Article VI Blog

"Religion, Politics, the Presidency: Commentary by a Mormon, an Evangelical, and an Orthodox Christian"

United States Constitution — Article VI:

"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

  • Today’s Reading List – February 22, 2007

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:33 am, February 22nd 2007     &mdash      1 Comment »

    Romney — Religion — "It Just Doesn't Matter" seemed to be a meme, especially amongst editorialists, especially for smaller papers, all over the place yesterday.  Examples:

    • Baxter Arkansas This is actually a syndicated piece picked up by a lot of smaller papers yesterday.
    • Pueblo Colorado.
    • Philadelphia (although this is from a lefty who is kind of ugly in her rhetoric, she has a point).
    • Christian Post  This is a guest piece by Martin Marty – that's a big name amongst smart Evangelicals.

    I think in the end people who attack Romney even vaguely openly on religion will be marginalized.  Here's why - it's from a Pakistani newspaper:

    Since presidential candidates began announcing their White House bids about two weeks ago, America's core values have been stuck between a rock and a hard place, or should I say, between a Muslim and a Mormon. Thanks to Illinois Senator Barack Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, conversations about American hypocrisy have shifted from the realm of foreign policy to faith, and the guarantees of the First Amendment have been appropriately pummeled out of public discourse by some righteously thumping fists.

    It goes on to be very ugly.  Needless to say, it is highly biased and generally anti-American, but I think that's the point.  There is something un-American about much of the religious questioning that is going on in this Presidential election cycle.  It's one thing to say a candidate is "religious" and what church they go to, that's as old as the nation.  It's another thing altogether to be reading MSM pieces about specific theological stances.

    Consider this piece:

    Presidential candidate Mitt Romney once sounded like a Mormon liberal. [...] These days, Romney talks like a Southern Baptist.

    The piece goes on to examine in detail Romney and official LDS stances on any number of things.  It just seems unseemly.  And as I think about, I am struck about what opened the door to this and I think it may have been Jimmy Carter and that Playboy interview.  You know, the one with the "lust in my heart" bite.  I fell for that line of nonsense in the first vote I ever cast.  Shame on me.

    Lowell:  One searches one's memory in vain for any MSM commentary on whether John Kerry's political positions were consistent with Catholic doctrine.  Ironically, the MSM is looking very provincial concerning Romney.

    Meanwhile, McCain seems to have a religious problem any way you cut it.  Religion really is a no-win election issue.

    Romney impresses another leading Evangelical.

    A libertarian view on church and state.  There is much in this piece to disagree with, but there is also much to think about.

    K-Lo reports on Romney making a funny at his own expense.

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    Today’s Reading List – February 21, 2007

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 01:02 am, February 21st 2007     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Here's an op-ed piece that covers a lot of old ground, but does it well. A sampling:

    It's hard to believe that anyone seriously thinks Romney would be a puppet of the prophet in Salt Lake City any more than Kennedy was a mouthpiece for the pope in Rome.

     

    Nothing in his political career supports that fear. And the 15 Mormon members of Congress hardly march in lockstep with the church. If Mormon leaders are telling Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch and Democratic Sen. Harry Reid how to vote, they must be sending mixed signals.

     

    People have plenty to debate in Romney's positions on public policy without getting distracted by the nonissue of where he goes to church. Unfortunately, prejudice against Mormons leaves Romney little choice. Echoing JFK, Romney must now persuade voters that his values are shaped by faith, but his policies aren't dictated by church.

    Some Baptists in South Carolina don't find The Question troubling at all, it seems.  John comments:  This piece is great for a couple of reasons.  The first is the "homey" voice of the piece.  That gives me hope because it seems much more what the voters are thinking as opposed to the leadership and activists.  As we know, South Carolina is expected to be Romney's weak spot in the early primaries, and many are trying to attribute that to The Question.  Being from the South myself, I wonder if it has more to do with Massachusuetts than Mormonism.  I wonder if there is a polling tool to make that distinction?

    Interfaith respect in Salt Lake City:  Mormons and Evangelicals in conversation.  John adds:  What is most amazing to me about the prejudice between the faiths is how much history, politics, and religion really do conflate, at least in people's minds.  Why is there the kind of hostility that was illustrated in the Florida incident over faithfully held ideas?  Well, ignorance is certainly one answer, but there is I think more at play.  See my comments on the next item.

