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December 12, 2007
Column #1,372
Romney's Speech on Faith
by Mike McManus

Mitt Romney made a speech about faith and politics recently - consciously modeled on a similar speech by John Kennedy 47 years ago.  Both were from Massachusetts and from a denomination whose members had never been elected President.

However, Kennedy's Catholicism was never as significant to his life as Mormonism was  to Romney. When his father, Gov. George Romney, was running for President, Mitt was a Mormon missionary in France, when he longed to help his dad. As a teen he campaigned for George's race for governor, making speeches at county fairs from the back of pickup trucks.

Mitt once asked his dad if he should become a politician someday, and was told "Don't get involved in politics until your kids are raised and you have become financially independent." Ever disciplined, he earned degrees in law and business at Harvard and then founded Bain Capital, an investment firm where he built a  $200 million personal fortune.  Then he was elected governor of Massachusetts.

However, rather than run for reelection, Romney sought the presidency. Since he was less well known than front runner Rudy Giuliani, he invested heavily in ads in Iowa and was leading in polls there until Mike Huckabee, an ex-governor and ex-president of the Arkansas Baptist Association, lept ahead, 32 percent to 20 percent.

Huckabee's appeal to the large evangelical sector of the Republican Party is what forced Romney to give a speech on faith. 

Romney did not attempt to explain his Mormon faith or its influence on his life, but strategically chose to frame the common values of people with faith since two-thirds of Americans are members of a house of worship.

"I believe that every faith I have encountered draws its adherents closer to God," he declared.

"And in every faith I have come to know, there are features I wish were in my own. I love the profound ceremony of the Catholic Mass, the approachability of God in the prayers of the Evangelicals, the tenderness of spirit among the Pentecostals, the confident independence of the Lutherans, the ancient traditions of the Jews, unchanged through the ages, and the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims."

It was an accurate characterization of the best of each tradition. He acknowledged there are differences in theology between the churches, but argued, "We share a common creed of moral convictions."  He cited several that few would dispute:

1. Historically, he saw a connection between "the survival of a free land and religious freedom, and quoted John Adams: "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."

2. Religiously convicted people led the fight to abolish slavery, grant blacks civil rights and are at the forefront of the abortion battle, "the right to life itself."

3.  A person of faith seeking public office should be expected "to share these American values: the equality of human kind, the obligation to serve one another and a steadfast commitment to liberty," Romney asserted.

4.  Like Kennedy, Romney testified that "no authorities of my church...will ever exert influence on presidential decisions."

However, he disagreed with Kennedy who claimed that a candidate's views on religion are his own private affair." Romney argued religion "is not merely a private affair with no place in public life."  He noted the Founders "proscribed the establishment of a state religion" like  European nations where the cathedrals are empty today.

"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, in the teaching of history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in the public square," he asserted, sparking applause.

More controversially, he argued that "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom."  However, the fifth of Americans who are unbelievers would disagree, believing they are just as committed to freedom as Mormons or Catholics.

Finally, in a flat-out appeal to Evangelicals, he asserted, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind." 

Will that be persuasive with Evangelicals he is courting?  Richard Cizik, vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, doesn't think so. "Mormons and Christians have different views on Jesus." Mormons regard Jesus a "brother."

Nor do Christians revere Mormon founder Joseph Smith as a prophet, a man who had 30 wives, ten of whom were married to other men.

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