Saturday, December 8, 2007

Excerpts from Mitt Romney's 'Faith in America' Speech

Mitt Romney's speech does NOT work on a number of important fronts.

Follows is a point by point response to excerpts from the Romney "Religion speech" earlier this week:


clipped from pewforum.org

"Given our grand tradition of religious tolerance and liberty, some wonder whether there are any questions regarding an aspiring candidate's religion that are appropriate. I believe there are. And I will answer them today."

Very good! A person's religion (or non-religion) is a very important part of who they are. The notion that such a matter is irrelevant to how a person will govern a nation is perfect folly!

"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."

Yes this too is perfectly true. A person should NOT be voted for or not voted for because of his or her faith.

BUT

Neither should the person bracket this matter. The insistence on bifurcating doings and who and what a person is, has proven enormously errant and costly in all ways.

"Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin."

Two problems with this passage: In the first sentence, the speech writer offers and Romney agrees to deliver this phrase: "or of any other church for that matter"

The problem with this phrase primarily has to do with seriousness of just what the candidate has agreed to attempt. OF COURSE no other church will attempt to influence Romney in any way that a voter would consider problematic. Romney's a Mormon, the only church a voter concerns him or herself over vis a vis Mitt Romney is the Mormon church,

So why add the pharse "any other church for that matter"? It is there to say, "Why are you worried in particular about MY church? Many candidates are members of churches. In fact the guy that just beat me in Iowa was actually a pastor! Why do you demand to know only whether or not MY church will exert undue influence over me? Why don't you want to know about the church of, say perhaps my former pastor competitor who just whipped my butt while spending 1/10th of what I spent. Why don't you want to know whether or not HIS church will influence HIM!? What is this religious discrimination?"

Here is the problem with this tiny phrase "or any other church for that matter": This particular text is about the candidate's religion. Such a text must be perfectly and completely sincere. It can NOT enjoin cleverness, and political-ness. This is the one speech where the candidate must simply say what he or she means. Does he want to talk about his opponent's faith? Then do so. Does he want to address religious bigotry in America? Then do so. If you choose to speak about religion, then do so. It is a good and legitimate topic (especially after this current administration). But be simple and be straight. This is the one speech where political speech writers must be given the weekend off.

The problem with the "or any other church" line is that is mismatches the occasion in which a person must be sincere. If you choose to speak about religion, it is the time suffer NO cleverness. Speak straight.

Secondly and as importantly, why does a person of faith presume that it is so easy to identify a clear line of demarcation between "the province of the church" and the "affairs of the nation." Is it possible that any church on earth addresses its adherents in such a way that everything taught is utterly irrelevant to social and political life? Is it really correct that spiritual and religious teachings are so irrelevant to life that it utterly withdraws and has zero to say "where the affairs of the nation begin"? Why belong to such a church? Why would anyone want to vote for someone who is completely uninfluenced by one of the most important parts of anyone's life, namely what they BELIEVE. If Romney's a Mormon, and that fact has NOTHING to do with how he governs, I am not interested in a leader like that. If one's religion has nothing to do with who one does as pertains the most important things in one's life (like being PRESIDENT for example!) then I am not interested in a person as sorely rent as that.

"As (Massachusetts) governor ... I did not confuse the particular teachings of my church with the obligations of the office and of the Constitution -- and of course, I would not do so as president. I will put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law."

Again, why would someone both belong to a religion AND hold public office if his or her religion were at odds "with the obligations of [an] office and of the Constitution?" I am not interested to know that a candidate is proudly not confused about what constitutes religion and what constitutes "the sovereign authority of the law," what I want to know is this, if your religion is at odds with the sovereign authority of the law, then I would like to know that you will NOT hold any elected office, OR if you want to hold elected office, then you will not belong to such a religion. I don't want to know that you fancy yourself for some odd reason as capable of keeping contrary convictions separate. We already had a president who tried to separate himself as a person from his ability to govern. This great compartmentalizing capacity, did our country and society great harm. We do not need another such self-separating leader. They cause serious and enduring problems.

"If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A president must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States."

Good. That's good. That is a good point of juncture and overlap between religion and political governance. And it is good to explain this to prospective voters.

