We recently surveyed a bunch of politically savvy bloggernacle types — including some of our own T&S crew — and asked them to answer in a few paragraphs this question: “What would you say tomorrow (in the much-anticipated “Religion Talk”) if you were Mitt Romney?” Here are replies we’ve received:
From Ryan Bell:
Many have criticized me for holding my religious beliefs to be private, while some have accused me of making my faith too explicit a part of my candidacy. Both criticisms arise from a misunderstanding of the role faith plays in America. Religious conviction was at the core of America’s founding and drove the progress of this nation from slave-holding and divided to free and united, and then from separate to equal. At no point in our history did any great decision turn on one person’s received theology. Rather, the unique religion of Jefferson, the fervent faith of Lincoln, and the fiery passion of Reverend King formed the course of American events in unison, on their common foundation of belief in God and in His gift of liberty. If those men gathered in a room today, would we ask them to discuss their different interpretations of the Bible? If we did, they would not take the bait. Their contribution lies in their ability to find God in humanity. We would dishonor their legacy by demanding doctrine more detailed than this.
My own doctrine provides more detail of course, as do the teachings of many different faiths in this country. The question is whether the doctrinal details matter when it comes to solving America’s problems. I have considered my religious beliefs deeply, and have always concluded that they have made me better than I might have been without them. Some have focused on marginal or sensational details of my religion, as if my belief in the origin of scripture is more important than my relationship with its author. The beliefs I hold most sacred and most formative are those that teach how I can improve, how I can strengthen my family, and how I can help others in the world. If this rings of Christianity, it’s because I believe the Christian message of love for God and neighbor to be the heart of my religion.
And yet, large differences remain between my faith and that of many others. But large differences existed at the time of the founding, and always have. The differences never defined the best Americans. We are one nation under God. We have always asked our leaders, regardless of their specific doctrines, to embrace that idea, combined with a love for this country, its institutions and laws. I share that belief in God, and that admiration for this nation. I would lead this country without regard to my own specific beliefs, or those of others of my church, but in reverence for the American ideals of freedom and faith.
From Marc Bohn:
I think Mitt Romney hat-tipped how he plans to handle his upcoming speech on faith during an interview two months ago with Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation. It’s likely that he used that interview to test messages for this speech in the event that he chose to give it. While I view the speech as inherently risky and am not convinced of the necessity (or wisdom) of giving it, since Romney’s decided to go ahead with it, I think his Face the Nation interview is a good starting point. In that interview, he really managed to hit most of the key issues that could possible sway an evangelical voter sitting on the fence because of religion. Romney will assuredly sound many of those same themes, while also trying not to alienate any of his current supporters. So, with the aforementioned interview as my foundation, I think:
Romney should not try to distance himself from his faith (“I’m not going to try and distance myself in any way, shape or form from my faith. It was the faith of my fathers, of my sons, a long tradition in my familyâ€¦. I accept the teachings of [my] church, and I do my best to live by those teachings.”). He should softly try to denounce religious bigotry (“I don’t try and be critical of other people’s faithâ€¦ I respect the work that’s being done by ministers of all faith.”). But he should avoid sounding defensive about religious concerns that some Republican primary voters may feel are legitimate (“I don’t feel bad at all about people asking me about my faith. I think it’s natural. Most people don’t know very much about it. And so, if they want to ask questions, I’m happy to respond.”). He should direct people to the Church for doctrinal specifics (“If [people] have questions about the doctrine of my church, Iâ€¦ direct them to the church, because they could probably do a better job explaining than I can.”). But he should recognize that interest in how his faith might affect his approach to policy is fair game (“[I]n terms of my values, what I think about the future of the country, how my faith impacts my thoughts about important issuesâ€¦ I’m of course open to all those topics.”). He should try to draw on common themes (“[T]he values of my faith are founded on Judeo-Christian principles, and the same kind of philosophy that is associated with other Christian faiths and the Jewish faith and others is very much consistent with ours. The view that there is a God that created us, that all the children on Earth are of the sameâ€¦ divine origin, that the loss of one life anywhere is the loss of a fellow son or daughter of God, that liberty is a gift of God. These fundamental principles are the same faith to faith.”). He should acknowledge Mormonism’s differences on a general level (“[R]eligions are different. And in some respects, [my] faith has a different take on various religious issues, as do other faiths.”). But he should try and minimize the importance of those differences (“[When people] get to know me and my wife and my family, they realize that our values are as American as any values you’ll find in the country, and they’re comfortable with usâ€¦ by and large, people will make their decision not based on where you go to church but instead based upon your values, your vision for the country and your ability to actually help the country at a time of great need.”). He should stress his conservative policy positions (“[Voters are] not going to accept my religion necessarily, but they will certainly see me as someone who can be one of those who can carry the standard of conservatives for social, major social issues.”). He should clearly state that he won’t be taking orders from Salt Lake (“If I’m president of the United Statesâ€¦ I do what the Constitution tells me, what the rule of law tells me. I certainly don’t do what leaders of my church or any other tells me to do.”). Lastly, he should remind people (as he often has) that they are voting for a president, not a pastor.
