God and man in Tampa

GETTY IMAGES Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney delivers his nomination acceptance speech during the final day of … Continued

GETTY IMAGES

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney delivers his nomination acceptance speech during the final day of the Republican National Convention.

In 1951, William F. Buckley, Jr. published his famous book, “God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of ‘Academic Freedom.’” The book by the young Yale grad articulated ideas that would form the basis of modern conservatism: liberal ideology attempts to destroy faith in God and undermine individualism.

“Man” from the Buckley title was clearly in ascendance at the 2012 Republican National Convention, defined as the entrepreneurial individual who does not need anybody or anything to succeed.

This idea of “man” was well displayed especially in the kick-off convention theme of “We Built It” and carried through in many of the speeches. It struck me, in fact, that “We Built It” does assert “man’s” effort. But then that seemed to me to contradict the God language used by some speakers, but especially as phrased by Paul Ryan. that “our rights come from nature and God.”

Which is it? We did it all by ourselves, or do we rely on God?

GETTY IMAGES

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, left, and Republican vice presidential candidate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) wave on stage after accepting the nomination during the final day of the Republican National Convention.

This contradiction carried all the way through the convention to the conclusion on Thursday night. When in evidence, faith in God was personal, individual and private; when it came to policy, “man” was the key.

Women were not especially included in the theme of “We Built It” either, at least from the main speech directed to “women,” that of Ann Romney. Indeed, the contrast between Chris Christie’s “‘real men don’t need love, they get respect” tough guy speech, and Ann Romney’s repeated appeals to love was startlingly gender stereotyped. Men get respect, women give love.

Mitt Romney, in his acceptance speech, tried to address the clear gender gap the GOP, and he in particular, has developed.

Romney got to “women” via “love” as well, the “unconditional love” of both parents for children, and “God’s love” for us. I thought that paragraph was the best personal theological statement of the evening, perhaps of the convention, and certainly seemed to be Romney’s personal theology. God as literally “Father” and the nuclear family are key cornerstones of Mormon theology.

But how does Romney connect this faith to policy? Not at all, as Joanna Brooks, a Mormon, writes. In her view, Romney failed Mormonism in his acceptance speech as he did not connect his faith commitments to his policy views; indeed, the policy is contradicted by his faith:

I would also add this contradiction extended to the lack of connection between Romney’s theology and his statements on women. After talking about his mother’s Senate run, and his father’s support of her, he listed women who spoke at the convention and women he had hired when he was governor, and women in mentored in business.

Those sentences contrasted sharply with his tribute to his wife as “I knew that her job as a mom was harder than mine.” Romney said that women can work in business and government, but Mom’s job is best.

This flatly contradicted what Romney has said about requiring mothers on welfare to work. “[E]ven if you have a child 2 years of age, you need to go to work,” Romney said of those moms.

The most jarring note in the speech, however, also had faith language. “Americans have supported this president in good faith,” Romney said. The statement was hypocritical about the deliberate obstructionist role Republicans have played in the last four years. From day one, as articulated by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, Republicans have been working to make sure President Obama failed.

“Keeping faith” with one another is the religious underpinnings of the social contract, the idea of a common good. The solitary individual as entrepreneur is diametrically opposed to that concept. To say otherwise is hypocritical.

But you simply can’t beat the GOP vice-presidential nominee when it comes to hypocrisy, or as we in the Judeo-Christian tradition like to call it, the ninth commandment, “you shall not bear false witness.” (Exodus 20:16)

Paul Ryan’s speech contained so many untruths, half-truths and misleading statements that the speech as deliberate distortion became a main story after the address. The Washington Post editorial board felt compelled to write on “Mr. Ryan’s misleading speech” and Washington Post opinion writer James Downie called it “breathtakingly dishonest.” Fox News contributor Sally Kohn gave Ryan a “gold” in lying. Kohn wrote that “Ryan’s speech was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech. On this measure, while it was Romney who ran the Olympics, Ryan earned the gold.”

