Different Faiths, Different Visions

Romney’s comfort with organized religion keeps showing up. As does Obama’s wariness of it.

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Since his falling out with now-retired Trinity Pastor Jeremiah Wright in 2008, Obama has had no formal ties to a religious community and has treated worship mostly as a private affair.

From these backgrounds grow divergent concerns. Obama worries about churches acting as if they are above the law. Romney worries about government policing religious practice. Both say they want Judeo-Christian values to inform public policy, but they differ on how to do that.

Consider, for instance, federal rules binding religious organizations. The Obama administration has riled Catholics by insisting church insurance policies cover birth control despite church teachings against the practice.

Catholic colleges have cried foul, too, as they’ve tried to keep labor unions from organizing adjunct instructors. Their beef: regional offices of the National Labor Relations Board have ruled certain Catholic schools are not truly Catholic – and therefore are not exempt from the board’s oversight – since they don’t require explicit faith pledges from students or faculty.

In labor matters as in health care therefore, it’s been an Obama administration priority to ensure religion isn’t used as an excuse to dodge the law.

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Meanwhile Romney, a dyed-in-the-wool product of organized religion, has championed the Catholic Church’s right to forego coverage for birth control. He’s alleged Obama is waging a “war on religion” as rules increasingly restrict and compel church affairs.

On same-sex marriage, their respective faith histories might account for differences, too. Romney opposes it because he believes marriage is a God-given institution and a union between “one man and one woman.” Mormons haven’t always defined marriage this way; they regarded polygamy as an ordained practice until 1890. But sometimes converts to a position are its most zealous defenders, and Mormons now help lead state-based efforts to defend “traditional marriage” as a pro-family stance.

For his part, Obama broke with prevailing black church tradition when his “evolving” position on same-sex marriage culminated in his May endorsement. The move was consistent, though, with his overall spiritual approach. As one who doesn’t put much stock in religious prohibitions, he faced no great hurdle in terms of scriptural warnings against gay sex. What’s more, the national setting of his former denomination has backed same-sex marriage since 2005. Thus when he felt inspired by gays and lesbians on his staff to rethink his position, he had an open spiritual path in which to do so.

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G. Jeffrey MacDonald
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