Monday, May 14, 2012

The Rev. Romney to the pulpit

A HALF-CENTURY AGO - Sept. 12, 1960 - Sen. John F. Kennedy spoke to the Greater Houston Ministerial Assn. to define his Catholic heritage  to a Protestant assembly wary of his candidacy for the presidency. He wanted to reassure the gathering that his first responsibility as the nation's leader would be to base his decisions on the national interest,  not as a religious advocate.   (This was the eloquent speech that Rick Santorum snarlingly said nearly forced him to "throw up.")

Speaking  honestly and without servility to one faith or another, Kennedy declared:

"I believe  in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish - where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy  from the Pope, the National Council of Churches  or any other ecclesiastical  source - where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials - and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all".

He later added: "Whatever issue may come before me as President - in birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject - I will make my decision in  accordance  with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates.  And no power or threat of punishment  could cause me to decide otherwise."

Romney appeared before a group that doubtless included skeptics about his Mormon faith, which evangelicals consider a cult apart from Christianity. Unlike Kennedy, who defined himself as an unbound  leader in terms of a president's decisions,  Romney preached to the choir, casting himself as a heartfelt Christian, particularly on  same-sex marraige, abortion and other social issues.  He spoke of a relationship "with our maker".

"Whether the cause is justice for the persecuted, compassion for the needy and sick or mercy for  the chid waiting to be born, there is no greater force for good in the nation than Christian conscience in action'', he said.

The New York Times described the event as Romney's "most extensive and direct discussion of religion since his 2007 speech about his own father."

In short, Romney, rather than declaring his independence from a  system of religious tenets,  let his listeners know the he was cut from the same cloth. In a pluralistic nation, he was rigidly one of them.  It defined the parameters of a theocratic  governing style, but hardly a profile in courage.

1 comment:

David Hess said...

n preaching to the choir at the late Jerry Falwell's temple, Romney was rendering unto evangelicals his commitment to their fundamentalist reading of the tenets of Christianity, while at the same time attempting to calm their fears about his devotion to Mormonism -- not a "cult," as many of the evangels believe, but a diverging version of the same faith. It was a cri de coeur as well as a political tactic to secure their votes. Lost in the translation, however, was the message that JFK delivered to the non-Catholic clergy long ago. That message was clear in its tone and reasoning. It upheld the rock-solid meaning of the First Amendment's dictum that the state could not employ its power to establish or favor a particular form of religious belief. By rational extension, it also means that believers should not conspire to impose by law their own religious dicta on differing believers or non-believers. Theocracy, in short, is not a substitute for democracy. And folks are free to practice their own form of spirituality but not to the disadvantage or detriment of others who prefer a different path.