    Rich Lowry thinks Romney's religion could be a problem if he "seems slippery about it."  But Rich then proceeds to quote two e-mails he received that don't seem to reflect any slipperiness.  Go figure.  More from John:  As we learned yesterday discussing the Reed Smoot hearings there was a period in history when Mormons did in fact behave a bit "slippery."  Sadly, the existence of groups claiming the "Mormon" name and sharing some heritage continues to create an appearance of "slipperiness."  I doubt very seriously any person not as deeply involved in being a Presbyterian as I am could readily tell you the difference between the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the Prebyterian Church in the United States of America (PC[USA]) – and yet they are pretty different institutions.  So I think is is with the CJCLDS (reasonable, virtuous, majority of Mormons) and the FLDS (murderous, polygamous, tax evading, welfare cheating "Mormons")  This difficult for the non-student of religion to hold distinction can create the illusion of "slipperiness" where none exists.

    I do think this "slipperiness" idea is why the "flip-flopper" attack is having some traction that it has not had with other figures like say, Ronald Reagan, whose ideas on abortion did evolve through his political career.  What it says, sadly, is that Romney will to some extent have to be a "super-candidate."  His character, his demeanor, will simply have to outshine the possible prejudices.  Like the first blacks to break the color line, it will not be good enough to be good, Romney will have to be the best.  He looks to this observer to be up to the task, but it's a long, micro-examined path to hold the to that kind of super-human discipline.

    Back to Lowell:  I've been mulling over John's "slipperiness" comment, and it occurs to me how valuable it is to have both an Evangelical and Mormon perspective here.  By the time the Smoot controversy came along, Mormons had been brutalized for decades over what to them were matters of religious conscience. Their women had been raped, their men and children murdered and chased out of sovereign states– with the blessing of the state governments.  The U.S. government actually put the LDS Church into receivership. At one time over 1,000 Mormon men were in federal prison because of polygamy. The Mormons then justifiably saw the USA as the enemy, I think, and distrusted the government deeply. Viewed in that light. the coyness and "slipperiness" John refers to may have really been the Mormons' effort to be "wise as serpents, yet harmless as doves." All this supports the interpretation that after Smoot, the Church re-joined American society after a very long and weird estrangement. Mormons had no reason to trust the government during that time, and the government (and the rest of America) were justified in not trusting Mormons.  A dark period that is, fortunately, long since behind us all.

    A joke, irrelevant to Article VI, but funny nonetheless. 

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    “The Politics Of American Religious Identity” – Mormon Reformation

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:56 am, February 20th 2007     &mdash      2 Comments »

    0807855014.jpgThe title of this post may have already upset some of my Mormon friends.  I am fairly certain that a church which believes it is the restoration of true faith would be a little upset with the idea of having to undergo "reformation."  Yet that is precisely the central thesis of the book "The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle" by Kathleen Flake.  I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone who is seriously interested in the interaction of politics and Mormonism.

    Utah became a state in 1896, and not long after, 1900, Reed Smoot was elected to the United States Senate from that state.  Smoot was no ordinary person elected to such office.  Smoot was a member of the "Quorum of Twelve Apostles," the leading body and second highest office in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.   When he came to Washington to begin to serve, a firestorm was ignited that resulted in a multi-year hearing by a Senate committee concerning Smoot's capability to serve Constitutionally in the office to which he had been elected.  The question then was what still seems like the never-ending question to this blog: "Whom does such an individual serve, his church or the nation?"  Because the hearing took so long, and Smoot was meanwhile allowed to serve in his office and do so very well, it became apparent early that Smoot was going to be a very good Senator.  In essence the hearing put the CJCLDS on trial, not Smoot.

    A brief aside – The question, "Is Mitt Romney the Mormon Al Smith or JFK?" has been bandied about on this blog from time-to-time.  The Smoot hearings were so public and so vitriolic, that despite the fact they did not concern the office of the Presidency, I would have to argue that Smoot best fits the Smith role, leaving Romney in the Kennedy role.  These hearings were so widely discussed in the press that "trial" did indeed occur in the court of public opinion.  Now, back to our story.

