Monday, December 24, 2007

2008 & The Problem of Religious Unity

For most Americans, the 2008 elections have erupted into a national debate about the role of religion in American politics. However, for most members of the Republican party, the debate has narrowed down to an ugly debate over whether or not the candidate belongs to the "right" religion and whether or not membership to a specific religion qualifies a candidate to be a leader for America.

There is nothing wrong with a national debate on religion since it has been going on since the founding of this nation. However, the debate as always been about the general role of religion and not about a specific denomination. Our Founding Fathers came from various different religious backgrounds and when they were in the process of creating this nation, they specifically wanted religion to play a role in public life but they also wanted to prevent America from endorsing a specific denomination or sect. The Founding Fathers were purposely trying to avoid the mistake that Old Europe had made and that was one religion had the endorsement of the Government at the exclusion of all other religions. In fact, England herself has suffered a wave of political instability as one King or Queen was placed on or overthrown from the royal throne simply because one King or Queen was of a particular religion.

Thus, the Founding Fathers understood the problem that faces a country and its religiously pluralistic society. It is a problem of religious unity. Old Europe's solution was to force unity through governmental endorsement of a particular religion. The Founding Father believe that the answer lies in the paradox of allowing unifying a religiously diverse country by forbidding the government of endorsing a particular religion.

Fast forward from 1776 to 2008 and we find ourselves squabbling over whether or not a Evangelical Christian or a Latter Day Saint is the "right" religion for a GOP candidate to be. But this isn't the only harmful consequence of the 2008 elections and its focus on religion. The Internet and daily conversations are filled with people contending with one another about the merits or validity of a particular religion and its doctrines. Furthermore, the old and sad debate of whether or not its a particular religion is a "cult" or an authentic religion has become a part of our national discourse.

John F. Kennedy in address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association during the 1960's campaign warned that if the American voter got too focused on religion and refuse to vote for a candidates based on his or her faith, it might be that the voter's own faith might be the subject of unfair scrutiny by the general public in the next election cycle:

"For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew--or a Quaker--or a Unitarian--or a Baptist...Today I may be the victim--but tomorrow it may be you--until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril."
The problem of religious unity that JFK identifies is that the public (and not the government) will endorse a particular faith based upon their support for a particular candidate and the religion he belongs to. This is a problem that the Founding Father sought to avoid when they inserted into the Constitution, a clause forbidding the application of a religious test to any candidate.

Fast forward from 1776 and passing through 1960 to 2008, Mike Huckabee's campaign has brought us into this unfortunate moment in history by making a candidate's religion an issue. While Mike Huckabee hypocritically refuses to make his own faith and the sermons he delivered a target of intense scrutiny. In fact, Mr. Huckabee gets irritated with the press when it focuses on his faith and its particular doctrines and yet he has made the faith of Mitt Romney's faith an issue. He plays passive-aggressive in feigning ignorance in questioning (or attacking) Mitt Romney's religion and then later apologizing for his remarks even though there is plenty of evidence that he is very knowledgeable about LDS doctrines when he was the Keynote Speaker at the 1998 the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in Salt Lake City and that Janet L. Folger gives Mr. Huckabee advice on "Faith and Values" issues.

But Mike Huckabee isn't just making an Mitt Romney's faith an issue of his campaign, he's making religion a central issue of his campaign. This is evident as he releases a Christmas campaign commercial with a well lighted cross disguised as a bookshelf or his willingness to speak at Churches across the nation but snubbing request to speak to the general public or offending the Catholics by visiting Pastor John Hagee, a man who some Catholics feel spreads an anti-Catholic message to his followers.

Huckabee's strategy of using religion to get himself in to the White House is dangerous for America and the political process. It leaves us divided as we are separated into religious groups. It gets us debating over the issue of "authenticity" of a particular religion. Feelings are hurt when religious groups such as Mormons and Catholics are snubbed by Mike Huckabee's campaign. But it also hurts the group that Mike Huckabee is trying to appeal: the evangelical vote since the secular public grows more and more weary of religion in the public sphere and sees religion as being exclusive rather than an inclusive institution. Not only will voters reject religion but they will reject its Christian message too.

In short, Mike Huckabee's harmful plan of using religion and appealing to a specific group of Christians to win the White House is hurting America because its not bringing us together but dividing us.

JFK wisely warned us of this problem us about because making religion an issue a central issue of the election because it will continue to divide us until "the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril."

In contrast, Mitt Romney understands the important of keeping the fabric of our harmonious society together. In his speech at the George Bush Presidential Library, he acknowledges that despite the diversity of religion in America, "we share a common creed of moral convictions" and that when a candidate becomes president, "he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths." Mitt Romney's campaign is inclusive, not exclusive like Mike Huckabee's. He tells the American voter that his campaign is inclusive because:

"Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me. And so it is for hundreds of millions of our countrymen: we do not insist on a single strain of religion – rather, we welcome our nation's symphony of faith."
Given the troubled times that we live in, we need a leader who can represent a religious, ethnic, social and politically pluralistic nation and bring us together. Mike Huckabee, by his words and actions, cannot bring us together. Mitt Romney can.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Mitt Romney, Christians and the 2008 Elections

Mitt Romney has announced that he will give a speech about his faith that will be similar to John F. Kennedy's address that he gave when his Catholic faith was under scrutiny during the 1960 presidential campaign.

