his biggest problem with Romney is that “he’s not Mormon enough”—meaning, he has been insufficiently faithful to LDS teachings on abortion and homosexuality.

Indeed, to me the most striking feature of Huck’s speech involved not Romney and Mormons but Obama. Huckabee erroneously calls the president a “self-professed evangelical.” Obama’s last formal religious affiliation was with the United Church of Christ, the epitome of mainline Protestantism. When he quit Trinity UCC in Chicago, there was talk he might affiliate with my own denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), another mainline denomination. His family’s most frequent place of public worship has been St. John’s Episcopal Church near the White House, yet another mainline sanctuary. Like so many conservative evangelicals (most notably and outspokenly his Catholic doppelganger Rick Santorum), however, Huckabee seems to struggle to accept the legitimacy of “liberal” mainliners. So he treats Obama as a debased and unfaithful evangelical who is persecuting real Christians. In that context, it’s no surprise he finds it easy to make common cause with LDS folk, even if he considers them not-so-Christian except in their brave defense of the saints, which may, like the Thief at Golgotha, may yet earn them salvation.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.