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."

  • Weekend Update: The Dobson Comments on Fred Thompson

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 01:45 pm, March 31st 2007     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    While reflecting on yesterday's Reading List discussion of James Dobson's comments about Fred Thompson's faith, I was struck by this "clarification" from Dobson's office: 

    . . . Dr. Dobson was attempting to highlight that to the best of his knowledge, Sen. Thompson hadn’t clearly communicated his religious faith, and many evangelical Christians might find this a barrier to supporting him. Dr. Dobson told Mr. Gilgoff he had never met Sen. Thompson and wasn’t certain that his understanding of the former senator’s religious convictions was accurate. Unfortunately, these qualifiers weren’t reported by Mr. Gilgoff. We were, however, pleased to learn from his spokesperson that Sen. Thompson professes to be a believer.

    Does anyone else find this a little creepy?  I do.  To my mind, the statement suggests that Dobson sees himself as a person to whom Republican candidates must "clearly communicate" their religious beliefs in order to qualify for the support of evangelical Christians.  That sounds like a religious test to me.  Yes, I know Article VI, clause 3 of the Constitution does not prohibit voters from taking a candidate's religion into account, but there's a feel around all of this that simply seems un-American to me.

    Meanwhile, K-Lo (with tongue in cheek) points out the latest example of picking on a public official's religion. 

    [tags]Fred Thompson, religion, presidential politics, candidates, James Dobson [/tags]

     

    Share

    Posted in Candidate Qualifications, Religious Bigotry | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    Today’s Reading List – March 30, 2007

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:57 am, March 30th 2007     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    James Dobson's Thompson pronouncement is front and center for the second day in the world of religion and politics.  In The Agora had a good rebuttal.  And "The Wittenberg Door" Blog (for the uninitiated, "The Wittenberg Door" is a magazine that is to creedal Christians what "National Lampoon" is to society in general, although with a bit more respect) had to set aside their usual sarcasm for straight forward denunciation.  But it does contain a classic line:

    So, hmm. Who's left to back for president? Who can live up to Dobson's expectations?

     

    Probably no one but Dobson himself.

    Dobson's people have attempted to clarify, but in this blogger's opinion, they just make matters worse.  You see, the point is religious affiliation should not be a matter of consequence when it comes to casting a vote.  Dobson's statements and clarifications are pure identity politics – much as his earlier and very similar statements concerning Romney were.

    Dobson, or anyone else, that is attempting to bring religious influence into politics, needs not to be talking about the religious labels of candidates – that's not how American politics works and that certainly is not the spirit of Article VI.  Dobson's labeling, and bear in mind, the clarification preserves the labels, it just tries to clarify them, is the stuff of prejudice and bigotry.

    Lowell:  I'm afraid Dobson is sliding into self-parody.  Several aspects of this story are fascinating:

    1.  Dobson now feels free, it seems, to pronounce whether or not a particular candidate is a Christian.  I was especially fascinated by this comment in Dobson's defense, from Focus on the Family spokesman Gary Schneeberger:

    "We use that word—Christian—to refer to people who are evangelical Christians."

    Isn't that a fairly narrow definition of "Christian," by any standard?  It seems that in Dobson's lexicon, neither the Mormon Romney, the Catholic Giuliani nor the Episcopalian McCain are Christians.  See what I mean by self-parody?

    2.  We now know that Fred Thompson is a member of the Church of Christ.  On its face, that sounds pretty Christian to me.  But as we have discussed here before, labels can be deceiving in this discussion.  The Church of Christ subscribes to no creed but the Bible, and that alone probably results in its members' excommunication from "Christianity" as defined by the Dobsons of the world.  (Irony note:  Alexander Campbell, the founder of the Church of Christ, was an early, ardent, and persistent foe of Joseph Smith and the early Mormons in the U.S.)

    3.   Why is it that when Dobson decrees Thompson's a non-Christian, there is a great furor over whether he should make such a statement at all, but when Dobson says Evangelicals won't vote for Romney, the only result is a debate over whether his prediction is really true?

    Lo makes a funny, but sadly, there are far to many who will miss the humor.

    HEY! How come neither Lowell nor I are on the list?

