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 – August 31, 2007

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:56 am, August 31st 2007     &mdash      2 Comments »

    I have no idea how this escaped our notice until now…

    But thanks to The Waipa Blog out of New Zealand, we now have this article by Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp of UNC-Chapel Hill in the Christian Century.  Written from pretty much a doctrinal angle, it may be the best piece on the issues it addresses that I have read.  Some highlights:

    What does Mormonism suggest about the character of a potential president? This question is challenging principally because, as is the case with any religious tradition, there is not necessarily a direct correlation between Mormon beliefs or doctrines as enunciated by church leaders and individual practices. Just as one can't tell very much about the behaviors of individual Catholics just by listening to the pronouncements of the pope or even reading passages of scripture, we cannot easily predict the behaviors of Mormons by examining particular teachings. Variety among Mormons is as common as in many other Christian traditions.


    The LDS Church itself is only one of dozens of diverse Mormon groups that claim the Book of Mormon as authoritative. Although all share a common core of teachings, the groups range from some that could pass as Unitarian to the polygamist sect led by fundamentalist Warren Jeffs. The LDS Church, by far the largest Mormon communion, falls somewhere between these extremes.




    In practice, then, LDS religious authority is diffused and regulated in quite orderly ways; indeed, one might say that this flow is both more controlled than in many Protestant churches and more democratically distributed than in Roman Catholicism.




    Although Mormons today share many of the conservative right's political goals regarding women's roles, gay rights and abortion, they reach their stance by somewhat different means.




    Will evangelical Christians trust a Mormon to uphold the political values that the Christian right so cherishes? Despite Romney's attempts at détente, suspicion still runs very high, as the few evangelicals who have tried to engage in dialogue with LDS members have discovered. When Richard Mouw, the president of Fuller Seminary, made visible efforts to find common ground with Mormons several years ago, many staunch evangelicals were outraged by what they saw as his willingness to talk to the devil. Obviously, evangelicals are not all of one mind about dialogue with Mormons. But it is certain that many will remain suspicious of Romney's motives, despite any temporary allegiance of interests.




    A diffused religious authority, an emphasis on personal agency and responsibility, and a dedicated but wary relationship to the government represent crucial elements of the Mormon gestalt. As I have suggested, however, Mormons are a varied lot, and it would be far too simplistic to think that one could cull specific political implications from a particular doctrine or religious practice. One need only recall the vast territory separating Harry Reid and Orrin Hatch to glimpse the divergent ways that political life can be interpreted and expressed among coreligionists.


    Mitt Romney's political identity is even less clear. He is known now mostly for his ability to change his mind. While it is tempting to attribute his shift to the right to the machinations of the LDS Church, and while the church itself has aligned itself more closely and vocally with traditional conservative values in the past few decades, it is difficult to see a clear line of influence from religious precept to political doctrine.

    Yes, the piece is a bit left-leaning and saws the flip-flop yarn a little hard, but it is pretty smart about Mormon doctrine and how it relates to politics.

    Lowell:  I agree.  I haven't been able to read to read the whole thing, but as a Mormon I can say it sounds like the author has got our culture down.

    Speaking Doctrinally….

    Newsweek ran a blurb this week on the Mormon doctrine of "celestial marriage" and how it can lead to polygamy in heaven.  There is no Romney mention, but come on, why else would the piece be there?  All I can say is that there is enough to worry about in the here and now to avoid concerning myself with the details of life in the hereafter.  Unless I am mistaken, I think Jesus said something along those lines.

    Generally Speaking…

    A review of a book about sermons in American history.  You know, it would be interesting some day to look into how the lack of a professional clergy, and therefore trained sermonizers, in the LDS church has affected their historical path.

    An interesting podcast on the judiciary and religion/state issues.


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    Today’s Reading List – August 30, 2007

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:36 am, August 30th 2007     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Nathaniel Peters, writing at First Things, reviews Christiane Amanpour's God's Warrior series on CNN.  While Amanpour goes out of her way to draw parallels between the three great monotheistic faiths, Peters contrasts her interviews wth Jerry Falwell and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and writes the following:

    The juxtaposition of the two demonstrates the difference between true theocracy and religiously informed politics. In truth, the whole of God’s Warriors shows that being God’s warrior means very different things to Jews, Muslims, and Christians. No Christian on the program ever says that being God’s warrior should involve killing an enemy, while many of the Jews and Muslims interviewed see violence as an acceptable part of doing God’s work.


    For example, Amanpour interviews a Christian couple who homeschools their children to prepare them to live their faith in the world. When their son grows up, he wants “to be a preacher like daddy.” She also interviews a Palestinian Muslim family whose son gunned down civilians in an Israeli marketplace before being killed by the police. While his family did not encourage him to embrace violence, his mother and sisters are proud that he died a martyr’s death, giving his “most precious possession,” his soul, to God.

    Peters' drawing of the line between religiously influenced politics and theocracy here is a good one.  It also helps define if Mormonism belongs as a part of the American political landscape.  The behavior of the LDS church in the last 100 years sits soldily on the "Christian" side of the divide Peters here draws.

    Michael Gerson zings 'em…

    Gerson, rapidly becoming a favorite around here, writes in WaPO about the Louisiana religious dustup.  There are two great pullquotes from the piece, in the first, he reminds of of the real source of religious/political problem:

    The Democratic Party has undertaken an ostentatious outreach to religious voters, creating a Faith Advisory Council and cultivating clergy around the country. But these efforts might be more credible if Democrats were not simultaneously trying to incite conflict between Roman Catholics and Protestants in Louisiana — and managing to offend both groups in the process.

    Religion IS NOT a tool for politics, and the Democrats behavior here illustrates what happens when it is treated as such.  This kind of stuff, despite claims to the contrary, serve to devalue religion, make it other, if not less, than it really is.

    Gerson then goes on to quote one of my personal favorite authors:

    "Bigotry," said Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton, "may be roughly defined as the anger of men who have no opinions . . . the appalling frenzy of the indifferent." And religious bigotry is offensive everywhere, including on the bayou.

    'Nuff Said!


    This is a pretty good piece on the subject of a "JFK speech."  However, the goals laid out for the alternative speech could never be met in a single speech – it is the stuff of entire campaign.  The call for a definitive speech is, in this case, the call for a news story, that's all.  If Romney tried to give "The Speech on Religion" from any angle, it would be reviewed, spun, reduced, proof-texted, and generally criticized into a  nearly unrecognizable mass of bad press.  Mitt Romney is the right kind of guy, but it is about him, not a speech.

    This story is just getting old.  Yes, Romney raises a lot of money from Mormons.  Yes, Mormons are regionally centered.  Go ahead, name any national politician that does not have a strong regional base somewhere in the country, maybe based on religion, maybe based on past service, maybe just based on hair color.  So what.

    If you really need more evidence that there should be common political cause between creedal Christians and Mormons, please, read this blog post series in one, two, three, four (with more to come) parts.  The discrimination described is abysmal and if it is allowed with Mormons, we creedals will be next.


    Since when did The Wonkette become an expert on theology?  You know, snarky is only funny so long.  Eventually, the self-importance involved makes it simply offensive.

    Lowell: Beyond being offensive, it's simply amazing that any serious news organization calls on her for opinions about any serious subject.


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    Today’s Reading List – August 29, 2007

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:32 am, August 29th 2007     &mdash      1 Comment »

    Should I or Shouldn't I…

    This is one of those cases where a link may exacerbate an issue, through a large increase in traffic, rather than place the information there in its proper perspective.  But I have seen this thing linked a few places so we probably ought to comment on it.  Someone called Trisha Erickson, who makes the following claims of herself:

    Tricia Erickson is a veteran media pro. Tricia is and was the first Damage Control/Crisis Communications/Media Manager and Crisis Management Expert in the country as stated by Barbara Walters on the show, "20/20".


    Tricia is also a frequent on-air expert, called to speak on various current media issues. She has appeared on every major network and most cable networks numerous times over the years. Some of the issues Tricia has been called to comment on are the strategy and imaging of Presidential Candidates, Islam, Mormonism, Wal-Mart, Michael Jackson, politics, Hollywood, Ethics in the Media and more…..

    (I'm betting not any more after this rant) also claims to be a former Mormon:

    In case you are wondering about my reliability to write about the Mormon Church, let me just say that I was born and raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Mormon Church. I am a former Bishop's daughter. I left the church when I was in my 20's and it has taken me many years to deprogram myself from the false teachings of the church.

    Ooh, no axe to grind there. Writes a long and complex piece that in many ways is so typical, the White Horse prophecy, yada, yada, yada.  Even claims, with pictures, of the "secret handshake." (I'm sorry, but I don't believe in Momonism and I have no idea if they really do have a secret Temple handshake or not, but please, do you know any Masons, or better anybody that belonged to a fraternity in college? – give me a break here.)  But with all her presentation of stuff that any student of Mormonism would pretty much know, her argument comes down to this:

    Let me ask you this: Would you have confidence in a president, in a time of war or otherwise, if he had lived a life of believing deception?

