December 7, 2007 - 11:45 AM
Pat Buchanan loved the speech Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made Thursday morning about faith and governance. Although it was billed as a way Romney would explain the role of his Mormon religion might, or might not, play should he enter the White House, the former Massachusetts governor mentioned the word "Mormon" only once.
Buchanan, a conservative Catholic and former speech writer for President Reagan, was a commentator on MSNBC after Romney gave his address at the George H.W. Bush Library and Museum at College Station, Texas.
"I don't know how he could have done it better," Buchanan said. "I mean, I was very moved."
Network moderator Chris Matthews, also a Catholic but a former Democratic Party officeholder, enthused that America "heard greatness this morning." Rush Limbaugh said it was Romney's answer to those who have been demeaning him because of his Mormon faith.
Romney told his audiences in Texas and on television that "no authorities of my church or any other church for that matter will ever influence (me) on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs. And it ends where the affairs of the nation begin."
However, Romney appeared to try making the case that belief in God motivated the founders of the nation, and that God is enshrined in the Constitution itself. God is not mentioned in the Constitution, nor in the Preamble.
Romney shrank from making such a speech for a long time because Catholic and evangelical theologians have reservations about some of the traditions and beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the formal name of the Mormon church based in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Among these concerns are differences in the nature of Christ, the authenticity of the four Gospels, the role of minorities in the Mormon Church, original sin, and such major events in the Christian story as the Ascension of Jesus after his Resurrection. Mormons believe, for example, that Jesus visited the Americas after he was raised from the dead.
These concerns could play a role in the outcome of the Republican presidential caucuses in January in Iowa, an evangelical and Protestant stronghold, where his poll numbers are declining and the standing of Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas and a Baptist minister, are rising.
Among those who didn't like the address was the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. The founders, Lynn said, meant for the government and religion to be "totally separate."
Lynn said he is offended that Romney thinks that federal judges should issue rulings based on religious faith.
The senior editor of the Christian Broadcast Network, David Brody, said the speech was "sweeping, lofty and presidential."
The Manchester Guardian reported that Jerry Zandstra, a Michigan anti-abortion activist and pastor, said he has "no problems with him being a Mormon. It's his positions that are ever-shifting and problematic."
Zandstra said Romney now says he opposes abortion, but while running for governor in Massachusetts he said: "I believe women should have the right to make their own choice." Romney got praise but no endorsement from the spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention, Richard Land. He called Romney's speech "eloquent."
Peter Montgomery, the vice president of People for the American Way, a liberal organization, said Romney's aim is "to try to convince religious right voters that they should care less about the theology of Mormonism and more about his pledge to support religious right policy priorities down the line: Criminalization of abortion, opposition to equality for gay people (and) dismantling the wall separating church and state -- and judges who agree."
What do you think? Was it like John F. Kennedy's speech before Protestant ministers in Houston, Texas, in 1960 in which he pledged total separation of church and state? Kennedy, a Catholic, promised that his decisions as president would not be influenced in any way by his church.