    Clearing the way for statehood, the then prophet/president of the CJCLDS in 1890, Wilford Woodruff,  issued "The Manifesto" which renounced polygamy as a religious practice of the church.  However, as was demonstrated in the Smoot hearings, the practice continued, albeit somewhat more clandestinely, until, as a part of responding to the Smoot hearings 1901-1905, then CJCLDS president/prophet Joseph F Smith (nephew of LDS founding prophet Joseph Smith) issued a repeating declaration and the Quorum of the Apostles removed two of their own for  continuing to perform plural marriages since the Manifesto.  Flake's thesis, though she does not use these words, is that the Smoot hearings, where words turned to substance, is the place where the CJCLDS truly reformed, not as is commonly argued, the 1890 Manifesto and subsequent statehood.

    [Lowell interjects:  For those unfamiliar with the LDS Church, the removal of an apostle from the Quorum of Twelve Apostles is a truly extraordinary event, one that occurred only three times in the 20th century.

    I am using the words "reformed" and "reformation" here very purposefully, despite the potential for offense to my Mormon friends.  The creedal Christian Reformation of the 16th century is thought of by most creedal Christians as a theological event.  The advent of the printing press and translations of the Bible out of Latin made scripture available to the common man.  From this, great thinkers like Luther and Calvin forged a theology not so dependent on the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church, and those thoughts caught fire as people could examine their ideas for themselves.  Eventually schism resulted and Protestantism was born.

    This classic Reformation was far more than a theological and ecclesiastical event; however.  It must be remembered that at the time sovereigns were granted their authority to serve their kingdoms by the church.  In essence, the church had authority over civil government.  As schism developed on the European continent, this fact remained, and sovereigns simply were blessed by the local denomination.  In England, however, something very different happened. The formation of the Church of England by Henry the Eighth was a purely political act.  Under his reign, the theology of the Church of England varied not at all from that of the RCC; such debate came only after his death.  The initial formation of the Church of England was simply Henry establishing himself as the chief political power in the land, not the church.  After the reign of Henry the Eighth, the church was subject to the state, not the other way around.  When it comes to how the world works on a day-in, day-out basis, this may be the single most important fact the 16th century Reformation.

    Flake's thesis in the subject book is that in the actions around and responsive to the Smoot hearings, the CJCLDS placed itself in a position of secondary power to the civil authorities and thus came to conform to the American understanding of what a church is, an understanding that was developed out of the events of the 16th century Reformation.  Thus my contention that these events mark the Mormon Reformation.

    This idea is terribly important in the current era for two reasons.  The first has to do with religion in general.  It is widely argued that the roots of current Islamic terrorism lie in the fact that that religion has yet to undergo reformation.  This makes sense, for the ideological roots of the terrorism are an effort to reassert Islamic eccesiastical authority over the authority of the state.  This argument divides the world into those with reformed religions, that is to say religions that consider themselves secondary powers to the state, and non-reformed religions which view themselves as primary powers – the former can broadly be considered ally and the latter enemy in current global struggles.  Under such circumstances it can reasonably be argued that even in a state such as ours, with religious plurality, an individual must participate in a reformed religion, or practice their religion, reformed or unreformed, in a reformed fashion to be eligible to serve the greater public good in elected office. 

    Which brings me to the second area of importance for this idea, and it is essentially the one discussed above, but in specificity.  We have looked here before at what, speaking at the Evangelical Theological Society earlier this year, Hugh Hewitt summarized as the three essential questions Evangelicals have concerning a Mormon for president.  (I'm sure Hugh will discuss these objections in detail in his forthcoming book which can be pre-ordered here)  The first of those, expressed as an "objection" is:

    • Mormon leaders in Salt Lake City will control the White House.

    This is obviously not possible of a reformed faith.  If a faith has placed itself in a position of secondary authority it would not seek to "control" its adherents in public office.

