Guest Author - Linda Sue Grimes
Many believe Governor Romney’s faith disqualifies him from seeking the presidential nomination. During the 1960 presidential campaign, many felt similarly about John F. Kennedy’s Catholic faith. Kennedy was able to assure people that his faith’s tenets would not dictate government policy. Romney’s speech sought to do likewise.
Gratitude to President George H. W. Bush
Romney opened his speech by thanking President George H. W. Bush for his service to his country during World War II. Romney mentions that as a young pilot, Bush was shot down and was rescued by an American submarine. Romney asserts, “Americans rise to the occasion, willing to risk their very lives to defend freedom and preserve our nation.”
Bush’s generation faced tough challenges, and our generation faces tough challenges: from radical Islamists to China trying to “surpass our economic leadership.” Plus “we are troubled at home by government overspending, overuse of foreign oil, and the breakdown of the family.”
Romney introduced the issues America faces in order to suggest what he thinks is the best way “to preserve American leadership.” He asserts, “Today, I wish to address a topic which I believe is fundamental to America's greatness: our religious liberty. I will also offer perspectives on how my own faith would inform my Presidency, if I were elected.”
Instead claiming that religion has nothing to say regarding “the weighty threats that face us,” he insists that those who believe such are “at odds with the nation's founders.” The founders not only acknowledged God, but they also “sought the blessings of the Creator.” Romney maintains that the founders understood the important relationship between a nation’s continued existence and its “protection of religious freedom.” He quotes John Adams: “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 and religion
Romney asserts, “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.” He adds, “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.” And he says that he will answer the questions that are appropriate to ask a candidate regarding his religion.
He refers to John F. Kennedy’s explanation that he was an American running for president, not a Catholic running for president. Therefore, Romney is also an American running for president, not a Mormon running for president. Romney believes that no person running for president should be elected or rejected because of his faith.
He emphasizes that his authority as president will not be influenced by his church’s authorities. As governor, he says, “I did not confuse the particular teachings of my church with the obligations of the office and of the Constitution – and of course, I would not do so as President. I will put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law.”
He emphasizes his beliefs in his Mormon faith, but he recognizes that America is not a theocracy. He pledges as president to “serve no one religion, no one cause,” because the president’s duty is to serve “only the common cause of the people of the United States.”
What about Jesus?
Although his church’s doctrine may have different details about Christ, Romney’s beliefs about Christ mirror those of mainstream denominations; he believes that “Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind.” The differences among all denominations should not divide them but offer a challenge for tolerance.
He does not deem it appropriate to elucidate details of church doctrine, because doing “so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution.” Religion should not become a litmus test for seeking public office. Candidates should not become faith advocates.
Romney mentions some denominational qualities he admires: the Catholic ceremony, the Evangelical directness with God, the Pentecostal tenderness, the Lutheran independence, the ancient Jewish traditions, and the Muslims’ frequent prayer.
Romney’s grasp the meaning of the separation of church and state is profound. He explains that while a religion must not dictate government policies, the government also must not seek to dictate how citizens practice their religion. He explains, “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.”
While the founders guarded against the state establishing a religion, they did not intend for the state to abolish religion, as some misguided citizens and statesmen seem to think. Romney insists that trying to eliminate God from our public buildings and our coinage goes against our common moral inheritance.
Liberty is a gift from God, not government
The importance of God in American life is synonymous with the importance of liberty. Liberty comes from God—not government. He notes that Americans have sacrificed more blood for liberty than any other people on earth.
The fight for liberty has not been a fight for material conquest: “America took nothing from [the] terrible wars – no land from Germany or Japan or Korea; no treasure; no oath of fealty. America's resolve in the defense of liberty has been tested time and again.”
American history not perfect
He points out that America has not been perfect in her struggle for religious liberty. Referring to the early banishments in colonial times, he admits that the beginning seemed to be a reversion back to the European tyranny that the pilgrims came here to escape. But when the founders met in Philadelphia to construct the Constitution, they got it right.
He points out the failure of state sanctioned religion by mentioning the grand old cathedrals in Europe that today remain empty.
Creed of conversion
While state-sanctioned religion is objectionable, far worse is the “creed of conversion by conquest.” Bin Laden and his jihadists are intent on converting the world to Islam by killing all those who do not convert.
According to Romney, “We face no greater danger today than theocratic tyranny, and the boundless suffering these states and groups could inflict if given the chance.”
Romney’s speech emphasized many times that there is more unity in the various religions and denominations than differences, and he closes his speech with an anecdote about the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, during the fall of 1774: “With Boston occupied by British troops, there were rumors of imminent hostilities and fears of an impending war. In this time of peril, someone suggested that they pray. But there were objections. 'They were too divided in religious sentiments', what with Episcopalians and Quakers, Anabaptists and Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Catholics. Then Sam Adams rose, and said he would hear a prayer from anyone of piety and good character, as long as they were a patriot.”
Romney then reports that they prayed and founded our great nation, and then he repeats the closing blessing so often offered by President George W. Bush, “God bless the United States of America.”
Governor Mitt Romney's "Faith In America" Address