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 – June 1, 2007

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 11:22 pm, May 31st 2007     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    As John continues to devote his attention to his injured but improving parents, we carry on here, hoping and praying for Mom and Dad Schroeder's prompt recovery and John's return to this blog.

    For Starters

    ROBERT MILLET AND GERALD MCDERMOTT write in Christianity Today about "Mitt's Mormonism and the 'Evangelical Vote' – Can conservative Protestants vote for a member of what they consider a cult?"  As far as I know, this is the first time Christianity Today has concentrated this level of attention on The Question.  This is significant; I understand the magazine is the most widely-read journal in the American Evangelical world.

    We have linked to Millet's work before.  He is professor of ancient Christian Scriptures at BYU and McDermott is professor of religion at Roanoke College and an Episcopal priest who serves as Teaching Pastor at St. John Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Roanoke, Va.

    Besides having the remarkable good sense to link to this humble but hard-working blog, the authors approach the subject right down the middle.  After detailing some Mormon-Evangelical common ground, they note:

    Of course there is still doctrinal distance between Mormons and evangelicals. But this has not stopped important evangelical leaders—such as Richard Land, the late Jerry Falwell, Franklin Graham, Chuck Colson, and Cal Thomas—from saying that these doctrinal differences should not by themselves disqualify Romney from a presidential nomination. As Marvin Olasky, editor of World magazine, put it, "If he faces Hilary Clinton, I'll vote for him in a Utah minute."

    Read the whole thing, especially the links at the end of the piece. 

    Around the Web

    CAPTAIN ED'S ROMNEY INTERVIEW is refreshing in that it doesn't even explore religion. I actually found it enlightening as to Romney's positions on some key issues, like illegal immigration.

    Predictably, however, the comments to Ed's post dive into religion immediately.  Scan them for a good overview of the good, the bad, and the ugly in the discussion of Romney, his religion, and the presidency.

    REUTERS REPORTS that "Romney's stock rises in 2008 Republican race."  In the fourth paragraph we read that "Romney, who would be the first Mormon to win the White House, still faces doubts about his religion."  Doesn't the MSM just love that story line?  Interesting concluding graphs: 

    During a day of campaigning in Iowa he got questions about his faith . . . . He was asked at a West Des Moines campaign event on Wednesday night if he believes all the tenets of Mormonism.

     

    "I believe in my faith and I'm proud of my faith," he said. "One of the great things about America is we welcome people of differing faiths and we don't choose our leaders based on which church they belong to."

    Reuters left out these sentences from Romney's response: 

    But I am not running as a Mormon. I am running as a former governor, a business leader and a person who has vision for the country to make us strong. I believe in my faith as you believe in your faith.

    Not surprisingly, I think the entire response is perfect:  Romney retains his integrity and does not distance himself from his religious beliefs.  John and I think he need not say any more about the details of his faith.  As Richard Lyman Bushman said on Wednesday night's KCRW show, no single individual, let alone Romney, can "explain Mormonism," because that's "too big a job for anyone to do."  No presidential candidate has ever explained his religion.

    This writer treads well-trodden ground, but does so fairly and relatively thoroughly.  That's good, because many people who read her article will be coming to the issue for the first time.

    An interesting piece on how Mormons in Central Florida feel about Romney and the attention (not entirely favorable) his candidacy is drawing to their faith. 

    And Finally . . .

    The student newspaper at my alma mater shares some gloriously lively student-type thoughts on The Question.  It is impossible to excerpt the piece and still do justice to it; read the whole thing.

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    Today’s Reading List – May 31, 2007

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 10:49 pm, May 30th 2007     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    An NPR Take on The Question

    MY LOCAL NPR AFFILIATE here in Los Angeles, KCRW, ran a 30-minute "Which Way, L.A.?" program  this evening.  The advertising blurb:

    Nearly forty-seven years after John F. Kennedy tackled the religion question in his successful bid for the presidency, a candidate’s religion is once again emerging as a significant campaign issue. Can Republican Mitt Romney make voters comfortable with the fact that he’s a practicing mormon?

