Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Bruce Feiler Headshot

Five Questions Mitt Romney Still Needs to Answer

Posted: Updated:
The speech was well written and might pass muster in an undergraduate class on religion and the founding fathers, though even there he made some glaring missteps.

"We should acknowledge the Creator as did the founders - in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from 'the God who gave us liberty.'"

"In God We Trust" went on our currency in 1957, and "under God" went in in the Pledge in 1954. The Founders had nothing to do with them.

Elsewhere, this whopper jumped out at me.

"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. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes President he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths."

Um, saying that explaining his church's doctrine enables this religious test is a stretch at best, and makes me wonder, at least, what he's trying to hide. He voluntarily offered his answer to the test on Jesus, after all, suggesting that those who don't believe in Jesus would not qualify in this regard. He also volunteered to hold up his marriage to scrutiny, why not his belief system?

Which brings me to this passage, which is especially icky, and troubling.

"My faith is grounded on these truths. You can witness them in Ann and my marriage and in our family. We are a long way from perfect and we have surely stumbled along the way, but our aspirations, our values, are the self -same as those from the other faiths that stand upon this common foundation. And these convictions will indeed inform my presidency."

Is he proposing a Marriage Test for office?

But in general I'd say that the speech was an eloquent attempt at changing the topic. The riff about envying traditions of other faiths was well-turned, I thought. But those who wonder about Romney's -- or anybody else's -- religion and how it will affect their performance as president don't need lectures on freedom of worship in America. What we want to understand, at its core, is first, What the character of these men and women are? and second, How will their beliefs influence their actions as president?

Here, reiterating what I've written in the past, are five questions Romney should still answer:

1. Do you believe Jews, Christians, and Muslims all worship the same God? George W. Bush answered this question affirmatively in 2004 and was heaped with brimstone by the Religious Right. Today, given events in Iraq and Iran, and fears of terrorism, anti-Muslim sentiment in America seems even higher. Yet any attempt to address these issues depends on our ability to work cooperatively with the Muslim world.

2. With religion a dominant issue in the world today, wouldn't our children be more prepared for the 21st century if our schools taught them about religion? The 1963 Supreme Court Decision that outlawed using the Bible for religious purposes in schools explicitly stated that teaching religion in a non-denominational way was allowed. Since most religious institutions and families endorse one view of religion, teaching children to live and work with those who disagree is a defining challenge of the new century.

3. Do you believe that Israeli settlers have a God-given right to the West Bank? American politics has seen a curious alliance between Israel-loving Jews and evangelical Christians who believe Jewish residence in Israel is a precondition for the return of Jesus. Yet peace in the region depends on dismantling some settlements. Which voters are more important: Those who believe God should help determine the fate of Israel, or to those who believe that unrest in the Arab world is fueled by Washington's reluctance to push for a two-state solution?

4. Given the Bible's role over the years in defending slavery, repressing women and justifying violence, can you pledge that you will keep it out of policy decisions? American history shows that advocates on all sides of major debates cite the Bible to support their position, rendering it almost meaningless. Maybe the time has come to purge the Bible from policy debates entirely.

5. Is it our obligation to spread God's blessing of liberty to the rest of the world? President Bush evoked the spread of God's freedom when going into Iraq but balked at doing the same in Darfur. President Clinton intervened in Kosovo but failed to see a greater plight in Rwanda. Perhaps the most important question about God in politics today is whether Americans are in the mood to see our struggles with religion played out on an international stage.

Romney seemed to signal a yes to this final question, suggesting that his religion will inform his policies more than he is letting on. His invoking of the God of liberty to me suggests that he's more of an ideologue than he'd like to admit. Romney has clearly been reading up on the history of religion in America. (The tear in his eye on John Adams calling for a prayer at the first Congress was a masterful.) But if he learned anything, perhaps he learned that Americans in times of national anxiety are not particularly inclined to lead with tolerance -- as Catholics, Jews, Mormons, Masons, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Muslims, among others, have discovered over the years. Romney's at-times overwritten and awkwardly delivered talk does little to suggest to me that he is the man to change this pattern.