The EFM Feature

Daniel Larison recently wrote the following in response to Nancy’s post on Mark DeMoss and integrity:

All right, so let’s reliably assume that Mr. DeMoss is on the up and up. I have no reason right now to assume otherwise. Did he happen to also to write the books How To Not Get Trapped By Wishful Thinking or How To Avoid Being Conned By Politicians Who Tell Me What I Want To Hear? Until he has demonstrated similar insights in these areas, we might hold off on investing his support for Romney with too much significance.
No one’s questioning Mr. DeMoss’ integrity–we’re questioning Romney’s! Part of the criticism of Romney is that he is tricking people into supporting him by saying all the right things, so it hardly exonerates the con man to say that the honest mark is really honest. To the extent that we’re questioning Mr. DeMoss at all, we’re questioning the soundness of his judgement as to whether Gov. Romney’s “evolution” is more than cynical expediency. If Romney has a history of changing his positions to suit the political environment (which he has) and an apparently impressive ability to reinvent himself somewhat convincingly, a perfectly honest man could trust him and be completely wrong about the man.

Mr. Larison is dreaming if he thinks Governor Romney simply tells conservative evangelicals what they want to hear.
Yes, Governor Romney has become pro-life. Yes, he has changed his view on ENDA and gays in the military. But let’s focus for a bit on the signature cultural issue on which he has waged battles–marriage. Two things must be acknowledged on this front:
1. Governor Romney has never, in any political campaign, not even 1994, endorsed “gay marriage.” There has been no reversal on this issue at all.
2. Governor Romney has been both tireless and unique in continuing to call for tolerance of homosexuals, even while vigorously fighting the unfortunate effort some of them are making to redefine marriage.
Take as an example the letter he wrote to senators in 2006. It included these words:

Next week, you will vote on a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution protecting the institution of marriage. As Governor of the state most directly affected by this amendment, I hope my perspectives will encourage you to vote “yes.”
Americans are tolerant, generous, and kind people. We all oppose bigotry and disparagement, and we all wish to avoid hurtful disregard of the feelings of others. But the debate over same-sex marriage is not a debate over tolerance. It is a debate about the purpose of the institution of marriage.
Attaching the word marriage to the association of same-sex individuals mistakenly presumes that marriage is principally a matter of adult benefits and adult rights. In fact, marriage is principally about the nurturing and development of children. And the successful development of children is critical to the preservation and success of our nation.

The same sort of measured language is evident in this 2004 Wall Street Journal op-ed:

Marriage is a fundamental and universal social institution. It encompasses many obligations and benefits affecting husband and wife, father and mother, son and daughter. It is the foundation of a harmonious family life. It is the basic building block of society: The development, productivity and happiness of new generations are bound inextricably to the family unit. As a result, marriage bears a real relation to the well-being, health and enduring strength of society.
Because of marriage’s pivotal role, nations and states have chosen to provide unique benefits and incentives to those who choose to be married. These benefits are not given to single citizens, groups of friends, or couples of the same sex. That benefits are given to married couples and not to singles or gay couples has nothing to do with discrimination; it has everything to do with building a stable new generation and nation.

Similarly with his speech to the 2004 Republican National Convention:

Throughout our history, when our country needed us, Americans have stepped forward by expressing tolerance and respect for all God’s children, regardless of their differences and choices. At the same time, because every child deserves a mother and father we step forward by recognizing that marriage is between a man and a woman.

And Governor Romney has continued to speak this way. Just recently, he told George Stephanopolous, “But I can tell you that I’m against discrimination against people who are gay and lesbian,” continuing to maintain that there is no contradiction between this and his other positions.
That, it is not rocket science to point out, is not the langauge one often hears from conservative evangelicals. We–and in this I include EFM–are often quick to say what we are against. That, of course, is things like gay marriage, abortion, and so on. And what we want to hear from our would-be champions is that they oppose those things, too.
But when Governor Romney talks about these issues, he throws in something else we don’t expect: a call for tolerance. And in so doing, he isn’t just telling us what we want to hear, despite Larison’s claims to the contrary.
What we want to hear is how bad the “other” is–the homosexual, the abortionist, you know the list. What we don’t want to hear as we rightly condemn their sins–and perhaps even shape public policy around them–is that we are no better than they are. Unfortunately for us, though, that is what the Bible teaches.
We all know the words of Jesus: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” But we hate being reminded that what Paul wrote of himself is true of us as well:

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.

We are humans. We are sinful. We like to be flattered. If Mitt Romney were really “saying all the right things,” it seems to me that he would therefore flatter us. He would tell us how much better we are than those guys in Cambridge who want to marry other guys.
But he doesn’t. Even after months of taking flak from both sides–the misguided conservatives who claim he isn’t conservative enough and the radical homosexuals who will never forgive him for steadfastly fighting their push to redefine marriage–he still keeps using the same message: Marriage is for a man and a woman but that does not excuse us from our obligation to tolerate everybody.
Wouldn’t it be easier to just boil it down? Wouldn’t it be easier to simply inveigh against “those people?” To claim that he was wrong even to utter the word “tolerance” in 1994 or anytime since? Surely it would. Yet he sticks to this more complicated message.
I’ll admit: I’m torn as to whether this is good politics. I’m not sure most folks–you know, respectable people who aren’t such political junkies that they spend hours of their Saturday puttering around with a blog post–have the attention span to parse it out. In all honesty, it still catches me by surprise sometimes, and I suspect I read more about Governor Romney than 99 percent of the population.
But I’m not torn as to whether Larison–or the million other folks who make the same critique he does–are right. They are unequivocally wrong. If Governor Romney wanted to pander, he would mouth the words that would be easier for sinners like me to hear. Instead, he reminds me that I am called to tolerate other sinners like me.
Note the word choice there: tolerate. It doesn’t say “accept.” It doesn’t mean I have to say that their behavior is okay. It isn’t, and the Bible is very clear on that. We struggle with this notion today–the left has tried to redefine it. David and I both know this personally; we have spent many hours at our day jobs fighting repugnant and mandatory sensitivity training for those deemed “intolerant” on today’s campuses merely for speaking their minds. But that’s not what tolerance means. It is the value upon which Pennsylvania (where I used to live) was founded centuries ago. Quakers like William Penn didn’t think other religions were right, but they tolerated them.
It occurs to me that Mitt Romney might be doing all of us a great service in attempting to revive this key principle. We’re confused about it ourselves, and we run from it. Yet it seems to be one that many in the Middle East could stand to learn. Would we have the problems we have if so many people there didn’t find trusting Jesus to be a crime worthy of beheading? Maybe a President Romney would be a good messenger on this point.
I’m not sure about that, but I am sure that Augustine was a lot smarter than I am, so with a hat tip to the Acton Institute’s PowerBlog, I’ll leave you with his words:

That is, he should not hate the man because of the fault, nor should he love the fault because of the man; rather, he should hate the fault but love the man. And when the fault has been healed there will remain only what he ought to love, and nothing that he ought to hate.

UPDATE: For some reason, the Augustine quote seems to have gotten messed up in the initial posting. It was restored just after 10 p.m.

About Charles Mitchell

EFM's resident Yankee, Charles Mitchell, works in the non-profit arena in his native Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Charissa, live near the state capital of Harrisburg with their daughter, Adeline, and are members of a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America.

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