by Dwight McKissic
While touring the Dead Sea Scroll Exhibit recently, at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with President Paige Patterson, Governor Rick Perry, and twenty other Dallas-Ft. Worth pastors and Christian leaders, I was privileged to meet for the first time the pastor of the First Baptist Church, Dallas, TX, Pastor Robert Jeffress. Recognizing who he was from television appearances and public photos—upon seeing Dr. Jeffress, I immediately extended my hand and said to him, without introducing myself, “I appreciate your voice of righteousness to our nation.” He also recognized me upon sight and almost simultaneously said to me, “Pastor McKissic, I’ve quoted you across this country, ‘Don’t equate my skin with your sin.’” I then told Pastor Jeffress, I’d heard he was using my quote, and I was thankful that he confirmed that. That’s basically the sum total of our brief chance meeting.
Dr. Jeffress was indeed a voice for righteousness when he described Governor Romney’s Mormon faith as a “cult.” In October 2011, while endorsing Governor Perry for President, Jeffress told reporters, “Every true, born again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian.” Jeffress referred to Romney then as a “conservative out of convenience” who “does not have a consistent track record on the subject of marriage, on the sanctity of life.” He further stated, “I just do not believe that we as conservative Christians can expect him to stand strong for the issues that are important to us.”
Fast forward to today and Dr. Jeffress is still a voice of righteousness believing that Mormonism is still a cult, and that civil rights and gay rights are not proper parallels.
However, Jeffress has made a major switch regarding his initial theology/politics, inasmuch as he now embraces Romney for President-even as a “non-Christian” member of a “cult” over President Barack Obama who is a Christian, but does not hold a biblical worldview with regard to same-sex marriage and abortion. Perhaps, therein lays Jeffress dilemma—an ultimate decision to support Romney.
I can appreciate Pastor Jeffress not compromising his conviction—and one that I share—that Mormonism is a cult. However, my conscience and conviction will not allow me to vote for an individual who on more than one occasion has expressed a certain antipathy toward the poor and who, when given an opportunity to distance himself from the racist history and teaching in Mormon documents in a 2008 Tim Russert interview, Governor Romney refused to do so. Mormon “sacred text” refers to “dark skinned” people as “cursed,” “unattractive,” “filthy,” “despised” and “loathsome.” Voting for Mitt Romney given these viewpoints, expressed in his “Bible,” is a switch and compromise that I simply cannot make. I would rather fight than switch.
I applaud and appreciate Dr. Jeffress being a voice of righteousness on pro-life issues, gay-marriage issues and the civil rights vs. gay rights issue. However, I would be less than honest if I didn’t acknowledge that Pastor Jeffress’ switch is seen by many in the Black Community as inconsistent at best.
Evangelist Billy Graham historically has been a highly respected figure in the Black Community. Long before it was popular, he insisted on his meetings being racially inclusive, befriended Black preachers (including Dr. King) and singers and publically disagreed with Dr. W.A. Criswell’s segregation views, prior to his “open door” conversion. Billy Graham was highly regarded in the home I grew up in and viewed as a man whose heart was in the right place regarding issues of race.
However, Billy Graham’s recent departure from his lifelong practice of not engaging in partisan politics, and his removing the Mormon Religion from his website as a cult has generated a lot of discussion among Black pastors. The impression Graham’s decision leaves is that for the sake of electing Mitt Romney as President, he is willing to declassify Mormonism as a cult and engage in partisan politics for the first time in 94 years of living.
The question many are asking is, “why”? And, why now? If nominal Southern Baptists as Bill Clinton and Al Gore occupied the White House at the current moment, the question is would Billy Graham have made the same decision? Even Ed Stetzer andRichard Land have taken a softer view on labeling Mormonism as a cult. Why? Stetzer and Land want to label Mormonism a fourth great world religion. Why? Unbelievable! Are Southern Baptists that desperate to elect Mitt Romney?
The Southern Baptist Convention unanimously approved a resolution condemning President Obama’s position on gay marriage and his view of equating gay rights with civil rights—but refused to even bring to the floor for a vote a resolution condemning racism in Mormon documents. The question is why would Southern Baptists approve of one, while rejecting the other? Could it be that on both sides of the racial divide, that our theology is driven more by race, culture and economics than it is by theology, righteousness and the common good? The SBC’s refusal to condemn Mormon racist text aligns itself with the BGEA declassification of Mormonism being a cult. Both decisions were driven by placing partisan politics above theological integrity and accuracy.
This election will leave the country and Christians racially polarized and divided even more so than the 2008 Election. The tacit evangelical endorsement of Mormonism will pay long term negative consequences on evangelicalism and politics. The Graham announcements affirm Black Christians, who vote for President Obama because it demonstrates that political, cultural and economic expediency, sometimes trumps theological and moral considerations in voting decisions. We see this on both sides of the racial divide.
I’ve been asked the question several times, why is it that Black Christians vote for Democratic candidates overwhelmingly in light of the Democrats position on gay rights and abortion? Black Christians tend to prioritize social and economic justice issues (which are also life issues) and they consider those moral issues as well. Black Christians tend to compromise their faith on pro-life and gay rights issues in order to vote for the party that they perceive will best deliver social and economic justice. The White evangelical church in this election is willing to compromise their beliefs on Mormonism and racial and gender accountability in order to support Mitt Romney. Black and White Christians vote for the party and the president that they perceive will best empower them. They simply view empowerment and priorities differently.
For those who ask, how can President Obama be a Christian and hold non-Christian views on abortion and gay marriage?: The answer is the same way Anglo Baptists/Evangelical slaveholders were Christians but wrong about slavery and denying women the right to vote. Make no mistake about it: President Obama and the Democrats are wrong on the issues of gay marriage and abortion. But just as Billy Graham is willing to declassify Mormonism as a cult in order to promote Romney, Blacks have prioritized economic and justice issues in order to elevate poor and historically oppressed people. I have burdens in my bosom concerning both parties. Therefore, I will be content to cast a write-in vote for Jesus Christ, and live with the results of who God sovereignly allows to become the next President.
If President Obama wins, I will take solace in the fact that Republicans will not be rewarded for their blatant disrespect of President Obama. Such as shouting “you lie” to him from the hall of Congress; the Governor of Arizona shaking her finger in his face; Laura Ingram referring to the President as, “you fool”; and I could cite many more disrespectful and racial attitudes and actions displayed toward President Obama, including declassifying Mormonism as a cult.
If Mitt Romney wins, I would hope that he would honor his commitment (though his history does not give me full hope) to stop same-sex marriage in its tracks and actually lead the Congress to adopt a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage. If that happens, I will be eternally grateful and give God praise that my grandchildren will not grow up in a world where same-sex marriage is considered legal, sane and normal.
Although I’m not a Calvinist, I am perfectly content to trust the sovereignty of God in this election and praise His Name regardless to the outcome. I simply pray as a nation and as a church that we can come together in unity when the election is over.
Bart Barber, Dave Miller and Howell Scott need to be taken seriously regarding this matter of sounding a clarion call concerning the declassification of Mormonism as a cult sooner, rather than later. Is a cult only a cult until one of its members wins a major party presidential nomination and their opponent is a Black Christian who believes in gay marriage and abortion?
Pastor Jeffress and Evangelist Graham have a right to endorse and vote for Mitt Romney for President, just as Pastor Otis Moss and Pastor Frederick Haynes have a right to support President Obama for reelection.
What Billy Graham does not have the right to do is to declassify Mormonism as a cult without the larger evangelical community throwing the “red flag.” If evangelicalism does not throw the “red flag” before the election, that is even a greater sign of our political and racial divide. We ought to be able to come together in unity and make it clear that Mormonism is a cult even if Black Christians and White Christians vote for different candidates. The unity of the faith is at stake here (John 17:21)!