Thursday, December 06, 2007

Mitt Romney on Faith in America -- Commentary

This morning, Mitt Romney delivered his "Faith in America" speech at the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas.

But most of you knew that, already.

I didn't get to hear it as it was being broadcast, but I have finally read the transcript.

It's interesting.

I'm not sure what it's going to do for him, but it's interesting.

Overall I think it was a pretty powerful speech. The views he conveys, when it comes to religion in America, are very close to my own.

That's probably why I liked it.

He knows his American history, too.

The quotes and references to our nation's founding fathers struck strong chords with me. I felt that swelling of pride and patriotism that I'm sure Mitt intended.

As I read through the speech, though, there were a few things that struck me.

  • I'm not sure that this is going to convince anyone who's already made up their mind about him. In fact, I doubt it will.
  • It was a great piece of political theatre. There were strong elements in the speech that I think should be preserved as political history, but we'll just have to see.
  • If there were any of the group that are seeking freedom "from" religion, as opposed to freedom "for" religion, that were "sitting on the fence" wondering whether to vote for him or not, this speech will galvanize them against him.
  • My hope is that if there are any people of faith who were "sitting on the fence" because of his faith, that they will open their hearts to him.

Let's not pretend this speech isn't a politically motivated speech, though. His word choices were incredibly well calculated, as any good politician will do.

Let me give you a few highlights, and some commentary.

"Over the last year, we have embarked on a national debate on how best to preserve American leadership. 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.

"There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation's founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator. And further, they discovered the essential connection between the survival of a free land and the protection of religious freedom. In John Adams' words: 'We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion... Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people.'"

This is bold. He's distancing himself from the current Bush administration (very bold considering where he delivered the speech), and bolding claiming religious liberty as a foundational principle of our country. He backs it up with a quote from one of the more fiery members of the Founding Fathers.

"Almost 50 years ago another candidate from Massachusetts explained that he was an American running for president, not a Catholic running for president. Like him, I am an American running for president. I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith."

If you missed that fact that he's referencing John Kennedy, you've been sleeping. It's interesting to me that he can do this, as a Republican, and get away with it. It makes me wonder what the Democrats, and especially Senator Ted Kennedy, think about this situation.

"As a young man, Lincoln described what he called America's 'political religion' - the commitment to defend the rule of law and the Constitution. When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God."

Oh, oh. My own religious red flags ran right up their poles on this one. I don't think he meant to say that he would supplant the oaths he's already taken, as a card carrying member of the LDS church, but it could be interpreted that way. This may be what some in the religious right are wondering about. How can he have a higher oath than the one he's already made to his God? And what does that say about his character? Can we trust what he says, at all?

"Americans do not respect believers of convenience."

I hope not. The trouble is, I find way too many common voters to be 'believers of convenience.' They change their minds at just the whisper of an idea about nearly anything, no matter how much it may fly in the face of common sense and experience.

"Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world."

Nice Shakespeare reference, Mitt. Nice.

"Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree."

He is so dead on, here, but I've met way too many people who fall into that. They think that as long as you believe what they believe, they'll be tolerant of you. If you don't share their beliefs, well, you're just a fool and the rules of courtesy and respect don't apply to you. As Orson Scott Card once said, "Doctrine is that which I believe. Dogma is that which you believe that conflicts with my Doctrine."

"No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes president he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths."

No kidding. The trouble is that anyone who actually practices their faith comes under the microscope of intolerance, presidential candidates included. Of course, that's why he's giving this speech.

"It is important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions. And where the affairs of our nation are concerned, it's usually a sound rule to focus on the latter - on the great moral principles that urge us all on a common course. Whether it was the cause of abolition, or civil rights, or the right to life itself, no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people."

Wow. This is soooo interesting to me, coming from a Republican. These causes have traditionally been fought by the Democrats. Another reason the far right may be having trouble with Romney. His political history allows for more liberal thought, when it comes to the word of law, than his religion does. Do we finally have a moderate Republican candidate?

"We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason. No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion. But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America - the religion of secularism. They are wrong."

