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Mitt Romney and the Intersection of Religion and Politics

I haven't been able to watch the whole speech by Mitt Romney but I have heard some clips from it and also got to listen to Sean Hannity blathering on as he tends to do when Catholicism enters the picture.

A couple of thoughts.

  • He did seem very sincere about his belief in Mormanism and his determination to follow it without apology in his personal life.
  • He made a good point that theological discussions are not fair game in a political campaign.
  • He emphasized that the Mormon Church wouldn't be running the country through him if he got elected. This is the clip I heard where I think he missed a great opportunity to explain the difference between having your religion run the country and someone running the country as a Mormon, Catholic, Baptist, etc.

When John F. Kennedy assured everyone that Catholicism wasn't going to be running the country, there was a major difference between then and now. Back then there was still a general cultural morality based on Christian teaching that made concerns about the Catholic Church running the country fall into the category of imposing religious dogma on everyone. There was general acceptance that abortion, prostitution, fornication, adultery, homosexual behavior, etc. were wrong so that left things like papal infallibility, communion of saints, confession, transubstantiation as the possible "impositions" from the Church. In our American culture, this certainly wouldn't fly.

Now, there is no agreement on the issues mentioned above so those who disagree with previously accepted morals cry that religion is trying to "impose beliefs" on them. This is where Romney should have given some concrete examples showing how his faith will inform specific policies he pursues and further explain that you can't divorce faith from practice even in public life if you actually believe your religion (or non-religion).

Sean Hannity decided to defend Romney today by calling Archbishop Burke (not by name) reprehensible for saying he would deny John Kerry Communion because of his political stands and lumping Burke into the same pot as people who don't want Romney to be president because he is Mormon. Obviously Hannity hasn't read the Archbishop's long treatise on the application of Canon Law to Catholic politicians. It is precisely when the politicians actions go against his religion that the shepherds should get involved, issue fraternal correction and teach the truth.

Had John Kerry voted in favor of making Transubstantiation a required belief of all Supreme Court Justices, I would hope that the bishops and Catholics in general would admonish such a vote. The belief in Transubstantiation is a specific belief of the Catholic religion that has no business in public legislation as public legislation in theory at least should pertain to the public good and other things mentioned in the Constitution (common defence, general welfare, etc.) . On the other hand, opposition to abortion, opposition to euthanasia, opposition to fornication, etc. are all public issues that affect the whole population either positively or adversely and should be legislated upon based on one's religious belief. This will, of course, set up clashes between various religious and non-religious groups over which direction legislation will go but that is part of the public square of American politics.

By trying to divorce religion from politics, the anti-religious are simply trying to shut people with religious convictions out of the process before a debate can even start. What religious people have to be careful about is to not fall into the same anti-American trap of voting against someone purely because of his religious beliefs: "I won't vote for Mitt Romney because he is Mormon." The question that should be asked is "Does this candidate's religious beliefs pose a threat to the principles found in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights"? If not, then it's time to get down to the details of specific policy and get past the religious belief straw man.

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