There are reasons a Catholic might wince when Mitt Romney, a Mormon and the former governor of Massachusetts, gives a speech about religious tolerance. We found plenty. But we also found reasons to applaud.
The first reason to wince is the anti-Catholic nature of his religion. Mormons believe that Christ failed in his project to found a church, and that the history of Christendom is the story of “The Great Apostate,” the Catholic Church. More than 1,800 years would pass before the true church was founded: the Church of Latter-Day Saints.
The second reason to wince is the political legacy of Mitt Romney. It was on Romney’s watch that the Supreme Court of Massachusetts demanded that the state’s Legislature legalize homosexual “marriage” — among the most damaging usurpations of legislative power by a judicial body in American history. America is a democracy. Here, citizens and their representatives make laws. Yet Gov. Romney ordered state officials to perform “same-sex marriages” because unelected judges — not voters — told him to.
The third reason to wince is because it’s hard to accept Romney’s convictions at face value. He said it best in his speech: “Americans do not respect believers of convenience. Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world.” We tire, for instance, of politicians who give heartfelt speeches lauding abortion rights to win the support of Massachusetts voters, and soon after give heartfelt speeches about the right to life to win the hearts of pro-life Republicans.
But then again, we’re used to presidents whose religions consider the Catholic Church illegitimate — and we don’t want to complain too loudly when a politician switches to a position that is more pro-family than before.
And Romney’s speech hit all the right notes.
The secular media expected it to be the Mormon’s JFK moment, and by “JFK moment” they meant the Houston speech when Catholic candidate John F. Kennedy assured Americans he wouldn’t be taking orders from Rome. The problem with the JFK speech is that it went further than it needed to. Said Kennedy: “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute … where no church or church school is granted any public funds.” He also looked forward to an America “where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials” [emphasis added].
But of course, this vision is vastly different from the Founding Fathers’ vision of America.
Even President John Adams, a Unitarian, made the point that religion is vital to American democracy.
“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion,” said Adams. “Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people.”
Mitt Romney quoted those words in his speech because he wanted to make the important point that a free society can’t survive without a vigorous religious commitment on the part of the people. Self-government is only possible for people who can govern themselves. And for people to behave with virtue on a wide scale, they need to have the influence of religion.
Church-going people know that God created them and their neighbors and expect that God will hold them accountable for what they do. No, they won’t be perfect. Far from it. But a nation made up of such people will be markedly different from a nation of uncommitted individualists who never learned the Golden Rule. A nation that worships God can be trusted with liberty; a nation that rejects him in word or deed will need to be ruled with an iron hand to avoid lawlessness or anarchy.
As Romney put it, “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.”
He corrected Kennedy’s extreme view of the separation of church and state.
“We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason,” said Romney. “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.”
Romney’s description of America’s “symphony of faith” impressively praised each of the major worshipping bodies in America: “I love the profound ceremony of the Catholic Mass, the approachability of God in the prayers of the Evangelicals, the tenderness of spirit among the Pentecostals, the confident independence of the Lutherans, the ancient traditions of the Jews, unchanged through the ages, and the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims.”
But ultimately, as several commentators have noted, the God Romney bowed to is the “In God We Trust” civic deity of our currency.
Romney singled out ”the equality of human kind, the obligation to serve one another, and a steadfast commitment to liberty” as religious “American values.” These, he said, “are the firm ground on which Americans of different faiths meet and stand as a nation, united.”
In so doing, Romney did what nearly all of our presidents have done. The 11 Episcopalians 10 Presbyterians, five Methodists, four Baptists, four Unitarians, three “Disciples of Christ,” two each from the Dutch Reformed, Congregationalist and Quakers, and the one Jehovah’s Witness (Eisenhower, who became Presbyterian after his inauguration) and one Catholic had this in common: They each honored the God that the Declaration of Independence honors.
We have no objections to adding “one Mormon” to that list, if he deserves it and if he does the same.