Friday, May 11, 2012

An Unwise Decision: Romney Allowed to Speak at Liberty

Open letter to the Liberty “Kens” (Ken Blackwell and Ken Klukowski, professors at Liberty University).

In a Huffington Post article from 5/11, two professors from Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA, wrote an article (“Evangelicals will Rally for Romney”). They wrote in support of Liberty hosting Romney in today’s commencement exercise. In my blog, I am including their article in full (underlined), with my comments given underneath.
Elections are about choices, and 2012's pivotal election showcases two very different visions for America's future. Governor Mitt Romney is quickly consolidating the Republican base to enthusiastically support him this November. His speech this weekend at Liberty University illustrates these efforts, providing an opportunity to underscore Romney's embrace of American exceptionalism in both his public and private life.
First, I need to introduce myself as the father of a future Liberty student. This fall my daughter is transferring as a junior to Liberty. This was a decision she made with her mother and me last year.  In fact, my daughter took a year off from school in order to work fulltime at a secular job to earn money for next year’s tuition. I must say, if she hadn’t already put her eggs into the proverbial one basket one basket (Liberty), there’s a good chance she would not have chosen this school. She along with her mother and I are seriously disappointed with the decision of the school’s leaders. Here are several reasons why:
1.  Having Mr. Romney come a conflict of interest. If you’re going to have a Republican nominee speak, why didn’t you invite the President as well? (Perhaps he was invited; if so, let everyone know. Somehow I doubt it.)
2.  Having Mr. Romney address the graduation overshadows the accomplishment of the students who worked their tails off the get their degrees. Some might be honored that someone of Romney’s stature would come.  However, it’s very clear that the media descended upon Liberty solely because of Mr. Romney, not because of the graduates. To me, it’s akin to inviting a movie star you don’t know to your wedding. He accepts your invitation, but while the focus rightfully belongs to the bride and groom, everyone instead spends the wedding/reception watching every move of the actor. (“Oh look, he’s getting more dip for his chips.” “Isn’t he gorgeous?” “His girlfriend is hot.” “Do you think I could cut in on his date and get the next dance with him?” And so on.)
3.  Who’s getting the greatest benefit from Mr. Romney’s speaking at a major Christians institution? Let’s be serious, he’s not coming as a friend of Liberty. He’s using the school for his own purposes. And while he’s at it, the invitation sure makes his Latter-day Saint (Mormon) views look “Christian.”

