I went to law school in the Bible Belt, so many of my fellow students were devout Christians. Thomas, however, out-Christianed everyone. His parents were missionaries, and he’d been raised with a level of faith no one else at the school could equal. He was one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet, a truly Christian person in the best sense of the word, but he was also quite unworldly. It was this latter quality that came to the fore when it was time for us to take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (or, as we called it, the MPRE). This exam is a prerequisite for practicing in just about every state in America, or at least that was the case a couple of decades ago.
The MPRE tests students on generic rules (as opposed to state-specific rules) of professional responsibility. These rules cover such scintillating topics as engaging in business transactions with ones clients, billing, dealing with clients who are deadbeats, the proper ways to approach the Court, conflicts of interest, and other wonderfully arcane topics that tend to have a surprisingly large effect on the average lawyer’s work day.
With one exception, everyone in my graduating class paid $200 dollars and trooped off to a one day review session in order to prepare for the MPRE. That one exception, of course, was Thomas. He announced to anyone who asked that he didn’t need to take a class in professional responsibility because the Bible taught him everything he needed to know about ethics.
I’m sure that, by this point, it won’t surprise you to hear that Thomas was the only student in our year (indeed, the only student in law school history) to fail the MPRE exam. The Bible did not prepare him at all for picayune rules about the proper way in which to handle retainers or the balancing of interests that needs to be done in taking on two similarly situated, but not identical, clients. In other words, Thomas’ deep and strong morality had nothing to do with procedural rules for being a lawyer in the modern era.
I’ve been thinking about Thomas a lot in connection with Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney. The fact that Huckabee is a devout Christian is turning a lot of equally devout Christian voters his way. With Mitt, we see the reverse. Because he is a devout Mormon, devout Christians are rejecting him. As regards Mitt, I have heard from Christians who believe that any man who makes a profound doctrinal error cannot be trusted with any other task. Conversely, because Huckabee is on the right path doctrinally, they’re convinced that this will lead him automatically towards being a good national executive.
Thinking about these viewpoints, I can’t help but feel that people who are imposing a religious test on these two candidates are making the same mistake Thomas did: they think that reading the Bible the right way is sufficient to getting the task done, forgetting that some tasks have different rules. This is not to say, of course, that one must abandon ones Biblically-based morality and ethics. It is to say, however, that a deep knowledge of the Bible won’t get you through all of the necessary tasks of a specific job — especially the President’s job.
When you separate Mitt’s and Mike’s theology out from their political values and abilities, you get a rather different picture. I’m the first to admit that Mike is a charming, witty, Biblically erudite man. I also freely acknowledge that his values are entirely consistent with the values that social conservatives espouse, especially when it comes to abortion. However, there is no doubt that he is a tax and spend politician who believes that the government should use its power to coerce people into engaging in government approved behaviors — which is fine, perhaps, if Mike is the government and you agree with his ideas. It becomes a fearsome precedent, however, if the subsequent President is say, Obama, Hillary or Edwards, all of whom have freely admitted that they want to use government coercion on citizens, usually in ways that are disagreeable to conservatives. (Here are just the two most recent examples of Edwards, Hillary and Obama in nanny state mode.)
As for Mitt, even if you find his theology loopy, you have to agree that his end point is pretty consistent with the same end point a traditional Biblical Christian reaches, with the added bonus that he is an economically conservative Republican. I’ll offer just two examples of his social conservatism. The first is the wonderful answer he gave during the BoobTube debates to the question about black on black crime. Rather than coming out with just another tired old chestnut about throwing more money into black communities, something that hasn’t made a positive difference in the last 40+ years, he made a values statement: we need to encourage intact families amongst blacks:
YouTube question: Hi, this is me and my son Prentiss. We’re from Atlanta. I want to ask you guys a question (inaudible) every year. But what about the war going on in our country, black on black crime? Two hundred to 400 black men die yearly in one city alone. What are you going to do about that war? It feels like the (inaudible) is right outside.
Cooper: He’s talking about black-on-black crime, crime in the inner cities.
Romney: Well, first of all, Printes is pretty fortunate because he’s got a dad standing next to him that apparently loves him by all appearances there, and that’s probably the best thing you can do for a kid is to have a mom and a dad.
And it’s time in this country that we go back to the kind of values that allow kid to have moms and dads. In the African-American community today, 68 percent of kids born are born out of wedlock. And so we’re going to try and once again reinculcate in this country the try of values that have made us so strong: family values.
The second example is his pro-Life stance. I happen to know that many of you are suspicious because he came to it late in the day, but I’m not inclined to hold that against him, because my views have shifted so dramatically on the subject. For me, the moment came when I saw the first ultrasound of my first baby, aged 16 weeks. It was so clearly a baby, with a little spine like a string of pearls. Before that moment, I’d truly never connected the “fetus” with a baby. Growing up in liberal land, with the focus on “me, me, me (the woman),” I’d managed to avoid the obvious connection. If I were to get pregnant now, even though my pregnancies are Hell and I don’t want another child, I’d do something that would never have occurred to me 20 years ago: I’d stay pregnant. People change and Mitt ought to get the benefit of the doubt on this. In any event, the most important thing he can do, since he can’t set abortion policy (that’s not the White House’s job), is appoint conservative justices, who will read the Constitution as written and not snatch rights out of thin air.
Dennis Prager likes to say (and I’m paraphrasing) that we have to look more to what people do, and less to what animates their actions. Whatever path Mitt has taken, he has arrived at a spot where he is a pretty rock solid conservative candidate, both socially and economically. And whatever path Mike has taken, he has arrived at a spot where he is a rock solid conservative socially, but a flat-out liberal in terms of economics and nanny-state government policies. Also, unlike Mitt, Mike is unelectable. As a former liberal, I can assure you that anyone who espouses his religious views and calls himself a Republican (despite his Democrat proclivities) is more unpalatable to the average liberal even than George Bush was. In other words, a vote for Mike is a vote for Hillary, Obama or Edwards. And a vote for any one of those three will see outcomes that will make most conservatives, whether social or economic (or both) very, very unhappy.