TIME Magazine’s October 8th cover reads, “What Mitt Romney’s Faith Tells Us About His Vision and Values.” Many Christians, among others, may or may not have anxiety over Romney’s Mormon faith, and that it shapes him. To me, the question is not whether a political candidate’s faith shapes him or her, but how. Does a political candidate’s faith lead him or her to sacrifice personal gain for the good of society at large? Does a candidate’s faith lead him or her to champion the ideals of democracy and human dignity and freedom over the aspirations of one’s political party, even being willing to counter party politics at points for the sake of the democratic process? Does one’s faith lead one to promote policies that will protect what the Bible refers to as “the orphan and widow in their distress” (James 1:27), and with them the alien in our midst? Given the Bible’s widespread emphasis on such concerns, those who claim to affirm the Bible’s ethical teachings must be sure to make these concerns of widespread import for their economic policies.
The TIME Magazine article raises questions concerning Governor Romney’s stance on charity. His now famous or infamous words (which he has since renounced) chastising 47% of people in America who supposedly don’t take responsibility for themselves and leech on the government stand in seeming contrast to a Romney statement reported in Christianity Today, and quoted again in TIME: “Our government rightfully provides a safety net for the hungry, the homeless, the sick and the elderly, and we have the responsibility to keep it intact for future generations” (p. 34). Which quotation of Governor Romney will win out? It might be hard to say.
It might be even harder to say given his choice of a running mate—Senator Paul Ryan. Ryan is known for his devout appreciation for Ayn Rand’s philosophy of rational selfism (anything but altruistic), whose atheism he has come to denounce in the face of criticisms from many Catholics, among others; but has Rand’s philosophy shaped indelibly his political views? Ryan does not appear to champion altruism in his economic policies and Romney’s statement advocating for a safety net for the less fortunate. I am all for hard work and industriousness, as long as we don’t think each person must fend for him or herself, and that one must pull oneself up by the bootstraps. Some people don’t have any bootstraps based on oppressive structures and other circumstances beyond their control.
Presidential and Vice-Presidential political candidates, whether they were born with silver spoons in their mouths or not, know very little presently about the reality of having to go hungry, like Jesus did (Matthew 25:35). It is important that Governor Romney’s Mormon faith and President Obama’s Mainline Protestant faith be exercised in such ways that they make sure that others far less fortunate have the resources to put spoons full of food in their mouths. Otherwise their faith will be hard to swallow.
Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and Professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University. He is the author of numerous works, including Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths (which can be found wherever fine books are sold), and is a charter member of the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy.