Friday, December 7, 2007

Separation of Church and State

The speech yesterday by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney concerning his Mormon faith gives us the opportunity to consider how our faith intersects our politics. Now, I know that "religion and politics" are two subjects that pleasant people avoid in conversation! But in truth, we need to think about both, and how each relates to the other.

First, a comment. For the most part, our society (and in particular, government entities in the US) have over-reacted when dealing with religious issues in the public sphere. Others have written and spoken about this far more eloquently than I can, but the essence of my observation is that the constitution and the Bill of Rights do not seek to protect the state from religious influences so much as to protect religious groups from undue state interference. This fact alone ought to give us pause whenever the ACLU or other groups file suit against cities (etc) for displaying nativity scenes or menorahs! Schools have likewise over-reacted, prohibiting students and staff from praying together, even if all are agreed and there is no pressure on others to join in. Some have even gone so far as to prohibit even periods of silence (presumably because someone might pray!). This over-reaction has led to far too many prohibitions and not enough freedom.

Now, to Romney's speech. I think it was very good. As a United Methodist Christian I have serious theological differences with the Mormon faith. In fact I would go so far as to say that as far as historical definitions of Christianity go, Mormonism is not orthodox Christian. I won't go into details here, but there are lots of excellent websites, books and articles in this regard. Nevertheless, I have no problem with a Mormon US president. Why? Because the Mormon's do not have any historical desire to "take over the world!" Some groups, such as Scientology and the more radical forms of Islam (among others) have demonstrated desires to transform governments and societies to fit their particular world view. Some more radical Christian and Jewish groups do as well. But Mormonism, apparently, does not. Therefore, I have no problem with a president who is a Mormon.

So why all the hoopla about Romney's religious faith? Mainly, I believe, because many Christians identify Mormonism as a cult. While I would not use the term "cult" I would use the term "sect" and even "non-christian sect". Mormons, of course, identify themselves as Christians, but that in and of itself is not sufficient to pass the test of orthodoxy. One need only remember (in the political realm) that East Germany called itself the German Democratic Republic, even though it was neither a republic nor democratic. Fear of the unknown has tremendous power, and most people do not know very much about Mormonism. But I believe we do not need fear having a Mormon president.

This is not an endorsement of Mitt Romney! I do not endorse any candidate for president. But I do applaud Romney's speech and the points that he made (you can watch it here). And I think that all Americans, Republican and Democrat, should think about these issues. I certainly think that all Christians should carefully consider how their faith effects their politics.

No comments: