LONSBERRY: Romney, Jeffress And Religious Freedom

This isn’t about Mitt Romney. It’s about something stupid he said.

Or tweeted.

In a reference to the Southern Baptist preacher who said the dedicatory prayer at the American embassy in Jerusalem, Mitt Romney wrote:

“Robert Jeffress says, ‘You can’t be saved by being a Jew,’ and ‘Mormonism is a heresy from the pit of hell.’ He’s said the same thing about Islam. Such a religious bigot should not be giving the prayer that opens the United States embassy in Jerusalem.”

It is startling that Mitt Romney would be so wrong.

What Jeffress engaged in as he held those beliefs and expressed those views is freedom of religion. That is not bigotry, it is belief. In an era in which progressive orthodoxy equates professions of faith with hate speech, it is disappointing to see a one-time missionary and ecclesiastical leader – which Mitt Romney has been – mouthing the words of those fighting hardest against American religious freedom.

First: Who is Robert Jeffress?

He is the graduate of two mainstream religious seminaries. He pastors a 13,000-member church. He proclaims Christ on 900 radio stations in 195 countries each day.

And he’s an American, entitled to freedom of religion in his personal and public life.

Second: How atypical are his views?

Not at all. Christianity – whose founder said, “No man cometh unto the Father but by me” – teaches that salvation comes only by faith in Jesus Christ, by becoming Christian. “You can’t be saved by being a Jew,” might not be well received by a Jewish person, but it is the central tenet of the world’s largest religion, and it applies to all non-Christian faiths.

It is not declared in hate, but in love – as a warning, and as an invitation to come to Christ and be saved.

To remove the primacy of faith in Christ in order not to hurt the feelings of others is to deny the Christ and his essential role in the salvation of man.

Robert Jeffress appears not willing to do that. I hope Mitt Romney shares that unwillingness.

And what about, “Mormonism is a heresy from the pit of hell.”

That line might be why Mitt Romney tweeted in the first place. Hoping to be handed a Utah Senate seat on a silver platter, he has been forced into a primary instead and needs to remind Utah voters that he’s Mormon royalty. This tweet strikes me as a cynical effort to position himself as a defender of the faith and a Mormon champion.

But all Jeffress did is state a tenet of his religion. Southern Baptists – and almost all Christian theologians – reject the origin story of Mormonism. They consider the claim that God restored original Christianity with its teaching and authority through the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith to be bunk, a giant con job.

It is not bigotry for Robert Jeffress to say so, it is simply him stating his religious belief.

If I am free to believe and say that the Mormon church is true – and I do – then Robert Jeffress is free to believe and say that it isn’t.

Freedom of conscience includes the right to believe that your neighbor is full of crap, and freedom of speech includes the right to say so.

And to have the expression of those rights cavalierly denounced as bigotry and used as an argument for exclusion from a public ceremony smells itself like religious intolerance.

And seems to indicate that a man who would be a United States senator has little practical knowledge of how freedom actually works. That is all the more troubling as the diabolical philosophy of progressivism seeks to silence religious expression in America. The declaration of conservative views – moral, religious, social, economic or political – as divisive or hate speech is intended to silence conservative voices in American society. Progressivism seeks to define disagreement with its orthodoxy as bigotry, in order to silence dissent and empower its sinister sweep of American society.

And Mitt Romney’s got to decide which side of that fight he’s going to be on.

This tweet shows that right now he’s on the wrong side.

Religious views are often mutually exclusive. But a free and pluralistic society like ours can happily handle that, by respecting and defending the freedom of all.

Including those who think we’re going to hell.

Mitt Romney Meets With Voters After Announcing His Candidacy For Senate PROVO, UT - FEBRUARY 16: Candidate for senate Mitt Romney has dessert at Zupas Cafe in Provo, Utah on February 16, 2018 in Provo, Utah. Mr. Romney is running for a U.S. Senate seat from Utah, currently held by Sen. Orrin Hatch, who announced his retirement after the current term expires. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)


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