Different Faiths, Different Visions

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

BY: G. Jeffrey MacDonald

 

Continued from page 1

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.

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.

Obama has also put his stamp on what began as the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives under President George W. Bush. Bush’s office helped faith-based groups get funding for their humanitarian outreach projects. Obama, observers say, has transformed it. Now the administration in effect calls the tunes and asks which faith groups would like to dance. Example: to expand a summer food program for needy children, the administration in 2011 recruited 1,465 churches to serve as new distribution sites.

“President Obama really has changed the spirit of the [faith-based] initiative,” says Lew Daly, author of God’s Economy: Faith-Based Initiatives and the Caring State (University of Chicago Press, 2009). “He’s turned it more into a kind of standard, liberal policy initiative.”

While Romney hasn’t said much about how he’d manage faith-based initiatives, he supported Bush’s approach at the time. Restoring the Bush way would dovetail with his view, based somewhat on personal experience, of religious organizations being more attuned to local needs than federal administrators are.

Obama and Romney might share some religious beliefs, but their levels of trust in religious organizations clearly differ. Those sensibilities are apt to keep playing out, not only in the campaign but also – for one of them – in the White House.

G. Jeffrey MacDonald is a freelance journalist, ordained minister and author of Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul (Basic Books, 2010). Check out his website!

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