4.  Speaking of which, there is an obvious blurring of the lines here. This is not just about a political scenario. It’s about religion. What are people thinking when they see Romney at Liberty? It’s not that Liberty supports the Republican candidate, which is obvious given its political viewpoints. Instead, the natural inclination is, “Ahhh, this must mean this Mormon is a ‘Christian’ since a conservative Christian school—largest in the country—is having him speak. “
In 1 Corinthians 8 and 10, Paul dealt with the issue of whether or not a person should eat meat offered to idols. Is it OK? Yes, if you do it in a way that doesn’t cause others to stumble. No, if it causes problems or confusion with other people. Here, in the situation of an Evangelical Christian school asking a Mormon presidential candidate, I think there is a blurring of the lines. How many will become confused and could even possibly convert to this religion down the road because they let down their guard. It is a mixed message.  In fact, one Mormon I know is having a great time with this situation because it sure looks like his religion is legitimized. He is right because it sure looks that way.
Liberty University is the perfect venue for Governor Romney to make his case. With over 50,000 students, it’s America’s largest Evangelical school. Founded by Jerry Falwell, it’s affiliated with the largest Evangelical denomination in America, the 16 million members of the Southern Baptist Convention. Liberty University wisely offered Romney a platform to speak to social conservatives.
No, professors, it wasn’t the “perfect venue.” Allowing this mixed message is too great of a price. As it was said by the Jewish leaders when they wanted Jesus crucified, “let the blood be on our shoulders and future generations.” And Liberty, I just don’t think God is pleased with your jockeying to get PR for your school by giving up its integrity. (Could this be a move to increase the enrollment of your online school?)  Imagine if there was a “graduation” ceremony in Jesus’ day. Would Jesus or Paul have recommended, “Hey, let a Pharisee speak at our ceremony—that’s only fair.” Liberty is anything but the perfect venue for this political candidate.
I have spent most of my adult life studying the teachings of the Latter-day Saints and sharing the Truth with the Latter-day Saint people. Perhaps the professors didn’t know that Mormonism teaches that God was once a man and that faithful Mormons have the opportunity to become Gods of their own worlds; that all humans once existed in a premortal life where they chose Jesus as Savior; that Jesus was a created being; that salvation comes by grace after all you can do; that baptism into the Mormon Church is a requirement;  that the Bible is true “only as far as it is translated correctly;” and that only its faithful members who pay a full tithe, wear special undergarments, refrain from hot drinks, and who haven’t had regular compromising contact with those opposing their faith can attend their secret temple ceremonies, allowing them the possibility of one day going to the Celestial Kingdom.  Again, it makes no sense that a Christian university like Liberty has given a platform like this to someone whose religion has so blurred the lines, claiming to be Christian and desiring to convert Evangelicals to their religion.
Romney wisely accepted, showing both support for cultural issues, and also his desire to have a large and diverse political movement behind him to unseat one of the most radical big government presidents in America's history. Some seek to make an issue of the fact that Romney is a Mormon -- the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS). But those attacks will deservedly fail in a choice between Romney and Obama.
He “wisely” accepted? How about he “astutely” accepted? And why not? Could you imagine Brigham Young University inviting Newt Gingrich to speak at its commencement? Trust me, it would never have happened…unless, somehow, the leaders at BYU thought they could use such a scenario for their religion's own gain.
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees that in America you have the legal right to be theologically wrong. This protection for diversity of belief includes matters large and small, covering not only Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, Catholics and others, but also 422 Protestant denominations. While there are very significant theological differences between LDS and Evangelical doctrine, none of them are significant for national policymaking.
This is a cop-out, gentlemen. The First Amendment? This is a non sequitur. Of course everyone has the right to free speech. But a university has an obligation to its community. To compromise its integrity by overshadowing its graduates and allowing a political candidate hailing from a religion claiming to be Christian is a poor decision. It’s unwise. It should have never been made. It’s just a bad decision.
For all that has been said, the two professors need to realize that special oaths are made in Mormon temples. The laity (this includes Mr. Romney) pledge their allegiance to follow the leadership of the General Authorities ruling from Salt Lake City. They are told that these leaders have the keys and authority to make decisions directly from God. While nobody is saying that the prophet and his counselors would tell a future President how to run the country, the candidate has so far declined to tackle this issue. When John F. Kennedy ran for the presidency in 1960, many were concerned with his Catholicism. Kennedy wisely stated that he would not be unduly influenced by the Pope. But Mr. Romney has made no such announcement. I think many would feel better about his run for the top office in the land if he would make a similar pledge.  
