Trump, Moral Relativism, and the American Church

Last night I was talking to a grad student here at UGA that I had just met.  He told me he was very concerned about the possibility of a nuclear attack on North Korea by the United States.  Without thinking I blurted out that having Donald Trump as the decision maker as to how to use our nuclear arsenal scared me to death.  His response surprised me.  He said, “I voted for Trump but I didn’t think it through.  I hate Hillary Clinton so I voted against her but I didn’t really visualize Trump as POTUS.” I did, which is why he didn’t get my vote.

7de7c0aa10e9f514e1a15dc44c5d0144I have opposed Donald Trump since he announced he was running in June of 2015. My take on policy and priorities leans center left, which should make me lean toward Democrats.  While I have considerable policy disagreements with Trump, that it is not what drives my opposition. My conviction stems from being a disciple of Jesus.

There is, however, a former Republican  and now Independent that has piqued my interest. Ewan McMullin wants to regain control of “the heart and soul of conservatism”. I believe the 2020 Presidential election will be a battle for the center-right and center-left of America. McMullin, although more conservative than me, could be  a serious threat to the incumbent if he decides to run. Oh, by the way, McMullin is a former CIA operative and a practicing Mormon.

Now is the time that those who know me are asking, “Why would anyone vote for a Mormon candidate while citing the immaturity of Trump’s Christian faith as a reason for not supporting his Presidency?”  Good question!  Here is my response.

My primary concern is not about what nation Trump attacks next or who he appoints to the Supreme Court, or even the alt right executive orders he seems to issue daily. My concern is the witness of the Church. We are called to be ambassadors for Jesus, to exhibit love and compassion, to speak up about injustice. We are resident-aliens in this world, not citizens comfortable with the status quo. The intensity of that commitment is that the Kingdom of God even takes precedence over family ties (Luke 14:26). Anything that takes precedence over our commitment to Jesus and His agenda is idolatry.

Until Jesus is on the ballot, every candidate will have shortcomings. Forget about looking for perfection.  A candidate can be a very crooked stick and still exhibit the general moral character of love and compassion and an unwillingness to ignore injustice. The President’s lifestyle not his specific religious doctrinal beliefs is what determines the witness of the Church during his or her presidency.  The Church itself, of course, is not dependent on whomever is elected to lift up that which is good and oppose that which is not.  First and foremost the Church should be a community that exhibits the marks of the Kingdom of God.

The issue is not that Trump is “Not My President”.  He is my president and I pray for him daily. The issue is the attempt by right wing Christians to characterize Trump as basically a good guy, a baby Christian, who is just a little rough around the edges. Really?

Have you read The Art of the Deal? Have you paid attention to his professional and personal lifestyle?  Trump’s lifestyle is the very antithesis of the Sermon on the Mount. During his campaign when asked by Jimmy Fallon if he ever apologized for anything Trump replied “I will absolutely apologize some time in the hopefully distant future if I’m ever wrong.” He is the apostle for the gospel of “win at all costs”.  Opponents are not to be just defeated but destroyed and humiliated. He advocates seducing the wives of rivals to humiliate them and, during his campaign, bragged about having done so himself.  To Trump there are only two types of people: those who are unflinchingly loyal to him or those who are absolute losers. Everything about him exudes an unstable vindictive predatory character. His “unfortunate” tweets are not the product of an unpolished public figure. They are the product of a calculating, manipulative, pathological personality.

Democracy runs on the basis that there are competing views in society. When someone wins an election, the loser concedes and the winner leaves the loser standing, ready to fight another day.  It is this understanding that no victory or loss is ever final, that keeps American society moving along. Disagreement is the norm, not the exception, of a free, democratic society.

Trump, however, routinely demonstrates he cannot tolerate the presence of opposition! Not even from beauty queens. From the beginning of the campaign to his present Presidency, his emphasis has been on what HE is going to do. By sheer force of his personality and will, without regard for the basics of governance, HE is going to fix everything. This is hubris, not leadership. Hubris plus a vindictive predatory temperament equals authoritarianism.

I believe there were many Christians, like me, who cast their vote, not because they were enthusiastically behind the conservative or progressive candidate, but simply for the lesser of two evils. But then there are those Christians who now are Trump apologists, determined to legitimize his profound evils. Considering all the criticism leveled at the moral failings of candidates in the past it is difficult to see this as anything other than  hypocrisy. When their political agenda is at stake, all concern about character seems to fly out the window.  If you think Trump is the best President in our lifetime, fine. But do not act as if his Presidency minimizes what kind of man he is.

The Church’s mission is not to help candidates win elections but to give witness to the agenda of Jesus. That witness is seen through martyrdom rather than hateful authoritarian demagoguery.

I am not that familiar with McMullin.  But he seems to be a principled man with admirable ethical standards, who aspires to build a more civil society. If that perception is true, he is a welcome change to the political stage, regardless of what his specific doctrinal beliefs are.

For many the fact that Donald Trump is the POTUS is visceral. Social psychologists call it “motivated perception,” a condition where what we see is shaped by what we feel is at stake. Thus the motivation to justify and rationalize Trump’s Presidency is powerful. In 2011 the Public Religion Research Institute at Brookings asked people whether someone who had committed immoral acts in their private life could still be effective in their political or professional life. Nationwide, 44% said Yes. The same question was asked in 2016 nationwide the  Yes vote had risen to 61%. But the move to compartmentalize sin was most pronounced among those who were most conservative. In 2011 only 30% White Evangelicals given the same question said yes. But in 2016  71% of White Evangelicals answered the same question yes becoming the religious segment most likely to believe that someone who commits immoral acts in private life can govern ethically..

When holding a moral standard meant substantial loss, they embraced moral relativity, the cardinal sin of “secular-progressives” they so despise. Again, my point is that Christians who are Trump backers should not minimize nor trivialize the kind of man he has shown himself to be.

Right leaning Christians are not purely to blame for the moral relativity in the American Church. Its roots span the political spectrum and reveal a much deeper problem, much of American Church is not formed by the gospel of Jesus. A great many progressive Christians have concluded that the answer to conservative Christians is to move to the far left Social gospel. Even though they are doing the same “othering” as they criticize the Right for doing, they justify it as “prophetic” and “social justice advocacy.”  But the solution is not a more progressive church. The solution is a more loving church, a loving community of resident-aliens, seeking the welfare of their host culture, seeking truth no matter the implications for our host culture’s political agendas. Right, left, or whatever, doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the church abandon moral relativity and once again take up the agenda of Jesus and His Kingdom.

The Fundamental Difference between Christianity and Mormonism

The One God of the Bible versus the many Gods of Mormonism

To put it succinctly, the fundamental difference between The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints and Christianity is that one is monotheistic and the other is polytheistic.

Biblical Christianity is rooted in Ontological Monotheism which is the belief in one God by nature.

LDS religion is rooted in Polytheism which is the belief in more than one God by nature.

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to the Prophet Joseph Smith:

  • LDS founder Joseph Smith in The King Follet Discourse, August 15, 1844 said:

“I will preach on the plurality of Gods . . . I have always and in all congregations when I have preached on the subject of Deity, it has been the plurality of Gods. . . . Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods”(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 370; emphasis added).

This teaching was elaborated upon by the Prophet Brigham Young:

  • Brigham Young, second President and Prophet said:

“There was never a time when there were not Gods and worlds, and men were not passing through the same ordeals that we are now passing through” (Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, 22-23).

This belief is fundamental to LDS theology:

  • Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt declared:

“In the Heaven where our spirits were born, there are many Gods, each one of whom has his own wife or wives which are given to him previous to his redemption; while yet in his mortal state” (Orson Pratt, The Seer, 37- 38; emphasis added).

In devastating contrast to LDS doctrine, Scripture teaches that there is only one true God. Yes, anything can be called a god, money, career, automobile, etc. But calling it a god, even worshipping it as a god, does not make it a God. Scripture teaches ontological monotheism, that is, by nature there exists one God. John 17:3 states: “And this is life eternal, that they might know You, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” All other so-called gods are false.

The apostle Paul makes a crystal clear demarcation of false gods and the one true God in 1 Corinthians 8:4-5, “There is no God but one… many ‘gods’ many ‘lords’ yet for us there is but one God.” Underlining this central theme of Scripture, Paul reminds the Galatians, when they did not know God- they were slaves to those who by nature were not gods (cf. 4:8).

