Cost, Kuo, and Sullivan elaborate on key contradictions in Romney’s address on faith and politics
… “Romney has taken very clear positions that most who agree derive from their particular religious beliefs,” writes Jay Cost in a RealClearPolitics article titled On Romney’s Speech
He has also said very clearly that his faith informs his issue positions. However, by not discussing his religion in anything but the broadest terms – he is demurring from explaining to voters why he agrees with them. Reference to the hackneyed proposition that “every person is a child of God” does not suffice. We all think that. That does not connect with the particular campaign that he has chosen to run.
I would also note that it is not just the positions he has taken – it is the positions he has chosen to emphasize. If Romney were running a campaign akin to those of John McCain, Fred Thompson, or Rudy Giuliani — one that does not emphasize the political positions that often stem from particular religious beliefs — this speech would probably be superfluous. But, by running on the issues that animate Christian conservatives — Romney is signaling to them that he is animated by those issues in a way that his competitors are not.
Above all, he has made fuller use of the language of evangelicals than any candidate except Mike Huckabee. It is not just that he agrees with evangelicals on the issues. Through his word choices, he is intimating that he thinks in the same terms. For instance — look at his response to the question about the literal truth of the Bible in the YouTube debate:
You know — yes, I believe it’s the word of God, the Bible is the word of God. I mean, I might interpret the word differently than you interpret the word, but I read the Bible and I believe the Bible is the word of God. I don’t disagree with the Bible. I try to live by it.
Here’s what he had to say about his faith in yesterday’s speech. This was the one specific point he made:
What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. My church’s beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths. Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history.
The Boston Globe has also noted Romney’s frequent reference of Christ as his “personal savior” – a term not commonly used by Mormons, but rather by evangelical Protestants. Finally, this is what he said Wednesday on Greta Van Susteren’s show in response to a question about whether the campaign is physically grueling:
Oh, it’s physically grueling. But, you know, at the end of the day after a few speeches and a lot of campaign stops, I’m more energized than drained. I have to read for half an hour or an hour to fall asleep. By the way, thanks to the Gideons for giving me some good material at the end of the day.
More than any candidate except Huckabee – Romney has placed rhetorical emphasis on the divinity of Jesus Christ and the authority of the Bible. This is a signal to evangelicals.
I would suggest that the whole issue of Mormonism is actually a red herring in this campaign. The issue here is Romney himself. Remember that the Mitt Romney of 2007 is very different than the Mitt Romney of 2002 on many social issues. Five years ago, he had little to do with evangelical Christians. Now — through his positions, his language, and his emphases — he wants them to believe he is just like they are. That is all well and good — and indeed he might be. But surely he must expect those voters to be wary of the systematic changes that a 60 year old man has undergone, to want to know more about this man and what he believes, and to frame those questions in terms of religious beliefs. Is it unreasonable for those whom he is openly courting (on their terms) to inquire a bit about the origins of his policy preferences, to want some insight into his inner being, to see whether he will remain faithful to his promises once in office?
Romney seems to think so. Not only did yesterday’s speech provide no positive answer — but, because it once again leaned so heavily on the non-sequitur of religious toleration, it placed the questioners on the same ash heap upon which have been placed the narrow-minded boors who drove Roger Williams to Rhode Island and Brigham Young to Utah. Romney is not the first major party candidate Mormon to run for President. He’s not the second. He’s not even the third. He’s the fourth. Why is his religion an issue the fourth time around? It is because he has chosen to run an explicitly religious campaign that appeals to voters whose religion has political salience to them. Unsurprisingly, voters want to know a little bit more about his beliefs, but in response he transforms into the candidate of Lincoln’s “political religion,” deploring a religious “test,” and arguing that we focus on the aspects of religion that unite us all.