    Lowell The Governor doesn't want to be outshone by our good looks. ;-)

    The "On Faith" question this week concerns the media handling of religion.  Chuck Colson said something very profound:

    The difficulty when dealing with religion is that the subject is one that millions take to be deeply personal and sacred.

     

    [...]

     

    I’m convinced most of the difficulties arise from the media’s ignorance about Christian belief.

    Because much of the press that is covering religion operates without religious conviction, religion gets reduced to labeled schools of thought instead of the deeply personal matter that it really is.  But the real problem arises when so many of us that claim religious conviction, such as Dr Dobson above, fall into the press' habit of treating religion as a label.  In the political world this only breeds division where cooperation should hold sway, and it reinforces the press's misunderstanding of us.

    Then there is this Washington Times op-ed about stereotyping, its sneaky.  Note something:

    There's a strong argument that Mr. Romney's faith would not ultimately be a mortal wound, even among the Baptists, Methodists and Pentecostals in the South . . . .

    While saying Romney can overcome Mormon stereotypes, Suzanne Fields reinforces the "intolerance stereotype" in both certain denominations and a region.  Bit of a Catch-22 here don't you think?  We cannot tolerate attacks on Romney's religion without encouraging them on our own.

    Labels can be useful, but it is limited.  Labels like Mormon, Baptist, Pentecostal are very useful in a seminary, where such things describe ecclesiastical unions bound in part by theological systems.  But politics and elections have little or nothing to do with ecclesiastical unions or, at least directly, theological systems.  In such circumstances the labels are more than stereotypical, they are prejudicial.

    Lowell:  Finally, reader Randy Zernzach submits the following thoughtful comment:

    As a former Roman Catholic now LDS, I was once buried in anti-LDS polemic literature – and it was truly suffocating! As I follow this election, I see many of the "old plays" in a new game and with new players. I have learned at least this much–be careful criticizing the doctrines or founding miracles of another faith. Everyone who holds a faith dear has feet of clay. Every faith's "founding whoppers" can be targeted, its doctrines criticized by others. The clever argument you think today is invincible can be turned and directed at your faith in a blink.

    Amen. And, we might add, the attack on another candidate's religion can be turned on your own candidate in a blink.

    Share

    Posted in Reading List | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    Today’s Reading List – March 29, 2007

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:55 am, March 29th 2007     &mdash      1 Comment »

    Hugh Hewitt remains the center of the discussion at the moment; publishing a book on the subject will do that.  This time, it's in the form of a National Review Q&A with Kathryn Jean Lopez.  Hugh does not say much new in the interview, but he's pithier in some places.  Example:

    Lopez: A lot of non-bigoted smart people think the Mormon thing’s a killer for Romney. You’re just not buying that?

     

    Hewitt: No, though it is a real handicap. But I’d rather be a Mormon in this race than have sponsored the Gang of 14 or been indifferent on the issue of judicial imposition of same-sex marriage.

    Of course, anything new to this blog when interviewing Hugh would be hard to come by since we were there first.

    Meanwhile discussion surrounding the Erick Erickson review of Hugh's book continues.  Consider:

    The point Erick made repeatedly in the interview that Hewitt treated as though it were no point at all is that there is very little public knowledge about the Church of Latter Day Saints…. I would assume that equal respect for a Mormon would be to assume that his religious beliefs are not purely private but actually have some impact on what he thinks, believes, and does.

     

    [...]

     

    To hold otherwise is to become a secularist who says that religion is only private and doesn’t matter in the public square.

    No one questions the first observation, but the point is it is not a candidate's reponsibility to fill that information void.  As to the latter point, this belies a rather shallow understanding of how religious beliefs actually do affect thinking and action.  It's not like any church dictates policy on most of what a president will have to deal with.  But more, in the end, the candidate still decides how much he/she lets religious belief affect those things.  What the candidate thinks and does is what matters.  Besides, our government IS secular, that's the whole point.  Religion has a public voice, one among many, but government decision listens to all those voices and decides, granting no more or less weight to the religious voice than others.

    On Erickson, the ever reliable John Mark Reynolds puts his two cents in.  Actually, it's about $100 worth, but you hate to blow a chance at a good cliche'.