    You can listen to or download the program here.  I recommend you do so; it was really a terribly  interesting discussion.  Guests included Dan Gilgoff, Richard Lyman Bushman, Alex Beam, and a spokesman for the National Association of Evangelicals (I could not catch is name). There were a few interesting nuggets:

    • The argument of Alex Beam, who is a Boston Globe reporter, as to why Romney's Mormonism was not a problem when he ran in Massachusetts, but would be in a national campaign (paraphrasing): 

    Massachusetts voters are sophisticated and well-educated and tolerant.  The rest of the country just  . . . isn't that way.  "I'm skeptical that a Mormon can be our next president."

            Oh, please.  Can you say, "out-of-touch MSM condescension?"

    • A number of other howlers by Alex Beam, who confidently stated that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the "Church") prefers to be called "LDS."  Well, no.  A reporter who covers the Church should know that.  He also stated that Mormons do not believe the Bible is the word of God.  Wrong again.  Please do not trust these people to tell you what Mormons believe!
    • Bushman rightly observing that no single individual, let alone Romney, can "explain Mormonism," because that's "too big a job for anyone to do," and no presidential candidate has ever explained his or her religion.
    • The host, Sara Terry, referring to Romney's "personal beliefs" as "outside the American mainstream."  Well, maybe she meant "outside the mainstream of American religious beliefs."  I mean, there is a gulf, but it's not quite that bad.
    • The evangelical spokesman's statement that Evangelicals believe faith and action cannot be separated.  John? (The spokesman seemed to me to do a fine job of explaining the complexity of Evangelical views on the matter, but did think Romney needs to answer questions about Mormonism.) 

    John answers the call (briefly):  I am moving from LA back to Mississippi to be with my father today – time does not permit me to listen to the piece let alone answer the question Lowell poses here in detail, so allow me some brief generic comments.  Traditional Christian theology is all over the map when it comes to the question faith and action from "without action there can be no faith" to "faith alone."  Evangelicalism, as a movement in traditional Christianity, has strongly emphasized faith first, until very recently in historical terms.  In general, most Evangelicals believe that genuine faith will result in personal action.  Like all faiths, some do it with more passion and committment than others.  The key difference between Mormons, as far as I have read, and Evangelicals here is a very fine point about the role of action in salvation and/or redemption.  That is way too theological for this blog – and would require a book to lay out properly.

    • The Globe's Beam, true to his MSM perspective, really, really wants Romney to talk about his Mormon beliefs in detail. 
    • Gilgoff's observation that McCain, Giuliani, and Thompson have said nary a word about how their faith informs their public policy views. 

    Folks, the national discussion about these things is going to continue for a while yet. 

    Religious Bigotry, cont'd (still!)

    The New York Post has a little more to say about the rude Clinton supporter in New Hampshire who told Romney he'd never vote for a Mormon.  Memorably titled "Anti-Mormon Moron's Big Fit at Mitt," the story adds that a Clinton campaign spokesman said, "We strongly disagree with these comments."  The story also perpetuates the notion that the man "shouted" at Romney.  Haven't these MSM folks watched the video yet?

    Miscellany

    DOES THE MSM over-simplify the Evangelical world?  Who'd have thought such a thing? ;-)

    Captain's Quarters reports on Ed's "shadowing" of Romney's campaigning in Iowa.  Not a mention of religion!

    What does the Catholic Church have to say about Catholic politicians who endorse legislation in conflict with Church teaching?  According to this First Things author, quite a lot. 

    The Moderate Voice takes The Question to a new level:

    Questions over Romney’s religion constitute a bizarre dilemma for Republican primary voters that, when combined with Rudy Giuliani’s equally challenging candidacy sharing the top of Republican primary polls, potentially promises a wracking and long overdue internal debate over the identity of the Republican coalition.

    Read the whole thing.  The comments are interesting, too. 

    John comments:  I have to disagree with his framing of the issue.  There is little question that a Romney nomination will alter the contours of power inside the Republican party, but that is true for virtually every candidate that comes along.  But at its heart the party is conservative first, Evangelical second, or third, or fourth – I'm not sure.  Some Evangelicals may have gotten a little "big for their britches" during the current administration, but that kind of reordering is par for the course in any election cycle.  I think this piece is overly dramatic.

    I also want to take exception to his presentation of blatant and even violent anti-Mormon action historically.  I do not deny its reality, but it was 100 years ago, just as were the "sins" of the LDS (e.g. polygamy).  There are certainly religiously based anti-Mormon forces out there and they definitely chose to hold the religious competition in ways that I would not and do not condone; however, those methods, generally, do not stretch outside the bounds of rhetoric.  That our religions compete for converts is undeniable and natural, and will never, nor should never change.  Tying the rhetorical of today to the violence of yesteryear is not different than tying the polygamists of yesteryear to the wonderful citizens Mormons are today.  It is simply unhelpful.