The speech I would like to have seen would connect his religion to his particular political beliefs in a way that his rhetoric has been implying for a year. For instance, Mormons believe in the preexistence of the soul. They believe that families are divinely and infinitely connected. It seems to me that this forms a very sound basis for his pro-life and pro-family views. The voters he is courting are responding with questions about his beliefs. Why not answer them? He just finished saying that they are good, tolerant folk. He wants their votes. What’s to fear? It seems to me to that the best antiseptic for the religious intolerance Romney fears is fresh air. He should bring his beliefs into the open — proudly and forthrightly. Explain how they connect to his politics. Tell anybody who won’t vote for him because of it that he doesn’t want their votes, anyway! …
…. I am not arguing that government should be able to thwart the people’s will and bar a duly elected person from taking office based upon his religious beliefs. I am arguing, however, that voters can vote for a person for whatever reason they choose. Furthermore, I am arguing that a candidate who has intentionally wooed a group of religious voters based upon a set of issue positions whose origin usually comes from a particular set of religious beliefs should not be surprised that the courtship breaks down because he refuses to detail his beliefs. Nor, for that matter, can he make implicit or explicit reference to bigotry as the explanation for the failed courtship … etc.
“[Romney] dropped in evangelical code phrases and themes like the de-Christianization of Europe, the dangers of a secular America and America’s godly heritage,” writes David Kuo for his belief.net J-Walking blog in a post titled Romney’s one paragraph gaffe, our big problem, a suggestion
But it was also a profoundly spiritual speech. He said he was going to stand up for his faith and that he wasn’t going to get into the business of theology. Then he did just that. In the middle of the speech was this:
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. My church’s beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths. Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history. These are not bases for criticism but rather a test of our tolerance. Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree.
In that single paragraph he blew his chance to slam the door on the pastor-in-chief idea because he was, consciously or not, making the theological argument that Mormonism was basically a part of historic Christianity. And it is, in the judgment of most liberal and conservative Christian theologians, not a part of historic Christianity. The fact that we will now be debating this is evidence of the one paragraph gaffe.
Kennedy’s 1960 speech succeeded in no small part because it was devoid of any religious sentiment. Nowhere in that speech did Kennedy say anything about what he believed. In fact, he said religion was a fundamentally private matter.
Romney’s speech basically did the same thing. But then, perhaps because it is simply what he believes and didn’t think it would be a big deal, perhaps because he wanted evangelicals to know that Mike Huckabee wasn’t the only one who could talk about Jesus, he did the theology thing. And now, instead of moving past this matter – as we should be doing because debating theology is decidedly not what presidential elections are supposed to be about – we will be discussing Mormon theology.
All of this points to our very, very big problem.
“[Romney’s Mormon-Kennedy address] is eloquent in many parts, stirring in its defense of religious liberty, with only a couple of notes off-key,” writes Andrew Sullivan for his Daily Dish in a post titled The Romney Speech
Romney: Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world.
Sullivan: Ahem. But it has two deep flaws. The first is the absence of any notion that religious freedom includes the freedom to have no religion whatever. A president of the United States does not just represent people of all faiths, he also represents those who have none. There is a lacuna in Romney’s vision of religious tolerance, and it is a deliberate lacuna. In order to appeal to evangelicals, he places himself on their side against the other: the secularists. But that is simply another form of the religious test. By insisting on faith – any faith – as the proper criterion for public office, Romney draws the line, oh-so-conveniently, so as to include Mormonism but exclude atheism and agnosticism. And so he side-steps the critical issue in the debates over religion in public life: what if there is no unifying faith for a nation? What if faith itself cannot unify a nation – and, in fact, can divide it more deeply than any other subject? That is our reality. An intelligent and wise conservative would try to find a path to a common discourse that does not rest on religious foundations.
The second flaw is that he simply cannot elide the profound theological differences between the LDS church and mainstream Christianity …
… I think it’s a tragedy that a man of Romney’s obvious gifts should be reduced to this. But he asked for it; and the petard he has been hoist on is his own. If you want a religious politics, you’ll end up with one. That’s why Huckabee is the natural heir to the Rove project. And why Romney is falling behind … etc.
The emphases are ours, all ours.
Here be the consensus view: Romney—whether wittingly or no—issued theological claims in his address. So: Romney is now stuck with a discussion of Mormonism. Also: Romney 2007—as opposed to Romney 2002—courts Evangelicals, articulates his views in Evangelical language, and takes Evangelical positions, yet Romney refuses to articulate how he arrives at his new positions.