After watching the speech (see below) one has to give Team Romney an A+ for imagery here. The Governor looked very presidential behind the podium with the flags behind him. His cadence as well measured and I think the average person who saw this got the image of a president.
The substance of the speech, however, was a little lacking. Although Gov. Romney used quotes from the founding fathers, he did not fully articulate the founders’ view of the role of religion in the public square. On the one hand he quoted John Adams saying that we have no government capable of managing the passions of men unbridled by morality and that our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people On the other hand he stated that his faith does not define his candidacy. He held that people who argue that one’s faith is not important when considered against “other important issues” are wrong. He then said no one should be elected or rejected to the office of the President based upon their religious convictions.
This apparent change of positions within the speech does not lend Gov. Romney the credibility that he needs.
Throughout the speech, Romney’s main tactic is to tie his Mormon faith to other Christian denominations. Admitting that differences do exist between traditional Christianity and Mormonism, he nevertheless downplays those differences in an attempt to highlight “our great moral heritage”. Many Christians, myself included, do not see the Mormon faith as being a mere off-shoot of Christianity. I have met Mormons; I have found them to be respectable and decent individuals. But these facts do not mean that the basic tenets of the Mormon faith are the same tenets that under gird the Christian faith.
Romney’s piggybacking of Mormonism on the back of Christianity is perhaps most evident when he lists several dissenters, Roger Williams and Anne Hutchison being two, and then declares that Brigham Young’s journey westward was another chapter in the story of religious liberty. What Gov. Romney missed was that one of the greatest reasons that Young left the east for the west was because Christians of all denominations could not support his views on polygamy. Do not misunderstand me here, not all Mormons believe in the practice of polygamy, but it was this bizarre doctrine that led to an interesting battle in this country between claims of religious liberty and the general principles of morality adhered to by the majority of citizens.
According to Jordan Lawrence, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, from roughly 1849 to 1895 the U.S. Congress refused to grant the Mormon dominated territory of Utah statehood. The reason for this refusal was not because the territory as Mormon led, but because at the time the Mormon faith believed that polygamy was an acceptable form of marriage and the civil laws of Utah were in accord with that belief. Until the leaders of the Mormon faith and the Mormon territorial leaders changed their views on polygamy and came to the proper conclusion that monogamous marriage is the only acceptable form of marriage, Congress did not give statehood to Utah.
At one point during this battle, some Mormons filed a lawsuit that went all the way to the United States Supreme Court (Murphy v. Ramsey 114 U.S. 15, 45 ) and in that case the Court ruled that religious freedom (protected in the 1st Amendment) did not grant to Mormons-or anyone else-the right to act contrary to “the idea of the family, consisting in and springing from the union for life of one man and one woman in the holy estate of matrimony.”
It should be clear after reading this that, contrary to Gov. Romney’s assertions the Mormon faith, though changed from its roots today, is not a slight variation on the Christian theme.
Whether or not the speech was politically a good idea, the fact that Gov. Romney felt that he needed to address this issue is a good thing for both him and the American people. While we sometimes see signs that cause us to question whether or not people are interested in serious things, the fact that there is a debate underway over this issue of a candidate’s faith and how it impacts his policy decisions is encouraging. Would that we as a nation always had this much concern and curiosity every time a candidate came before us.