So: Mitt Romney apparently thinks it’s time we had a discussion of God in this presidential campaign. Does that mean he’s ready for a discussion—and maybe even a debate—about his own Mormon religious beliefs? Seems fair. After all, Romney took the stage Saturday at a political rally in Virginia—with the execrable old charlatan Pat Robertson at his side—and promised that, as president, he’d keep God at the center of American life.
“The promises that were made in that Pledge (of Allegiance) are promises I plan on keeping if I am president, and I’ve kept them so far in my life,” Romney told the crowd. “That pledge says ‘under God.’ I will not take ‘God’ out of the name of our platform. I will not take God off our coins, and I will not take God out of my heart. We’re a nation bestowed by God.”
Now, never mind that God’s name didn’t appear in the pledge or on American cash until recent decades. Never mind—despite Romney’s misleading implication—there’s no way President Obama would act to remove those references: Obama, after all, was behind last week’s controversial effort to insert a mention of “God” in the Democratic Party platform.
Never mind all that, because it’s clear that Romney wants to once again claim God for the GOP. And that raises the question: Whose God?
The God of the Mormon religion? The one who seemed fine keeping African Americans out of church leadership roles until 1978? Or maybe Pat Robertson’s God? The one who apparently allowed the 9/11 attacks as punishment for America’s embrace of gays and feminists?
Maybe this sounds shrill. Maybe you’re mumbling to yourself that the Constitution mandates “no religious test” for public office. But maybe this deserves a serious conversation, anyway.
The “no religious test” requirement, after all, applies to the government itself—it can’t keep Christians nor Jews nor Mormons out of office, nor would we want it to. But the reality of life in a democratic republic is more complex than that: People vote according to their values. Those values are often shaped by faith—or the lack of faith. There’s a good reason no openly atheist politician has ever won the presidency of this mostly Christian country. Religion isn’t not a consideration in our voting, so we might as well be plain about it.
What’s more, that faith also shapes the values and actions of the men and women who take high office. That was made disturbingly vivid this weekend at the Vanity Fair website, which ran an excerpt from a new book about George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, and his resulting efforts to build a coalition to go to war in 2003.
The most horrifying passage comes when Bush tries to enlist French president Jacques Chirac in the cause:
“Jacques,” he said, “You and I share a common faith. You’re Roman Catholic, I’m Methodist, but we are both Christians committed to the teachings of the Bible. We share one common Lord”
Chirac said nothing. He didn’t know where Bush was going with this.
“Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East,” Bush said. ‘’Biblical prophecies are being fulfilled.”
Gog and Magog? What was that?, thought Chirac.
“This confrontation,” Bush said, “is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a new age begins.”
Chirac was bewildered. The American president, he thought, sounded dangerously fanatical.
Here’s the thing: Americans deserved to know at least 10 years ago that their president was basing decisions of life or death, war or peace, on his belief that he was helping bring about the fulfillment of Biblical prophecies about the end times. Had the information been public at the time, it might’ve had a big impact on our politics—and rightly so.
Which is not to suggest Romney has a similarly apocalyptic view of his own faith. To the limited extent that he’s been willing to discuss it publicly, the God of Romney has often been invoked as a benign, bland, but staunchly pro-American deity—the kind of civic-minded God who might be active in Lion’s Club and as a volunteer scoutmaster.
But we still don’t know as much as we deserve to know how his beliefs have shaped how Romney will act in office. By enlisting God in the service of partisan demagoguery, Romney himself has made the topic fair game. It’s time for a real discussion of his Mormon faith.