    There is much more to discuss out of this book and the events it chronicles.  The arguments against Smoot sound so familiar that I find it almost terrifying.  To hear people talk about Romney today it is almost as if nothing happened 100 years ago.  I am sorely tempted to jump up and shout "Objection! Asked and answered, your honor."  Unfortunately, there is no presiding judge in the court of public opinion.  I also think Mormon practice during the interim period between the 1890 Manifesto and the events surrounding the Smoot hearings did much to fuel the conspiratorial suspicions of the general public regarding Mormons.  Suspicions which are still held because since, Mormons have in large part stayed out of deep public scrutiny.  But this is enough for a single post – certainly more to come.

    And so it does, beginning here.

    Lowell briefly notes:  Despite John's expectations to the contrary, I do not object to calling what happened a "Reformation," as long as we are using the term very broadly.  I don't think it's accurate to say that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the "Church") "reformed" in the same sense as the sixteenth and seventeenth century churches to which John refers.

    Instead, the Smooth hearings produced a political, not ecclesiastical, solution.  As Flake notes:

    None of the Smoot hearing combatants were completely victorious.  Federal lawmakers did not eradicate Mormon political and economic power; the Protestant establishment had to modify its design for a Christian America; and the Latter-day Saints subordinated themselves to the state.

    But all those combatants achieved something as well.  The U.S. Senate "both solved its Mormon Problem and articulated, for the foreseeable future, the means by which new and diverse religious communities would be constitutionally ordered and free."  The Protestants "achieved their primary goal of imposing monogamy upon the Mormons."  And the Mormons got political representation in Washington, D.C., which Reed Smoot exercised effectively for the next 30 years, enabling the Church "to thrive domestically and follow the American flag abroad, making it, in the early twenty-first century, America fifth largest denomination and an international church . . . ."

    Stating the proposition perhaps too simply, after the Smoot hearings the Church either decided to become, or found a way to become, part of American society– after a long period of estrangement.  I will be following, and commenting on, John's posts on this subject with great interest.

    [tags]Reed Smoot, the Manifesto, the Senate, history, Mormons, Al Smith, John F. Kennedy, Utah, statehood, Mormons, Christians, reformation, the Church of England, Henry the Eighth[/tags]

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    Today’s Reading List – February 20, 2007

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:46 am, February 20th 2007     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Just an interesting bit of numerical political analysis – absolutely nothing to do with Romney, but something to do with Evangelicals and kinda funny.

    I hope this guy is really, really wrong.

    If Romney does well, and especially if he were to become the nominee, his faith's doctrines are going to be of compelling interest to many people. The media are not what they used to be, and there is no bottling up of issues as off-limits. The story can't be done justice in an interview gotcha game.

     

    Stephanopoulos as theologian just does not sell, even though his father was a Greek Orthodox prelate.  His ham-handed I had my staff call somebody retort is not a convincing claim to scriptural mastery. I would guess the story is more complicated. That doesn't mean the topic is going to be off limits.

     

    Romney has put the subject in play by addressing it in public. And people are interested, for reasons good, bad and ugly. So expect more attention to the Latter Day Saints.

    Such will lead to a general coarsening of American political discourse, an increase in identity politics, and worst of all a de facto violation of the American spirit of religious pluralism, and constitutional thinking among the general public.  We will not be a better country, we will be becoming that which we left behind in the old Europe.

    LowellI find it laughable for Lifson to argue that "Romney has put the subject in play by addressing it in public." Sure he did, after every news media outlet in the world has raised the issue and demanded that he address it.  What would the media response have been if he had refused to do so?

    At least one USAToday reader more or less agrees with me.

    This is the generic UPI story of the "This Week" appearance that is making the rounds.  Made interesting only by its appearance in an Asian Indian outlet.

    The media discusses the media on The Question.  They get nowhere, which is, I think the point.  They don't want to arrive at answers.  Here's my theory.  Brittany Spears melting down is news because people have a morbid curiosity about such things.  Unless people know and deal with Mormons routinely and in numbers, all they have are lurid stories of ancient history.  So people have a similar morbid curiosity, but it is tabloid curiosity about stories that are either fully relegated to the past, or simply fabricated.  The press makes all theology look weird, so I can't fault them too much for that.  Anyway, if they simply dispelled the garbage instead of talked around it, they'd no longer have product to sell.

