Symphony of Faith or Noisy Gong?

Former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) delivered his much anticipated “Faith in America” speech today, ensuring Americans that he will not allow his Mormon faith to dictate public policy. You can get the full text and video of the speech at Power Line. Frankly, I was never worried that Mormonism would dictate Romney’s policy. I’m much more worried that a narrow strain of evangelical Christianity will influence Romney’s policy decisions, just as it has the decisions of all Republican presidents since Ronald Reagan.

Romney’s speech might sound good, but it’s important to pay close attention to what he’s saying. In saying that “freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom,” Romney is excluding the growing number of non-religious Americans from American public life. And although Romney promises to “serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest,” he counts “the right to life itself” as part of our “common creed of moral convictions.” The problem with this is that the right to life as he and the Christian right interpret it differs from other interpretations, both Christian and non-Christian. Romney has already indicated that he will enforce the interpretation of the Christian right as public policy.

Finally, while Romney makes a point of including other faith traditions in his speech, we should pay attention to those he chooses to omit. When he mentions other faiths that he respects for “drawing [their] adherents closer to God,” why does he mention only the Abrahamic traditions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam? When he says that “nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places,” is he indicating that he will similarly embrace, for example, the Wiccan pentagram?

The problem with Mitt Romney is that he is indeed beholden to religious leadership – but it’s not the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, it’s the leadership of the evangelical Christian movement. That is, in fact, the problem with most of the Republican presidential candidates and most Republican politicians in general. They are willing to exclude anyone who does not agree with their religious principles, including other Christians, as well as Jews and Muslims, as well as people of other faiths or no faith in particular.

Do you think they care, for example, that Jewish tradition differs from their own on subjects such as embryonic stem cell research and abortion? Absolutely not, they’ll enforce their own views. Do you think they care that other Christians such as the United Church of Christ or the Episcopal Church have differing views on same-sex marriage? Of course not, they’ll enforce their own views. Do you think they even care that some members of their own evangelical movement – members of the Church of Christ, for example – are offended by the religious images that they want to put in public buildings? No, they don’t, they’ll enforce their own views.

The speech that Mitt Romney gave today was not at all like the speech that John Kennedy gave when he argued that his Catholic faith should not prevent him from being elected president. Kennedy promised a presidency that would serve all Americans. In today’s speech, Romney promised a presidency that will serve the Christian right, just like the presidencies of his last several Republican predecessors. He squandered an opportunity to repudiate a system within his party that excludes people based on faith and to lead his party in a new direction. Instead, he took the opportunity to make an argument for why he should be included while others are still excluded. How pitiful, and how disgusting.

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