Sunday, February 3, 2008

Religion and Politics: The case of Governor Romney

I have actually been waiting for Fr. Richard John Neuhaus to publicly weigh-in on Governor Romney's Faith in America speech, which he delivered at the Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas on Wednesday evening. He comments on the speech today over on the First Things' blog Observations & Contentions. I have to respectfully disagree with Fr. Neuhaus that Romney's speech was "powerful" or helpful to his candidacy for the reasons I outlined in a post from yesterday entitled Romney's primary problem is not being LDS. Fr. Neuhaus, of course, is the author of an insightful essay, Is Mormonism Christian?. I offer more dealing directly with specific tenets of LDS belief in a post from October- Are the LDS Christians? The red herring that won't go away.

Commenting on David Brooks' NY Times editorial on the speech, Fr. Neuhaus writes that he shares "Mr. Brooks’ aversion to the 'bland, smiley-faced God' invoked by Mr. Romney. But then Mormonism is a smiley-faced religion, which is one among many reasons for not being a Mormon".

All that being written, I do embrace Fr. Neuhaus' four-fold criteria for selecting a president:
"(1) his declared values and proposed policies; (2) his character and credibility; (3) his competence to deliver; and (4) his prospects of winning nomination and election". It seems to be number 2 that Romney needs to work on and his speech on Wednesday, in my opinion, did not help him in that regard, but only time will tell. I think Mormonism is as exotic to most people in the U.S. as Scientology. This, again, is why his speech failed.

Romney’s issue is not at all like that of the nominally Catholic Rudy Giuliani, about whom Wayne Barrett of The Village Voice (of all places) writes: "Married three times, Giuliani simply isn't the Catholic candidate he claims to be. He can't have a confessor. He can't receive the sacraments of penance, the Eucharist, or marriage. While bishops disagree about whether or not a Catholic politician who supports abortion rights can receive the sacraments, there is no disagreement about the consequences of divorcing and remarrying outside the church, as Giuliani did a few years ago." Romney, unlike Giuliani, cannot just wave the teachings of the LDS Church aside, using Mormonism in the way Giuliani uses his Catholicism, especially as it pertains to abortion and marriage. Why not? Well, Mitt Romney has served as the bishop of a LDS ward (i.e., pastor of a local congregation) and as a Stake President (in charge of several wards) and is a very publicly active and devout believer. This differs from a candidate who may come from a LDS background, but who, like Giuliani with his Catholicism, can just say "While I respect the opinions of the leaders of my Church, I don’t adhere to x, y, or z that my religion teaches".

I find it interesting that virtually everybody, including Fr. Neuhaus, insists that when voting the religious commitments of the candidates is not a legitimate criterion for selection. Well, the last time I checked, a voter in the U.S. is free use whatever criteria s/he chooses when casting a vote, including taking into consideration the religious commitment or lack thereof of any and all candidates. In fact, I suspect that for many voters, religious, non-religious, and anti-religious, the religious commitment or lack of it is a factor in their decision-making. Am I writing that it is ideal, or that it should be the biggest concern of the voter? NO! I am merely stating that it often is a factor and that it is not always illegitimate.

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