Go get' em Mitt!

Oh ... erm ... sorry about that. I'm trying to distance my own feeling, here.

It's not working.

"My faith is grounded on these truths. You can witness them in Ann and my marriage and in our family. We are a long way from perfect and we have surely stumbled along the way, but our aspirations, our values, are the self-same as those from the other faiths that stand upon this common foundation. And these convictions will indeed inform my presidency."

Nice. A very subtle jab at the other Republican candidates who have all suffered from divorce, extra-marital affairs, or other indiscretions.

"Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me. And so it is for hundreds of millions of our countrymen: We do not insist on a single strain of religion - rather, we welcome our nation's symphony of faith."

What an elegant description. "Symphony of Faith." As a musician I'm going to have to steal that one.

Now for the closing, patriotic rallying cry:

"Then Sam Adams rose, and said he would hear a prayer from anyone of piety and good character, as long as they were a patriot. And so together they prayed, and together they fought, and together, by the grace of God, they founded this great nation.

"In that spirit, let us give thanks to the divine author of liberty. And together, let us pray that this land may always be blessed with freedom's holy light."

Amen, Brother Romney. Amen.


Claudia Davila (Fran) said...

I was just listening to Romney's live speech on TV right now and shuddered at his every utterance.

His views were all coloured by what he calls his faith, but it's amazing to me to hear a "man of god" so decisively choose who should live and who should die.

He points to impending jihad from the middle east as a great threat based on their religious views, which Romney says needs to be prevented with escalating war -- though somehow for Romney to run a country and lead wars abroad based on his religious views is okay? Where's the difference?

And he enthusiastically supports torture of military combatants and presumed terrorists. Where in the bible does it say we should hurt and kill people in the name of religion? Not even the Koran says this. All the world's religions are based on peace, and what Romney and the jihadists have in common is that they are all perverting religion for a misguided goal.

Personally, I cannot understand how a person's or group's beliefs can be based on a force of love (Jesus), and at the same time be against people (immigrants, non-christians, the poor) and continue tarnishing our life-giving ecosystem (by supporting industry growth and energy consumption instead of environmental preservation). He encourages family values, but are Mexican immigrants (mostly christian, by the way) not displaying family values in trying to forge a better life for their disadvantaged children? How does loving your brother, or neighbour, justifyably translate into protecting one creed at the expense of all others? But John, from everything I've read on your blogs, I know you are a peace-loving egalitarian. This is not what Romney seems to be.

As much as I wish my government would hold the same spiritual beliefs as mine and run our country based on them (I think it would save the world, but then, I'm sure we all think that way), the argument for separation of church and state is a sound one. Important for the very reason that one group's version of "church" is likely an interpretation of original faith in deity, and will most likely not represent the beliefs of all the other faiths alive in that country -- of which there are many, and all of which are equally, beautifully valid.

Thanks for listening to my two-cents' worth.

John Newman said...

Hey Fran!

I didn't hear the speech you're talking about, so I can't directly comment. I'm suspicious that you may be misunderstanding him, but maybe not. In any case I appreciate you "calling me on the carpet" with this. I always appreciate it when people challenge my views. It helps me stay honest with myself.

With Romney pulling out of the race this morning, it may be a moot point.

I agree with you on the argument of separation of church and state. What I get rankled about is the notion of trying to pass laws that amount to "freedom from religion" as opposed to "freedom of religion."

Regarding the speech that I quote in this post, I think Romney was trying to avoid giving it, but he couldn't. Governor Huckabee, and the news media, kept bringing it up. They seemed to force him to defend his religion more than his political polices.

I may have to create a separate blog entry to talk about some of the things you mention about war and religion. As an "inactive Marine" (I was medically discharged from the USMC back in 1986) who values life, I probably have a pretty, well, let's just say "unique," view on when it's okay, and when it's not okay, to use violence, both on large scale, and a personal scale. ;^)

Anyway, thanks again for your comments! I still think you're awesome.

As a side note, while I tend to vote more "right wing" than left, if Obama takes the democratic election, I'm voting for him. I hope he can pull off the nomination.