The trick in all of this, of course, is to not make it sound like any speech or interview he’s ever given before. In closing, I must admit part of me would love to see Romney use this opportunity to defend Mormonism on its merits, but politically that would be a disaster for him. His goal here is to diffuse the issue while striving to ratchet up his conservative credentials. Whether this speech can or will do that for him is anybody’s guess.
From Ronan James Head:
“Long ago, many of my ancestors left Europe to seek a better life in
America and build Mormon society in the West — a society of
patriotism and morality, work and faith. I inherited these values from
my family and from my faith and have tried to live my life in a way
that will please God. America should be the city upon the hill whose
light — in our country of many faiths — can guide the world. As
president I pledge to let justice and freedom prevail at home, and
restore honor to America overseas.”
And I would add, in hope, “My first act as president will be to follow
my own holy book and renounce war and proclaim peace with Iran.”
From J. Nelson-Seawright:
There has been a great deal of discussion about my religious beliefs over the last year. I hold those beliefs close to my heart. They are part of who I am and what I will do as the next president of the United States. So it is important to me that my fellow Americans can come to know this central part of who I am.
I am a Latter-day Saint, or what is commonly called a Mormon. Like other Mormons, I believe in the Bible as the word of God. I believe in Jesus Christ as the central part of God’s plan for humanity. I also believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that God has revealed additional scriptures beyond what is in the Bible. So in some ways, my beliefs are similar to those of Catholic and Protestant Christianity, but in other ways they are different.
My beliefs have guided me in my public-sector and private-sector leadership experiences throughout my life. They have taught me the importance of family, for Mormons believe that family is an eternal part of God’s plan. My beliefs have shown me the importance of peace, but also the value of military preparation and the necessity of self defense. These ideas are central to the Book of Mormon, just as they may also be found in the Old Testament. My religion has taught me the importance to society of caring for the weak and the poor among us, for Mormon scriptures — including the Bible — teach us that God’s kingdom is composed of those who care for those in greatest need. My faith has taught me the need for humility and the power of prayer. These are the lessons from my life and my faith that will guide me in my next presidency.
Many Americans do not accept all of the scriptures and all of the theology that I believe in. However, it is my conviction that the core values I have learned from those scriptures and that theology are a large part of what unites us all as Americans. As president, I will not enforce my theology on the country. I will not teach religion from the White House. Instead, I will try to lead our country in a way that expresses my faith and my values, but also my respect for those with different theological convictions. In asking for your vote, I ask you to extend me the same respect.
From David Sundwall:
Even before I announced my candidacy for president, there has been a lot of attention paid to my faith. While at times this attention has been overwhelming and bewildering, I can understand why many who are unfamiliar with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have questions. We admit even to ourselves we are a “peculiar” people. I am proud of my faith and its uniquely American history that began in 1830 in upstate New York. It has been a tremendous source of strength and comfort that has helped me to become a better person.
