Mitt Romney: Faith in Politics 2008

by Lauren Anderson

“We share a common creed of moral convictions,” argued Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in his recent speech at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Texas. The purpose of the speech was to quell concerns about Romney’s Mormon faith, a concern of many Christian conservatives. So far, the conservative response to the speech has been positive.

Ignoring Romney’s motive of political leverage, it was refreshing to hear a candidate discuss the insignificance of specific religious or denominational beliefs when it comes to the presidency. It is almost comical that the religious beliefs of a presidential hopeful play such a significant role in his or her candidacy. George W. Bush won the hearts of many Christian conservatives with talk of his deep faith in Christianity and prayer. Did he call on Jesus to help him lead hundreds of thousands of men and women into Iraq and Afghanistan, costing many their lives? One has to wonder: has his Christian faith played an important part in his presidency?

If the answer is "yes," then I suppose this case is closed and it's been determined that it is important to consider a candidate’s faith when considering him for the presidency. But, if the answer to the question is "no," then all candidates and voters should take a page out of Romney’s book. When pondering the upcoming elections, we should all examine the morality of each candidate, seeing it as a separate entity from his professed religious beliefs.

With the exception of John F. Kennedy, whose Catholic faith was an obstacle for his campaign, all of the U.S. presidents have been white, protestant men. Yet, all of their presidencies have been very different. Arguably, this proves that religion does not strongly affect decision making. It is time for the American people to look for commonality in the issues which truly matter, like morality, instead of those which have proved insignificant, like religion.

(The photo of Republican Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, is by the Rev. Richard B. DeYoung II of Kansas City, MO via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License. More of the Rev. DeYoung's material can be found on his blog: They Promised Us Jetpacks and We Got Blogs.)

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Jeff Siegel said...

Article 6 of the Constitution: "... but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States,"

I guess that doesn't make a whole lot of difference to the Religious Right.

mkenney said...

I don't think it's that simple--candidates religious views do matter if religion has played a large part in their lives, and for many Americans, morality is attached to religion.

I agree a broader approach of evaluating candidates' morality and integrity rather than specific religious practice is called for, but religion can't be forgotten and shouldn't be. Not when many American voters practice religion, not when 'God' stays on the money and in the pledge, and not while Mitt Romney is toning down his religion not because he believes it should be minimized but because he knows it plays well.

Also, I don't think Romney was separating religion from morals. It appears that he was trying to make himself look more in line with the Religious Right's morality, which is inherently connected to its religiosity.

Anonymous said...

One reason religion is in the collective DNA of the USA is that many people dame to American for the sole reason that the faced religious discrimination in Europe two or three hundred years ago.

It is ironic that Romney faces the same thing today.

Rick Rockwell said...

Perhaps it is my skeptical nature, but although I applaud Romney for giving a thoughtful speech, I think he did it for entirely political reasons. Some have been asking him to clarify his approach to politics and religion for months, but notice his speech finally came with Mike Huckabee surging in the polls in Iowa.

Personally, I was offended by much of the discussion on this topic this past week. I heard soundbites from people saying they wouldn’t vote for Romney because he doesn’t interpret the Bible correctly, or that they don’t agree with his faith’s view of the Bible. I too agree with what the Founders said in the Constitution. And the only document that is important for me when it comes to interpretation by candidates is the Constitution, not the Bible. The Bible, by the way, is not the only book that some can use to be sworn into office in this nation. However, this week I felt like I woke up in the Fundamentalist Republic of America with how voters and some in the media discussed the Romney story.

Romney’s speech also shows how much we have regressed in the area of religious tolerance. Compare it to Kennedy’s speech. Kennedy clearly noted religion was private and would not be used to set policy. Romney argues the opposite: that politicians should discuss their moral philosophies as shaped by their religion. And although he notes no one in Mormonism will dictate policy to him, he says all of his decision-making faculties are filtered through his religious background. That may make fundamentalists happier (although I doubt it) but it makes me shudder.

Finally, let’s take on the statistics regarding how religious America just might be. I agree, the totals show much of America is religious, but many of the polls are skewed. The recent Pew findings tell us when asked, 75 percent of Americans say religion is important. Some of this is echoed in the more detailed American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) regarded as the most comprehensive demographic review of religion in the U.S.

Importantly though, in that survey 40 percent of those who identified with a religion did not belong to a church or go to services regularly, which brings into doubt how serious they really are about religion. Add their totals to the number of humanists, agnostics and atheists in the U.S. and you have about 96.2 million adult Americans. Compare that to the 100.6 million who are more firmly religious practitioners, and you see the divide is much closer than many would like to portray it.

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