>When I wrote the first part of my response to Mitt Romney’s religious speech, I wondered if maybe I really was out on the kook fringe as Romney’s defenders attempted to portray anyone who wasn’t as impressed with his speech as they were. Perhaps I am “jaded, iconoclastic or biased” but at least I have a little bit of company. There are a few others out there who aren’t quite ready to classify Romney’s speech as one of the all-time greats.
Before I proceed with part two, I want to repeat that my critiques of the speech do not imply that I think only Christians should be President. I do not believe that. I do not think that America is a Christian nation in covenant with God akin to God’s covenant relationship with Israel and therefore Christians are obligated to only vote for Christian leaders. I agree with Romney when he says that people should not vote for or against him solely based on his Mormonism. But he did give this speech. He did say some things that I think are theologically and historically incorrect. He did say some things that are troublesome to me as an evangelical. The speech did not hit a “homerun” with me and I explain why.
Conservative commetators are praising Romney for the courage he displayed in his speech. Michael Medved writes, “This is, frankly, precisely the sort of clarity and courage Americans expect of a presidential candidate. Romney would have already locked up the GOP nomination had he applied the same consistency and precision in facing other issues.” Pat Buchanan adds, “The address was courageous in a way John F. Kennedy’s speech to the Baptist ministers was not.” Is it really courageous to give a speech on religious liberty today when so many candidates are openly touting their faith precisely because it is currently popular to do so? Romney said, “I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers – I will be true to them and to my beliefs.” Romney’s speech was certainly not about his “Mormon faith” and his beliefs. Perhaps it would have approached something like courage if he had actually addressed what it means to live by the Mormon faith, for example. No one is saying that he had to address Mormon theology in the speech but perhaps superlatives such as “courageous” would have been more appropriate if he had. Giving a speech in affirmation of America’s tradition of religious liberty doesn’t quite seem to take courage at this time.
Hero or Martyr?
Hugh Hewitt claims that Romney’s inner circle advised against the address. I can understand that there may be some who are advising Rommey to distance himself from his religion but is there really a call for him to “jettison his beliefs,” as he says? The fact that Romney repeatedly touched on this theme appears to be nothing more than a strawman created for the purpose of playing up this “courage” aspect of the speech. Who exactly is demanding that Romney jettison his beliefs? I haven’t followed the race as closely as I have in previous years so perhaps I have overlooked this…but I don’t think so. Medved praises the success with which Romney could “simultaneously argue that faith must be an important factor in politics, but that his faith should count for nothing in evaluating his candidacy.” Romney also seems to be attempting to use the Mormon issue to simultaneously appear to be a courageous hero and a martyr. People often accuse Hillary Clinton of exploiting events in order to gain pity and sympathy by playing the victim. Romney appears to be doing the same with the issue of his Mormonism.
Who are you to judge?
Speaking of Hillary, I wonder if she is going to be shown the same consideration that conservative commentators are giving to Romney. Kathleen Parker writes, “Who is to judge another’s faith? And by what standard has Romney’s religion failed in guiding what has clearly been an exemplary life?” We’ll see if Hillary is held to this same standard as she continues to court evangelical votes (As for me, I don’t play the who-are-you-to-judge card so they’ll both continue to be fair game).
Is Parker serious when she asks, “who is to judge another’s faith”? Romney is one to judge another’s faith, apparently. At the beginning of his speech, he states, “Radical violent Islam seeks to destroy us.” And later in the speech, “These radical Islamists do their preaching not be reason or example, but in the coercion of minds and the shedding of blood. We face no greater danger today theocratic tyranny, and the boundless suffering these states and groups could inflict if given the change.” Who is to judge another’s faith, indeed. Why didn’t Parker object when Romney passed judgment on the faith of the “radical Islamists”? Of course, we have every right to judge another’s faith but for some reason Romney’s faith is supposed to be off limits. (On a side note, is anyone else irritated by the continual lack of distinction between “faith” as a noun and “faith” as a verb?)
And speaking of the use of the word “faith,” commentators have repeatedly referred to the inappropriate nature of theological discussions or matters of dogma in political campaigns. It is OK to discuss religion as Romney did in his speech but not theology. How one discusses religion without discussing theology is a mystery to me. Judging by the way these terms are used in Romney’s speech and the columns in response to it, “religion” refers only to that which is common to the major world religions and “theology” and “dogma” refer to that which is specific to a particular religion. There is no basis for these distinctions but that seems to be how these terms are being used.
One more thing on the use of religious terms in Romney’s speech. Romney repeatedly conflated “religion” with “denomination.” At one point he said, “The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square.” Shortly thereafter, “They [previously mentioned American values] are not unique to any one denomination…They are the firm ground on which Americans of different faiths meet and stand as a nation, united.” What the founders proscribed was the establishment of any one particular Christian denomination as the official religion of the country. They refused to make Anglicanism over Congregationalism, for instance, be the state religion. Romney spoke of American values as not belonging “to any one denomination” but then in the same paragraph he speaks of these values as “the firm ground on which Americans of different faiths” stand.
Well, he’s not a theologian. What do you expect? Fair enough. But this is an example of the pluralism Romney expressed throughout the speech. Does Romney view different faiths/religions merely as different denominations? Apparently he does. This is how he consistently speaks of different religions. As I commented on in my previous post, Romney “believes that every faith [he has] encountered draws its adherents closer to God.” If this is true, and Romney believes that it is, then all religions ultimately worship the same God. If all religions follow the same God then the different religions are merely different denominations. Maybe Romney would not express it in quite the same manner but these clearly are the implications of what he has expressed in his speech. (Some have mentioned Romney’s wish list where he praised the Catholic mass, etc. as an example of his pluralism but I see it more as pandering than proof of pluralism).
So what? Romney criticizes those who act “as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism.” I think he is right for using language such as “the religion of secularism” but Romney apparently wants to establish the religion of pluralism in America. He criticizes the secularists when he said, “Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life” and I agree with his assessment. But should I be happy with Romney’s alternative? Is religious pluralism better than secularism?
To be continued