    The question is, in the midst of a presidential race, with a highly qualified candidate, will the American public recognize the tabloid curiosity for what it is?  To date, when it comes to the tabloids there has been a clear divide between those that read them and those that vote, at least in appreciable numbers.  My opinion – those that vote will rely more on new media than old and to date, new media is handling this issue pretty well.

    This one is for Lowell.  Lowell answers the call:  OK, here goes. The author's argument is that Romney's candidacy will provoke defamatory and scurrilous attacks on the LDS Church; therefore, the Church and its members are better off without a Romney candidacy.  I will stifle the urge to chop this "op-ed" into little pieces and simply say this:  In my opinion, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have nothing to hide and nothing to apologize for.  We want people to understand us, and by and large, plenty of sunlight and attention in the age of new media, when there is little control over the way any religion (or candidate) is depicted, only enhances understanding.  The process will be messy and untidy, but it's inherently healthy, and everyone involved– anti-Mormons, Mormons, neutrals, and uninformed bystanders will be better off.  Everyone benefits.  

    Interesting suggestion.  The author contends that Romney should make the freedom to public religious expression a central campaign theme (a la "under God" in the Pledge, etc.) and by so doing kill two birds with one stone, scoring on "The Question" in the process.  Romney has brought up "under God" more than once….

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    Today’s Reading List – February 19, 2007

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:50 am, February 19th 2007     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Bigotry raised a very ugly head over the weekend:

    • This video speaks for itself  :!!!!:  (for an explanation of the Jell-o cube scale see here)  I'm ashamed I share a faith with the questioner – he's just flat out rude.
    • This example is much more subtle.  :!!!:  A prominent evangelical blogger and McCain leaner links to a NYTimes piece on the trouble McCain is having with conservatives in his home state of Arizona with the words "Mitt Romney targets Arizona Mormons."  What the Times piece actually says is, "Among some Republicans here, Mr. Romney, a Mormon who may benefit from his faith’s strongholds around the state, is also mentioned as a viable alternative to Mr. McCain. Mr. Romney is supported by Joe Arpaio, the Maricopa County sheriff, among others."  That's a far cry from "targeting," a word choice that in this context implies a conspiratorial tone to a natural political phenomenon.  Besides, if Evangelicals can organize themselves politically….

    Romney was on ABC's "This Week" yesterday There is video available at that link and the story coverage is here.  It's a great line and now Romney himself is saying it

    "I'm not running for pastor-in-chief. I'm running for commander-in-chief," Romney said…

    Stephanopolous appears to have gotten under K-Lo's skin a bit though.  (Personally, I just think he embarassed himself, he was about as subtle as a bull in a China shop and he never laid a glove on Romney.  He thought he found a way to phrase the questions that avoided the religious discussion taboo, but instead all he did was reveal an enormous ignorance about all religion.)  The full transcript is here.  K-Lo also takes on the latest bit of hateful nonsense from Andrew Sullivan, as does Tom Bevan.  Fair enough, but unless Sullivan comes up with something original, and slightly less hateful, I'm done with him — he has nasty-talked his way into irrelevance – at least until the general election.

    Remember that French language outlet that carried the "Mormon warning" a while back – well now they are carrying a piece that says it's no big thing.  I'd say they have an indiscriminate editorial policy.  But here's something to think about: The piece urging acceptance of Romney features Hugh Hewitt, who has said he hasn't made up his mind yet, but seems to like Romney a great deal.  I have seen previous utterings by Hugh on these lines dismissed because "he is a Romney guy."  Now here is what I wonder, why would the warnings of an ex-Mormon carry more weight than the thoughts of former government professional, established attorney and religious reporter?

    Speaking of Hugh, his book on Romney and The Question is due out in a few weeks.  He kicks off the discussion with a Townhall column.  Needless to say, given the commonality of interest, we've crossed paths as he readied the bookI think it will be great – in fact I know so, a pre-order is recommended – I know I have done so.

    Wondering about the effect of humor.  This Ohio politics site quotes Conan O'Brien telling a Mitt Romney joke.

    "Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney announced he’s running for president. If he wins, he’d be the first Mormon president. Apparently, Romney is planning on winning the soccer mom vote by marrying all of them.” –Conan O’Brien

    Now, to my mind, the joke's absurdity makes it very funny, sounds like something Mitt himself might say.  However, I can't shake the picture of some ignorant wretch out there saying, "See Bubba, I told you…."

