Presidential candidate Mitt Romney addressed his Mormon faith yesterday in a speech some say was reminiscent of the one given by JFK in 1960. You be the judge.
JFK 1960: While the so-called religious issue is necessarily and properly the chief topic here tonight, I want to emphasize from the outset that we have far more critical issues to face in the 1960 election; the spread of Communist influence, until it now festers 90 miles off the coast of Florida--the humiliating treatment of our President and Vice President by those who no longer respect our power--the hungry children I saw in West Virginia, the old people who cannot pay their doctor bills, the families forced to give up their farms-an America with too many slums, with too few schools, and too late to the moon and outer space. These are the real issues which should decide this campaign. And they are not religious issues--for war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barriers.
Romney 2007: ...America faces a new generation of challenges. Radical violent Islam seeks to destroy us. An emerging China endeavors to surpass our economic leadership. And we are troubled at home by government overspending, overuse of foreign oil, and the breakdown of the family. Over the last year, we have embarked on a national debate on how best to preserve American leadership. Today, I wish to address a topic which I believe is fundamental to America's greatness: our religious liberty. I will also offer perspectives on how my own faith would inform my Presidency, if I were elected.
JFK 1960: I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute--where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote...
Romney 2007: Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin.
JFK 1960: ...I do not intend to apologize for these views to my critics of either Catholic or Protestant faith--nor do I intend to disavow either my views or my church in order to win this election.
Romney 2007: Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they are right, so be it.
JFK 1960: ...neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test--even by indirection--for it.
Romney 2007: There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution.
There are significant differences, however, between the two speeches. Romney seemed to want Evangelical voters to feel comfortable with his candidacy. I think he succeeded on this front. He showed were there is common ground with his beliefs and those of traditional Christianity (I loved this quote: "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone."
JFK, on the other hand, did not ever appear to intend to build a bridge in his speech. If the Romney speech was an act of him extending his hand to Evangelicals, one gets the impression that the JFK speech was meant to wag the proverbial index finger to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association (as one would do to a child when they did something wrong). See this quote: "For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew--or a Quaker--or a Unitarian--or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim--but tomorrow it may be you--until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril."
Both were great speeches and served their purposes well. Obviously, JFK managed to overcome the concerns of his religious critics. We will see if Romney is able to do the same in the days and months to come.