Bigotry, Bias, and Legitimate Disagreement

The Wall Street Journal ran an interesting article earlier this week about the role of a “surprisingly virulent strain of anti-Mormonism” that was brought to the surface by Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Combine this with a New York Times editorial that wonder “anti-Mormon bigots” is an appropriate label for evangelicals who don’t want to vote for a Mormon for president, and you have a good occasion for wondering what exactly constitutes “bigotry.”

I am not going to discuss the differences between Mormonism and historic Christianity here.  There’s enough of that available, and the Latter-Day Saints’ official view of historic Christianity should be enough  for the time being. 

Instead, I want to discuss the difference between “bigotry” and legitimate disagreement.  There is, I think, real “anti-Mormon bigotry” – individuals who aim to discredit Mormons (including Mitt Romney) based on simple prejudice, without knowledge of Mormons’ religious beliefs or concern for theological truth. 

On other hand, people are justified in discerning between false and true beliefs, and in discerning the differences between different religious teachings.  When backed with reasoned arguments, claims that Mormonism differs significantly from historic Christian – so significantly, in fact, that one can argue that Mormonism is not merely one denomination among many, but a completely new religion – are not examples of bigotry.  Christians who wish to convince Mormons that their beliefs are incorrect and who call them to accept a different set of teachings should not automatically be considered bigots.  Mormons, after all, are quite active in trying to convert Christians to their set of beliefs. 

If Mormonism is not a true form of Christianity, does that justify discrimination against Mormons in non-religious contexts?  (I hope that it goes without saying that it justifies, for example, not hiring a Mormon to be pastor of your Baptist church.) 

In the great majority of cases, it does not.  Let’s take the case of choosing an auto mechanic.  The qualities most people seek in an auto mechanic – competency, honesty, fairness, reasonable prices for the service performed – don’t depend on religious affiliation.  They fall under what C. S. Lewis called the Tao in his book The Abolition of Man: an objective moral reality that is true for all people in all cultures, which diverse religions have recognized as fundamental moral laws, and which (unfortunately) followers of diverse religions continue to violate.  Someone who tells you “I’m a Christian” is no more trustworthy prima facie than someone who tells you, “I’m a Mormon,” “I’m a Muslim,” or “I’m an atheist.” (In fact, someone who makes a big deal of pointing out their Christianity may in fact be less trustworthy, because they may be trying to gain your trust without having to earn it.) Instead of discrimination, I would hope that Christians would model the same kind of hospitality and graciousness that Jesus modeled in his interactions with Samaritans and Romans.

So then, should Christians make no distinctions whatsoever between types of belief?  This post has already gone on long enough – I will return to that question soon. 

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