Mitt Romney and Lutherans: a marriage made in Switzerland

Do Lutherans have a "confident independence?"  That’s the quality that Governor Mitt Romney most appreciates about us.  Hmmm . . . That’s not an aspect of our Lutheran tradition that came up in seminary or in the Lutheranism: What It Means blog carnival I sponsored a while back, and it belies the stereotype of Lutheran modesty perpetuated by A Prairie Home Companion.

About midway through Thursday’s speech on religious liberty, Governor Romney named some of those qualities he admires of other religions.  Here’s the entire passage:

"I believe that every faith I have encountered draws its adherents
closer to God. And in every faith I have come to know, there are
features I wish were in my own: I love the profound ceremony of the
Catholic Mass, the approachability of God in the prayers of the
Evangelicals, the tenderness of spirit among the Pentecostals, the
confident independence of the Lutherans, the ancient traditions of the
Jews, unchanged through the ages, and the commitment to frequent prayer
of the Muslims. As I travel across the country and see our towns and
cities, I am always moved by the many houses of worship with their
steeples, all pointing to heaven, reminding us of the source of life’s
blessings."
(copied from Governor Mitt Romney’s "Faith in America" Address, posted on his campaign website)

So where did Governor Romney get this idea that we Lutherans have a "confident independence"?  Perhaps he pulled a Reformation history textbook from his shelf and found Martin Luther’s confident proclamation "Here I stand, I can do no other" there on page 1 of Chapter 1.  Or perhaps his perception is rooted in meeting one of my more conservative Lutheran brothers in the Missouri Synod, Wisconsin Synod or Evangelical Lutheran Synod (among other groups), groups for whom a fierce independence from ecclesial structures, other Lutherans, and most anybody else often seems to be a central tenet of faith.  Perhaps.

But why mention us Lutherans?  Ruling out the dart-thrown-at-a-religious-dart-board theory, I’m left scratching my head.  There are many more Methodists and Baptists in this country, and the Episcopalian place in our nation’s history (particularly East Coast) as a long-standing unofficial state church and church home to so many US Presidents is much more storied than ours.  And Presbyterian is just a much cooler sounding word.  Presbyterian.  Just say it.  It’s fun.  Kind of.

Of course, Governor Romney did reference some religious groups that have outspoken political organizations and leaders – the Catholics, the Evangelicals, and the Pentecostals.  Politically astute, he is.  So, perhaps we Lutherans were there to balance his speech, an attempt to minimize the perception that he was simply trying to score political points with politically potent religious groups.  It’s not like we Lutherans are a significant or well-organized voting block, after all.  He’s obviously not pandering to us, for we have no political heft.  And yet we also don’t have the political red flags of the Presbyterians (who have tried to divest themselves of holdings in companies that support Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands) or of the Episcopalians (who have a liberal/conservative crisis on their hands most notably manifesting itself in the sexuality issue).  Ours was a politically and culturally safe name to drop as he attempted to round-out his menagerie of American religion.  We’re the Switzerland, the vanilla of American religion when it comes to our politics.

There’s much more to say about this speech, particularly about this claim that America’s diverse faiths "share a common creed of moral convictions."  The moral convictions to which my faith leads me are at times quite different than those of some other Christians in this country.  And then there’s the whole church/state issue that he awkwardly straddles.  Governor Romney, a Mormon, was all but forced to make this speech by conservative Christians who want a religious litmus test for political leaders, a test he resists ("A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith").  Yet he made the speech, attempting to pass the very litmus test he claimed to reject by affirming his belief in Jesus Christ as "the Son of God and savior of mankind."  And of course, he supports the invocation of God’s name in political discourse and in the symbols of our nation – on our currency, in our pledge, in the courts – a practice that serves to blur the separation of church and state, a practice that encourages a "majority rules" mentality in terms of religion, a practice that maligns the very kind of religious minority groups of which he is a member.  But that’s the stuff of future posts.

Even if I am still trying to figure out what the heck Governor Romney means by our "confident independence," or why he named us in his speech, I admit to feeling some sense of giddiness in being at the receiving end of a shout-out in a big time political speech.  It’s like when Lutherans get referenced on Garrison Keillor, The Simpsons, or any other show or movie – these may not be the most illuminating of references, but at least someone is saying our name on a national stage. 

About Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.
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9 Responses to Mitt Romney and Lutherans: a marriage made in Switzerland

  1. Anonymous says:

    How many Lutherans are there in Iowa that will vote in the Republican primary? That might be why Romney mentioned Lutherans, but it might be also because of the influence on Romney of Richard John Neuhaus of “First Things”, the former Lutheran pastor turned Catholic priest. This influence was outlined by David Brooks in his NY Times column today (7 Dec 2007).

  2. Anonymous says:

    Since the speech was a calculated effort, obviously, I’d go with some sort of Mid-west (Iowa) meaning. But I agree with you, it is nice to be “noticed.” But, Akkkkk, for what?

  3. Chris says:

    Here’s the link to the David Brooks article referenced by the anonymous commenter above: Faith vs. the Faithless. It’s a good article and offers an important critique of the speech and the nature of religion in the public square these days. Whereas I argued that Governor Romney’s speech and tactics actually hurts the cause of religious minorities, Brooks more articulately takes this line of thought further to include the non-religious. Read his commentary. It’s good.

  4. Donna Summer says:

    Mormonism is a secret society cult that practices strange rituals in their temples. I’m a life-long Republican who will switch parties if he is the nominee of the Republican Party.

  5. mamaS says:

    I heard a snippet of discussion on Talk of the Nation this morning regarding this phrase from the speech:
    “Religion needs freedom and
    freedom needs religion.”
    I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one, LZ.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I note he neglected to discuss the enduring gifts of my own ecclesial body. I do understand why if he is a devout Mormon, however–he would not be able to partake of our cocktail parties nor our impeccable taste in wine & cheese…

  7. liz says:

    Great post. I’m guessing “confident independence” sounds a lot more stable than, say, “paradox-loving.” Although that might make us attractive to politicians who like to speak out of both sides of their mouths. 😉
    And, much as I admire your desire to give him the benefit of the doubt, I gotta say that I do think he was pandering – there are a ton of Lutherans in Iowa!

  8. Anonymous says:

    How odd–my name dropped of my wine & cheese post…
    That was me.

  9. Here’s my post on his speech: (http://luthermatrix19.blogspot.com/2007/12/two-speeches-on-faith.html)
    I think I had read too deeply into Mitt’s reference to us. I thought he was referring to our independence from the Reformed tradition AND from the Papal tradition; every Christian swings one way or the other, but the Lutherans are sort of square in the middle doing their own thing… That said your political explanation makes better sense.

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