"Some ... would prefer it if I would simply distance myself from my religion, say that it is more a tradition than my personal conviction, or disavow one or another of its precepts. That I will not do. I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers -- I will be true to them and to my beliefs. "

Again very good. That is positive. It is good to know that you will live by your faith and not distance yourself from it. But if you will live by your faith, how on earth is it possible that it will not influence your governance?

"Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they are right, so be it."

Good again.

"There is one fundamental question about which I often am asked. What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the savior of mankind."

OK - So what. That is a question Romney should NOT bother to answer. Unless of course he offers an example of some policy or legislation that he would support on the basis of that belief, and would reject on the other hand if he happened not to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. No one is asking any other candidates about their Christology? This is a silly concern. If voters don't know what Mormon's believe and are curious, let them look it up, or go chat with a missionary. Is it really possible that a voter who is so religiously narrow that she will vote for you if you believe Jesus is the Son of God, but would vote against you if you do not, would now decide that you're Christologically kosher? Of course she won't, no Mormon is going to appeal to that kind of religiously narrow person, anyway. It is smarter to keep your dignity, and not play into the hands of this corrosive part of American politics.

"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."

Yet in giving this speech at all, you tread these very waters

"You can be certain of this: 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."

Romney's decision to deliver this speech comes from the calculations of his campaign strategists. This is fine. If he wants to give it fine, if he doesn't fine. This is simple strategy, coming from these little sharks and bean counters sucking the blood out of political campaigns. They strategize right, they strategize wrong, that's their business. It doesn't matter as pertains to the extremely important matter of the relationship between religious belief and governance.

The problem with the speech is not that it was given. The problem is that so little was correct in the speech. Virtually ONLY his express commitment to universal religious freedom - (which by the way is unrelated to being a Mormon. You could hold any faith and be committed to religious freedom, and you could hold any faith and not be.) The one thing he gets right in his big speech about his religion, turns out to be unrelated necessarily to his explanations about his religion anyway!

The rest, as described above introduces a good many points for serious pause. The content of the speech is the problem. Not that he chose to give it.

10 comments:

Gene Hart said...

Wow. I must respond. I cannot believe your take on the Romney speech.

Romney: "Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions."

No, I do not hear any intonation that Romney is alluding to another candidate by the tiny phrase “or any other church for that matter” .

I just do not see the BIGness of the problem in this phrase that you mention. He is simply saying no church authorities anywhere. I do not hear him insinuating about another candidate. People tend to infer such political craftiness into a politicians words all the time. That is, of course, what I gather you are doing from your comments. It is unfortunate that we cannot merely take them at their face value but must balloon them up, giving them a new life of their own. This is what CNN does often and I detest it in their news reporting. W/ that said, we are discussing your opinion here and it is noted as just that. Mine is different.

Kaufman: Secondly and as importantly, why does a person of faith presume that it is so easy to identify a clear line of demarcation between "the province of the church" and the "affairs of the nation."

Neither is this an accurate assessment. He refers to “authorities”of the church who are NOT to be making decisions w/ regard to governmental affairs. That is correct, right? He says their province is in deciding church affairs alone. That is also correct, right?

On the flip side, the point should become even clearer. You would not expect a governmental official to be making decisions w/ regard to church affairs. So, neither expect a church leader to be intruding upon governmental affairs, Romney says. That is so clear, I can fly a jumbo jet through it.

It seems the point you are making is that one's deeply held beliefs and religious values definitely should and would be affecting ones decisions in political office. Yes, very likely, and to be expected. Romney is not denying that by delineating the clear demarcation line between the authorities of the two bodies. Each has their respective position, one as church leader, the other as political leader, and each should not be overreaching into the others realm of responsibility. That should be clear. It is called keeping your proper position.

That is how America operates its governmental structure. The American governmental system does not preclude religious mindedness influencing the political leaders, but it significantly does say that political leaders must not be religiously bound.

So, again, please read the “authorities” word again in Romneys statement. Romney is not saying beliefs, spiritual convictions and values are going to be excluded from his decision making. Yet, it is perfectly understandable that he will serve as an elected official not a church adherent.

A simple example of doctrine not guiding his actions while in office. Say, your doctrine says that you must worship on Sunday morning. Well, if an affair of state were to come up during that time on Sunday, I believe what Romney is saying, is that he will fulfill his obligation to the state, irrespective of doctrine; he will skip the Sunday morning worship. That is good, because, as I think you would agree, doctrine tends to be a human manipulation of beliefs, but his oath of office is his first obligation overriding even the doctrines of the church. That is how I read his statements.