Yes, I agree that theological differences do not determine my voting against a particular candidate. But I know enough about this Mormon religion to understand it’s far different than any Protestant or Catholic religion these professors may know. The Mormon authority structure is not benign. There is power in the leadership. So, let Mr. Romney announce that he will make decisions for the betterment of the country, even if doing so goes against the wishes of the leadership of the church. This would be a great start for the “Mormon candidate” to distance himself from questions many of us have about the future political role of the LDS prophet.
That's because most voters only focus on religious beliefs insofar as they inform policy decisions. On those issues, there is little difference, for instance, between the faith teachings of Evangelicals, Catholics, and Mormons. All are pro-life, upholding the dignity of human life. All fully support marriage between a man and woman. All embrace the value of religious faith and practice, and pursue religious liberty.
There’s no doubt that many Mormons have political similarities with Christians. But not all do. Ever hear of the senator from Nevada, Harry Reid? Just this week this temple-recommended Latter-day Saint announced that he’s politically for homosexual marriages. Thus, professors, I’d be careful to use the word “all” here. Not all Mormons are pro-life. And not all fully support marriage between a man and woman. And let me ask, Would Liberty have allowed a conservative atheist presidential candidate to address its graduates? I highly doubt it. So why allow the Mormon candidate.
Moreover, in an age where some seek to drive a wedge between fiscal conservatives and social conservatives, members of the LDS church understand that family issues are economic issues. They understand that children raised by a father and mother in a low-conflict marriage are more likely to graduate high school, graduate college, stay out of jail, secure a good-paying job, and eventually have successful marriages of their own. That’s one reason why the LDS church places such a premium on the hard work of childrearing, as seen in Ann Romney’s noble choice to work at home, investing in their family in a 24−7 job whose only paycheck is a dividend of love and satisfaction, and whose employee-of-the-month awards are photographs of a woman laughing and smiling with her children.
What does any of this have to do with allowing this candidate to take the focus off the students and blur the lines of religion? Absolutely nothing.
Contrast this pro-faith, pro-family picture with President Obama’s radical agenda. It’s more than his war on people of faith (especially Catholics) or his fringe views on abortion. In President Obama’s worldview, government usurps the place of family. Big Brother becomes Big Father who brings home the bacon through government entitlements covering everything from housing, to education, to food (stamps), to government-run healthcare. You need have faith in government alone, as the collective state becomes the god in whom you trust and from whom you receive your daily bread. And they replace the family unit with the state, undermining the foundational unit of civilization.
As a liberal arts school, shouldn’t you allow both sides to be represented? Whatever happened to let the other side get a fair shake? Is allowing Romney to come more of an “anti-Obama” moment than anything else? Why are you, as a Christian institution, putting yourself in such a compromised position?
This attempt to – as President Obama puts it – “fundamentally transform the United States of America” must be stopped. And there is cause for hope, as the North Carolinians this week reaffirmed marriage as the union of one man and one woman in their state constitution. This is a fresh reminder that despite the pontifications of urban and coastal elites that supporters of traditional marriage are on the wrong side of history, countless millions of Americans embrace marriage as a sacred institution that government can only recognize, not redefine. This marriage victory in a state that is not only a swing state, but also the location of the 2012 Democratic National Convention, bodes well for Romney’s support for marriage helping him carry North Carolina and with it the White House.
As the writer of Ecclesiastes put it, there is a time and place for everything. Go ahead and use your personal First Amendment rights to campaign for the man. Just don’t bloody the image of your institution in the process.
(It also shows Obama to be on the horns of a dilemma. Whom will he alienate? His far-left base, or swing voters in swing states like North Carolina? Or will he refuse to “man up” and alienate both sides by failing to take a stand one way or the other?)
Again, more anti-Obama rhetoric. I wonder, is anyone allowed to be a Democrat at Liberty?
Both the LDS church in general – and the Romneys in particular – not only understand these truths of the family as the essential foundation for American prosperity, they embrace them. And the LDS focus on self-reliance at the family level, of responsibly stewarding financial resources and planning for a rainy day, is naturally opposed to big-government programs to redistribute wealth and centralize decisionmaking.
I agree most Mormons believe in solid families. But this is not a reason to allow a Mormon to address your commencement exercise.
Surveying the differences between both candidates and considering what's at stake (i.e., America's future), we believe conservatives will flock to Romney. In a matchup between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, it's an easy choice for conservatives like both of us to fully endorse Governor Romney in this year's election.
And by all means, endorse the man as individual professors. But your institution should stay out of the fray and not allow the lines to be blurred. The school’s hands are now dirty. It has compromised its integrity. This was the most unwise decision the school could have ever made.

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