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    Today’s Reading List – May 30, 2007

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 11:17 pm, May 29th 2007     &mdash      1 Comment »

    Religious Bigotry, Cont'd

    ROMNEY'S NEW HAMPSHIRE ENCOUNTER YESTERDAY continued to reverberate. 

    LATE UPDATE:  Here is the actual video of the "event."  On watching this, my response was, "Now, wait a minute!  This is just a crotchety old fellow who says, "I'm one person who won't vote for a Mormon."  Then Romney smiles, offers to shake his hand, and moves on.  It was a veritable blip on the screen of an otherwise full day.  And yet we get the headline, “Romney Criticized for Mormon Faith in N.H.”  Seems to me the event was blown 'way out of proportion.  An interesting insight into how much the MSM looooves stories that touch on The Question.

    Tom Bevan in Real Clear Politics describes the event as "religious bigotry in New Hampshire . . . from a self-described liberal." 

    Bevan then moves from the left-wing use of bigotry to some suspicions about bigotry from the conservative end of the political spectrum:

    The issue of Romney's faith hasn't prevented him from rising to the top of the field in Iowa and New Hampshire, though it does appear to be holding him down in South Carolina. . . .

     

    Lee Bandy of The State looked at why, "for some strange reason, Romney has fallen short in his struggle to rise above single digits in South Carolina." [snip]

     

    Romney's camp insists their candidate's poor showing in South Carolina is due to the fact that people don't know him yet, which may be true to a certain degree but doesn't explain away the disparity with his rise in the other early primary states.

     

    Remember, no Republican has ever won the nomination without carrying the Palmetto State. Maybe that streak will be broken this year, but to the extent there is some trepidation among South Carolina primary voters over Romney's Mormonism, you can expect it will become an issue. Especially if Romney wins Iowa and/or New Hampshire, the whispering campaigns against McCain in 2000 may look like child's play compared to next January.  [Emphasis added.]

    I think Bandy and Bevan are on to something, because it seems so plausible that religion is a factor in South Carolina.  With Romney's rise in the polls, the other Republicans will be placing the target on his back.  If this Real Clear Politics average is correct, that impulse will only grow.

    Still, I hope Bevan is wrong about the primary.  If, as Hugh Hewitt predicts, McCain is gone by then, perhaps the whispering campaign won't be as severe.  Also, as Mark DeMoss told us when we interviewed him, Romney does have some time to ease the fears of some evangelicals.  I continue to think they will close ranks behind Romney as the ferocity of the left's attacks increases.  

    MEANWHILE, Herbert Klein, the Nixon White House Director of Communications, reminisces about the 1968 run of Mitt Romney's father George and concludes:

    Although I personally remain neutral on candidate endorsement at this time, in my view, anyone who criticizes a presidential candidate for his personal religion is likely to be a bigot or someone playing politics. 

    John interjects:  My father remains in quite critical condition, but my mother will be out of the hospital tomorrow, which is good news, and I need a break.  Please forgive me if these comments are less coherent than normal.

    I personally think the media is preserving a story line here.  There are always jerks that think it is "cool" somehow to tell a candidate they would not vote for him under any circumstances.  In this case, the constant media attention to The Question makes that a convenient place to hang such a hat.  Also, while big media polling shows Romney stalled in SC, straw polls and the like show him strong.

    Evangelicals are also people of conscience.  There is a known and strong air of illegitimacy to withholding a vote for Romney based on his faith.  Much as we have seen some radio pundits (McCullough – Pastore) go to great lengths to decry Mormonism  while still saying it was "OK" to vote for Romney, the whispering campaigns will happen, they will be vehement, passionate, and ultimately ineffective.  In the end I think they will serve the useful purpose of giving Evangelicals a place to spend their emotion-based concerns about Mormonism, leaving them with their conscience and reason in the voting booth.

    It should be remembered that the press, including many conservatives, WANT Romney to lose so they can blame it on his faith, regardless of the realities of the situation - they have been saying all along he will; they do not want to be wrong.  It is interesting that as Romney moves towards presumptiveness in Iowa and NH, everybody is talking about SC – because that is where their presumed storyline lies.

