There is an old story about a man who was visited in the hospital by his family after he had been in a terrible accident. When they came into his room, they were shocked. He looked like one complete cast from head to toe. He confessed privately to his family that he had not been run over by a truck, but he had talked about faith and politics in the wrong place. We may smile at this story but today’s news demonstrates its reality.
Tom Cruise has rediscovered the problem of mixing faith and politics. This year, German officials refused to allow him to film a movie in their nation because of his Scientology beliefs. In addition, the German government is discussing banning Scientology from Germany altogether. The German movie industry, however, in a unique grassroots initiative, has given Cruise a national award for courage. This story is important because it shows the scrutiny that minority faiths such as Mormonism, Scientology, and others can encounter in the post 9/11 world.
Against this international backdrop, Mitt Romney took the extraordinary step of finally discussing his faith. Many argue that this speech came a year too late to help him in Iowa and South Carolina primaries. Over a year ago, Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention suggested that the former governor give a Kennedy-like speech to address the issue of Mormonism. Dr. Land went so far as to give him a copy of Kennedy’s 1960 address which many say was the turning point in helping Americans lay aside their questions about JFK’s Catholic background.
As the year slipped by, Romney has run an excellent campaign in terms of strategy, fund raising, and developing regional awareness in important primary states. Yet he and his campaign team have avoided the 800 pound gorilla sitting in the room - America’s opinion about his faith and the Mormon church. It may have looked as though Romney was going to be able to sidestep the faith question until the general election. Then Mike Huckabee, the winsome, Baptist minister entered the race and began to sweep Iowa largely because of his faith. The straw that broke Romney’s silence may have been last month’s secret telephone poll that deceptively informed potential voters about his Mormon roots.
So Romney stepped up and delivered an astute speech that made a convincing case. The following lines were the core of the speech:
"Almost 50 years ago another candidate from Massachusetts explained that he was an American running for president, not a Catholic running for president. Like him, I am an American running for president. I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith.”
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.