Scripture teaches One God and Mormonism teaches many gods. This deviation essentially separates Christians and Mormons.

But aren’t Mormons just members of a Christian denomination? Although that perception is carefully cultivated, this must be stressed: there is a fundamental difference between Christians and Mormons. That fundamental difference between historic orthodox Christianity and Mormonism is that Christianity maintains the belief in one immutable, Eternal God by nature. He does not grow, change, or progress (cf. Mal. 3:6). He is God from all eternity, Creator (not organizer)1 of everything that exists. Absolute monotheism has always been the distinctive principle “norm” of Jews and Christians alike.  Never has the church or any of the church Fathers held to the pagan doctrine of many Gods.

Pure monotheism (ontologically) is the core of Christian theology from which all other doctrines flow. The first lie ever told to humankind was from Satan, in the Garden of Eden. “Ye shall be as gods. . .” (Gen. 3:5)Satan is the originator of polytheism.  The monotheism of the Jews is what separated them from all the pagan nations that accepted the existence of other Gods.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD (Deut. 6:4; emphasis added).

Literally: “Hear, O Israel: Jehovah our Elohim is one Jehovah.”

Mormons try to assuage their polytheism by claiming “we don’t worship those other Gods.” But, whether or not someone worships these “other Gods” is wholly irrelevant, the question is: how many Gods are there? For the Mormon there is an infinite number of Gods and for the Christian there is One.

To ensure that no one will be confused God explains again and again that no other Gods exists! Particularly in the book of Isaiah, where absolute monotheism (one God by nature) is incontrovertibly taught:

Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: That ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he; before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me (Isa. 43:10; emphasis added).

Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of host; I am the first, I am the last; and beside me there is no God (Isa. 44:6; emphasis added).

Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know of not any (Isa. 44:8; emphasis added).

God asks the question: “Is there a God beside me?” LDS doctrine would have to say yes, but God responds sharply: “NO, there is no God, I know of not any.”

Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretched forth the heaven alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself (Isa. 44:24; emphasis added).

I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me. . . . (Isa. 45:5; emphasis added).

All throughout Scripture God consistently affirms that He is the only true God:

Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightiest know that the LORD he is God; there is none else beside him (Deut. 4:35)

Know ye that the LORD he is God (Ps. 100:3)

In the New Testament, one of the scribes had asked Jesus, “Which is the greatest commandment in the law?” Jesus answered: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.”

The polytheistic teaching of the LDS Church comes from their founder and first Prophet, Joseph Smith. He plainly defines the doctrine of the LDS Church teaching:

“God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens… it is necessary we should understand the character and being of God and how he came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and suppose that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see. These are incomprehensible ideas to some, but they are simple. It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did; and I will show it from the Bible. Here then, is eternal life–to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priest to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one. . . .”(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 345-347; emphasis added).

“I will preach on the plurality of Gods . . .  I have always and in all congregations when I have preached on the subject of Deity, it has been the plurality of Gods. . . . Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods” (ibid., 370; emphasis added).

The Mormon God is a changing god that is not eternally God. What he was before, he is not today. Mormons say that God was once a man that lived on a planet similar to this one. He progressed and was exalted to become the God of this planet by His Father God Who Himself is an exalted man that lives on the planet Kolob.2

Without question, Mormonism and Biblical Christianity believe in different Gods: “For I am the LORD, I change not. . . . ” (Mal. 3:6).

The doctrine of many Gods then, will always be the primary and fundamental difference that excludes the Mormon religion from bona fide orthodox Christianity. Christianity is cradled in the same monotheism that was fundamental to Judaism: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.”

Notes

1 In LDS theology God does not create anything He merely “organizes” eternal matter. Joseph Smith explains: “I am right, I might with boldness proclaim from the house–tops that God never had the he power to create the spirit of man at all” (Teaching s of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 354).

Of course, this idea does not square with Scripture. The Bible presents God as Creator (e.g., Gen. 1:1; Isa. 44:24; 45:18; Jer. 10:10, 11; John 1:3; Col. 1:16-18; Heb. 1:2, 10).

2 Pearl of Great Price: Abraham, 3:9.