Many have weighed in on Pastor Jeffress’ comments about Mitt Romney and Mormonism. What caught my eye was the disparity between Jeffress’ application of a religious test for holding public office and his implicit endorsement of religious liberty.
Let me explain.
I do not have any fear that Pastor Jeffress wants to ban Mormonism or Mormons from the United States. I suspect that he values and defends the sort of liberty that allows the United States to tolerate the religious practices of a host of believers, including Mormons. In other words, I doubt that Pastor Jeffress would actually support legislation to suppress Mormonism or Roman Catholicism. He is a good American (read: tolerant).
But what Jeffress seems to miss is that his view implies that only a Christian magistrate may enforce or uphold religious toleration. In other words, only a Christian can properly tolerate idolatry or oversee the sort of freedom that allows many Americans to violate God’s law. In which case, his test for office puts believers in the awkward position of having a duty to approve of false religion and wickedness.
It is a breathtaking reversal of the older Protestant teachings on the magistrate. Formerly, the churches taught that the magistrate needed to uphold the true religion, suppress false faith, and punish wickedness. They were not explicit about requiring a Christian to hold office, though it’s hard to imagine how a non-church member could ever hold office under a Constantinian arrangement. Now in the American context, evangelical Protestants are so attached to their nation’s ideals and its alleged Christian roots that they require a Christian to hold office and perform functions that do the exact opposite of what the older Reformed creeds taught – protect freedom to disobey Scripture.
This argument would have gotten the average citizen, magistrate, or pastor banished (at least) from Geneva or Scotland. In the United States it is part of the warp and woof of our Protestant civil religion. Should be a fun presidential season.