    Lowell:  I liked these graphs:

    It is time Christians deal with Mormons as another faith and not indulge in the wishful thinking that if we only marginalize them (by not inviting them to our Baptist cocktail parties?) that they will go away.

     

    Let me stress that I do not think Mormon theology (as I understand it) is Christian. I do not agree with it, but then I do not agree with Islamic theology, Jewish theology, or other mainstream religious ideas. The best way to deal with these ideas is to forcefully witness for my faith (as Mohler does so ably!) and pray for my neighbor’s conversion. [emphasis added] 

    To me, that seems like the approach that someone would take who is confident in his or her beliefs.

    OK, for the record, my post yesterday was sarcasm.  Apparently; however, that fact escaped James Dobson.  USNews reports:

    "Everyone knows he's conservative and has come out strongly for the things that the pro-family movement stands for," Dobson said of Thompson. "[But] I don't think he's a Christian; at least that's my impression," Dobson added,…

    That simply is not the a very smart thing for Dr. D to say, it's just not.  I could fisk it to death, but the Bull Dog Pundit at ABP did it for me:

    Just because that person talks about their faith, does that make them more of a “committed Christian” than someone like my elderly relative who never utters a peep to others?

     

    If so, then Dobson’s definition is to me, meaningless.  Hell, Bill Clinton used to talk all the time about his religious beliefs, which really didn’t seem to fit his behavior did it? 

     

    And in order to get Dobson’s blessing do you have to talk openly about your Christian faith?  What if you don’t feel comfortable doing that? Or what if you talk openly about your faith, but are pro-abortion in your political views?

     

    Call me crazy, but I’m just more than a little uncomfortable with someone being the arbiter of what constitutes a “committed Christian”.

    There is a film pending based on the Mountain Meadows Massacre, a rather dark day in American history with enough stuff to smear all sides.  Which is why this quote from the director is fascinating:

    "I was most interested in the parallel between the religious fanatical world at that specific time, at that specific place, and the religious fanatical world today, which dominates the news and dominates our lives," Cain told The Politico.

    Uh-huh, there they go, trying to paint all religion with the same brush.  Get it?

    It is not this blog's portfolio to solve inter-religious disputes between Mormons and creedal Christians in all their various forms, but they are worth noting as they will spill over into the political arena.  The DVD-distribution story has been around for several days now, but this telling says something very interesting:

    Arguing that Mormon missionaries aren’t telling what they really believe when they go door to door in quest of new followers, the Mesa-based Concerned Christians are distributing free DVDs to East Valley homes to ensure people “hear both sides of the story.” [emphasis added]

    Now when creedals do evangelical outreach, we certainly do not tell the people we are talking to everything we believe, nor do we air the open questions between the various creedal sects.  Similar charges could be made at us.  After I confirmed my committment to my creedal faith, I started reading a lot of books and found many places where I do not believe the same way the person that originally talked me into this does.  I know there are a lot of books about what Mormons believe, written by Mormons – I've read them.

    But more importantly this is nothing short of a charge of lying.  That has political ramifications.  This charge says Mormons are liars and therefore cannot be trusted.  Like it or not, this is an attack at Romney and any other Mormon candidate.  How much have we creedal Christians read from the left about how Christians cannot be trusted?  After all, there are pedophile priests and guys like Jim Bakker.  We don't like it when we are attacked that way and all we do when we attack others that way is legitimize that kind of attack, opening ourselves up to it.

    Lowell:  If I may lapse into a personal reflection here, let me just share that I was a full-time Mormon missionary in Guatemala and El Salvador 30 years ago.  I taught many, many people about my faith's beliefs, and I believed every word I said.  I still do.  To claim that we Mormons are out there, concertedly lying to the world about what we believe, is simply not reality.  It's also a bizarre claim to make.  Can 60,000 19 to 21 year-olds really manage a conspiracy like that, for decade upon decade?  What kind of Kool-Aid do those folks think we Mormons are drinking, anyway?