By questioning so intently his, what you called, contrary convictions of religion and office, please remember to keep in mind his framework for serving, all his statements are securely within the founding principles of this government. And, do not overlook his personal integrity in the way he addressed this matter.

Romney: "There is one fundamental question about which I often am asked. What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the savior of mankind."

Kaufman: That is a question Romney should NOT bother to answer. . . It is smarter to keep your dignity, and not play into the hands of this corrosive part of American politics.

I agree. It is a non question. Yet, it has so much relevance today. His speech is quite likely to have been motivated by the recent surge of Huckabee. And this question is begged of him, unfortunately, again and again. He had to answer it forthrightly, because he is so often asked it. And the Christians are to blame. Leading Christians have not been able to recognize a Mormon as a Christian. That has had a big impact upon the fundamental Christian voter, who then felt disenfranchised in the election w/o a candidate who either has their values or believes in Jesus. This is quite dramatically seen in the power of the Christian right to get their word out to support Huckabee, and overnight turn him into a contender. They really wanted a candidate of their own.

The Christian leaders have said they will not support Giuliani. They also said that Romney is not a Christian. The speech was motivated by these two occurrences. So, yes, this question does matter to the prominent Christian leader who has positioned themselves as they have. Thus, Romney had to state it, if not at least to bring to light for the common Christian the potential for him to be understood directly, without them relying upon the narrowness of their own pastor. It was a smart move in that sense. One that his campaign rightly chose to address. Good for them.

Frank Kaufmann said...

Thank you Gene for taking time to respond fully and carefully.

I especially appreciate, and concur with the core of your critique that Romney I overlooked the word "authorities" when assessing Romney's grand refusal to be influenced. He does though extend that by implication in the next passage when speaking of the "teachings" as well. Surely this is not so simple, clear, and black and white as saying that his religious authorities will not bind him on matters where they might differ for the obligations of a Mormon believer vs. the obligations of an American citizen.

Thank you for extending the conversation, and for your correctives. - Frank K

Anonymous said...

Frank,
Thanks for your thoughts on this topic. I'm in DC and work in government circles. I think it's important to appreciate that one can separate religious doctrine from elected office because sometimes people do not fully agree with religious doctrines they inherit from their parents, culture, or walk with God.

So, if Romney says he'll keep lines drawn, maybe there are some lines in his faith that ought to be drawn and he knows it.

That's a good thing and I understand it.

Kitty

Anonymous said...

Frank, I think you were too critical of the Romney speech. He is trying to gently educate those Christians who are not so fundamentalist such that they still have some brain cells working. It is sad that many Christians are so foolish or insecure in their faith, that they feel a need to judge other religions and their doctrines. Hopefully, the message could reach some of them and enable them to risk the fires of hell by voting for someone with great abilities and values but who has a "weird" theology.
Jesus is probably scratching his spiritual head wondering how his followers got so far off track.
What happened to "judge not, lest ye be judged" or "by their fruits you will know them"?

Lloyd Eby said...

Frank, I think you contradict yourself here.

You wrote: "A person's religion (or non-religion) is a very important part of who they are. The notion that such a matter is irrelevant to how a person will govern a nation is perfect folly!"

But then you wrote: "A person should NOT be voted for or not voted for because of his or her faith."

Here's the problem: Presumably a person should vote for or against a candidate based on the voter's view about how that candidate is likely to govern if he or she is elected. But if a person's religion (faith) is relevant to how he or she would govern, then that would be a perfectly good basis on which a voter could or should decide how to vote.

So which view are you taking: Should or should not a person's religion (faith) be a criterion by which he/she is voted for or against?

Later on you write: " if your religion is at odds with the sovereign authority of the law, then I would like to know that you will NOT hold any elected office, OR if you want to hold elected office, then you will not belong to such a religion. I don't want to know that you fancy yourself for some odd reason as capable of keeping contrary convictions separate."

Here I disagree with you.

