Some months ago at Think Christian, I proposed a different type of religious test for political candidates, one focused on evaluating whether policy positions reflect Christianity, not whether a candidate professes Christianity. While my initial goal was to respond to the meteoric yet short-lived rise of Rick Perry, Mitt Romney's virtual clinching of the Republican nomination provides a new opportunity to apply my test. After all, I contend that the implications of Romney's views should be more important to Christians than his Mormonism.
In order to draw conclusions about the Christianity of a specific policy, I must first have a clear understanding of what I believe Christianity to be. I characterize Christianity as representing equal opportunity (John 1:12), personal responsibility (2 Corinthians 5:10) and loving concern for others (Mark 12:30-31). With these principles as a foundation, I can determine whether or not any politician's views match up with my faith.
Contrary to my expectations, several of Mitt Romney's positions (at least according to his campaign website) grade out quite well. His plans for both Medicare and Social Security, for example, seem to present equal opportunity while maintaining a sense of individual responsibility. In terms of Medicare, Romney supports a plan that moves towards fixed-amount benefits and a choice between multiple-benefit programs. On its face, this move would seem to limit funding (individuals would only get a certain amount of vouchers per month), thus limiting access. The proposed reforms, however, maintain benefit levels and types for those who are either retired or approaching retirement. In addition, Romney's proposals do not do away with the traditional fee-for-service arrangement currently in place, as long as that's what an individual prefers to spend their money on. Of course, the real determining factor here is whether or not the fixed amount is enough to pay for quality care without individual contribution. If it were not, then the plan would not provide equal access across economic classes.
In terms of Social Security, Romney favors means testing as a method of making sure that wealthy beneficiaries do not sap the system collecting benefits that they do not need, thus reflecting concern for those less fortunate. Coupled with a slowly rising retirement age, Romney's plan seems to make the difficult choices necessary to maintain the program's solvency. The key, though, is Romney's willingness to balance the books by balancing the sacrifice. The only problem is that the reforms don’t go far enough, as Romney's campaign website makes no mention of lifting the cap on taxable earnings.
The implications of Romney's views should be more important to Christians than his Mormonism.
Other facets of Romney's policies, however, are less reflective of what I consider to be Christian priorities. In particular, his immigration plan favors increased visa caps, but only for “highly skilled workers.” In addition, Romney proposes granting permanent resident status to “graduates with advanced degrees in math, science and engineering,” the effect of which is to suggest that the American border is only open to certain types of immigrants. Targeting a particular class of immigrant limits access to the American dream, in effect denying residency to the poorest and least educated. This has the effect of turning people into nothing more than engines for economic growth, and it represents neither equal opportunity nor concern for the least among us. In addition, and perhaps worst of all, Romney's website announces a blanket opposition to amnesty, a position that could force citizens to choose between living and attending school here and staying connected with their immediate family.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of any attempt to evaluate Mitt Romney's positions, though, is that they seem to change so often. While I am not naive enough to suggest that other politicians are any different in this regard, it does seem that Romney has a particular affinity for changing his mind. After all, Massachusetts, where Romney was governor, is the birthplace of the individual mandate regarding health care, a concept now anathema to most Republicans. Despite his own claims of continuity, even the most basic analysis of Romney's successful 2002 campaign in Massachusetts reveals a moderate streak missing from Mitt 2012. This matters, of course, because it casts doubt on how serious he is about some of his commitments, most notably those that guarantee to maintain, or even increase, current benefit levels.
While this is by no means an exhaustive treatment (after all, there is no mention of tax policy, environmental policy, labor policy, health care policy, the deficit, etc.), Romney's policy positions seem hit and miss in the extent to which they reflect what I consider Christian values. Of course, your understanding of the essence of Christianity, at least in how it relates to politics, may be completely different from mine. To that end, I encourage you to seriously reflect on what makes a politician worthy of your vote, all the while maintaining my initial claim that policy, not public profession of faith, should be the most important indicator.
What Do You Think?
- What is more important to you: that a candidate publicly professes a Christian faith or that he/she supports policies that are in line with Christian convictions?
- What is your opinion of Mitt Romney as a presidential candidate?
- What issues should Christians focus on in the 2012 presidential election?