    Fortunately, there are examples of more reasonable discussion.  And some of the more unreasonable keeps bouncing around.  The dust up surrounding Craig Hazen as a candidate for president of Biola University because he was nice to Mormons, which we linked to the other day, continues to reverberate.  More temperate and wise voices are emerging and being seconded.  There may be hope yet.

    Share

    Posted in Reading List | 1 Comment » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    Because We Have To Know…

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 08:49 am, March 28th 2007     &mdash      2 Comments »

    Reflecting on this morning's Reading List, it has become apparent that the Fred Thompson thing is more than a flash in the pan and wishful dreaming on the part of the dissatisfied few.  But before we can go any further with it there are some questions about Mr. Thompson that simply must be answered.  I hereby challenge every member of the press and blogosphere out there to work tirelessly until these questions are answered thoroughly, completely, and repeatedly:

    • Transubstantiation – Yes or No?
    • Priest or pastor?
    • Elder rule or hierarchical?
    • Sprinkle or dunk?
    • Catechism?
    • Confession?
    • Calvinist or Arminian?
    • Platonist or Aristotelean?
    • Ordination of women?
    • Pre-, Post-, or Mid-Trib?
    • Modern or traditional worship music?
    • Vestments, business attire, or Hawaiian shirt?
    • Take the elements to the congregation or have the congregation come to the server?

    What's that you say?  You don't care?  You might want to give that fact some serious consideration in making decisions about whom to back in '08.  I mean the man could be a total fruitcake!

    [tags]Fred Thompson, religion, presidental politics, candidates[/tags]

    Share

    Posted in Candidate Qualifications, Doctrinal Obedience, Issues, Religious Bigotry, Understanding Religion | 2 Comments » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    Today’s Reading List – March 28, 2007

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:48 am, March 28th 2007     &mdash      1 Comment »

    Hotline quotes President Bush regarding Tony Snow:

    "His attitude is one that he is not going to let this whip him. My attitude is that we need to pray for him."

    First of all, all the best to Tony – he, and President Bush, can count on the fact that both Lowell and I are so praying.  [Lowell:  Yes, we are.]  Which is precisely the point of this blog.  If you asked Lowell and I to describe the God to whom we offered our prayers, you would get answers with some significant differences in some important areas.  But regarding the matter at hand, which is Tony Snow's health, precisely what difference does our formulation of the Trinity (Godhead) make?  Both of us want the best for Snow and both of us are willing to share that desire within our religious traditions.  If we can so cooperate on this most personal of matters, should we not do so on matters with much farther reaching consequences, like who is president of the United States?  Should we not feel compelled to do so?

    There is an interesting question for a blog like this one about whether to link to and concern ourselves with small blogs far, far in "the tail."  Are they not the ranting of some kook?  (By the way, we are in the tail too, just not quite that far in the tail.)  Sometimes, they are; but sometimes, I think such posts reflect the whisperings in people's minds.   They may feel afraid to utter such whisperings because they know it is politically incorrect to do so, but those whisperings may affect their behavior in the privacy of the voting booth.

    This post presents such a dilemma.  That link will probably triple the blog's traffic, but it contains a sentiment worth examining:

    By electing a Mormon as President, the cult (and that’s what Mormonism is) would receive instance legitimacy as a “Christian” denomination.

    We will set aside the "cult" term, we've dealt with that here and here.  Precisely how will the election of a Mormon grant that religion "legitimacy," let alone define it as Christian?  Is that not what the "separation of church and state" is all about?  As we have discussed before, the LDS is the fourth largest church in the nation.  That statistic is slightly skewed because of the lack of formal affiliation amongst the numerous independent evangelical congregations in the nation, but it is highly informative.  It is that statistic that grants the LDS "legitimacy" as an American religion, I don't care who is president.  Regarding the "Christian" designation – the government never has and never will make such decision.

    Lowell:  The folks who fear that electing a Mormon president will "mainstream," or legitimize, Mormonism are probably beyond the efforts of this blog and others, like John Mark Reynolds, to reason with them.  Professor Reynolds commented directly on this fear:

    I think this argument breaks down for three reasons, First, it assumes that Mormonism is not already a “normal” part of American politics. Mormons are already major players in at least three states (Utah, Idaho, and Arizona) and highly influential in Republican politics in general. Evangelicals need to “get over” their wish that Mormonism would vanish or is a small group that can safely be dismissed with the label “cult.” Instead, we should begin treating Mormonism as a large, respectable, and powerful competitor in the marketplace of ideas.

