On Dec. 5, Mitt Romney gave an excellent speech at Texas A&M University about the relationship between church and state. He asked evangelicals to take an inclusive outlook toward his Mormon faith, and he urged Americans not to exclude the language of faith from our national discourse.
He correctly argued that faith has always been a key part of our political culture, and that it played a key role in the abolitionist and civil rights movements in our history. Romney pointed out that his father's faith motivated him to march in the civil rights movement. He cited Scripture, which offers us guidance on how our government should behave, including the beautiful passage from Matthew 25 in which we are to "welcome the stranger."
But Romney has made it abundantly clear that he actually has no interest in welcoming the stranger: just the opposite. Of all the candidates for president, Romney takes the hardest line on immigration. He appeals to the most base elements in our souls instead of the better angels of our nature. His rhetoric has reached the level of the Tancredos and Dobbs of the world: pure demagoguery, hammering away at people's fears.
Unfortunately, this sort of politics is often effective, and Romney is hoping that it works for him. It's easy to forget, but it worked for George Wallace in Alabama. "In Birmingham we loved the Governor," sang Lynyrd Skynyrd, and they did, to the tune of four terms in office for the man who vowed to protect segregation forever.
It worked in Arkansas for Orville Faubus, dismissed as a buffoon by our history books for sending out the National Guard to prevent the Little Rock Nine from attending Central High School. No 20th century governor was elected as many times as Faubus' six. The Gallup poll of 1958 listed Faubus as "one of the ten men in the world most admired by Americans."
Romney knows that such racial demagoguery was politically effective, and the same sort of tactic may work for him. A win in Michigan will again anoint him as the Republican front-runner, having won two firsts and two seconds in state races. He can take that momentum to the South, where he has some strong support.
Fear-mongering may be good politics, but it is not Christian. The Bible tells us to "love the alien living among you as yourself," to "welcome the stranger," and to show hospitality. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ blesses those who are excluded and those who are merciful. Throughout Scripture he makes dire warnings to the unmerciful and inhospitable.
Romney is no Christian leader. He touts his credentials as a family friendly president but promises to split up immigrant families. He grounds his arguments in "the law" but ignores the fact that Christ was a law-breaker condemned by the legalistic Pharisees. The prophet of Mormonism was Joseph Smith, killed in jail, a law-breaker. The abolitionists he admires and civil rights leaders his dad marched with were law-breakers, serving a higher calling than the law of man.
Romney says he would deport every undocumented alien in the country. Keep 'em running, show no mercy or compassion for the unwanted. How ironic, given our country's historic treatment of the Mormons. We persecuted them and ran them all the way from New York to Utah. Ignoring this irony requires an absolute lack of political, religious and moral integrity, but Romney seems more than willing to sacrifice his integrity on the altar of political success.
Romney is certainly right that we should not judge the Mormons. One of the most godly men I know is Mormon, and I owe him a debt of gratitude for seeing me through one of the most difficult times of my life in a Christian manner. "Be the man God wants you to be," he admonished.
But Romney absolutely fails to live up to the ideals he described in his Texas A&M speech, and he is not even close to the candidate God wants him to be.
Sean McKenzie, a Methodist, teaches high school in Calhoun, Ga.