    There is no question of the big three states, Romney is weakest in SC, but the realignment of primaries changes the pivotal nature of that primary considerably.  It is now pretty easy strategically to imagine someone winning the nomination without it.  But even that does not mean I am willing to concede the state - I have great faith in the passionate pronouncements and the cold conscience and reason of my southern Evangelical brethren.

    "The Greatest of These Is Charity"

    ROMNEY SAID YESTERDAY that if elected, he'd donate the equivalent of his presidential salary to charity.  The article is a good window into what seems to be Romney's way of thinking about his financial success, which, incidentally, is a way of thinking typical among Mormons.

    Can anyone say, "shared values?" 

    How to Address The Question

    MEANWHILE, Michael Medved tries this morning to give some structure to our thinking about when and whether a candidate's religion is relevant to voting decisions. Excerpts:

    1-Forget about theology – to outsiders, all religious beliefs look weird and irrational. . . .

     

    2-Don’t judge a religion’s present impact and influence based upon the excesses or abominations of its past. Whenever some sane observer notes the murderous cruelty of today’s Islamo-Nazi terrorists, Muslim apologists and various moral relativists love to bring up Christian misdeeds during the period of the Crusades and the Inquisition. This pathetic rhetorical trick (or tic, actually) represents an inane attempt to equate the homicide bombings of 2007 with the dreadful persecutions of a thousand years ago. . . .

     

    3-The only basis for evaluating a religion is the constructive or destructive behavior of its adherents: do their attempts to live their faith make the world around them better or worse? A quick trip to Utah (with its 70% LDS population) should disabuse even the most embittered anti-Mormon fanatic of the notion that this faith amounts to a malevolent cult.

    Note:  Medved does not believe religion is never relevant.  Read the whole thing.

    John adds a quick thought:  To my mind, religion is relevant only if the candidate makes it so.  That is to say, if an Islamic individual ran for office on a platform of imposing sharia, then yes, religion is relevant.  But any religion has so many adherents that practice that faith in such a variety of ways that only the individual office seeker can reasonably be considered.

    Just as an example, when Mormons did practice polygamy, more than 100 years ago, less than 50% of the church actually engaged in it.  Reed Smoot, the first Mormon Senator, was married well before The Manifesto, though obviously elected afterward since Utah had to be a state for him to be elected, and yet he never engaged in polygamy, much to the chagrin of those that tried to prevent him from taking his seat.

    Lowell interjects:  We may never know for sure, but "studies suggest a maximum of from 20 to 25 percent of LDS adults were members of polygamous households."

    And a final comment from JohnSome of my Mississippi relatives are highly placed Democrats in that state.  Needless to say most conversation has centered on caring for my parents, but we have looked for a break now and then.  All I can say is they sure do love to talk about Romney's faith a lot.  A lot more than any Republican I have encountered.

    Funny thing – a lot like my liberal Democrat friends who love to talk about how Rudy Giuliani dressed in drag.  You'd think they were scandalized by it or something.  Actually, I think they are scandalized that a popular Republican did such a thing.

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    The News Media As Tool of Religious Bigotry on The Left

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 09:15 am, May 29th 2007     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Romney's New Hampshire encounter this morning is really fascinating: 

     

    DOVER, N.H. – Mitt Romney's visit to New Hampshire started on a sour note Tuesday when a restaurant patron declared he would not vote for the Republican presidential contender because of his faith.

     

    "I'm one person who will not vote for a Mormon," Al Michaud of Dover shouted at Romney when the former Massachusetts governor approached him inside Harvey's Bakery. Romney was kicking off the second of two day's worth of campaign visits in the lead primary state.

     

    Romney kept smiling as he asked, "Can I shake your hand anyway?"

     

    Michaud replied, "No."

     

    Michaud later told reporters he was not "a right-winger," alluding to some evangelical Christians who have compared Romney's faith to a cult. Instead, Michaud stated he was "a liberal."

     

    He said he planned to vote for Sen.Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., should she win the Democratic presidential nomination.

     

    This episode has already provoked lots of comment, beginning with Hugh Hewitt's and Dean Barnett's dead-on posts. 

    Like Dean, I thought the headline was telling:  "Romney Criticized for Mormon Faith in NH."

    Which raises a question:  If you support one of Romney's  opponents, and want to call attention to the Governor's religion, can it be that all you have to do is shout out a bigoted remark in the presence of the news media?  Is the MSM going to make it that easy for the Democrats?