How can Ryan, or any Christian, express their faith in God with one breath, and with the next breath engage in such public falsehoods? What could possibly be the reason for this “bearing false witness” when Ryan’s points could have been made with actual facts?

I have started to wonder whether the sustained and deliberate lying by the Romney campaign, like the repeated falsehoods about welfare to work and Medicare, is part of a “real men don’t care about stuff like facts” narrative that is developing in the GOP. Could it be? Real guys don’t like to be “dictated by fact-checkers?”

The idea that truth telling is something “real men” don’t do doesn’t go well in marriage, let me tell you. And equally ineffective is the “men get respect, women give love” interpretation. Those concepts don’t work in marriage any better than they work in public life.

The Republican platform comes out strongly against gay marriage, though Log Cabin Republicans and young conservatives support it.

After 42 years of being happily married to the same man and, as a pastor, doing a lot of marriage counseling, I can tell you that telling the truth to each other and the equality of give and get of both love and respect for both parties is what makes marriages endure and be happy. That’s simply the case, in fact, in both heterosexual marriage and gay marriage. There’s no difference.

The word “God” came and went in the speeches, it’s true, but to me the most “religious” theme was “American exceptionalism” as presented not only in the GOP platform, as adopted, but also especially in the national security addresses. “American exceptionalism” stripped of all its policy trappings, means simply “God loves the United States best.”

The national security speeches, and Sen. John McCain’s in particular, touted more American interventionism, and that was not contradicted by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in her address.

How could a political convention, with a debt ticker running over their heads, ignore how two unfunded wars exploded the deficit? Ironically enough, the “We Built It” sign, when it was displayed, was directly beneath the debt ticker. It’s the truth. The GOP did build that deficit, and they built it in large part by engaging in reckless foreign wars.

God didn’t do that. Man did.

While “man” as the entrepreneurial individual both at home and abroad, making economies and war with equal world-shaping prowess, meant essentially men, it also often meant “white men” despite diversity on the podium. The attack on an African American CNN camerawoman highlighted the issue of racism among the attendees.

The ascendancy of today’s GOP is largely built on appealing to the white working-class precisely as Joan Walsh explains in her new book, “What’s the Matter with White People: Why We Long for a Golden Age That Never Was.” This makes racism not only inevitable, but a necessary component of today’s GOP approach. It only took an actor, Clint Eastwood, talking to a chair as a prop for an invisible President Obama, to underscore this in a bizarre way. Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” the iconic 1952 novel that addresses the conflicts of identity and individuality in the African American experience through the metaphor of the invisibility of African American men.

The religious issue that the racial insensitivity raised for me is stated clearly by Walsh: empathy. “I think of all the scarce resources in our society today, I think the most precious is empathy.”

I was frankly surprised that “man” was so much in ascendancy from the first day when I saw the “We Built It” sign at the RNC. For many speakers, “God” was often a phrase mid-way through a speech, though not always.

I especially did not expect the extreme gender stereotypes about “real men” as strong, and women as loving and best when they stay at home to be so clearly in evidence.

But “God” as guiding not only our private lives, but also our public commitments was ignored, if not actually derided. Indeed, faith as central to the support of our social compact took one more hit on the last night of the RNC.

In introducing Cardinal Timothy Dolan to give the benediction, Speaker of the House John Boehner, a Catholic, curiously undercut Catholic theology on connecting faith to the world. Dolan, said Boehner, understood that “the preferential option for the poor doesn’t always translate into a preferential option for big government.” Many Catholic nuns and American Catholic bishops disagree.

When “God” and “man” went to Tampa, it became increasingly clear that “God” is confined to personal and private belief, and “man” as the entrepreneurial individual, straight, white and male, is in charge of public life and work.

Former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), the Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.


View Photo Gallery: Strong spiritual beliefs were on display during prayers, forums and speeches delivered by some of the nation’s top religious, political and social leaders.

