Director’s Blog: An attack on one faith hurts all people of faith

A reminder: This post is written by Rev. Jason Wells and it represents his viewpoint, not necessarily that of the NH Council of Churches, its board members or its member denominations.

On Tuesday, December 5, Mitt Romney was attacked for the practice of his Mormon faith. Steve Bannon said, “You hid behind your religion. You went to France to be a missionary while guys were dying in rice paddies in Vietnam.”

As always, there’s more to the story including a background feud over political endorsements. I mean now to take up only the fact that this was an attack on someone’s faith. (Please note: the Latter-Day Saints Church is not a member of the NH Council of Churches.)

To summarize the two thoughts below:

  1. In general, an attack on the faith of one person opens up people of all faiths for attack.
  2. This particular attack says that Mitt Romney should have given the State greater obedience than he did to God.

First, attacks on people for their religious faith are common in the United States. There are many stories of immigrants who were attacked by anti-Catholics. This includes my Polish immigrant ancestors, but is familiar to many in New Hampshire who heard family stories about “Irish Need Not Apply” signs and similar attacks.

Closer to us in memory are anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim attacks, which sadly boil over into physical attacks.

An attack on someone for the practice of Mormon faith may seem easy to ignore or to minimize. However, all Christians know that “when one suffers, all suffer” (1 Corinthians 12:26).

As is the case in human sin, an insult to one aspect of faith makes the next insult easier to speak. One insult ignored makes the next, stronger attack also easier to ignore. If we ignore and insult on a religion that we don’t identify with (as Christians have little understanding of LDS faith and practice), we make space for future insults on faiths that will hit closer to home.

When we reject such insults and attacks, the following will happen:

  • We create a culture of tolerance and respect for religious difference.
  • We stop future, more serious attacks.
  • We stop the attacks against a remote ally from coming closer to our own faith.
  • We create relationships of mutual support so that others will come to our aid when we are the victims, suggested by  the much-quoted Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemoller.

Second, consider the content of the insult rather than the fact of it. The accusation was that Mitt Romney “hid behind his religion” by pursuing missionary service instead of military service in Vietnam.

This insult says, in effect, that personal conscience and religious practice should have taken a back seat for the service of the State. This insult is not only an attack on faith identification in general, but on particular religious practices.

Many of our member denominations have peace traditions within them. They offer conscientious objector status. They offer periods of missionary service or Peace Corps-style service-learning programs, such as Assisi House here in Tilton, NH. They offer forms of intentional religious community like monasteries or convents where people dedicate themselves fully to following God.In the United States, we have heard much talk of religious freedom. That is, that the government cannot require any person to act contrary to their religious beliefs. If this principle holds for business owners, it must hold equally true for the individual who seeks, even for a time, to dedicate their lives to the service of God.This insult says that there was a calling from the state to war that trumped personal religious calling. It attacks not just a person, but also the affirmations of the Theological Declaration of Barmen. This Christian statement relies on significant Bible passages such as John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” This is to say that, for the Christian, there is no calling or claim on our lives, even from the State, which comes ahead of Jesus. For the basic principle of the Golden Rule, we support and defend also non-Christians and Christian denominations different from our own when they are attacked. Because of these two reasons, I recognize this insult for all that it represents and reject it as an attack on freedom of religious practice, a founding American principle.