Romney on Religion

Former Massachusetts Governor and Republican Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney today delivered a major speech detailing his views on church and state, as well as how his faith would inform a Romney Presidency. (Audio and transcript from NPR here.) The speech contained a few interesting points:

1) Invoking JFK, Romney admitted to being a "candidate from Massachusetts," a fact he had heretofore been trying to hide by disavowing just about everything he did as Governor of the Bay State. Indeed, the Founding Father cited most in the speech is another Massachusettsite, John Adams.

2) The basic note Romney struck was "render unto Caesar." He would make policy judgments based on policy considerations and the interests of the people, not taking instructions from his church. At the same time, he would not disavow his Mormon faith. Okay, so far so good. But then to drive the latter point home, Romney said: "Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world." It's hard to read that as anything other than a description either of how Romney ran for office in Massachusetts or how he's running for President. Either he jettisoned his deeply conservative views on social issues to win elections in Massachusetts (only to find them again later), or he is now jettisoning his quite liberal views. Or maybe it's a trick statement: In neither case was he trying to gain the world: just one state or one nation.

3) Trying to head off the fear that many Americans would find Mormon beliefs weird (an unfair charge if ever there was one; all religious beliefs are weird to those who don't share them), Romney said: "There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution." Great. So how come the preceding paragraph includes the following: "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind." Is this not a "distinctive doctrine?" Or is it okay to say this because it will appeal to the Republican base that shares these beliefs?

4) There is also a strong nod to conservative monotheism in Romney's speech. He says he admires aspects of other faiths, and then lists various Protestant sects, Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam. No mention of Hinduism or Buddhism, and the Judaism he describes is only orthodox Judaism (if that), since Romney praises "the ancient traditions of the Jews, unchanged through the ages."

5) Whereas JFK came out for strict separationism, Romney repeats a standard conservative talking point, lamenting that "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."

6) Overall, it's hard for me to know what the effect of this speech will be. As a secular liberal, I'm pretty clearly not part of the intended audience, so I can only guess, but I don't know that Romney said anything here that would put aside the worries of the conservative Christians who think that Mormonism is not actually a form of Christianity. I just don't get Romney's argument for why such people should prefer him to Huckabee, whom they regard as one of their own.