    Ms. Erickson, do you realize that the same claims are made about every faith?  Many are the people in the country, and especially in the world, that believe my Presbyterian faith is "a deception."  Please imagine if you will, Ms. Erickson, me as a chemistry major in college.  I spent many years, even with the highest GPA in chemistry in my graduating class, being called a fool because the great science which I studied left no room for the "deceptions of religion."

    You simply cannot make charges like this about any one religion and not expect them to be made against all religion, including your own.  That is a recipe for destroying religion in this nation, not preserving it for any predominant faith.

    Mormonism is a young religion, but it is an amazingly successful one.  I do not agree with Mormon belief, not at all.  But this much I do know – "Deceptive" religions do not achieve this kind of success.  Wrong they may be, but deceptive is something else altogether.  Such is nothing short of a charge of the greatest conspiracy in human history.  Conspiracies on that level simply do not work – they are too easily exposed for that – that charge is the stuff of comic books.

    Ms. Erickson obviously has a deep personal stake in her comments.  Public discourse on the issues of the day calls for certain levels of dispassion to allow for clear-headed reason – something that Ms. Erickson seems to have taken leave of.  I have sympathy for Ms. Erickson for whatever personal demons may drive her rant, but she needs to take it to a therapist, not the Internet.

    Lowell:  I truly wrestled with whether or not even to comment on Ms. Erickson's writing because it falls into the category of material that should not be dignified with a response.  Besides, John said about all that needs to be said.  I will add only this:  There is a certain profile that fair-minded students of Mormonism (whether they are members of the church or not) recognize:  The diasaffected or former Mormon who wants to make a news media splash– get on TV, get quoted in the print media, and so forth, usually in order to sell something — a book or a screenplay or life story rights, for example. 

    I don't know if Ms. Erickson falls into any of those categories, but given the biography she presents she does fit the profile.  The revelations in the piece certainly seem designed to show she can deliver "Mormon secrets" to the news media.  Whatever one's beliefs, such behavior is simply disrespectful of the faith of others.

    What Am I Supposed To Make Of This?

    The Christian Post writes about that nearly universally panned movie, which denies any connection to Romney, and uses it as an excuse to bang on Mormonism and Romney by implication.

    Such inter-sectarian discussion is fine, but is not the stuff of politics, so why use Romney as a lever to try and boost readership of the piece?  Liberals already routinely bring up the Crusades to batter Evangelicals (even though there was no such thing as an Evangelical when the Crusades happened); do we really want to make the same tired parallel arguments about someone else that we so strenuously denounce when aimed at ourselves?


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    Today’s Reading List – August 28, 2007

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:38 am, August 28th 2007     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Some commonsense from the press…

    The Salt Lake Tribune (no friend to the LDS church, mind you) chimes in with some smart thinking on the issue of a JFK Speech:

    On the trail, news reporters seem to be the ones mainly bringing up Romney's religion…


    The question, says Romney spokesman Kevin Madden, is what's the goal of such a speech and is that outweighed by any potential downsides. Romney doesn't want to give a speech that introduces him to potential voters as a Mormon instead of showcasing his strengths "across a spectrum of all the issues," Madden says.




    "There's a reason why people see this stuff as a risk," Gerstein says. "There is always a danger that by elevating it and making it a big deal, you call more attention to it."


    More often, he adds, the default strategy, and the safest, is to ignore the below-the-surface concerns.




    "Today, I may be the victim," Kennedy said, "but tomorrow it may be you – until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril."

    By jove, I think they have been reading this blog!

    Sometimes I hate cable TV…

    Much debate about whether the characters in HBO's "Big Love" are Mormon or not.  Are the Orthodox "Catholics"?  Are Catholics "Christians"?  And so it goes.  This is a sectarian debate that has little or nothing to do with anything political – why so much coverage?

    Well, the very silly people that run the TV show could not leave well enough alone.

    Please note, all this commentary comes from the left.  You know, people that think TV matters and that think all religious people are nut cases, but that maybe Mormons are a little nuttier than the rest of us.