    Even the Washington Post editorializes on The Question, "we hope [it] dissipates as an issue over time…"  Smart lefties are figuring out the religious angle is a loser.  Witness the booing in the bigoted video above.

    An excellent overview of The Question from London.

    The Christian Science Monitor keeps sounding pro-Romney.  This is not surprising since Christian Science is another "cultic Christian offshoot."  Remind me to do a  little digging into the numbers, if all such groups lined up behind Romney, it might amount to a lot of votes….

    A new Evangelical power broker is feeling his wings, and Hugh Hewitt takes him to task.  It is Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.  Fortunately he does say:

    Of Romney’s Mormon religion, Land said it’s not a “deal-killer.”

    What I find distressing is that he has a book coming out on politics.  I do not think ecclesiastical leaders should be doing politics – it dilutes the church.

    NPR Boston does an hour on The Question.  SSDO – Same stuff, different outlet – presented sonorously as only NPR can.

    Polling data – there are bigger issues than being Mormon.  More, as Giuliani has made his intentions clear, McCain is fading fast.  (Sorry MSM)  I wonder if Giuliani will fade just as fast once people realize that he did indeed walk towards the Towers, but he also favors partial-birth abortion?

    If religion becomes a genuine election issue, this is the kind of ugliness that could ensue.

    This is the worst kind of story conceivable on any religion – it asks questions, but provides no answers.  Such serves only to illuminate differences. 

    Lowell:  The author, Richard Ostling, is well-known to Mormons as the author of Mormon America, an anti-Mormon book, highly celebrated by critics of the church.  Ostling's authorship is disclosed at the end of his piece, but not the nature of his book. There is a scholarly and critical pro-Mormon review of Ostling's book here.

    Sadly, I think this Stromberg piece for the same paper is in the same vein.  Stromberg spends several paragraphs talking about  how Mormons are different, but then says "it doesn't matter."  Imagine if you will a piece that says "It doesn't matter that the candidate's hairs are really curly.  It doesn't matter that the candidate's nose is large and flattish."  See my point?   Here's another example of the same thing.

    Lowell: The point is increasingly obvious, and excellent.  (I think the Stromberg piece is quite good, actually.  Disclosure:  Stephen Stromberg's parents have been friends of mine since long before he was born.)  Almost every such article refers to the Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll, now months old, reportedly concluding that "thirty-seven percent of those questioned said they would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate."  Those poll findings have fueled dozens of articles like the ones John cites, all concluding, in essence, "Well, doggone, it's too bad that Romney's Mormonism matters, and it really shouldn't, but it does."  The poll thus is being used as license to make Romney's religion an issue.

    The problem is, the Times/Bloomberg poll is not worthy of the weight such writers are giving it.  Power Line saw that months ago:

    In any case, the underlying report shows the Times' July 3 story to be misleading, in my view. The question posed by the pollsters was, "Just thinking about a candidate's religion, do you think you could vote for a Mormon [or Jewish, or Catholic, or Evangelical, or Muslim] candidate." Thus, contrary to what the Times reported, the poll does not show that 37 percent of those questioned would not vote for a Mormon candidate; it shows that 37 percent of those questioned would not vote for a Mormon candidate if they thought only about that candidate's religion. Indeed, the report (but not the story) acknowledges that "there is nothing to indicate that numbers such as these, while certainly indicative of a basic level of resistance, are a real barrier to legitimate candidacy." In addition, the report (but not the story) states that there is no evidence "to infer that a candidate's religion would trump other important voter criteria such as trust, charisma, shared values… or the candidate's stand on [issues]."

    Unfortunately, such thoughtful analysis requires effort.  It's much easier simply to report the headline, which is what most commentators and news reporters are doing.

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    Damon Linker Says, “Get Your Religious Beliefs Out of This Public Square!”

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 01:06 pm, February 17th 2007     &mdash      1 Comment »

    [With the permission of the author, Ralph Kostant (known as The Kosher Hedgehog on The Hedgehog Blog) we re-publish below Ralph's post on the ongoing debate occasioned by Damon Linker's recent musings in the New Republic.]
     
