Your America is too small
Mitt Romney may have defused some religious concerns within his Republican base, but he missed a larger opportunity
I n defending his Mormon faith on Thursday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney may have gotten where he needed to go politically. He may have reassured some voters within his Republican base that he is, indeed, sufficiently Christian.That's right, Abe Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams could never win the Republican nomination today. Even Peggy Noonan admits that her party is now controlled by people with their feet firmly planted in the 15th century.
But, sadly, Romney failed to take the nation someplace new, as John F. Kennedy did in 1960, when he enlarged the nation's understanding not only of his Roman Catholic faith, but also of its own religious freedom.
Romney, similarly, had our attention. He could have articulated a vision of religious freedom so broad, so all-encompassing -- and so confident in itself -- that it could embrace even skeptics. But he didn't.
Instead, he took a predictable slap at "the religion of secularism." And he failed to offer even a stout defense of his own faith, barely mentioning the word "Mormon." The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints has a strong presence in Oregon, and a strong record of public service here and elsewhere.
We know this not only because many Oregonians belong to it, but also because we have a senator, Gordon Smith, who is a Mormon, and whose religion has never interfered with his public service. The ignorant attacks on this faith tradition should sting all of us, at least vicariously, and Romney should have offered a more spirited defense.
Alas, the speech reminded us of the religious classic from a half-century ago, "Your God is Too Small." The portrait of America that Romney painted is too small. Not only did he miss a chance to illuminate his own faith, he also missed a larger opportunity to reach out to Americans who aren't affiliated with any denomination, and who keep the finer points of their religious -- or non-religious -- views to themselves.
That includes many Oregonians. And a few other people who didn't turn out too badly in office, like Abe Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. (Romney did quote John Adams several times, but he should have gone on to explain that Adams, a Unitarian, might not stand a very good chance of being elected today.)