Mitt Romney Hits a Home Run
By Maurine Proctor
Mitt Romney hit it out of the ballpark yesterday at the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, as he delivered the speech about how his religious faith will affect and inform his presidency.
He was Presidential. He was thoughtful and inspiring.
Kathryn Jean Lopez, writing on the National Review’s blog, The Corner, said she had received an email from a plugged-in Evangelical who really was not a Romney fan and really didn’t want to vote for a Mormon who said:
It was a fantastic speech. He said what he needed to – not too much, not too little. At the end, the burden was on the American people – “Will you really keep me from the Presidency because of what I believe … in a pluralistic society?”And you know me – I say this only grudgingly. Couldn’t have gone any better for him.
For months, pundits and Romney advisors have debated whether he should give a speech like the one John F. Kennedy gave nearly 50 years ago, allaying the fears of some who were worried about electing a Catholic president. Romney’s Mormon faith has been such a major topic in his candidacy that news magazines like Time and Newsweek have done high-octane front-page stories not so much on Romney or his take on issues, but on his faith.
The Washington Post reported that Romney had been torn about giving this speech, “telling advisers that he had a “comma problem.” Political journalists always follow his name by a comma, the words “a Mormon,” and another comma.
“If I give a speech about Mormonism,” he complained privately, “I’ll never get beyond the comma problem.”
It has been a long-standing tradition in this country, that while a candidate’s belief in God and his values are important, questions of the intricacies of his faith or theology are off limits. But this campaign has broken those rules. In fact, it has been over the top. Rudy Guilliani has been asked by reporters if he considers himself in communion with the Catholic Church, and Mike Huckabee, among other things, has been asked if he believes Mitt Romney is going to hell.
Mitt’s speech invites the discussion about religion to a higher ground. He said,
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.
Like JFK before him, Romney used his speech to assure voters that his Church would not dictate his policies.
Almost 50 years ago, another candidate from Massachusetts explained that he was an American running for president, not a Catholic running for president. Like him, I am an American running for president. I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith, nor should he be rejected because of his faith.Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin.
Romney also affirmed that he would not be looking out for any one group of people as President.
As a young man, Lincoln described what he called America’s “political religion” – the commitment to defend the rule of law and the Constitution. When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God. If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A President must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States.
A drag upon the Romney candidacy has been the charge of flip-flopping and lack of conviction and sincerity. Although no single speech can allay the questions some have raised about his taking conservative positions on gay rights, abortion and gun rights only for political convenience, he was compellingly sincere in this speech.
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.Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world.
Given the media scrutiny of his faith, it would be hard to call that statement convenient.
He became even more personal and fired with conviction with his expression of his faith in Jesus Christ.
There is one fundamental question about which I often am asked. What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind.My church’s beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths. Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history. These are not bases for criticism, but rather a test of our tolerance. Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree.
That lays out the territory clearly. Criticize a candidate based on his religion and admit that you are on shallow ground, foursquare opposed to America’s most key founding virtues. What we share is what matters.
It is important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions. And where the affairs of our nation are concerned, it’s usually a sound rule to focus on the latter – on the great moral principles that urge us all on a common course. Whether it was the cause of abolition, or civil rights, or the right to life itself, no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people.
Romney’s speech was important, not just because he addressed his own faith, but because he reaffirmed the place of faith in America at a time when faith is being severely challenged.
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.
He’s speaking boldly about in an important, undergirding idea. It is America’s founding principle that our rights and freedoms come from the Creator, not from the government. The government did not give them to us and the government, therefore, cannot take them away.
What question about faith, then, is important to ask a candidate? Romney says it is this, “Does he share these American values: the equality of human kind, the obligation to serve one another, and a steadfast commitment to liberty?”
These American values, this great moral heritage, is shared and lived in my religion as it is in yours. I was taught in my home to honor God and love my neighbor. I saw my father march with Martin Luther King. I saw my parents provide compassionate care to others, in personal ways to people nearby, and in just as consequential ways in leading national volunteer movements. I am moved by the Lord’s words: “For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me …”
My faith is grounded on these truths.
America’s tradition of religious freedom has profound implications. Europe’s notion of state religions has left a legacy of beautiful, empty cathedrals. Islamic jihadists would accomplish conversion by violence. Romney says that it is the diversity of our cultural expression that has given the vibrancy, not only to religion, but to our freedom as Americans. Thus, he affirms,
You can be certain of this: Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me. And so it is for hundreds of millions of our countrymen: we do not insist on a single strain of religion – rather, we welcome our nation’s symphony of faith.
Romney’s long-awaited speech on faith was in the words of columnist Mona Charen, “That was perhaps the best political speech of the year. It was well crafted and delivered with conviction and – this is unusual for Romney – considerable emotion. I thought his contrast of the empty cathedrals of Europe with the violent jihadis was particularly adroit. He managed to make this a speech about patriotism as much as about religion. Brilliant.”
You can’t ask more from a speech than that.