    The previous post mentioned the article by Damon Linker (photo left) in the January 1-15 issue of The New Republic, which questioned Mitt Romney's fitness to be President of the United States, solely on the basis of Mr. Romney's Mormon faith. In the current (2/19/2007) issue of The New Republic, a letter to the editor echoed the suspicions of The Hedgehog Blog that Mr. Linker's article amounted to a partisan attack based on a cynical appeal to religious bigotry. Pamela Hamblin of Albuquerque, New Mexico, noted:

    If Romney's religion is such a concern, why didn't Linker fret about its impact on Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader? Reid is an active and believing Mormon, but Linker failed even to mention his name or explain why far more than half of Senate Democrats voted to make him their leader. Religion is only dangerous in the hands of conservative Republicans, it seems.

    Mr. Linker responds with a defense equivalent to the proverbial parent murderer who pleads for the mercy of the court on the grounds that he is an orphan. He writes:

    As for Hamblin's contention that, in my view, "[r]eligion is only dangerous in the hands of conservative Republicans," I unapologetically plead guilty, at least if we limit ourselves to the present moment in U.S. political history. It is, after all, the religious right that has injected piety into the nation's politics in recent years. Having done so, it now wishes to declare the religious views of candidates off-limits for public debate, discussion, and scrutiny. Sorry, but the right can't have it both ways. If believers want to keep their religious convictions private, I wholeheartedly encourage them to follow the lead of such Democrats as John F. Kennedy and Harry Reid in doing so. If, instead, they insist on bringing their faith with them into the public square, then they would be well-advised to drop their defensiveness and get used to reading articles like mine.

    So Linker admits that his is a partisan attack, but justifies it because he is on the side of the angels (only figuratively speaking, of course), also known as left-wing Democrats. One problem with his response is that every objection to a Mormon President that he raised in his article, based on the tenets and practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and especially his objection to the Mormon belief that the President of the LDS Church is a prophet, would apply equally to a devout Mormon of the political left. If the Church President could prophesy as arbitrarily as Mr. Linker seems to believe, he could just as easily reveal a prophecy calling for the institution of a socialist welfare state as he could one opposing gay marriage.
     
    Or perhaps Mr. Linker's point is that liberal Democratic Mormons don't really in their hearts of hearts believe in all that silly religious stuff, and therefore won't muck up our laws with it. That would certainly be an offensive affront to Senator Reid. Nonetheless, that very possibly is what Mr. Linker thinks, because his response in The New Republic echoes the theme that underlies his career as a political pundit.
     
    Mr. Linker is a rebellious disciple of Father Richard John Neuhaus, the conservative Roman Catholic theologian and philosopher who advocates the active involvement of religious citizens in public affairs and the influence of religious values in public policy. A former editor of First Things, the magazine founded by Father Neuhaus, Mr. Linker apparently has undergone his own conversion to a radical political secularism, and now dedicates his career to forcing religion back out of the public square with all the vigor that Father Neuhaus has applied to returning religion there.
     
    In short, Mr. Linker feels that religion is a very nice, private matter. Let's just not take it too seriously, to the point of where it actually influences our lives and our relationship with larger society. Mitt Romney has no place in Mr. Linker's public square, and neither, one would suspect, does Joe Lieberman. But what about the Reverend Martin Luther King, Bishop Desmond Tutu or even Mahatma Ghandhi. If Mr. Linker is sincere and even-handed (as opposed to a partisan hypocrite), then he should find the careers of these men as objectionable as he seems to find Mr. Romney's presidential aspirations. After all, these men all considered their political activities to be natural extensions and expressions of their religious faiths and beliefs. None of them kept "their religious convictions private." All of them insisted on "bringing their faith with them into the public square." Thank God.
     
    Lowell the Hedgehog adds: Linker is clearly a polemicist more than a thinker, which helps explain his rather embarrassing reasoning. One glaring example: As Ralph notes, Linker's basis for justifying the attack on Romney is that religious conservatives "bring . . . their faith with them into the public square." Excuse me, but like just about every Mormon candidate for public office I have ever known, Mitt Romney never mentions his faith in public; others do that for him, and unceasingly. The irony in Linker's fuzzy thinking is delicious, but it doesn't make his argument any less silly.
     
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