Friday, May 11, 2007

The Problems with Mitt Romney's Religious Opposition to Gay Marriage

Mitt Romney, a candidate for the Republican nomination for President, has made his opposition to marriage for same-sex couples the centerpiece in his claim to Conservatism. And this Sunday he set himself up as a Man of Faith by using Scripture to justify his advocacy.

In an interview with Mike Wallace, he introduced the notion that his civil principles may rest on his religious doctrines. And that, I suspect, may not ultimately play out to be a wise choice. Although I believe this may have been an attempt to showcase his shared values with conservative Christian Republicans, I think his statements contain elements that could instead give rise to concerns for those who are leaders in conservative Christianity.

"This isn't just some temporary convenience here on Earth, but we're people that are designed to live together as male and female and we're gonna have families," he tells interviewer Mike Wallace, according to an excerpt CBS released Friday. "And that, there's a great line in the Bible that children are an inheritance of the Lord and happy is he who has or hath his quiver full of them."

There are, as I see it two problems with the above quote.

Although the first statement may initially seem to refer to commonly shared faith, it does not. While Mormons do believe that marriages consecrated on Earth may be bound in Heaven and that spousal relationships can carry beyond the grave, this is not a belief of orthodox Christianity. And one reason Christians do believe that marriage is, indeed, temporary and here on Earth could be something that Romney would prefer to remain undiscussed – second marriages. Introducing this conversation can quickly trigger anti-Mormon sentiments and doom his chances.

Another reason that orthodox Christianity dismisses post-death marriage relationships is because Christ specifically said they did not exist. Though non-Mormon Christians may sing about their loved ones waiting for them in the sweet by-and-by, their priests, pastors, and other religious leaders remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:23-30:

That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. "Teacher," they said, "Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and have children for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?"

Jesus replied, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.

So while this message about non-Earthly marriage may appeal to fellow Mormons, or even seem comfortable to many sentimental lay Christians, I doubt that conservative Christian leaders were much comforted by this reminder that Romney is not, really, one of their own. And I do not believe that Romney can win the nomination by emphasizing those doctrinal points in which his faith differs from traditional Christianity.

While I personally believe the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is within the family of Christianity, only about one third of the population are certain that they agree with me. On CNN this week the former executive director of the Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed, was unwilling to say that Mormons are Christians.

The second part of his statement suggests either a shaky familiarity with Scripture or some rather disturbing theological notions. The “great line in the Bible” that Romney quoted comes from Psalms 127:3-5:

Sons are a heritage from the LORD,
children a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are sons born in one's youth.

Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their enemies in the gate.

Even a casual reading of this Psalm clearly illustrates the militaristic nature of the writer’s world. Male children of one’s youth are valuable and a blessing because they can fight with you against your enemies. This is not exactly the Norman Rockwell ‘happy man with a quiver full of children’ image that Romney seems to joyously use as his justification for discrimination.This selection troubles me.

Although I do not seek to criticize Scripture, I do believe in cultural context. I sincerely hope that we, as 21st Century Americans, do not view male children as preferable to female children. And I hope that we don’t see any of our children as military advantages.

I doubt many will read much into Romney’s Scriptural selection. But it should concern the citizenry that a man seeking to be Commander in Chief in the midst of a less-than-successful war uses sexist and militaristic imagery when talking about marriage. And it should concern conservative Christians that Romney may not be fully aware of the passages he quotes. And to the extent that his principles are based on his faith, it may concern conservatives who insist that public policy be based on their faith alone.