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The Romney Dilemma

July 19th, 2007 | 2 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

I haven’t decided on a candidate in the 08 election yet. Unlike Joe and some of the others who have anted up for Fred!’s campaign, I am still open to a Romney led ticket.

But as Joshua Trevino points out at NRO today, there is a dilemma for Christians when it comes to Romney’s Mormonism. On the one hand, a la Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth, we want to ensure that faith–or better, religious knowledge–is afforded a booth within the public sphere. The sacred/secular divide has marginalized religion to the realm of emotion and private faith, rather than recognizing that religions make truth claims that would be binding on all individuals.
At the same time, religious bigotry seems to be an unsavory position, and the Constitution prohibits religious litmus tests for candidates.

Which means that as Christians, if we wish to have our own Christianity taken seriously as a position of knowledge and as a guide to our politics, we must take Romney’s Mormonism seriously in the same fashion. At least it seems that way to me now, though I would be happy to be persuaded otherwise.
As Trevino writes:

Yet for all this, though faith must be reclaimed as a valid font of policy and participation in the public square, it does not follow that faith and the faithful should be rendered immune from critique within that square. Full participation is both benefit and burden, both to the faith itself — and its adherents. It means that Catholic officeholders may rightly be asked what they will do when their Church and their politics conflict; and it means that we may fairly discuss Mitt Romney’s Mormonism and what it signifies for his governance. We may further discuss Mormonism per se and its role in public life.

The guys over at Article6 blog disagree with Trevino’s piece, but it’s hard to see why. If faith has anything to do with how we vote, then it seems it should be an subject for proper consideration.

In a paragraph that could be construed as supporting Trevino’s piece, John Schroeder writes:

The American political structure, born of the ideas about freedom that appeared in the religious oppressions of state-established churches, and the historical lessons of how such religious/political alliances served to corrupt religion, decided to separate the religious and political “spheres” (I am here borrowing a phrase from Abraham Kuyper who wrote much later than the American Revolution, but whose vocabulary is quite useful in this discussion). These spheres must, of necessity, interact with each other, but they do not, under the American system, gain authority from each other. There is a difference between authority and legitimacy, one is temporal, the other ephemeral; however, unless the ephemeral can be levered into the temporal somehow, something the American system is designed to prevent, then it is of little consequence.

I agree that the religious and political do not gain legitimacy from each other, so I find the argument that voting for a Mormon would aid Mormon missionary activity a stretch. But as John writes, they do “interact with each other” and to the extent to which they do overlap, it seems the religious sphere should be fair game for discussion.

As Christians, we have given up on letting our faith have any place in public conversation, which is the equivalent of letting our faith be privatized. We run the risk of deepening that divide if we ignore religion’s role in a person’s politics entirely.