Sunday, December 09, 2007

Why Split Doctrinal Hairs?

If you've not yet read D.G. Hart's piece entitled "Jeffersonians All" I would warmly commend it. In it, Darryl draws an interesting parallel between the sentiments expressed by our nation's third President and those of Mitt Romney, the Mormon campaigning for the GOP nomination, in his recent much-discussed speech.

Romney's "Jeffersonian moment," Hart argues, came not when he assured his hearers (as did JFK during his presidential bid) that if elected he would vow to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and not the Book of Mormon or the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Instead, Hart argues:
"The actual Jeffersonian moment came just before his appeal to the separation of church and state. Romney ran through the religious virtues of fellow believers, from the profundity of the Roman Catholic Mass to the prayer life of Muslims. He then said, 'It is important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions.' The 'great moral principles,' he explained, 'urge us on a common course.' Romney... affirmed Jefferson’s view that theology doesn't matter compared to ethics. An American may believe that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, that there are three persons in one God, or that men and women have the potential to become gods. But as long as he or she believes in the nation's great moral principles they make darned good neighbors."
The irony of Romney's appeal to ethics over doctrine, Hart argues, is that it is usually only employed by evangelical Protestants, or Roman Catholics like Kennedy, whose churches at least affirm the Trinity and deity of Christ. But when a Mormon plays the deeds-over-creeds card, those Christians who are uncomfortable with the idea of a Latter-Day Saint in the White House all of a sudden become very theologically scrupulous and doctrinaire (I mean, the culture war is at stake here!).

For this turning of the faith-based tables Romney should be commended, for he has articulated what many have been thinking all along: Advocates of religion in public life have never cared about doctrinal precision, so as long as one's religion affirms the correct political ideals, then what's the harm?

After all, if the spiritual kingdom is destined to be the handmaiden of the State anyway, then why split hairs?