About

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
  • Kingofkings1

    Great synopsis of the convention and its implications

  • Cleve13

    Ms. Brooks: You make God very complicated. You don’t have to. With God all things are possible. He is the source of life; He knew us in our mothers’ wombs. How you follow His Teachings will reflect your life’s happiness, accomplishments and values. If you make him as complicated and apply values, adjectives and labels to Him, you might just miss Him.

  • jasonred

    Being a Mormon has brought me closer to my Savior, Jesus Christ. It has also helped me develop a love for others. I am grateful to have had a spiritual witness from God that what I believe is true.

    With all the media attention on Mormonism, I’d suggest to anyone that they find a fellow Mormon and ask them questions about what we believe. I’m a Mormon and am always happy to answer questions about my faith. (on Twitter: @jason_allred)

  • ccnl1

    Wow, Susan T has turned into a “hack for hire” obviously working for the Democratic party. Apparently, the $200,000/yr job she has for pushing another flawed version of Christianity is not enough.

    Interesting that in this recent tirade, she did not thump a bible passage. Very strange!!

  • CLCRichmond

    Glad you offered.

    So how does the Mormon church feel about all the lying that occured at the RNC in Tampa?

  • charminman2

    True, if you see it through Marxist tinted lenses, whether or not you’re Christian.

  • psmithphd

    Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite. I hope you don’t mind if many of us do not agree with your assessment. As a social scientist (Ph.D. Stanford University) I was taught to separate truth from falsehood, validity from invalidity. You would do well to apply such methodology to your writings. The end (supporting Barack Obama) does not justify the means (flawed reasoning and questionable use of information). Strive for objectivity the next time you comment. You will find it much more rewarding emotionally and ethically.

    Phillip C. Smith

  • commonman1

    In my opinion, voluntary contributions of time, talent and money to aid those in need are the very essence of Christianity, while government policies designed to involuntarily separate hard-workers from their income and arbitrarily redistribute that wealth, are on completely different sides of the spectrum.

    Joanne Brooks and I are both Mormons. I have a wide disagreement with her on this issue. I believe that she sees government as the answer. I see individual human beings as the answer as they follow the light of Christ to do good.

  • jazzman848

    The gop and god is a joke. They are the most selfess greedy people on the earth. The health care plan. Let them die. More money for the job wreckers. Pro-life until they are born. Ryan want to kick 20 million people off medicare. For a tax cut for rich . Gop and god pure nuts

  • PhilyJimi

    Cleve, what a strange defintion of your particular version of a god. Not sure it make a bit of sense.

    You’re saying just accept him, I get that. He is the source of everything.

    But then you instruct us to “follow his teachings”? Exactly how does one go about that without applying valus, adjectives and labels?

    You many find this to be very strange but I am very happy without any of this confusion.

  • DavidJ9

    How selfish and self-aggrandizing of you to want to make your good works public and demand that there be those in need for you to shower your “generosity” on.

  • richweez

    I’ll know we have come a long way in this country when we do not know the religion of a candidate and his/her religion does not have to be on display or used as a tool to garner the trust of the American people. Going to church doesn’t make you a good person. Lots of folks I know adhere to no religion and are perfectly fine, generous, charitable people but couldn’t get elected dog-catcher because of it.

  • ThomasBaum

    Sad that so many that attempt to wrap themselves up in the founding papers of the USA, at least vocally, seem to think that it is wrong for the “government” to actually attempt to help the governed.

    If people actually took to heart what could be called the Preamble, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

    Not only does it say, “provide for the common defence” but also, “promote the general Welfare”,

    It does say both, not just the first part in “”s.

    Seeing as the government is suppose to be the people, wouldn’t that mean that if the government was helping people that it is really the people attempting to help each other?

    Does anyone really believe that it is ungodly to attempt to help others in ways other than individually?

  • bdowder6

    Silly liberal race baiting article.

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