In this film, we share one man's journey into the world of American politics and American religious views. And because that man (director Bryan Hall) is a Mormon, his perspective includes questions about Mitt Romney and why many evangelical Christians have chosen not to support him.
It’s interesting stuff. But the film doesn’t touch on Romney’s campaign or positions at all, really. Nor does it promote him as a candidate. And in particular, it doesn’t touch on Romney’s "Faith In America" speech.
So at the risk of raising the ire of some, I thought maybe I’d bring it up, and use the topic as an opportunity to ask some honest questions. On December 6th, 2007, Romney spoke about Faith in America.
The first question is, "Why?"
In his opening paragraph, Romney said,
"...when America has faced challenge and peril, Americans rise to the occasion, willing to risk their very lives to defend freedom and preserve our nation."And then,
"Today, I wish to address a topic which I believe is fundamental to America's greatness: our religious liberty."Arguably, the religious freedom granted by our founding documents is an essential part of America's greatness, and it is certainly an essential testament to the wisdom of Liberty as a founding principle.
Arguably, as well, Americans need to rise to the occasion, on this occasion, and defend religious liberty in America. A group of scholars and pastors have offered a first defense, in the form of a statement they've entitled "Keeping Faith: Principles to Protect Religion on the Campaign Trail", published by the organization Faith in Public Life, which offers three key points:
- Avoid using religious or doctrinal differences to marginalize or disparage each other
- Acknowledge that no single faith has an exclusive claim to moral values; and
- Recognize that policy positions should reflect the best interests of all citizens regardless of religious belief.
"Exclusionary religious rhetoric by candidates and constant scrutiny of the minutiae of their faiths undermine religion's valuable role in public life... History is replete with examples of religion compromised by its collusion with power, and the role of religion in the current campaign raises concern that it is once again being misused." [emphasis added]I would like to believe that this is what Romney meant when he opened his remarks by alluding to great sacrifice in defense of liberty. I'm not sure, though, because many of his ensuing remarks seemed to drive in a different direction -- where religion is essential, belief in God is essential, and government acknowledgment of God is fundamental. And more directly,
"Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom."Romney was criticized by many (including me) who wondered, "Where is the role for the atheist and agnostic in his vision?" Or, those for whom religious expression is private, even as it calls for public action? Is there an implicit assumption in his perspective that morality (only) comes from a belief in God or from religious doctrine? Or that America must publicly profess a belief in the divine to be a moral, honorable people? Is there something un-American with the "religion of secularism", as he put it?
The ecumenical statement by Faith in Public Life asserts that no single faith has an exclusive claim to moral values. Many would argue that moral values need not stem from a belief in God at all, as we have traditionally understood it.
Dr. Michael Ruffin, pastor of The Hill Baptist Church in Augusta, GA, wrote an excellent column in the Augusta Chronicle, decrying the divisions that religion is creating in our politics. In summarizing, he wrote:
"I'm worried. I'm worried that the religious pluralism that has developed from our cherished freedom of, and from, religion is becoming a source of division. I'm worried that too many of us will vote for or against this or that presidential candidate mainly because of his or her religious affiliation. I'm worried that too many candidates are playing to this or that religious constituency in order to get elected.Me too.
And I'm worried that we'll forget that whoever is elected has to be the president of all Americans."