     

    Don’t get me wrong, I am no fan of Mormon doctrine, but then I work with pro-life Catholics while having very definite feelings about the Pope’s claim to be the universal head of the Church. Mormons never sacked Constantinople, the mother city of my church, like the Pope’s army did, but I manage to overcome serious historical and theological differences and join ranks with my Catholic pro-life comrades.

     

    While we strongly disagree with Mormons and other religious groups (such as Judaism, Islam, or Hinduism), traditional Christians are wise enough to make common cause with them when we can. In the culture of free inquiry which traditional Christianity embraces, there is nothing dangerous about letting people get to know (or see us working with) people with whom we have serious disagreements, since we are confident in our theological arguments. I encourage my students to read the Book of Mormon and examine its claims seriously before engaging in any dialogue with Mormons. Knowledge, not the prejudice that is the result of ignorance, is our guiding light as traditional Christians.

     

    If we could vote for Reagan, whose doctrinal notions were at best fuzzy, then my guess is that we can stomach Romney (whose theology is at least coherent). I don’t think my vote for my political hero Reagan converted throngs to Nancy’s well known use of astrology.

    I don't know what else can be said about the issue.

    This blog post is another example of this quandary, but again it is instructive.

    I predict the more conservative evangelicals among us, right or wrong, will not even give him a nod. They tightly sealed their minds long ago when it comes to the Mormon faith. I've said this many times and I'll keep repeating it: if the Mormons would part with Joseph Smith and their kookie beginnings, and toss the book of Mormon out, then evangelicals may listen to them.

    As I told the last LDS missionaries who knocked on my door, much to Lowell's regret Sealed, I do not believe that angels revealed tablets of missing scripture to Joseph Smith.  But, as I hope Lowell will attest, that does not mean I find him, or any other Mormon, unintelligent, incapable, or unworthy of participation in the great political process that defines the United States.

    There is a simple logical disconnect in this approach.  What logical connection is there between the founding claims of the LDS and the ability of any adherent thereof to serve in government office?  "Kookie" is not a logical connection, it is a prejudiced dismissal.  Seeing such a connection where none exists says to me that many of us creedal Christians have an insufficient understanding of how our own faith intersects with our own public practice.  This thinking reduces our faith to mere label without substance.  I would hope we are more substantial than that.

    Lowell:  Mother Teresa was recently beatified by Pope John Paul II and is on the road to sainthood.  One requirement for beatification is that the candidate must have performed a miracle.  In Mother Teresa's case, the miracle was a healing that

    occurred on the first anniversary of Mother Teresa's death. It involved a non-Christian woman in India who had a huge abdominal tumor and woke up to find the tumor gone. Members of the Missionaries of Charity prayed for their founder's intervention to help the sick woman. 

    Is it "kookie" to believe in the miraculous?  If so, are the millions of Catholics who accept the reports of this miracle performed through an appeal to Mother Teresa, or who believe Our Lady of Fatima appeared in 1913, "kookie?"  I don't think so, but regardless of anyone's views on that subject, I don't think we want to go down that road in the context of deciding who should be president.

    The good news is I find myself confronted with this deep-in-the-tail dilemma.  It means the MSM and the chattering classes are increasingly silent on The Question.  Right now I think it is just because of the Thompson boomlet, but only time will tell.  Speaking of which, how come nobody is asking about his religion?

    Lowell:  He is described here simply as a "Protestant."  I guess that takes him out of the realm of "kookie?" Wink

    Share

    Posted in Reading List | 1 Comment » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    Today’s Reading List – March 27, 2007

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:49 am, March 27th 2007     &mdash      2 Comments »

    Well, there was quite the discussion yesterday surrounding Erick Erickson's review of Hugh Hewitt's book, which was presented on Human Events.  Hugh took specific exception to one paragraph Erickson wrote and had Erickson on the radio show second hour yesterday, (transcript and podcast) featuring a call from our own Lowell.  The conversation centered on the question of what are the boundaries of legitimate inquiry into Romney's faith with both protagonists agreeing in principle, but disagreeing in specific, although Erickson never got very specific.

