Last week’s Republican National Convention provided an interesting window into the current role of religion in the Republican Party. From what I observed last week, almost every platform speaker talked about religion except the nominee himself. It’s as if the convention’s organizers were trying to send a message that the Republican Party is still the party of “real people of faith” despite the fact they nominated a Mormon.
To me, that is a sad commentary on the state of religious respect and inclusion in this country. Mitt Romney does not reference his faith apologetically. He straightforwardly presents himself as a man of deep faith – a statement that I both appreciate and believe to be true. But, let me be clear. I also believe that the Republican presidential nominee is presenting his faith in a carefully orchestrated manner intended to provide a rather general and generic view of faith. Mr. Romney does so hoping to make it palatable to that part of the electorate to whom he is catering rather than identifying himself as the deeply devoted Mormon I understand him to be.
In recent weeks, Mr. Romney has allowed cameras to follow him to church though he has not spoken about going to church. Along with President Obama, candidate Romney did answer written questions about his faith for the National Cathedral’s magazine, but not even there did he refer to his faith in any detail. I found it extremely interesting that he invited members of his faith tradition to speak about him at his nominating convention, where he did not choose to speak for himself about faith.
Personally, I would have preferred to hear others speak of his credentials for the presidency and for him to speak for himself about the integrity of his faith individually. After all, he is running for an office which demands blindness toward a person’s faith when it comes to the freedom and rights of citizens in this government.
Anyone who has taken even a passing interest in my work over the years knows that because of the value I place in religion, I think there is too much religion in politics. Therefore, some may surmise that I would appreciate Mr. Romney not talking about his faith. Their assumption would be wrong. However, a candidate cannot have it both ways. After viewing the speeches at the convention last week, it appears that that what Mr. Romney is trying to do ishave it both ways. He wants to ingratiate himself with the religious right without getting his hands dirty by acknowledging too close a relationship with those who shamelessly have used conservative Christianity for outright partisan political purposes.
I wish politicians would keep religion out of politics, but I am a realist and I know that is unlikely to happen any time soon, if ever. I will keep working to make sure that people who are using religion for political purposes will be challenged and publically asked to stop their manipulation of all that is holy. That being said, if Mr. Romney wants to play himself as a person of faith, at the very least he should speak sincerely about his own Mormon faith while assuring the nation that if elected, he would be a president for all people of faith as well as for people who embrace no religion.
Before anyone starts accusing me of being partisan, let me assure you that I also have been troubled with the role of faith in President Obama’s campaign and have expressed my displeasure to that campaign. While Mr. Romney is downplaying his Mormon faith, the President is battling accusations that he is a “closet Muslim” or the destroyer of religious freedom by speaking of his Christian faith in what is for him a new vocabulary drawn from conservative Christianity. I hope you will join me in paying careful attention to see how President Obama speaks of his faith or has others speak about his faith at the Democratic National Convention this week in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Please do not think I am a one-issue voter interested only in what the candidates have to say about religion. My singular interest is for the American people to vote for the best candidate to occupy the Oval Office, not on the basis of the religious faith each describes, but on the basis of his abilities to lead our great nation. I don’t want the campaigns to use religion as a diversion or as a strategy that overshadows the key issues that must be discussed before we vote in November.