As important as my faith is to me, I want to make it clear today that I will not explain nor apologize for these deeply held personal beliefs. As I have said many times before, I am running to be Commander-in-Chief, not Pastor-in-Chief. First, arguing matters of faith and belief in the Almighty does not lead to the unity that our nation needs to overcome the challenges we face. And foremost, if I did try to appeal to voters because of my religion, I would subject myself to an impossible test of conscience and establish an unprecedented litmus test that would be required of future candidates.
As many know, there are many from my church who are eager to share our beliefs with anyone who cares to listen. There are also many critics of my church who are perhaps even more eager to share why they think my faith is misguided and wrong. This religious freedom has been one of the hallmarks that makes our nation so great. I am grateful that we are able to freely disagree and still fully coexist side by side. Our union has not only survived but has benefited from a rich religious diversity of presidents who have been Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Unitarians, members of the Disciples of Christ and Dutch Reformed denominations, Quakers, Congregationalists and a Catholic. Perhaps our greatest general who later became president, Dwight Eisenhower, was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness.
Religious freedom allows us to discuss, argue, and to go on disagreeing but that is not why I am in politics. Politics is about building a shared vision for our future of and that is why I am running for office. I am not asking my fellow Americans to validate my private beliefs or to legitimize my church. I am asking American voters to judge me on my public record, our shared values, and how we can work together to help America move forward..
Now, about my lawn care service . . .
From T&S’s Russell Arben Fox:
(Please note that I write this 1) as someone primarily interested in the ideas of politics, not what actually works in the real-world political game, and 2) as someone who hasn’t ever voted for a Republican candidate for president.)
There are two stories which many different Americans, for many different reasons, tell themselves about the United States which are relevant to my campaign. The first is that we are a Christian country, deeply bound to the principles and history of Christianity; the second is that we are a secular country, deeply committed to eschewing any formal ties between church and state. I believe both of these stories are correct, but are often misunderstood. Are we a Christian country? The answer is “yes” if you mean “are our laws, informal norms, holiday traditions, civic rituals, sense of history, and so forth shaped by generally Christian expectations?” But the answer is “no” if you mean “does being a citizen of the United States entail, even implicitly, a set of theologically Christian beliefs?” For what we are not is a sectarian country, committed to the inculcation of a particular metaphysics, whether Catholic or Presbyterian or Southern Baptist. And that response should properly shape one’s response to the second story. “Secularism” is much broader and much more complicated than the reductive, simplistic antisectarianism that some atheists preach, an antisectarianism that assumes everything religious is ultimately sectarian, part of a program to move the world in the direction of some very specific God or dogma. This is not the case. The secularism that properly adheres to the American character–a secularism which involves civility, toleration, human decency and human rights–is not a secularism that ever did or ever should launch crusades against sects, whether they be Catholic or Presbyterian or Southen Baptist, assuming those organizations break no democratically-determined laws; it is a secularism that rather emerged alongside a broadly Christian understanding of what the plurality of sects means for a society.
I acknowledge that maintaining that very liberal–in the classic sense–sensibility about the place and role of Christianity in our pluralistic society is hard to maintain, with many failures of understanding having occurred along the way, and we can expect more in the future. Mormons like myself live with a bright memory of that time–generations past now, but still vivid in our rituals and practices and beliefs–when we were both the cause and the occasion of such a failure. I have no intention of going over all that contributed to that failure, on both sides: I’m neither a historian nor a scholar of my own religion. I am just a believer. But as a believer, I would insist upon this: that those who our critical of the Mormon faith, and express that criticism in ways that suggest that Mormonism is too outlandish, too authoritarian, too this or too that, to be a credible belief system for a candidate for president, are playing a game which presumes the sort of cramped relationship between Christianity and secularism which I have just denied. Nothing–no single thing–that drives some to be suspicious or dismissive of a Mormon candidate for president has anything to do the form of Christian thought actually relevant to this nation and my campaign to lead it. Instead, all such criticisms have to do with sectarian matters: which this book of scripture or that ecclesiastical routine or this doctrine or that way of dressing or speaking or who knows what else. These are matters that can only be understood–that can only be taken seriously–if one gets into high theology, which I not qualified to do and have no more need to do than John F. Kennedy had a need to explain the sacraments to his mostly Protestant audience. This is not, this should not be, where the argument lies.
