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Romney is no Kennedy

12/06/07 | by [mail] | Categories: culture/news, faith/skepticism

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave a speech today to deal with concerns about his Mormon faith. Many evangelicals don't consider Mormonism to be a part of orthodox Christianity. It's a voting bloc that Romney can ill afford to lose, yet he's seen his lead in the evangelical stronghold of Iowa slip away in the wake of the meteoric rise of former Baptist minister Mike Huckabee.

When John F. Kennedy faced similar concerns about his Catholic faith in the 1960 Presidential campaign, he gave a speech to a group of Protestant ministers in Houston, TX. Romney welcomed the connection between the two candidates, even choosing to deliver his speech in the same state today and to refer directly to Kennedy. I just read the full transcripts of both speeches. You can find them on NPR's website: John F. Kennedy, Mitt Romney.

Naturally, they make some of the same points. Both pledged to not take policy direction from their church leadership. Both said that the specifics of their faith are not as important as their commitment to serve the country. Both refused to become a spokesman for their church. But I'd like to look at a few quotes that show some serious difference in their approaches.


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.


While the so-called religious issue is necessarily and properly the chief topic here tonight, I want to emphasize from the outset that we have far more critical issues to face in the 1960 election.

Kennedy all but apologized for even feeling the need to make the speech. Romney was more eager to talk about faith. Later in the speech Romney goes into much more detail than Kennedy did about his view of Jesus. He avoids the distinctions between the Mormon and Christian views of Jesus. I think he felt the need to make some statement about Jesus because those distinctions are much greater for him than they were for Kennedy. Whether he succeeded in reassuring the evangelical community remains to be seen.


Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.


I believe in an America . . . where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice.

As a secular American, this is the part of the speech that bothered me most. Kennedy at least gives this brief recognition to the non-religious. Romney claims that without faith there can be no freedom. Joe Conason wrote in Salon that "This statement is so patently false that it scarcely deserves refutation." Romney only mentions secularism in a negative way, saying "They are intent on establishing a new religion in America - the religion of secularism. They are wrong." Note that Romney was introduced by George H.W. Bush, who once said that atheists should not be considered citizens.


Given our grand tradition of religious tolerance and liberty, some wonder whether there are any questions regarding an aspiring candidate's religion that are appropriate. I believe there are.


I would not look with favor upon a president working to subvert the First Amendment's guarantees of religious liberty. Nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so. And neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test — even by indirection — for it. If they disagree with that safeguard, they should be out openly working to repeal it.

"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States" (Article VI, section 3 of the US Constitution.) Asking and answering questions about faith certainly doesn't violate the letter of that clause. While Romney mentions this clause later in his speech, he seems to be evoking to avoid getting into doctrinal specifics as much as to uphold a principal he deeply believes in.


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.


I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.

Maybe when it comes down to it these two politicians shared a commitment to the principle of separation, but their different phrasings are striking.

Romney made two more points that are just begging to be corrected.


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. We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders - in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge . . .

God wasn't added to our pledge and money until the 1950s. It had more to do with Communism than it did with the founders. Romney doesn't come right out and lie here, but he does juxtapose two ideas with the intent to deceive those who don't know their history.

I was going to save my specific complaints against Mormonism for another day, but with this statement, Romney is asking for it.


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.

The Mormon church was against abolition and civil rights. The church did not give full membership rights to blacks until 1978. What did Romney think of the doctrine of his church regarding black people during the 10 years between his 18th birthday and the "revelation" that changed the church's policy?

In Kennedy's speech, he listed several times when he publicly contradicted the official stances of the Catholic church. Is Romney willing to do the same?



That Romney is no Kennedy should be obvious to those on either side of the political fence. Though in my mind Kennedy had a way with words and ideas that makes Romney look like a babbling simpleton.

That said I think this post is well written and punctuates the differences in thinking between the major parties on religion. Kennedy seems to want to avoid making religion a public debate so as to protect minorities from not being part of it. Romney wants it to enter the public discourse where predominantly Christian leaders can make decisions based on the religion of most of us that affect all of us.

The right in general seems to be allergic to understanding the idea of choice. Choice to choose the denomination of and/or degree that you practice religion. The choice based on your own religious and/or moral convictions to have an abortion or not (I personally think that abortion is immoral but respect and fight for the right of others to choose otherwise). The choice of what you do in private in your own home with your partner.

Romney’s understanding of how religion as a public discourse affects freedom is sorely lacking. But who am I to say anything about it. I’m living in a country where over 99% of the population is going to hell.

Ian Lewis [Visitor]  http://www.ianlewis.org/12/07/07 @ 08:02

good work - I enjoyed this.

Henry Imler [Visitor]  http://hundiejo.com12/10/07 @ 15:01

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