As LDS person who has a keen interest in politics, I find it amusing that some Christian conservatives have made Romney's faith an issue during this 2008 presidential election. To those who refuse to vote for Romney on theological grounds, I request that you give the following thoughts some consideration. This is not an attempt to convince you to support Mitt Romney but an appeal to the Christian political community to rethink its priorities if it wants to reach their political goals. Here are some thoughts:

What's more important: Theology or Values?

In deciding who is the best candidate for Christian voters, its values that matter, not theology. This is an important fact for the religious right to remember. For example, Harry Reid is Mormon, but I would never vote for him since he doesn't reflect my values. On the other hand, I support Romney, not because of his religion but because of his values.

Likewise, Christians are aware that there are many politicians who are Christians but don't have good values and are not worth supporting. On the other hand, Senator Joesph Lieberman is obviously not Christian, but is a Jewish politician who values reflect the traditional conservative view of America.

The Founding Fathers understood that values was more important than theology in politics. For them, it was never, never, ever about a particular brand of interpretation or view of the Bible. A prime example is that the Founding Fathers themselves came from all different religious backgrounds and yet they all shared the same Christian values and morality even though they may have had disagreements over theological approaches to the Bible and other doctrinal issues. Thus, a person's faith was never a factor in considering someone for elected office and thats' why they specifically forbid religion as a litmus test in the Constitution. The Founding Fathers understood this concept, and yet modern Christian society seems to be unable to grasp this idea.

For the religious right to be politically successful, it needs to be inclusive, not exclusive

If Christians want to restore the classical Judeo-Christian values that made America great, then it needs to make all the friends it can get to make that goal a reality. The LDS and Christian faith share much in common in their vision for America such asstrong families, bringing back morality & religion in the public square, appointing conservative judges and bringing freedom to the oppressed around the world.

LDS and Christians have worked together on numerous political issues and have been successful both on national and state issues. It makes no sense for Christians to reject a presidential candidate whose faith is closely aligned with them on political, social and moral issues and is eager to implement policies and programs that reflect our shared values.

If Christians are not making friends and allies in restoring America's values, how else are you gonna rally people to your cause?

The Golden Rule: It applies to politics too!

It is interesting that many (not all, of course) Christians complain about being persecuted and that there is prejudice against Christians in America and but many of those same people persecute Mormons as well as other faiths.

Rejecting people based on their faith only gives Christians a bad name in the public eye. I agree that there is an anti-Christian sentiment in American public today but opposing a political candidate's faith only exacerbates the problem to which more people will be turned off to Christianity, both religiously and politically. The more people make Romney's religion an issue in the 2008 election, the more the people will see the hypocrisy and double standard that is at play here. Many secular people will wonder, If you don't like being picked on as a Christian, maybe you shouldn't pick on other religions?

If Christians want to advance their conservative agenda, (1) Christians need to put an end to the "in your face, offensive style" preaching to those that are not of a particular Christian denomination or religion in general and (2) be more open minded about those who wish to be called Christians-if Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholics. or even some Jewish people want to be labeled as "Christians"-let them do it. It only serves to help the Christian cause as a political group and usually these religious denominations may have different theological positions but they're almost always on the same page when it comes to traditional values.

Consider the 2008 elections

Its already turning out to be an historic election for many reasons with the most obvious being that many minorities are running for office. We have a potential for the first woman (Hil), first African American (Obama), first Hispanic (Richardson), first Mormon (Romney), first mayor in over a century (Guilliani) and oldest president (McCain) to occupy the White House. This isn't a flash in the pan moment for American politics. The populace is getting warmed up to the idea of having minorities run for office, especially the office of the President.

Given the political realities of the 2008 elections, people are starting to think outside the box in terms of what they want in a President. A person's religion isn't the only factor people take into consideration any more in American politics. JFK's victory as a Catholic president made it possible for people of all faiths to run for office. Look at Keith Ellison, Harry Reid, Mitt Romney and Joseph Liberman. Political diversity and tolerance is apart of the American political landscape now. And it should be. Insisting that a person be of the "right" faith is simply out of touch with our country's newfound American values.

As Mitt Romney makes his address to the nation about his faith and his bid to be the next President, he will invoke JFK's vision of a time "where religious intolerance will someday end -- where all men and all churches are treated as equal" and where people of all faiths "both the lay and the pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood."

Remember, that while America " is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish" or Mormon, it is "the real issues which should decide this campaign" since they are the problems that not only afflict America but the rest of the world such as terrorism, war, the economy, and immigration. Judge Romney, not on his faith but on the basis of his experience as Governor of Massachusetts, in managing the 20008 Olympics and other endeavors that shows he has the ability to lead America through the challenges that America faces.