Romney's partnership of believers

Religion could help propel the Republican candidate to victory.

Romney bumper sticker 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Romney bumper sticker 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Explaining Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s resounding defeat to Newt Gingrich in the South Carolina primary, Senator John McCain of Arizona speculated that “there was some element of anti-Mormonism in that vote.”
When Romney, now the clear frontrunner following his decisive victories in Florida and Nevada, released tax returns showing that he had tithed 10 percent of his income to his church some observers considered this damaging. The “Christian Science Monitor” cited presidential historian Charles Dunn, who advised Romney to have a sit-down with evangelical leaders and emulate the strategy John F. Kennedy adopted in 1960. At that time, Kennedy successfully parried fears among Protestants that a Roman Catholic candidate would be a pawn of the papacy.
It would be a pity if Romney needed to follow Dunn’s advice. The current election, along with other developments, has demonstrated that much progress has been made since 1960 in achieving interfaith cohesion between religious traditionalists.
Conservatives and evangelicals, concerned that Romney was not ideologically sound, pondered a choice between Gingrich and Rick Santorum, both of whom are Roman Catholic. When a highly publicized meeting of evangelical leaders convened in Texas to settle upon a candidate, they picked the Catholic Santorum over their own governor and fellow evangelist Rick Perry. Santorum was at ease before an overwhelmingly Protestant audience, confident that he knew his Bible as well as they did. Gingrich, also speaking to Protestants, lionized, to general approval, Pope John Paul II ’s major contribution to the fall of Communism.
This closing of denominational ranks has encompassed traditional Judaism as well. In December, Britain’s Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks was invited to deliver a seminal address to the pontifical Gregorian University in Rome at the invitation of Pope Benedict. Sacks used the occasion to call upon Jews and Christians to move from face-to-face dialogue to what he called a side-by-side partnership: “For,” he continued, “the task ahead of us is not between Jews and Catholics, or even Jews and Christians in general, but between Jews and Christians on the one hand, and the increasingly, even aggressively secularizing forces at work in Europe today on the other, challenging and even ridiculing our faith.”
It is no secret that many Catholics and Anglicans in Britain view the chief rabbi, some even with a twinge of envy, as an intellectual hero and a defender of the faith – all faiths, not only Judaism.
This is not a one-way street. For example, US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who defends the role of religion, is an intellectual hero among American Orthodox Jews. At an Agudath Israel dinner in 2008, Scalia was accorded rock star treatment and federal marshals had to clear space for him. Scalia has, in turn, tapped Orthodox Jewish law graduates to serve as his clerks.
Returning to politics, one of the heartwarming stories of the 2010 mid-term elections was the participation of Nechama Soloveichik, a grandniece of the renowned Rabbi Aharon Soloveichik, in Catholic Republican Pat Toomey's successful senate campaign. Although her job as communications director generally demands 24/7 accessibility, the many staunch Catholic staffers fully respected Soloveichik's unavailability on Shabbat and holidays, and the fact that she would not join them for cheeseburgers.
She felt equally comfortable with staffers who attended daily mass.
The side-by-side approach of the religiously committed is a welcome corrective to the notion that religious pluralism can best be defended by the lukewarm and the lapsed.
And although Romney may have to allay fears that he is wishy-washy, he should not have to apologize for being a devoted member of his church. On the contrary, this should accredit him as a welcome reinforcement to the partnership of believers.
Contributing editor Amiel Ungar is also a columnist for the Hebrew weekly ʽBesheva.’