The Big Religion Speech

December 7, 2007 § Leave a comment

I am going to break from my usual “I don’t blog about politics”  idea and I am going to talk for a moment about Mitt Romney and the Big Speech.   I really enjoyed the Anchoress’ take on it which you can read here:  On Mitt Romney’s speech.  I wanted to add just a little too what I have heard said so far. 

Mitt Romney is not just a rank and file Mormon.   This is not your typical goes on Sunday for Sacrament meeting, holds a calling at the local ward, does his home teaching and pays 10% of his gross income to the church.  Mitt Romney was not a pew warmer.  Mitt Romney was a Stake President.  In fact he was MY stake president when I was a member of the Cambridge first branch/ward back in the early 1990s.  For those of you unfamiliar with the structure of the LDS church each local congregation is led by a Bishop or Branch President, above them is a Stake President.  The stake President is roughly equal to a Catholic Bishop. 

While I can see the eagerness of the comparisons between Kennedy and Romney (religious minorities running for high office) I can’t believe that the media has ignored this crucial difference.   Kennedy was a rank and file Catholic; Romney has been part of the LDS hierarchy in a rather pronounced way.   To “advance” through the ranks in the LDS church you don’t need to go to a seminary or be ordained.  The Mormon church in fact prides itself in the fact that it is locally and regionally led by  “lay ministers” and that all male members hold the priesthoods of the LDS church.  Men are “called” from among the local worthy members by those above them in the hierarchy. 

On a sort of funny personal note if Romney faces Hillery  in the general election it will be the first time I have actually met both major party canidates (I met Hillary back in 1987 in Arkansas — and intensely disliked her).   I agree with the assessments that Romney is bland.  He is bland, jello-salad sort of bland.  I don’t get fired up about him at all, and I would have a hard time voting for him, but I would hold my nose and do it.

 I am not worried about Romney being Mormon.  I wouldn’t care if he was Buddhist, Islamic or believed in the Blue Martian Monkey Cult.  Intelligent people can and do balance the demands of faith and the secular world.  In fact most of us to it all day every day.  I don’t see any one’s faith as an issue to them holding public office a long as they understand that the USA is not a theocracy.   I would rather vote for someone who is honest and forthright about their faith or lack of faith than someone who dissembles or claims it to be only a personal matter.   Romney is at his best when he says:

“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 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. 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. ”

That sentiment is exactly what I would want to say if I was running for office and the topic of my faith came up.  I love my faith, I believe my faith, I live by it, it forms me.  If you don’t like that so be it, I am not stepping down from that.  And I really wish he had closed with that because just about everything else he said jumbled it up.  Romney seems to be saying that the most important issues to the faithful are issues where the faithful agree.   That is not the case and smacks of ignorance or worse indifference to the profound differences that exist in the faith community today.  Yes, we have similar values on many things, no there is not a substantial agreement on MANY important issues, especially social issues.

I suppose being Catholic I am more cautious about the separation of Church and State than many Christians.    It is a very powerful thing to think that as a Catholic the Constitution of the United States specifically disallows a State Church.  We will never be subjected to the horror of the Church of England or the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association  where the state controls our faith and turns it to its own ends.  In America I can say I am a Roman Catholic, loyal to my faith, loyal to Rome and that in no way diminishes my patriotism and my patriotism doesn’t infringe on my faith.  That is what religious liberty means. 

That is why I oppose “prayer in school” or religious dogma being taught in any form–I basically don’t trust the government to get that right.   But at the same time there is a plurality of faith in our nation and  I don’t mind someone wishing me Happy Hanukkah or sending me a Solstice card, I don’t want to have to curb my Merry Christmas either.  Carve wisdom from all our faiths deep in the stone of our public buildings, light our buildings in any array of lights for whatever occasion the population of town or city desire,  celebrate it all, celebrate us all, but don’t drown me in the drivel of “we all are all on the same path.”  for we aren’t.  There are differences, some of the seriously profound and important.  By playing down the differences too much we reduce each faith’s individual character.   Mix enough colors together long enough and you loose them all.

By Romney talking overly much about the commonality of faith he looses the bit of color he has.   I would much rather have heard Romney wax eloquent about the fact that, although he believe his own version of Christianity with all his heart he can respect that others view God differently and he does somewhat pull this back together near the end of his comments where I agree with Mr Romney and Samuel Adams.  I don’t care what your faith is, I don’t care what your personal beliefs about God are I can pray with you.  I MAY look at your faith as a guide to how you might vote on issues I feel are important.  I certainly won’t vote against you because you were my stake President once upon a time,  even though our faith paths diverged many years ago. 

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