Mitt Romney’s Crisis of Conviction

So Mitt Romney gave his “Faith in America” religion speech. It was a good speech as speeches go. It was serious and fine and he said all the things he thought he needed to say. There were a few disappointments though. I was really hoping we’d get to see his special underwear, but alas, he promised not to air his religious laundry in public.

There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church’s distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes President he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths.

His message, essentially, is: Don’t ask him about his religion, and he won’t bore us with the details. That’s all fine and dandy. He can believe that the Garden of Eden was in Missouri, that Jesus appeared to a bunch of Native Americans, and that Israelites crossed the Atlantic in 600 BCE. They’re all absurd beliefs, but no more absurd than the articles of faith in any other religion. And faith is faith is faith — I don’t want to debate the merits of faith vs. reason in this post.

However

Romney’s speech is a lie.

He says,

There are some for whom these commitments are not enough. They would prefer it if I would simply distance myself from my religion, say that it is more a tradition than my personal conviction, or disavow one or another of its precepts. That I will not do. I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers – I will be true to them and to my beliefs.

and later,

Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin. … I will put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law.

(emphasis added)

Some have commented that there’s a natural tension between those two sentiments, but that’s being disingenuous. Those two statements are in direct conflict. We do not live in a caliphate. The laws of man and the laws of God diverge, and they do so with great regularity. In cases where those differences are significant and subject to national debate, where will Romney stand?

Will Romney recognize current US law and uphold a woman’s right to abortion? Or will he work to undermine current law in service of his church and his conscience?

Will Romney work to clarify current law and ensure that, “no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States?” Or will he work to ensure that those who share his private moral convictions concerning the nature of marriage are granted privileges that others–whose lifestyle and beliefs differ from his–are denied?

Romney wants us to believe that he is a man of strong religious conviction and that he will subordinate that conviction to the sovereign authority of law. But that’s a lie. A servant cannot serve two masters. Either he is a man of great religious conviction who will be guided and informed buy that conviction, or he is not.

If he is a man of conviction, then he should show the courage of his convictions and promise to let his conscience be his guide.

If he is not, then he should not be trusted.

The sad fact is that Mitt Romney believes that he can subordinate his convictions while in office. If we are to believe his current rhetoric, he must have substantially subordinated his beliefs while governor of Massachusetts.

That speaks to a shallow sort of conviction. There may be much to gain form pandering to potential voters, but there is little personal virtue in such plastic principles. Romney seems to have replaced his moral compass with a weather vane. And a man who blows with the wind will find himself lost and broken in a storm.

A candidate’s personal beliefs–his inner convictions about what is good and right and true–are of supreme importance in a presidential election. We are a nation divided on policy and politics. We are a nation at war. We can ill afford a candidate who will be guided only by polls and political expedience. The idea that a candidate’s beliefs are fungible and irrelevant is pernicious. But far worse is the candidate who promises to subordinate his beliefs to the whims of whatever special interest brings him the most votes.

Mitt Romney is a man of faith, but it is not his adherence to his Mormon faith that should doom his candidacy. It is his elevation of expedience over conviction.