    Adn while we are discussing visual media…

    More on that movie.  I guess if you are on the left, it is OK to compare Mormonism and Islam.  This is probably more Lowell's to comment on than mine, but that said there is no comparison.  Even if you grant the Mountain Meadows Massacre as a terrorist act, and even if you grant it was ordered by Brigham Young (I simply have not researched enough to know, I am granting these for the sake of discussion only) the MMM was a one time event and it was not a result of a highly developed worldview out of Mormonism.  All religions have crossed the line from time-to-time.  But there is a branch of Islam dedicated to death, destruction, and mayhem  That is a unique development for a monotheistic religion.

    LowellComparing Mormonism to Islam is one of those smears that are very difficult to address without dignifying the smear.  I think anyone who knows much about either faith knows that they are worlds apart.  For one thing, free will lies at the very foundation of Mormonism.  I am sure the same cannot be said of the extreme form of Islam that the smear employs.

    A Clarification

    Yesterday, I commented that a post from a Blog called the Virginian Federalist was correct, but perhaps too narrowly focused.  Turns out the post I responded to was itself responsive to criticism over a more general post.  I think they've got it!


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    Today’s Reading List – August 27, 2007

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:36 am, August 27th 2007     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Why is this important?

    EFM links to an interesting post from a Blog called The Virginian Federalist entitled "Doctrine vs. Politics: Why Evangelicals Should Consider Romney:"

    Some of our contributors are strongly supportive of Governor Romney, but it is not support of him or any other candidate that has motivated the whole editorial board to write on this topic. Rather, we at The Virginian Federalist believe that it is of the utmost importance that the debate in the Republican primary focus on issues that truly matter, so that the GOP can select the best possible candidate to address the many challenges currently facing this country. If that person is Mitt Romney, then it would be shameful to exclude him because of his religion only.

    Now, I happen to agree with every word of that, but I am beginning to wonder if we do ourselves any favors by narrowing our focus on The Question to a simple pragmatic consideration of the best representation of our issues.  There is much more at stake than simply the issues that are important to us right now.

    Consider this very interesting Townhall piece from K-Lo on the recent Louisiana dust-up, and she also mentions Romney.

    For a country that was founded by folks escaping religious persecution, the existence and exploitation of religious bigotry is ugly and unfortunate.

    I think K-Lo understates – it is frankly un-American – and it threatens the religious freedom that has allowed my faith, as well as Lowell's, to flourish.  Some of the most foundational principles of our nation are at stake in The Question.  Arguments like those advanced by the VF's above are convincing, but they are insufficient because they leave open the door to religious bigotry in the event a candidate does not represent you well on all issues.

    I am on record as saying that if Romney is elected it will be in spite of his faith.  Killing bigotry and bias is a multi-generational task, not for a single election cycle.  But we cannot take our eyes off of the goal.  Appeals to baser pragmatism may succeed in the short term, but they will not aid that multi-generational greater effort.

    The religion card has, as we have documented on the blog, been played in many, many elections throughout American history.  There is little new here, save in Romney's case a new religion is in play.  The American people have always shown a wisdom far above the pundits and operatives, generally, and in large numbers, ignoring this kind of tripe.  I believe they will do so again, but the sheer volume allowed my modern media makes it harder and harder to suffer.

    The Silly Talking To The Bigoted…

    Katie Couric proves herself once again to be cute, but incapable.  Looking to examine Mormonism, she interviews Ken Woodward!  She even goes so far as to ask Woodward about statements he made in his NYTimes piece from last spring – you remember, the grossly bigoted and highly ill-informed one.  She was not challenging the piece either, she was seeking to understand it.  There is a bunch wrong in this interview, but it's not new – we dealt with it when we dealt with the NYtimes piece, so follow that link if you are interested.

    Lowell adds:  We already said lots about Woodward's piece.  What's intriguing to me about Couric's interview is her easy acceptance of Woodward as an expert on Mormonism.  He's not.  He's certainly talked to lots of Mormons, mostly of a certain stripe (academics and other MSM types who tend to be disdainful of the faith), but that kind of inquiry does not an expert make.  I'll never forget how surprised (and eventually irate) Woodward became when Hugh Hewitt interviewed him and challenged his assumptions.  He clearly was not accustomed to being on the defensive.

    Wishful Thinking?

    Our friend Stan Guthrie looks at the potential for Huckabee.

    Huckabee is a former Baptist minister, able to connect with evangelicals in a way the other candidates cannot.

    Stan is pulling that point from someone else, so I don' know if that is his personal view or not.  I hope we Evangelicals are smarter than to vote for someone on a "just like me" basis.  I wouldn't make a very good president, I want somebody quite a bit different and more capable.

