Romney's Symphony

Symphony of Faith, BY JOHN TURNER

A few excerpts from Mitt Romney's "Faith in America" speech (see most of the speech at the New York Times) and some instant analysis:

First, Romney sought to end endless questions about specific Mormon doctrines like the nature of Jesus Christ and extent of revelation:

"There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church’s distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the constitution. 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."

Echoes of Kennedy here. At the same time, Romney argued that religion must play a critical role in American public life. It is not a private affair:

"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.

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.

We should acknowledge the Creator as did the founders – in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests."

These are messages designed to appeal to a large majority of Americans, but especially evangelical primary voters. Terming "secularism" or "secular humanism" a new religion is an argument embraced by many evangelicals since at least the late 1970s and Francis Schaeffer.

After mentioning abolition and the civil rights movement, Romney also mentioned that he "saw [his] father march with Martin Luther King." Perhaps a response to journalists who have asked him about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' withholding the priesthood from people of African descent until 1978?

Any "major" campaign speech should deliver at least one memorable line. This was Romney's:

"we do not insist on a single strain of religion - rather, we welcome our nation’s symphony of faith."

Romney repeatedly praised the diversity of faith in America and positioned the United States between the empty cathedrals of Europe (vitiated by state control of religion) and the "Islamic radicals" of the Middle East as a free and therefore vibrant religious marketplace nevertheless united by common values.

Historically, I thought the most questionable part of the speech was claiming that the nation's founding documents rested on religious values.


Kevin M Schultz said…
I thought the most memorable line was "I believe Jesus Christ was the son of God and the Savior of Mankind." (Please vote for me Religious Right.) But all in all, a good speech, downgrading the importance of religious differences through the language of ideological nationalism. It was certainly more religious than JFK's speech in Houston, but by demonstrating reverence for facets of all faiths, I still wonder how evangelical Protestants, conservative Jews, and conservative Catholics will like it. He did do a nice job, though, separating politicians from religious leaders (I don't want to represent my faith, I want to represent the American people), and in placing a historical line from Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams to Brigham Young. My money, though, is that the speech did not "settle" the Mormon question in the same way Kennedy's speech "settled" the Catholic question. But we'll see.
Christopher said…
Romney's comment that ""When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God" has rubbed a number of Mormons, who view the covenants and promises they make in Mormon temple ceremonies, the wrong way.

Overall, I thought he did fine. I agree with your last line about the historical accuracy of statement on the nation's founding documents rested on religious values.
John Fea said…
I watched both Romney's speech and Kennedy's speech this morning. Kennedy has a great line that is certainly applicable to the Romney situation: "While this year (1960) it may be a Catholic for whom the finger of suspicion is appointed, in other years it has been and it will be again, a Jew or a Quaker, or a Unitarian, or a Baptist. (Or a Mormon?).

I thought that Romney's line: "A person should not be elevated because of his faith, nor should he be rejected because of his faith" was a not so subtle swipe at Huckabee, the so-called "Christian candidate."

I was not overwhelmed by the speech. Though Mitt is certainly right in suggesting religion should not determine the qualifications of a president, I am not sure if that really matters. Evangelicals who reject his Mormonism will continue to reject his Mormonism despite the speech.

But I did find it interesting that Mitt's website currently features video from a touch football game with his sons. The Kennedy comparisons continue. (BTW, for what it's worth I do not think Romney mentioned Kennedy's name in the speech, referring to him as "another candidate from Massachusetts."

John T. is right about the Christian founding stuff in the speech, although I did not think Romney was too over the top here. I do find it interesting that the one who suggested NOT praying at the Continental Congress because of religious differences was John Jay--one of the more overtly Christian of the founders. Of course Romney was quick to point out that it was Boston's own Sam Adams who corrected Jay.
Kelly said…
Interestingly, there is an interview with a Kennedy aide on CNN about how Romney and Kennedy's speeches compared.


My favorite part:
"Q. Romney discussed his views of Jesus Christ, something that Kennedy avoided. Why did Kennedy avoid discussing his religious views?

Sorensen: Because [Kennedy] began the speech by saying his private religious beliefs -- his relationship with God or Jesus Christ or anything else -- was not a matter of public discussion. He did not think the election should be based on -- as he said, it's not what kind of church I believe in, the question is what kind of country do I believe in."
Brad Hart said…
I find it very interesting that Romney's father (who ran for president in 68 I believe), received very little criticizm for his religious views (of course he was not a major candidate like his son may be). It's amazing to see how much has changed in 30 years.
Tim Lacy said…
This is only loosely related, but I'd love to see someone here at RAH comment on this in a future post: - TL
stan said…
John (or anyone else): Do you think Romney's statement "They are wrong," in regard to secularists, was meant to insinuate that only those who seek to establish secularism as a "state religion" are wrong, or that secularism in and of itself is inherently wrong?