>Mitt Romney finally delivered his “religious speech” this week. Commentators have been discussing for some time now whether or not Romney should directly address the issue of his religion. Many had argued against giving such a speech. Better just to leave this issue alone rather than draw attention to it. But it appears that the ascendency of Mike Huckabee’s candidacy nationwide and particularly in Iowa (partly due to Huckabee’s religious beliefs, some say) may have prompted the former governor to move forward with a religious speech.
Romney gave the speech Thursday at the George Bush Presidential Library. Right-of-center reaction to the address is very positive. Glowing even.
“If Mitt Romney wins the Republican nomination, it will be due in large measure to his splendid and moving defense of his faith and beliefs delivered today at the George Bush Presidential Library.” Pat Buchanan, Mitt’s Hour of Power
“This is, frankly, precisely the sort of clarity and courage Americans expect of a presidential candidate.” Michael Medved, Romney’s Home Run
“If Kennedy’s speech was an important landmark in American political history, Romney’s was surpassing. With heartfelt humility and poetic eloquence, he tracked the nation’s struggle with and for freedom.” Kathleen Parker, One Nation Under Mitt
“And of course in all but the most jaded, iconoclastic or biased eyes, he carried it off magnificently. Here’s the objective measure: When was the last time that Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Medved, Fred Barnes, Charles Krauthammer and me all focused on the same subject and all agreed on the merits?” Hugh Hewitt, The
Speech: Romney’s ‘Common Creed Of Moral Convictions’ Address
Uh oh. Hewitt (foremost Romney apologist of talk radio) is positioning Romney’s critics as bigots again. Criticize the speech and you’re entering the tin-foil hat nutter / religious bigot zone. Well, somebody’s gotta do it.
Before I put my biased eyes to work, I want to clarify a couple things. First, Buchanan said Romney gave a “splendid and moving defense of his faith and beliefs” in Thursday’s speech. Wrong. He did no such thing. A defense of his faith was conspicuously absent from the speech. Parker (quoted above) acknowledged this fact in her column when she stated, “Voters may not know any more about Mormonism than they did before Mitt Romney’s faith speech on Thursday, but they surely know more about what it means to be an American.” I don’t necessarily think that Romney needed to give an apologetical speech in defense of Mormonism. Almost no one does. While I do not think that Romney needed to give a speech in defense of Mormonism (ie., “his faith and beliefs”) let’s not pretend that Romney presented a moving defense of his faith. Sorry Pat. I love ya but you let the exuberant rhetoric go a little too far on that one.
Second, the speech was largely about religious liberty and this was the strongest aspect of the speech. Here is what the speech was about in Romney’s own words: “Today, I wish to address a topic which I believe is fundamental to America’s greatness: our religious liberty. I will also offer perspectives on how my own faith would inform my Presidency, if I were elected.” I believe he accomplished these two goals and did so effectively. Romney gave a fine affirmation of America’s tradition of religious liberty. He let it be known that the Mormon ecclesiastical leadership would not “exert influence on presidential decisions” and expressed his hope that the public would neither vote for him or reject him solely based on his Mormonism. This is where conservative talk radio hosts and columnists believe Romney hit a home run. I was not as impressed with these two aspects of the speech as some of these commentators are but I do not have much criticism either. Politically speaking, I think he did a fine job.
This was not a purely political speech, however. It was Romney’s “religious speech” and theologically speaking, I found the speech lacking to say the least. As a regular listener to Hewitt’s program, I consistently hear him refer to politicans as “tone deaf” on certain issues. This is a good way of putting it. Unfortunately, the conservative commentators quoted above seem to be tone deaf when it comes to evangelicals. In anticipation of Romney’s speech, one blogger wrote: “Theologically speaking, there’s nothing Romney can do to convince evangelicals that Mormons are mainstream Christians. Giving a high-profile speech like this, as Noam Scheiber noted, may very well exacerbate the problem” [Steve Benen, Why Romney’s ‘Religion Speech’ Won’t Work]. The Carpetbagger was right. He was right about this evangelical, at least. I’ll tell you why.
Conservative evangelicals don’t go for the “all roads lead to heaven,” “every religion refers to the same God, just by a different name” talk. But Romney didn’t actually say that in his speech, did he? Here’s what he said: “I believe that every faith I have encountered draws its adherents closer to God.” If he Romney truly believes this, he also believes that the God of Christianity, Mormonism, and Islam are the same God. This is a prevelant view in America and it sounds good in a speech such as this – but is it true? The short answer is “no.”
The triune God of Christianity, the gods of Mormonism, and Islam’s Allah are totally separate and irreconcilably different. Romney says, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind.” When Romney states that Jesus is the Son God, what he means is that the Father and his goddess wife gave birth to another god – their son Jesus. This concept of Jesus Christ is foreign to Christianity. This is not a mere difference of interpretation among fellow Christians. The Jesus Christ of Mormonism and the Jesus Christ of history are two different ontological beings. And if Romney believes that Jesus Christ is [a] God and is the Savior of mankind, then Muslims cannot be drawn closer to this God because what he has just said is blasphemous to Muslims. This is not the place for an in-depth examination of the differences between the Christian, Mormon, and Islamic concepts of God. My point is this – every faith does not draw its adherents closer to God if “God” means anything at all. If these Gods are totally distinct beings (and they are) and if there is a one true God (and there is) then the adherents of other faiths are not being drawn closer to God, they are engaging in idolatry and blasphemy.
Romney says, “If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A President must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States.” So be it. I have no qualms with this. Just do not tell me that every faith draws its adherents closer to God. This necessarily implies that all religions worship the same God which is intellectually shallow and insulting to the adherents Romney means to impress. At least it is to this evangelical.
To be continued.