07 December 2007

Faith in Public Life

Must say I was extremely impressed with Mitt Romney's speech yesterday about his faith and its role in his campaign for President. Not surprisingly, the pull-quote on all the network news broadcasts last night was "I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause and no one interest," and it was generally described in "game schema" terms such as "Mitt Romney sought to reassure nervous evangelical voters about his Mormon faith."

But Romney's address was about much more than that, and it ought to be mandatory reading for all those interested in the question of faith in American public life. I haven't heard this in-depth of a discussion of that issue in quite some time, and particularly not from a candidate for public office. Some examples:

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 Adams' words: 'We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion... Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people.'

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.


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 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.

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.

We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders – in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our Constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from 'the God who gave us liberty.'

Pat Buchanan has an excellent discussion of Romney's speech, and why it is so different from JFK's famous 1960 Houston speech.

I've had a tough time making up my mind in the Presidential contest; I've been impressed with the different strengths of each member of the Republican field, and would be comfortable supporting any one of them against any of the Democratic contenders. But with Michigan's primary having been moved up to January 15th, Mrs Yeoman Farmer and I need to decide on a candidate quickly (and we still need to register to vote!).

Romney's faith has never been an issue for me; though I believe Mormonism is an odd religion and not truly a Christian denomination, I've always considered Mormons to be some of the strongest allies of Catholics and Evangelicals in politics and the culture wars. And I think Romney's mix of executive and business experience would make him an extremely effective chief executive. But what has made me uncomfortable with him was a nagging sense that Romney was trying to "re-brand" himself in this race, as if he were a consumer product which had been previously "branded" differently for his Massachusetts races.

Romney's speech has made me much more enthusiastic about supporting him next month, and it's not because he's made me "less concerned" about his religion or "assured me" that his faith wouldn't influence his decisions (a la JFK). Precisely the opposite: I'd been wanting to know more about how Romney's faith would inform his decision making, and in that he hit a grand slam. I was particularly impressed with his identifying a "religion of secularism" which the left seeks to impose on the country, and equally impressed by the depth of historical understanding Romney has about the nation's founding.

The great American experiment in personal and political freedom has succeeded in large part because Americans are a religious people who understand that rights and freedoms cannot survive without (and must be solidly grounded in) obligations and responsibilities. I'd been waiting for one of the Presidential candidates to tell me he understands this, too. And, like I said a moment ago: Mitt Romney blasted this one out of the park.

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