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.