Relaxed, confident, gracious, Mitt Romney cuts an impressive figure, both on stage and working the crowd. He is everything a political candidate should be and, some would say, one thing more.
I was witness to Mitt Romney addressing the big issue in his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination – his belief in the Mormon religion. Romney’s fifteen minute speech, presently available for viewing on his campaign’s home page, covered significant ground in regard to Romney’s beliefs, their influence on his leadership, and as well as touching on religion in public life and government in this country and is well worth watching despite the poor audio quality.
Mr. Romney, who traveled with his wife and four of his sons to the event, said:
There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation’s founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator. And further, they discovered the essential connection between the survival of a free land and the protection of religious freedom. In John Adam’s words: "We have no government armed with a power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality…Our constitution was made for a moral and righteous people".
Indeed, a sizable minority of Americans would disagree with the notion that religion is related in any way to freedom. I’m not entirely certain I would go that far myself. But there is an undeniable connection between the moral behavior of a people and the stability and freedom of their society, whether than morality is derived from a religious or other code of conduct.
Romney made the obligatory connection between himself and John Kennedy, the first Catholic President of the United States.
Almost 50 years ago another candidate from Massachusetts explained that he was an American running for president, not a Catholic running for president. Like him, I am an American running for president. I do not define by candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith.
There are differences that distort the analogy, of course. The Mormon religion is both further from traditional Christian values than Catholicism is and represented by by significantly fewer adherents in the U.S., making Romney more of a fringe candidate, religiously speaking. Romney knows this, of course, and after promising his religion would not interfere with his executing the responsibilities of the office to which he aspires, answered the question of whether he would step back from his beliefs thusly:
There are some for whom these commitments are not enough. They would prefer it if I would simply distance myself from my religion, say that it is more of a tradition than my personal conviction, or disavow one or another of its precepts. That I will not do.
Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they are right, so be it. But I think they underestimate the American people. Americans do not respect believers of convenience. Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world.
Romney went on to say that no president or candidate should assume the mantle of speaker for his religion. This, he said, would constitute a breach of the Establishment Clause.
While that is an important statement and one that Mike Huckabee may be repeating soon, its practical effects are negligible. This action would not and should not be condoned by religious leaders. In this country, at this time, at least, political leaders are more often simple congregation members that sanctioned religious leaders and their basis for speaking on behalf of a church is, perhaps excepting Mr. Huckabee, rather minute.
Romney then proceeded to take on a much larger, more important one, namely the courts’ (d)evolving interpretation of said Clause itself:
We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason. 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 acknowledgement of God. Religion is seen merely as 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.
The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation "Under God" and in God we do indeed trust.
Turning to the international scene, Romney touched on the empty secularism of Europe, the beautiful, empty churches and the dying vine of religion there. I’ve been in a few of these awesome cathedrals myself and the scale and grandeur of the architecture is astounding. But they always left me feeling cold. Perhaps this was caused by the fact that most of the people inside were simply wandering about snapping photographs for their scrapbooks. That, it seems, is the vision of American secularists as well, what with their complaints about the 10 Commandments and bibles being on display in public buildings. Rather childish of them, but such is the type. Romney dismissed them with a casual turn of phrase and received the applause he deserved for doing so.
He also dismissed the values of the west’s radical Muslim enemies with equal directness, saying:
Infinitely worse is the other extreme, the creed of conversion by conquest: violent Jihad, murder as martyrdom…killing Christians, Jews, and Muslims with equal indifference. These radical Islamists do their preaching not by reason or example but in the coercion of minds and the shedding of blood. We face no greater danger today than theocratic tyranny and the boundless suffering these states and groups could inflict if given the chance.
I agree with this sentiment, as I’ve written many times, and it’s good to see that Romney, as moral a politician as has existed in some time, recognizes the danger that Islam, unchecked by legality or ethics, poses to the world and to the west in particular.
On another note, the obligation of Americans to serve each other was mentioned several times during the speech, starting with the introduction given by former President George H. W. Bush. To me this was the one misstep that Romney made though I doubt that many people will find it significant among the other issues of the day. Service and charity are not required of citizens, nor should they be. Romney’s religion, like Christianity, does require it, however, and his emphasis on volunteerism and our responsibility to others speaks strongly to his adherence to the beliefs of Mormonism.
Not that is wrong – the Mormons I know have all been truly caring people who exemplify more of Christ’s character than those of any other religion I know, including my own. It’s only in the narrow confines of a speech about the separation of religion and governance that the obligatory nature of service as it exists in Romney’s mind becomes a distraction.
It should be clear by now Mitt Romney will not deny his belief in and worship of God. Whatever other questions may exist about the man, his record, and his values, this much is certain. Whether his confidence in the American people’s ability to look past his religious beliefs and see the character of the man that would govern them will be justified is an open question. I believe they could, given a stark contrast with an opposing candidate like Hillary Clinton, for example. I do not think that he will suffer in comparison to other Republicans in the primaries because of his convictions, with one exception – Mike Huckabee.
Although I’ve already come out for Huckabee in this race I have to admit that I was impressed by Romney. Should he pull what I consider to be a significant upset and win the nomination he will certainly get my vote in the general election over the Democratic candidate.