Thursday, August 11, 2011

Politics and Religion, Part 3 (Romney)

Let's get specific now. I've discussed some general issues of politics and religion, but let's talk about a particular candidate. Mitt Romney appears to be leading the Republican race for the presidential nomination. From what I know of him, he appears to have the makings of a good president. However his religion has already become an issue in some circles, so let's discuss that.

Full disclosure: I am of the same religion as Romney. I am inclined to support him for president, though my mind is not fully made up on that score. I like his demonstrated ability, both in business and as governor of Massachusetts. I believe he would bring some much needed improvement to the way our federal government manages its power and finances. I also believe he would appoint judges who are more in tune with the constitution than many now on the bench. He has even, both at the Salt Lake City Olympics and as governor, shown the ability to get big egos with disparate agendas to work together. However I have doubts about his commitment to limited government. There are other candidates worth a look, notably Herman Cain who is another successful businessman of great ability and commitment to the country.

Be that as it may, let's look at Romney's (and my) religion and how it might affect, or not affect, his performance as president.

First, is he committed to that religion? That is a difficult question since it is impossible to see inside the mind of anyone. However his actions would indicate that he is. Mitt Romney has spent uncounted hours doing unpaid work for his church, first as a missionary in France, then in various positions up to and including stake president. That last is equivalent of running a diocese in other churches – except he had to do it while holding down a full-time job elsewhere. Also, there is not even a hint of scandal in his background, no indication at all that he does not live the teachings of his church.

That said, is there anything in his church's teaching that should concern us? For example, would he try to impose his religion on the country? The answer is “no,” loud and clear. In fact one of the central beliefs of “Mormonism” is that it is against God's will to force anyone into any religion. “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.” (LDS Article of Faith 11) Se also the LDS Doctrine and Covenants, 134:7, “We believe that rulers, states, and governments have a right, and are bound to enact laws for the protection of all citizens in the free exercise of their religious belief; but we do not believe that they have a right in justice to deprive citizens of this privilege, or proscribe them in their opinions, so long as a regard and reverence are shown to the laws and such religious opinions do not justify sedition nor conspiracy.”

There is clearly no indication that Romney (or any other committed member of his church) would use government to force religion on anyone.

There is, however, one LDS (Mormon) teaching that bears strongly on how I hope Romney would govern. The church teaches that the Constitution is inspired.* (See Doctrine and Covenants 101:77-80, and 109:54). We have every reason to hope that Romney, if elected, will follow that constitution.

Finally, there is a charge by some that the LDS are not Christian. That accusation lacks foundation in fact. While it has some differences with mainstream Christianity, the Church is centered on Jesus Christ as the savior of mankind and the only way we can reach any form of salvation. Even a modest perusal of LDS scripture shows the centrality of Jesus' atoning sacrifice. Even if Christian belief were a requirement for office, Romney meets that requirement.

In short, Romney's religion is no reason vote against him, and provides some reason to vote for him. It is of course not the only factor to consider, but it should not be an impediment.

*Note however that “inspired” does not mean perfect. For example the Constitution initially allowed slavery, something repugnant to not only all right-thinking persons but to LDS scripture and belief. In fact the most severe persecution the Church faced was in Missouri, largely because most of its members did not like slavery.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Politics and Religion, Part 2

“no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Here we have another misunderstood part of the constitution. Some would have this apply to voters. They seem to believe it should prohibit voters from considering religion when deciding for whom to vote. They claim that, for example, a Muslim's religion should not be considered in deciding for whom to vote. A little thought puts the lie to that contention. If we look at that statement in context we see that the whole paragraph says,

“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

That statement is in the context of restriction on government, not on the people. It requires support of the constitution manifested by oath or affirmation. It places demands on government officials but none on citizens. If a citizen wants to support or oppose a candidate because of his religion, he has that right. Indeed it would only make sense that we refuse to vote for someone if we suspect that his religion would prohibit full support of the constitution.

I say this knowing that two members of my own church are running for president, and that some religious groups oppose them on that basis. That opposition is misguided on many levels, but does it violate the constitution? No it does not. Those opponents have a right to vote based on whatever criteria they deem important. If they think baldness disqualifies a candidate they have that right. If they think presidents should hold certain beliefs, they have that right also. Likewise they have a right to vote for or against someone based on religious belief.

We all tend to trust people similar to us more than those who are different. That leads to erroneous belief, but again we have that right.

I would hope that people would cast their votes based on appropriate criteria and after carefully considering which candidates meet those criteria. I do not believe that, in most cases, religious belief would be part of those appropriate criteria. (A religion that teaches contrary to our constitution would be the exception.) However voters have a right to decide which criteria they want to use, so we cannot prohibit consideration of any aspect they deem important.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Politics and Religion, Part 1

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ...”

With those often misunderstood words, our constitution places restrictions on government and how it deals with religion. Contrary to what many seem to think, they impose no restrictions on religion or on voters. In fact the first amendment goes on to prohibit any restrictions on freedom of speech or the press – with no exception for religious speech or press. Everyone can speak freely and print freely, regardless of motivation. The constitutional restrictions are one-way. Government is restricted; churches and religion are not.

If any organization wants to take a political stand, it has a constitutional right to do so – and that is true whether that organization is a PTA, a business organization, or a church. They all have the same rights. Of course we can question the wisdom of any organization taking such a stand, but that is a different matter from the right to do so. If wisdom were required as a condition for speaking, our world would be a much quieter place.

Anyone has a right to speak, and the constitution does not question the motivation for that speech. That motivation may be altruistic or selfish, religious or secular but the right is still there. That right has been exercises repeatedly throughout our history.

Historically religion has been at the forefront of many changes in this country, from the abolition of slavery to the civil rights movement. Churches inspired many to consider the inequity of holding other humans as chattel. Likewise many churches motivated people to fight against segregation and other forms of race-based discrimination. They had, and still have, that right. And in keeping with the idea of free speech they have the right to speak for other viewpoints as well.

Many today decry the “religious right,” implying that religious organizations have no right to speak about politics. Ironically, many of those same people are all for it when churches speak out in favor of tax-funded welfare, sanctuary for illegal aliens, or the discrimination known as affirmative action. If churches have a right to speak in favor of tax-funded welfare, they also have a right to speak against it. If they have a right to speak in favor of affirmative action, they also have a right to speak in favor of limited government.

There is no constitutional basis for restricting speech or the press. Church representatives have the same free speech rights as anyone else.

Nor does the first amendment prohibit citizens from considering religious values when casting their votes or in other political decisions. If a citizen opposes gambling, abortion, or anything else he has a right to do so. That right remains regardless of the reason for his politics. I'll discuss that further in my next blog.