07 January, 2011

Big Love Or Big Tent? Will Southern Evangelicals Vote For Mitt Romney?

Higginbotham At Large no longer publishes comments.
In season 4 of HBO's "Big Love" (now available on DVD) TV's best-known polygamist businessman-turned-politician, Bill Hendrickson, thinks The Religious Right still won't vote for Mormons. A lot of my real-life Mormon friends agree so if Mitt Romney doesn't get the Republican Presidential nomination they'll say it's because Mormonism still has a Southern Evangelical problem. I think "Big Love's" Bill Hendrickson and my real-life Mormon friends have greatly overestimated their evangelical fellow Republicans.

Over 30 years ago when I was studying The Pearl of Great Price, The Book Of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants in a college "Major Cults" class, I would have agreed. The evangelicals of my youth and young adulthood read their Bibles - even the gospels - so they knew that True Christians were promised persecution, not earthly power and that they would always be a minority witness and never a Moral Majority. Many of my evangelical friends eschewed politics altogether. Jesus didn't try to change the world by running for office or influencing the powerful, they reasoned - and they could quote you chapter and verse that Jesus' kingdom is "not of this world".

But that was before Christian Reconstruction, Glenn Beck and what I call CACACA (Casual Anonymous Church Among Consenting Adults) - the evangelical church version of "don't ask, don't tell."

A lot of the experts say it was the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 that signaled evangelical willingness to trade their witness for a mess of political pottage (this Biblical imagery will be lost on most 21st Century Christians) but it was in 1990 that I saw just how willing evangelicals were to compromise their theology for more of their new found political power. A strict Calvinist missionary came to my office and excitedly told me how his "scholarly" branch of the church was forming a coalition with the "charismatics and Pentecostals" - the little yellow bus of this new Christian army that was rolling into Washington.

"We have all the scholarship, the Pentecostals and charismatics have all the money" my missionary friend said. "It's time we get together. With our brains and their TV and radio stations we can elect Christians to Congress and the White House. They're be no stopping us."

This marriage of monetary and political convenience between the pseudo-intellectual wing and suspicious of the intellect wing of evangelicalism was just one of many compromises evangelicals would make to gain and keep political power.

Fast forward to 2010. Mormonism's most famous broadcaster, Glenn Beck, has millions of evangelical listeners and viewers and rallies tens of thousands of evangelicals to his "Restoring Honor" rally in DC. Evangelicalism's embrace of Mormonism as just another Christian denomination is due in no small part to frequent TV appearances by Christian History revisionist, David Barton, who was present at the creation of the Christian Reconstruction movement that valued political influence over doctrinal purity and winning elections over winning souls.

If evangelicals don't hand the Republican nomination to Mitt Romney, perhaps the second most famous Mormon in America (behind Glenn Beck) it won't be because of his religion; it will be because he has not sufficiently validated them and because a few of them remember his political flip-flops and the Obamacare-esque healthcare plan he signed into law when he was governor of Massachusetts.

Ask any political strategist what motivates voters and they will tell you voters need an enemy. To modern evangelicals who no longer read their Bibles and know less about the Bible than atheists, "the enemy" is no longer biblical stuff like false doctrine, sin or The Devil, but the same stuff they would hate no matter what religion they belong to: full citizenship for all Americans, science, cultural diversity. If I were one of Mitt Romney's advisers I'd tell him to take a page from Karl Rove and learn to name those enemies - and I'd tell him to do it on the Glenn Beck show.

Higginbotham At Large no longer publishes comments. Readers who wish to send comments to me should send them to JosephHigginbotham@gmail.com. Pseudonymous emails will not be read or answered. 

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