Every religion that I know about has stuff in either its belief(s) or its practice(s) or both that I think reasonable and good people should reject. But I do not think that fact is sufficient to say that a person should not be a member of or belong to that religion. Also, it is entirely possible that the law of that particular place at that particular time has a better take on or requirement(s) about the particular issue at hand, so it would be better to follow th law and go against the religion in such cases.

In fact, I think that good and reasonable people need frequently to bifurcate or compartmentalize themselves and keep contradictory convictions separate, and that to fail to do so is wrong and destructive.

Eric W said...

I do think you over-analyzed this and missed something here.. I understood Romney to say that his church's leaders will not influence his decision-making. I did not see this as saying that his decision-making will not be informed by his faith, of course it will be. That's a good thing in my book.

You do score points on the Jesus as son of God question. Nice observation - the most people who worry about this are the very people who would not vote for a LDS, regardless of what he says about Jesus...

Peter Duveen said...

Here are what I see as the most probematic lines:

"If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest." The candidacy is not for him. The public should be fortunate, not Romney.

Then:
"You can be certain of this: Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me." I see a lot of problems with this statement, such as whether those who do not pray will be his friend as well, and if so, then why even make the distinction.

By the way, I saw a focus group on Fox News, and the practically unanimous opinion among people who had one was that Romney was not Christian, and that they would not vote for him.

This is how I would have written Romney's speech:

"My religion informs, but does not dictate, the way I dispose of the duties of public office. You already know my record of public service and how I have behaved. That's the basis on which I hope you will make a decision on my candidacy. Many public servants, as well as successful people from all walks of life, embrace the Mormon faith. I don't see my faith as an impediment to public service, and I hope you will not either."

gordonpwpa said...

For those interested in how Mormons currently view the world rather than debates about the details of the church doctrines, I would recommend "The Vision of Mormonism:Pressing the Boundaries of Christianity" by Robert Millet (Paragon House, 2007). Clearly, Mormons view themselves as Christian, albeit not in the European tradition. I think Huckabee and all would benefit from not defining whether another person is a Christian. The book got a decent review by "First Things" even though the editors don't think Mormons are Christian because they don't adhere to the trinity.

My own concern is that the constitution or U.S. laws need to be revised to accomplish the same separation between the state and industry and we have between church and state. Even though the doctrines of separation of church and state as defined in the constitution are hard to accept, they are extremely important and part of the reason the U.S. has flourished. However, society has three sectors: state, culture (church), and commerce. The largest challenge to our society today is the collusion of commerce and government. There needs to be a clear separation of state and commerce that allows fair competition among all intdustries, rather than the oligopolies that have developed which, in their own way, are analagous to previous behavior of leaders engaged in church-state collusion.

U.S. founders avoided the issue for many years by outlawing the Hudson Bay Company and East India Company. However, the advent of railroads brought a steady and increasing collusion with all branches of the federal government. A similar separation would accomplish for the economy, what the separation of church and state did for civil society.

Frank Bell said...

An unstated aspect is the difference between the RC and LDS church, in that the latter has been considered less orthodox and smaller, but more activist. The speech is a good bridgebuilding effort that other, also less mainstream, religious groups can also share in. Hopefully progress in that direction will be made also.

Greg said...

Hi Frank,
As always, your finely honed critique is accurate. I watched the "faith speech", as taped by the Romney campaign.
I agree that a discussion of the candidates core beliefs and values are entirely valid and that the electorate should examine carefully the philosophy and ethics of every candidate. Would that this nation had a numerically significant voter base capable and interested in such an exercise. I view Mitt's speech as moving appeal for religious tolerance. I liked his referance to the Kennedy election. I also agree with you that that many nominal Christians will retain their negative bias despite his attempt to find common ground. I like the way he clearly identified himself as a man of judeo-christian values, then opened his family up to public scrutiny. I would never demand of any candidate that he/she refrain from cleverness on the campaign trail. The speech, hosted by the Family Research Council (of Catholic-ProLife origin) was the setting. I would not expect a treatise on how his LDS based values will be guiding a Romney White House. He repeatedly mentioned Ronald Reagans strategy of success. Appeal to 3 conservative bases: Fiscal Conservatives, Defense Conservatives, and Social conservatives. He is wisely not wasting time on New York City "Liberals" or Portland Oregon Lefties. If he went to the the same church as the Clintons, I suppose we wouldn't be having this dialog.
Grace your way,
Greg Bowman