    Oh, just review the movie for pitified sakes.  Or could it be that you are wishing to stir up problems for Romney?  Would the MSM do that?

    Of course they would; they'd make trouble for Mormonism in general as well.  Consider this story, headlined, "Romney raises N.J. profile of Mormons."  Frankly, Romney has done no such thing.  He does not talk about his personal faith in political situations unless asked.  He may make statements in line with the commonly held public religion, but he does not discuss Mormonism unless asked, and then he is very circumspect in is answers – as are all candidates about their personal religious convictions.  Which is the real point here.  THE PRESS has raised the profile of Mormons, not Mitt Romney.


    Jay Cost, from Friday, responds to some criticisms he received, though not ours.  After reading this, I think we need to add, in parallel to the term "theonerd" we have coined here, the term "polinerd."  This guy thinks too hard.

    Lowell:  I'm not sure it's a matter of thinking hard; it's more a case of over-analysis.  I think Cost would be tossed out of many a political science seminar course for some of the tenuous stuff he comes up with.

    Perhaps the most left-leaning of all English language newpapers, short of communist house organs, The Guardian of London is essentially simply insulting to religion in general and Mormonism in particular.


    Funny thing bigotry, people don't like it much.

    Lowell:  And yet Mr. Keller's ranting reminds me of James Taranto's wise saying: The great thing about free speech is that it makes it "easier to spot the idiots."


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    Today’s Reading List – August 24, 2007

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:42 am, August 24th 2007     &mdash      1 Comment »

    RCP carried a VERY lengthy piece on Romney and the question yesterday by Jay Cost.  The piece, while it makes some interesting points, is a bit ham-fisted.  It just lacks subtlety, and certainly seems to miss the forest for the trees.  Cost, a grad student, argues that while Romney's strategy on The Question is brilliant, his execution is flawed.  He makes his argument primarily by a detailed analysis of the now-old-news WHO showdown.  Cost's issues with Romney's presentation in that interview presume that Romney knew his comments were for public consumption.  HE DID NOT.  The vast majority of the discussion in that video occurred during a radio break, and Romney thought he was having a private discussion with the host.  Such a situation hardly counts as a measure of Romney's tactical presentation with regards to the issue.

    The other thing that I find interesting is that Cost argues that The Question may be an irrelevancy because:

    Average voters – even average voters in a primary election – are not like political elites, i.e. those who by virtue of their knowledge of politics, their positions in politics, or their financial contributions to political actors, stand separate from the average voter. If "Romney and the Mormon Issue" is an intriguing title to you some four months before the first votes are casts, you are probably somebody who possesses a unique amount of political information that implies a difference between you and the average voter.


    Average voters are not like you. They do not have a great interest in politics, and their knowledge of politics is highly constrained. This, I think, is relevant for Romney and the Mormon issue. I think that it is likely the case that the Mormon issue only becomes a salient issue in the mind of average voters if Romney's political opponents make it an issue. Of course, I can envision scenarios in which the Mormon issue becomes salient even if his opponents do not make it salient. However, it seems to me that the most likely path for this issue to become salient is if Giuliani or Thompson tries to make it so.

    If this is indeed the case, and I think Cost is on to something here, the "average voter" is not going to see that interview video either, so again any "mistakes" he may have made are irrelevant.  But then I don't think Romney made any mistakes in the interview.  Most religious voters I know liked Romney getting a bit testy.

    The other thing that stuck out in my mind about Cost's piece was this:

    Romney and his campaign have drawn comparisons to John Kennedy in 1960. This is not all that valid – and so his frequent references to Kennedy seem forced and opportunistic.

    How do I say this?  That's just ignorant.  Yes, "the Kennedy parallel" has been discussed to death as it relates to The Question, but it is not Romney that has drawn the comparison.  Has he commented on it?  Yes, every interview he has done, he has been asked about it, as if the interviewer thought he/she had discovered some arcane bit of previously unknown history – he had to comment on it.  That said, he has not drawn the parallel himself at all, just responded to it.  The press as been forced and opportunistic, but not Romney.

    Speaking of students…

    One at the University of Illinois makes more sense to me than Cost does,  Still obviously student written though.

    Guess what…

    Romney won't be seeing September Dawn.  Ooh, there's a surprise.  The man is running for president, I think he probably has better things to do with his time than see a movie, any movie.


    Joe Carter points out who is the real enemy when it comes to religion and politics.


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