Tomorrow Mitt Romney will give “the speech” that will allegedly help put to rest discussion of his Mormon religion as it pertains to his fitness for office. Taking the issue of his religion out of political debate is a daunting task, and there has been much speculation about what he will say. Romney has since said that the speech will emphasize religious liberty over his Mormonism and that JFK’s speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association regarding his Catholicism prior to his election “makes sense to me.” An approach like this makes sense to me:
My fellow Americans: By now you know that this speech is about religious liberty as it relates to my religion, a topic I approach humbly. Given the challenges we face as a nation, we need to come together as Americans. Facing global jihad, we are presently at war; there are 47 million citizens without health insurance; entitlement spending is out of control; the country faces record level deficits — these are but a few of the problems that we presently face. I have great faith in the American people that any suspicions, misunderstandings, and disagreements about my personal religious beliefs can be addressed so that we can roll up our sleeves and together address our difficult challenges when I am president.
I believe deeply that when the brilliant Founders of this great nation made it explicitly clear in the Constitution itself that there would be no religious test for office, they were sending a message that public discord over private religious beliefs in the context of public service would ultimately undermine religious freedom for all. A diversity of religion is the backbone of American civic life. When DeTocqueville visited America, he observed that what made this country so great even in its infancy were its “voluntary institutions.” In no other nation in history have citizens so freely formed associations to improve their safety and civic life.
First among those civic institutions are America’s churches. It’s my firm conviction that our places of worship have done more for the citizens of this country than any other institution — whether it’s feeding the homeless, building our unparalleled hospital system, or teaching in religious schools. If belonging to a particular church were to suddenly become a test of one’s fitness for public office, the public pressure would amount to a backdoor attack on our religious freedoms. Expressions of private faith would be weighed and measured as a result of their popularity, not judged as a matter of one’s conviction. As a result, America’s civic life would suffer.
But we must also recognize that as much as churches are woven into the fabric of American lives, the purpose of churches and the purpose of government are not to be confused. Throughout history humans have struggled to determine the proper roles of God and government, particularly in relation to one another. America’s founding emphasis on religious tolerance has allowed friends, neighbors, colleagues, and even family of different creeds and beliefs to interact peacefully with each other in ways that were previously unprecedented. Such an emphasis on religious liberty is necessary not just to protect the state from the influence of the church, but perhaps more importantly, to protect houses of worship from encroachment by the state.
As such, Americans have long understood the necessity of keeping these two realms conversing but separate, lest they corrupt each other. But it is interesting to note that while the First Amendment and the modern justifications for religious liberty come from the secular realm, they have their roots in the religious realm. In the gospels, Jesus says “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” St. Augustine later spoke of how we live in two cities that run parallel to our lives — the sacred city of God and the secular city of Man. Martin Luther built on Augustine and discussed what he referred to as the “two kingdoms.” Luther, and later John Calvin, understood that though Christians are citizens and many citizens are Christians, operating in either the political and religious realm often requires different vocational emphasis, though not at the exclusion of God’s law governing basic morality in both realms.
In keeping with these secular and religious traditions, I want to make it clear to you today that I am running for an office that governs the earthly affairs of man. Though the job of president of the United States comes with an overwhelming amount of responsibility, at the end of the day the only way that office can be used to promote the higher spiritual concerns of America is to ensure that religious liberty remains sacrosanct. I am running for commander-in-chief, not pastor-in-chief.
Now given the importance of religious liberty, I recognize that unlike men, not all religions are created equal. Some religious sects advocate violence, fail to recognize basic human rights, or are driven by greed. Membership in one of these groups might very well be an important factor in evaluating the judgment of someone that wishes to hold public office. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does none of these things. Regardless of what you think of Mormon doctrine, as a civic institution I am very proud to be a member of it. Like many of my fellow believers, I have already held high public office and no conflicts between personal faith and public life have materialized. I cannot fathom a scenario where a conflict would emerge between the two kingdoms of my individual faith and the shared political responsibilities of all Americans.
I do acknowledge that some aspects of Mormonism as it has been practiced in the past have been controversial. My Church abandoned polygamy over 110 years ago. And though African American men were originally granted equal rights in the early church, my Church did not allow them to hold the priesthood — authority that otherwise was given to all males of age in the church — until 1978. Since then the Mormon Church has been incredibly active in mission efforts in Africa where the church is booming, as well as involved in missionary work and outreach among nearly every other culture in the world.
That the church made this change in my lifetime was enormously important to me. My father marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and I was always raised to believe in the primary importance of civil rights. In my career as public servant, I have fought and I will continue to fight with all I have in me for the basic protections of all Americans that allow them to be treated fairly.
In the end, I sincerely hope that by the questions raised by my candidacy, have helped Americans better understand Mormonism as well as their own beliefs. But while I encourage dialogue, I will not discuss the doctrine of my church. Not because I have anything to hide or do not wish to do so, but rather because it is a distraction. So with that, I will take this one opportunity to discuss the beliefs of my church only insofar as they are relevant to my public life.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has thirteen “Articles of Faith” that concisely outline what we believe. So fundamental are they that Mormon children are encouraged to memorize them. As I said before, I won’t pretend that some of these articles of faith are universal. But the last three articles of faith are the most instructive here so I will read them:
‐ We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
‐ We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.
‐ We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul — We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.
It is my hope that all Americans, and not just Mormons, subscribe to these three articles of faith. I have tried to live by them, and as always is the case, I have not lived up to these standards perfectly. But I have learned a great deal in my struggle to be privately virtuous and publicly honorable, and I believe that what I have learned makes me the man best suited at this juncture in history to lead this nation. But I will not deny that my private faith has always guided me and will continue to guide me as a leader. It guided me as I served capably as governor of Massachusetts, and will guide me ably when I serve as your president. Thank you.