The Founding Fathers would be pleased. President Obama, endorsing same-sex marriage, celebrates his becoming fully evolved by citing the golden rule, Christ’s admonition to “you know, treat others the way you want to be treated.” (Jesus said it better.) Mitt Romney tells an audience of 35,000 at Liberty University’s commencement that central to America’s global leadership is “our Judeo-Christian tradition.”
The Founding Fathers wanted the vocabulary of religious faith and belief to be used in vigorous debate in the public square. But they knew the Bible was subject to different interpretations and men had gone to war over those differences of interpretation. They made sure that none of the interpretations was engraved in the law.
By careful design, God makes no appearance in the Constitution. The religious influence in governing is prominent by its absence. No religious test would be required for office, and the establishment of a state religion was prohibited. When Alexander Hamilton was asked why God is never mentioned in the Constitution, he replied with a wink: “We forgot.”
When John Adams, a devout Christian, was asked to state his religious creed, he said it in four words: “Be just and good.”
Mr. Romney’s eloquent commencement address at Liberty University, one of the largest Christian universities, reflected this appreciation of diversity. “Men and women of every faith, and good people with none at all,” he said, “sincerely strive to do right and lead a purpose-driven life.”
He never mentioned his own Mormon faith and drew on the words of religious thinkers and philosophers who stressed the importance of the Judeo-Christian culture and conscience with “its vision of the goodness and possibilities of every life.”
He was passionate in appeals to the values that unite all Americans: “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.”
He appealed to moral absolutes, citing the example of Martin Luther King as an inspiration. “As a young man,” he said, “with most of my life ahead of me, I decided early to give my life to the eternal and absolute. Not to these little gods that are here today and gone tomorrow. But to God, who is the same yesterday, today and forever.”
Mr. Romney’s remarks at the redoubt of Christian evangelism, where every class begins with prayer, disappointed those who know such Christians only by cliches and stereotypes of their own making. New York Times columnist Frank Bruni lamented that Mr. Romney didn’t make same-sex marriage a wedge issue, to “fan the flames of hellfire.” To the chagrin of the liberals looking forward to watching Mr. Obama run against a hotheaded self-righteous sermonizing conservative, Mr. Romney smashes the stereotype that he, like all men and women of faith, is hopelessly out of touch with “mainstream” secular society.
Mr. Romney briefly described marriage as between a man and a woman, to a sustained standing ovation, but did not dwell on it. He had another message during a special day for the graduates.
The wedge-master so far is Mr. Obama. A poll by the New York Times-CBS News found that a stunning 67 percent of Americans think the president announced his conversion to support of homosexual marriage “mostly for political reasons,” not as a matter of conviction and principle.
Mr. Romney’s critics poke fun at him as stiff and humorless, but he often pokes fun at himself. He spoke of turning his business expertise into a parable of personal service.
When he was first asked to rescue the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, he dismissed the idea. Besides, he had no particular athletic prowess. His sons joked that they could not imagine their father’s photograph on the front page of the sports section.
Nevertheless, he saved the Olympics, and it became one of his rewarding triumphs.
“Opportunities for you to serve in meaningful ways may come at inconvenient times, but that will make them all the more precious,” he told the graduates. “It is not a matter of what we are asking of life,” he said, quoting Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, “but rather what life is asking of us.”