As far as political columnists go, Jonah Goldberg is a good read. I regularly enjoy his commentary, style and wit. For those of us who aren’t policy wonks or constitutional junkies, Goldberg places keen insight on the lower shelf well within our reach.
Today Goldberg commented on the hubbub surrounding Robert Jeffress and Governor Rick Perry. Jeffress, pastor of historic First Baptist Church in Dallas, introduced (and tacitly endorsed) Governor Perry for President at the recent Family Research Council‘s Values Voters Summit. Jeffress was quite clear both before and after the summit that Mormonism is a nonChristian cult, thereby insinuating that Mitt Romney (a Mormon) should be off limits to any Christian voter. This, of course, spilled over into Perry’s lap who was forced to defend Jeffress’s statement or distance himself from it.
Frankly, I am less interested in what Goldberg thinks about Jeffress, Perry or Romney than I am what he thinks about Christianity. Attempting to defang a candidate’s theological foundation, Goldberg emphasizes the moral compatibility between Mormonism and Christianity:
“. . . from a moral perspective, contemporary Mormonism is squarely within the Judeo-Christian tradition, promoting decency, self-restraint, family values, etc.”
In other words, why are all the “born-again Christians” up in arms about a Mormon candidate when his morality is no different than what you say Jesus teaches? Would you rather have a puckish Presbyterian or saucy Southern Baptist or miscreant Methodist instead of an unsullied Mormon? I get Goldberg’s logic and in a sense appreciate the pragmatism inherent in the politics of the City of Man. But that’s not the nexus of my concern.
My concern is the ease with which Goldberg (and undoubtedly countless others) boil down the “Judeo-Christian tradition” to merely its moral contribution? Are we to cheapen the Christian tradition to its lowest common denominator? Should we concede that as long as we share a common morality then there’s little to be gained by theological hairsplitting? Is Jesus to be considered merely a means to an end, that end being a shared morality among all faiths? Is the object of our faith less important than the effects of our faith?
The Judeo-Christian tradition is not fundamentally a legacy of moral tenets passed down through generations. The Judeo-Christian tradition is no less than the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the tradition begun in the Garden of Eden, promised to Abraham, passed down and through the Jewish nation, and is now that of the Christian church from every nation, tribe and tongue (Romans 1.16; Jude 1.3-4).
The essence of the Christian tradition (even it’s moral tradition) is not “promoting decency, self-restraint, family values, etc.”. The essence of the Christian tradition is promoting Jesus Christ, God of very God, who died for our sins, was buried and was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor 15.1-11). The Christian tradition is that there are no decent, self-controlled people in the world (Rom 3.9-18), but all Christ-less “morality” is self-righteous exaltation of ourselves. That is the message (or tradition, if you will) we’ve inherited and what we intend to pass down to the next generation. We do not call men and women to a common sense of decency, but to a Savior who died in the place of eternally condemned sinners: the Just for the unjust, the Righteous One for the unrighteous, the Decent One for the indecent.
Goldberg implies that we can unmoor morality from the theological dock that holds believers at bay. That may be true of many religions and belief systems, but cannot be said of the Judeo-Christian tradition. In that sense, Mormonism cannot fit “squarely within the Judeo-Christian tradition” because the Christ of Mormonism is a square peg and the Christ of Scripture a round hole. Our common “morality” ended at the Fall, and now we share a common “immorality” which the Christian message alone is sufficient to explain and remedy.
Goldberg is probably right: there is no reason to think Romney wouldn’t be as good a President as any evangelical Protestant or pre-Vatican II Catholic. We may all share the same ideas in matters of State, but let’s not dare assume we share the same ideas in matters of Zion.