As we’ve all heard by now, last week Mitt Romney gave his JFK speech, attempting to make conservative Evangelical voters comfortable with his Mormon religion. There have been many excellent commentaries on the absurdity of his “freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom” statement, but I noticed another statement in the speech:
I believe that every faith I have encountered draws its adherents closer to God. And in every faith I have come to know, there are features I wish were in my own: I love the profound ceremony of the Catholic Mass, the approachability of God in the prayers of the Evangelicals, the tenderness of spirit among the Pentecostals, the confident independence of the Lutherans, the ancient traditions of the Jews, unchanged through the ages, and the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims.
Hmm. Confident independence of the Lutherans. Confident independence of the Lutherans? Sorry, but as a life-long Lutheran, I’m just not getting it. I never would have used that phrase to describe my denomination, the ELCA, the largest Lutheran denomination in the US. I would mention our emphasis on justification by grace, which after all is what got Luther excommunicated from the Catholic church and started this whole Protestant thing in the first place. But independence? The ELCA has entered into ecumenical agreements with the mainline Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Reformed, Methodist and UCC denominations, and even signed a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification with the Roman Catholics, essentially putting to rest the dispute that began the Protestant Reformation. Hardly steps that assert our independence.
Romney must have been referring to the other US Lutheran denominations, the conservative LCMS and the arch-conservative WELS. Both have condemned the ELCA for its ecumenism, and have created a fundamentalist Lutheran doctrine Martin Luther wouldn’t recognize. The LCMS goes so far as to forbid their pastors from praying, even in a civic memorial, with non-LCMS pastors. Indpendence indeed.
While they represent a minority of Lutherans in the US, as conservatives, they are the ones likely to vote for Romney. So I don’t know if it was a deliberate nod to the conservative minority Lutherans, or if they are the only ones Romney, or his speechwriters, are familiar with. Either way, he certainly wasn’t talking about me or the people I go to church with.