It’s time to stop selectively using religion as a cudgel to attack the faithful and divide the nation. Recent examples are plentiful. Consider Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Tim Tebow. Each bears witness to the ongoing struggle to keep the faith in public life against a creeping secular tide that seeks to confine faith to the closet.
Gingrich’s supporters assert that he’s electable in part because he’s now Catholic: the intemperate, erratic and twice unfaithful Newt of 1994 fame, Newt 1.0, has been replaced by Newt 2.0: disciplined, faithful, Catholic Newt.
For Mitt Romney, many question the electability of a Mormon, even though there is no compelling or widespread evidence his faith stands as an impediment to his prospective nomination. Yet Newt Gingrich’s top aide in Iowa and a Texas pastor supportive of Rick Perry both caused a “controversy” when they called Mitt Romney’s faith a cult.
Little needs to be said of Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, whose unabashed faith and understated “Tebowing” have inspired admiration and scorn in pundits in both sport and politics. However, the so-called controversy surrounding the faith of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, which is merely the political equivalent of the scorn heaped upon Tim Tebow, is much ado about nothing. On a deeper level, the pejorative characterizations and dissections of all three are deeply destructive of our culture because they offend our history, chill religious expression, and lead to an uncompassionate, brittle society.
Historically, faith has always been welcomed but not required in the American public square. While making generous allowance for such public professions of faith, America also retains a healthy separation that allows the faithful to operate without government control. Our founding documents reflect this divine duality. They both expressly invoke religion and also forbid any type of religious qualification for public office. Similarly, they permit public expressions of faith while simultaneously prohibiting any attempt to establish a national, state-sponsored religion. Acceptance of robust religious expression is deeply ingrained in our national DNA.
Recently, however, there has emerged – predominantly from the ideological left and its allies in the arts, the courts, and the academy – a historically unprecedented belief that religion should be a private matter, that one’s faith has no bearing upon or relevance to one’s public actions. Neither America nor any successful civilization has ever operated according to this dubious philosophy.