December 7, 2007
Mitt Romney did an outstanding job of defining the role religion should play in American public life in his December 6 “Faith in America” speech. He decisively rejected an extreme governmental secularism that seeks to exclude God completely from public discourse. He also decisively rejected any intolerant religion of compulsion (such as radical Islam, which he boldly named) that would use governmental power and physical violence to impose one particular religion on everyone else.
Governor Romney firmly stood his ground exactly in the center of our great American political tradition, which included not only evangelical Christians among the Founding Fathers but also deists such as Thomas Jefferson (who used a pair of scissors to cut out parts of the Bible he didn’t like) and Benjamin Franklin (who valued the moral standards of the Bible but favored a generic belief in God and never affiliated with any one church). Romney showed integrity and courage by refusing to water down his commitment to the Mormon religion, but he also upheld and protected religious freedom in politics by refusing to go into any details about Mormon beliefs. In addition, the speech revealed the deep, stirring patriotism of a man who clearly loves this country.
Still, he did not rule out all political inquiry into a candidate’s religion. He rightly affirmed the importance of political leaders who believe they are subject to a God who has definite moral standards and who values freedom of human choice. Romney noted that this centrist religious tradition in America has protected our religious freedoms. I agree with him on this: when governmental officials think they are ultimately accountable to God, they recognize that they are subject to transcendent, divinely-ordained moral values. Without such a belief in God, people who hold office will easily sink into a moral relativism that puts lust for power above what is right for the nation.
In short, this was an outstanding defense of freedom of religion in its classic American expression: American freedom of religion in politics is not secularism, nor is it state-sponsored or state-enforced religion. It includes agreement on broadly-held, transcendent moral values, but it excludes religious discrimination against any candidate, including Mitt Romney.
I wrote on October 18 that I was supporting Mitt Romney for two old-fashioned reasons—first, because he is clearly the best-qualified candidate and second, because he holds consistently conservative positions. Romney’s “Faith in America” speech reinforced my opinion that my earlier endorsement is still correct. I hope he wins the nomination and has the opportunity to serve all the people as president.
Wayne Grudem is an author and Research Professor of Bible and Theology at Phoenix Seminary, Phoenix, Arizona, and a past president of the Evangelical Theological Society.