Sen. Joe Lieberman offered his unique perspective on belonging to a minority religion while running for national office in an op-ed piece in The Washington Post.
Lieberman, who will speak at BYU on Oct. 25, is one of many who have weighed in over the past week about the controversy regarding a Baptist pastor's remarks about Mitt Romney and Mormonism.
Lieberman said he has been watching the fallout through two prisms — the American Founders' vision of the relationship between government and religion and his experience as the first Jewish American nominated for public office.
The Independent senator from Connecticut was the Democratic vice-presidential nominee in 2000. "From the beginning, America has been a creedal nation, defined by our values, not our borders," Lieberman wrote. "One of those founding values was a belief in God. The United States was formed, as the Declaration of Independence says, to secure for the people of this country the 'unalienable rights' of 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness' that were 'endowed by their Creator.'
"In that way," the senior senator from Connecticut writes, "the United States of America was and is a faith-based initiative."
Lieberman reiterated a point made by many, that America's founding documents ban religious tests for elected officials and prohibit the establishment of an official religion.
"One result of our religious freedom is the extraordinary tolerance and respect Americans generally have for religions different from their own," Lieberman wrote. "Another is the development of a set of shared religious values... ."
The senator shared several experiences from the 2000 presidential campaign, during which he experienced fairness and widespread acceptance of religious diversity. As a result, Sen. Lieberman says "I hope and believe that Americans of all faiths — and of no faith — will not base their votes on the fact that Romney's Mormon faith seems 'different.' Just as Americans rose above differences when John F. Kennedy's Roman Catholic faith was 'different' in 1960, and 16 years later when Jimmy Carter's Christian evangelical faith was 'different,' and again in 2000 when my Jewish faith was 'different,' Romney must be judged on his personal qualities, experience and ideas for America's future."
He expressed what he called great confidence that Americans again will display fairness and support for the Constitution by rejecting a religious test for office.
"That," he concluded, "truly is the American way."
Others who have been watching the controversy unfold this week have taken a different approach in their response to what they have seen. This is particularly true of several evangelical Christian writers, who have been writing to other evangelical Christians to say that enough is enough.
"For mainstream evangelicals (these) bigoted attacks on Romney are an embarrassment," wrote John Mark Reynolds, professor of philosophy at Biola University, a private Christian university in Southern California, in the Washington Post's "On Faith" blog site.
"Most evangelicals are horrified by lies told about Mormons in mainstream media, because we love our Mormon neighbor," Reynolds continued. "They are friends, relatives and allies in many fights. We disagree on vital theological issues, but those are not relevant to our vote for president."
Reynolds was critical of Texas pastor Robert Jeffress, who stirred the media pot last weekend when he used the focus of a national political meeting as a platform for preaching that believing Christians shouldn't vote for Mitt Romney because Romney is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which, according to Rev. Jeffress, is not only non-Christian, but is a cult.
"This evangelical pastor did not suggest that he disagreed with Romney's views on life and marriage or any other religious issue with political implications," Reynolds wrote. "Instead, he attacked Mormonism for not being evangelical, Romney for not being born again, and Mormonism as a cult.
"This is bigotry buttressed by irrelevance fortified with invincible ignorance."
Reynolds said the relevant criteria for becoming president does not include being an evangelical, nor does being born again make a president effective.
Rick Perry, the presidential candidate for whom Rev. Jeffress was speaking at the time of his comments, "may be born again," Reynolds continued, "but his incompetent tolerance of a bigot to introduce him suggests bad things about his competence in the here and now."
Speaking of his experience with Latter-day Saints, Reynolds pointed out that "Mormons saw their first prophet murdered by an American mob, but still they loyally serve a Republic whose laws have often failed them. They created a paradise in a wilderness and great literature and a first-rate university against all odds."
Reynolds concluded evangelicals admire those achievements and said they must continue to "vote the platform and the person and not the pulpit."77 comments on this story
Also writing in the Washington Post's "On Faith" blog, David French, a religious liberties attorney and the co-founder of Evangelicals for Mitt, makes the case that evangelical Christians can in good conscience vote for a Mormon "so long as they put aside Robert Jeffress' bad theology and resist the urge towards religious tribalism."
"Article 6 of the Constitution prohibits religious tests for public office," French says. "This Article may only bind the government, but it also establishes a worthy principle for its citizens. When deciding how to cast your vote, judge the man — not his church."