    Now that Romney's surging in national polls, not just in Iowa and New Hampshire, look for a lot more of this nonsense.  And look for religion-friendly conservatives to close ranks behind Romney when they see where the bigoted attacks are coming from.

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    Today’s Reading List – May 29, 2007

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 10:43 pm, May 28th 2007     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    . . . is not terribly meaty.  But there is some interesting commentary out there.  Read on: 

    THIS MCCLATCHY WRITER quotes Matthew Wilson of Southern Methodist University, "an expert in elections, religion and politics," with this interesting observation and prediction:

    ‘‘Religious conservatives and the Republican Party are really at a crossroads now,’’ Wilson said. ‘‘There’s been this close alliance between the two for 30 years, and I think both sides are . . . questioning for the first time whether it really serves their interests.

    . . .

    The partnership could abruptly self-destruct, Wilson said.

    ‘‘If Giuliani ends up as the presidential nominee, the marriage between the Republican Party is going to end in an ugly divorce,’’ Wilson said. And because George W. Bush’s win in 2004 relied heavily on evangelical Protestants, Giuliani would likely lose if many of them stay home, Wilson said.

    On the other hand, if Romney or McCain gets the nomination, the alliance will continue, he said.

    My first response to that last italicized sentence is, "Huh?"  I hope Wilson's right, but it would have been nice to see some of his reasoning.  Some prognostications just raise more questions than they answer, I guess. 

    FURTHER EVIDENCE THAT SOME THINGS ARE VERY SLOW TO CHANGE appears in this Buffalo News editorial, which lists "several fascinating questions about American politics [that] will be answered in 2008," including this one:

    Does religion still matter? Although Mormons often are as politically conservative as white Southern fundamentalist Christians — Utah is the most Republican state in the nation over the last 50 years — many Southern Baptist leaders have expressed theological skepticism over whether Romney is really a Christian. Rank-and-file voters are suspicious, too. Only 40 percent of voters think the country is ready to elect a Mormon, while nearly half (48 percent) said no. More voters admitted they were less likely to vote for a Mormon (29 percent) than a woman (13 percent) or a black candidate (6 percent). Until proven otherwise, Romney’s religion remains a potential negative “X-factor.”

    Those are old questions now, but it's significant that they're still being asked. 

    HERE'S A SELF-DESCRIBED JEWISH LIBERAL WRITER who says "This liberal would like to be able to vote for a Mormon."  She comes to that conclusion by focusing on Mormons' values and general behavior.  Seems like we've seen that same approach suggested somewhere . . . .
    ANOTHER MCCLATCHY WRITER reports on Romney's growing momentum in early primary states Iowa and New Hampshire, and notes on, well, potential fly in the ointment:

    In Iowa, the recent Register poll found that 1 out of 5 Republicans said they were less likely to vote for Romney because of his faith. But Mueller suggested that social conservatives eventually would care more about what Romney would do in the Oval Office than what he would do in church.

     

    "Is there an undercurrent out there nervous about the Mormon thing? Sure. But they really want to know where he stands on the issues they care about," Mueller said.

    Once again, someone who thinks like we do. 

     

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    Enjoy Memorial Day

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 08:27 am, May 28th 2007     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Article VI Blog is off today, but we will share this Memorial Day thought from Scott Ott at Scrappleface:

    As the United States marks Memorial Day, recognizing those who sacrificed their lives in service to the country, scientists worldwide admit they are likely years away from discovering a “fertilizer for freedom” as effective as the blood of American troops.

     

    “Where liberty has sprouted around the world,” said one unnamed scientist, “we usually find American blood at its roots.”

     

    Studies show that the rich soil of Europe, Japan, South Korea, hundreds of Pacific Islands and thousands of square miles of other foreign territory have been saturated with what one scientist called “that costly catalyst of human rights, that priceless antidote to tyranny, that precious reagent of democratic revolution.”

     

    “Try as we might, we scientists can find no synthetic substitute for American blood,” he said. “Where diplomacy falters, and negotiations fail, where evil reigns, and fear makes men’s arms hang limp, yet hope rises and moves in measure with the beating of American hearts. The soil of barren lands seems to cry out for this peerless nutrient. And we continue to marvel that volunteers still step forward to pledge their own blood for a cause whose accomplishment might await their last drop of devotion.”

     

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