I want to emphasize that I think it is perfectly possible to legitimately vote against a candidate on the basis of their religion; I know that, even in the simple and straightforward ways in which my daily beliefs have shaped life, there is ground for criticism and doubt. And some, of course, for reasons both good and bad, are hostile to any acknowledgement and defense of kind of Christianity which I think is key to America’s civil society, or at least may be hostile to the ways in which Mormons like myself have done so. But I take the American people seriously enough to believe that they will recognize and respond to an expression of faith which is Christian first and foremost, and sectarian second. Not that I don’t have my particular beliefs; I do. But the Mormon faith has, over the past century, embraced America and its civil order, and consequently while we may argue amongst ourselves over this or that particular matter and what it does or should mean for politics, and we may even argue about this interpretation or that with others, we know that in terms of governing America, the Mormon faith can provide everything that Catholicism and Presbyterianism and Southern Baptism can provide. And that, I think, is more than enough.
From T&S’s Adam H. Greenwood:
I speak to you today as one American to another. I am proud to be an American. I am proud to have you as my fellow citizens. Most of all, I am proud of our country.
In the beginning of our American history, the Pilgrims came to these shores fleeing religious persecution in Europe. They felt that God had guided them here. They vowed that they would try to be worthy of his purposes. They vowed to make America a shining city on a hill, an example to the whole world. For all our history we Americans have fought to be that shining city on the hill. In the words of our pledge of allegiance, we have fought to provide liberty and justice for all.
We Americans have not always succeeded. But when we have, I sincerely believe that we succeeded becauseâ€”again quoting from our pledge of allegianceâ€”we recognized that we were one nation under God. Long ago in the Declaration of Independence we acknowledged that â€œall men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rightsâ€, and now we live in a country where those rights are respected. Our first President, George Washington, asked all Americans to give thanks to God for our blessings. We still do that every Thanksgiving. And now we are richly blessed with freedom and happiness and strength and prosperity. During the terrible times of the Civil War, our President Abraham Lincoln, promised that no matter what happened we would see Godâ€™s justice in the outcome. And now we are one people once again and have put those terrible divisions behind us. The Reverend Martin Luther King and other southern preachers, and civil rights workers of Jewish and other faiths, showed us the sins of racism and discrimination we were committing. And now we live in better times. During a time of national malaise, our President Ronald Reagan reminded us again that we were that shining city on a hill, under God. And now we have had pride in our country again. I could go on. But for now I will only say that Americaâ€™s strong belief in God has always been a source of strength.
But why has belief been so strong and vibrant here while its lapsed into apathy in so many other parts of the world? The reason is two-fold. First, we have religious liberty here and embrace people of different faiths equally. Second, we donâ€™t act like differences in religious belief donâ€™t matter, like theyâ€™re just personal quirks. How have we Americans been able to do both? Its simple. We simply have recognized that religious differences are properly handled through discussion and debate and personal example, through healthy competition, and not through voting and politics and government. We simply have recognized that religion is too important to be just another tool in a politicianâ€™s toolbox. We simply have recognized that faith should not be focus-grouped.
As many of you know, Iâ€™m a Mormon. You and I probably have many beliefs in common. We both believe in the Bible as the word of God. We both believe that Jesus Christ is our divine Savior. We both believe in respect for life and for traditional marriage. We both believe in the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity. We also have many differences. I do not apologize to you for those differences. I do not apologize to you for my faith. I never will. And I do not say those differences in our beliefs are trivial.
But I will say this. I am running to be the American President, not the Mormon President, the Christian President, the Jewish President, or the Muslim President. I will not use my campaign or my office to try to persuade you that my beliefs are correct. I will not make differences that are purely about religious belief the basis for any of my Presidential appointments or any of my Presidential actions. I will serve to the best of my ability. I will pray for guidance and then give the problems facing this country all the experience and energy and intellect I have. I will remember our common beliefs and our common heritage. And I will make you proud. So help me God.
We’re very pleased with the great suggestions from our participants, covering a range of possibilities. Which of their sentiments (if any) do you agree with most?
What would you say, if you were Mitt Romney?