Governor Romney did not attempt to argue the compatibility of his own religious faith and that of most of the graduates. I was relieved. He told the graduates and their guests, "People of different faiths, like yours and mine, sometimes wonder where we can meet in common purpose, when there are so many differences in creed and theology. Surely the answer is that we can meet in service, in shared moral convictions about our nation stemming from a common worldview." He is right.
LYNCHBURG,VA (Catholic Online) - On Saturday May 12, 2012, Mitt Romney, the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party who will contend with President Barack Obama in one of the most important Presidential elections in the history of the United States, surprised many, including me.
The fact that a Mormon, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, would be the commencement speaker at the Baptist University founded by Dr Jerry Falwell speaks to the urgency of the hour. Add to this the fact that this Catholic Editor in Chief of Catholic Online would consider the speech important enough to make it the lead article, and the point is made even clearer.
Governor Romney addressed a graduating class of 14,012 and a crowd estimated at over 30,000 people. That made it the largest crowd of the 2012 campaign. His speech was deeply respectful. He affirmed the founder of the University, the late Dr Jerry Falwell:
"The calling Jerry answered was not an easy one. Today we remember him as a courageous and big-hearted minister of the Gospel who never feared an argument, and never hated an adversary. Jerry deserves the tribute he would have treasured most, as a cheerful, confident champion for Christ.I will always remember his cheerful good humor and selflessness"
He affirmed the Liberty graduates noting, "You know what you believe. You know who you are. And you know Whom you will serve. Not all colleges instill that kind of confidence, but it will be among the most prized qualities from your education here. Moral certainty, clear standards, and a commitment to spiritual ideals will set you apart in a world that searches for meaning."
"That said, your values will not always be the object of public admiration. In fact, the more you live by your beliefs, the more you will endure the censure of the world. Christianity is not the faith of the complacent, the comfortable or of the timid. It demands and creates heroic souls like Wesley, Wilberforce, Bonheoffer, John Paul the Second, and Billy Graham. Each showed, in their own way, the relentless and powerful influence of the message of Jesus Christ. May that be your guide."
Mitt Romney even managed to weave in an affirmation of his former rival, my friend and preferred candidate, former Senator Rick Santorum. In his emphasis on the importance of the culture, he told the graduates, "You enter a world with civilizations and economies that are far from equal. Harvard historian David Landes devoted his lifelong study to understanding why some civilizations rise, and why others falter. His conclusion: Culture makes all the difference. Not natural resources, not geography, but what people believe and value. Central to America's rise to global leadership is our Judeo-Christian tradition, with its vision of the goodness and possibilities of every life."
"The American culture promotes personal responsibility, the dignity of work, the value of education, the merit of service, devotion to a purpose greater than self, and, at the foundation, the pre-eminence of the family. The power of these values is evidenced by a Brookings Institution study that Sen. Rick Santorum brought to my attention. For those who graduate from high school, get a full-time job, and marry before they have their first child, the probability that they will be poor is 2%. But, if those things are absent, 76% will be poor. Culture matters."
Then, in the line quoted most from the speech by the media, Romney stood firmly and squarely for marriage and the family and free society founded upon it noting, "As fundamental as these principles are, they may become topics of democratic debate. So it is today with the enduring institution of marriage. Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman."
He was equally firm on the vital issue of religious freedom noting, "The protection of religious freedom has also become a matter of debate. It strikes me as odd that the free exercise of religious faith is sometimes treated as a problem, something America is stuck with instead of blessed with. Perhaps religious conscience upsets the designs of those who feel that the highest wisdom and authority comes from government."
"But from the beginning, this nation trusted in God, not man. Religious liberty is the first freedom in our Constitution. And whether the cause is justice for the persecuted, compassion for the needy and the sick, or mercy for the child waiting to be born, there is no greater force for good in the nation than Christian conscience in action."
"Religious freedom opens a door for Americans that is closed to too many others around the world. But whether we walk through that door, and what we do with our lives after we do, is up to us. Someone once observed that the great drama of Christianity is not a crowd shot, following the movements of collectives or even nations. The drama is always personal, individual, unfolding in one's own life. We're not alone in sensing this. Men and women of every faith, and good people with none at all, sincerely strive to do right and lead a purpose-driven life."
This was a well delivered speech filled with excellent content which the Romney campaign should use more frequently in the campaign ahead. The signal was sent to many who, like me, who are deeply concerned that the moral issues not be separated from the economic issues. It appears that the presumptive Republican candidate has listened.
Governor Romney did not attempt to argue the compatibility of his own religious faith and that of most of the graduates. I was relieved. He told the graduates and their guests, "People of different faiths, like yours and mine, sometimes wonder where we can meet in common purpose, when there are so many differences in creed and theology. Surely the answer is that we can meet in service, in shared moral convictions about our nation stemming from a common worldview. The best case for this is always the example of Christian men and women working and witnessing to carry God's love into every life - people like the late Chuck Colson."
"Not long ago, Chuck recounted a story from his days just after leaving prison. He was assured by people of influence that, even with a prison record, a man with his connections and experience could still live very comfortably. They would make some calls, get Chuck situated, and set him up once again as an important man. His choice at that crossroads would make him, instead, a great man."
I will attend Chuck's memorial service this week. He had a great influence on my own life when I was a younger man. I was moved that the Governor included him in the commencement address. Chuck deserved the honor and, frankly, I think he would have approved. What I discovered in this speech and the venue was the importance of our exercise of faithful citizenship at this critical moment in our history as a free people - a Nation conceived in liberty.
The Governor concluded with these remarks: "The call to service is one of the fundamental elements of our national character. It has motivated every great movement of conscience that this hopeful, fair-minded country of ours has ever seen. Sometimes, as Dr. Viktor Frankl observed in a book for the ages, it is not a matter of what we are asking of life, but rather what life is asking of us. How often the answer to our own troubles is to help others with theirs.
"In all of these things - faith, family, work, and service -the choices we make as Americans are, in other places, not choices at all. For so many on this earth, life is filled with orders, not options, right down to where they live, the work they do, and how many children the state will permit them to have. All the more reason to be grateful, this and every day, that we live in America, where the talents God gave us may be used in freedom."
The Romney candidacy raises a certain irony. Here we had a Mormon candidate who went to Liberty University and addressed a crowd which has major disagreement with his religious faith. However, it was this candidate who affirmed the fundamental moral values which inform the foundations of the American experiment in ordered liberty. He did so in a way which even made this Catholic Editor look twice at his candidacy.
I contend that I have more in common theologically with Liberty's Baptists as a Catholic Christian - though I am sure some present in Lynchburg on Saturday would disagree. However, Mitt Romney hit a home run in Lynchburg, Virginia on Saturday. That commencement address was not only a great speech, it also inspired me at an important moment.
Article VI, Paragraph 3 of the US Constitution includes these words, "The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."
This Mormon candidate who spoke at that Baptist Liberty University is looking better and better to this Catholic citizen as the fall Presidential race approaches. The future of the American experiment in ordered liberty is at risk.We do indeed share common values which are essential for our future as a free people. Mitt Romney is correct, "we can meet in service, in shared moral convictions about our nation stemming from a common worldview."
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