    Curiosity about Mormonism is natural and as we have seen; there will be much written about it over the next year.  What matters here is that context is everything.  In the interview with Hugh we published last week, Hugh said:

    I was just ready for the experience because a lot of people view their own religious dramas as somehow at stake in this.  And they are not.  It’s the American drama that is at stake in this.

    People have difficulty distinguishing which "drama" they are discussing at any given time.  When discussing one's personal religious drama, then indeed the curiosity should be indulged.  But the casting of a vote is not about our personal drama, it's about what is best for the nation as a whole.  Where I have a problem, and based on the radio discussion I think Hugh does as well, is not being careful in defining which drama is being discussed when one discusses Mormons.  This is the mechanism that makes the raft of stories about Mormon "stuff" we have seen in recent days so insidious.  Those stories, absent specific admonitions to the contrary, will fuzz the "drama boundary" and create prejudice.

    Lowell:  I liked this graph from Hugh's post:

    There is something about this issue that destabilizes otherwise grounded commentators, leading them off rhetorical cliffs and into lapses of logic.  Erick ignores how Catholic Americans were very enthusiastic over Kennedy's candidacy, and how that was not the occasion for denunciations of Popery or assaults on the miracle of Fatima or Lourdes.  I imagine quite a few italian Americans will be enthusiastic over Rudy's run, and I don't expect Erick to be defending the ethnic smears directed at Italians by the uncouth and the bigoted.  Joe Lieberman's heritage was not a starting gun for the mainstreaming of anti-Semitism no matter how many Jews might have felt great pride in his candidacy and expressed support for his campaign.

    Also, an important clarification:  Erick may be arguing from a mistaken assumption.  He seems upset about Hugh's prediction that Romney's Iowa effort will be aided by an "incredible not-so-secret weapon–a core of young people . . . not to mention experienced missionaries.”  What Hugh is talking about is former missionaries, who have two years of fairly unique life experience behind them, from which they learned self-discipline, organization, and communication skills– including how to knock on doors and talk to strangers.  Those are all useful in campaigns, especially among workers who are passionate about their candidate.  Erick might be thinking that Hugh is talking about the young men in white shirts and ties who are currently full-time missionaries.  They are in consecrated service to the LDS Church, and their involvement in any political campaign would be highly inappropriate and unlawful.  But there's nothing whatsoever wrong with former LDS missionaries using their skills and experience to help the candidate of their choice.  (I am a former missionary myself and I've been doing that for 30 years.)

    Final thought on Erick:  When I called Hugh's show yesterday, I asked Erick a condensed version of the questions posed here.  Alas, time was too short for any discussion, and Erick pretty much dodged the question.  Still, I'd love to see him answer.  Erick, maybe you can tackle them on Red State?

    This is a video out of Australia about a creedal (Pentecostal) Christian Women's conference in Sydney.  I link to it as an object lesson.   One could easily take out the references to creedal Christianity and substitute references to Mormons and have something we have seen 100's of times before.  This illustrates that we have more in common with Mormons than we may think we do and that the left cannot tell the difference between us and Mormons.

    Things around Thompson continue to get silly.  Now The American Spectator's Washington Prowler is more-or-less making the accusation that there is some sort of Evangelical "conspiracy" – my word, not the Prowler's, based on the supposed DeMoss connection –  surrounding the Romney campaign.  Evangelicals for Mitt, who lie at the heart of this nonsense, set the record straight.  I had no idea "cultic conspiracy" allegations could actually be contagious within conservative circles – the left has been doing it for a while now.

    Orson Scott Card, writer, Democrat, and Mormon, writes about Hugh Hewitt's book and is quite kind to this blog as well.

    Lowell:  Sci-fi fans will recognize Mr. Card as the author of the Ender's Way series and many other best-sellers.

    Share

    Posted in Reading List | 2 Comments » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    « Previous« Today’s Reading List – March 26, 2007  |  Next Page »Today’s Reading List – March 28, 2007 »