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"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."

Continuing The “Presbyterian” Romney Discussion

Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:15 am, February 15th 2008     —    6 Comments »

One of the primary jobs we have had on this blog is to seek and highlight instances of anti-Mormon sentiment and bigotry throughout the Romney campaign. It is very real and it was very effective, and it was wrong. Lowell and I both acknowledge that is was a factor in the campaign. There will be much work for this blog in the future trying to get, as best we can with our limited and non-academic resources, a handle as to how big and how effective a factor it was.

But there is also an important question about how to move things forward from here. One of the things that I am most concerned about both for my Evangelical brethren and my Mormon friends is relegating ourselves to separate, but equally isolated political “ghettos.”

Frankly, I think the perceived ghettoization of Evangelicals goes a long way to explain Huckabee and I fear that too much emphasis on “Mitt lost because he was a Mormon” runs the risk of creating a similar self-fulfilling perception for Mormons who are just now in the process of moving out of an actual imposed ghetto – The Jello Belt. I think this accounts for the difference in viewpoint and emphasis that Lowell and I bring to the question we have been discussing.

To give this a complete view I want to look at three basic concerns: 1) Blacks and The Self-Fulfilling Ghetto; 2) The Perceived Evangelical Ghetto, and 3) The Potential Mormon Ghetto

Blacks and The Self-Fulfilling Ghetto

I recently heard Los Angeles Talk Radio Host Larry Elder discuss his new book with Sean Hannity. His book is entitled “Stupid Black Men: How To Play The Race Card – and Lose.” Here is the Amazon description:

Radio host and bestselling author Larry Elder has made a career out of being a thorn-in-the-side of the conventional wisdom crowd. He deflates the pompous and points out the completely logical truths hidden behind the nutty rhetoric and out-of-control pandering of many of the politicians and so-called leaders of a variety of special interest groups. In Stupid Black Men, he takes on the mind-set that always captures the most media attention—as well as masses of public money—in this country: those who rail against racism as the root of all problems, and who end up hurting precisely those they claim to be helping.

His sometimes hilarious and always infuriating examples of wrong-headedness skewer not just politicians for their smugness and hypocrisy, but also actors, educators, religious leaders and the “mainscream media” for keeping the story in the headlines.

But Elder has a positive message, too: though they are fewer—and generally not as loud-mouthed—there are leaders and role models today who want to sweep away race-based whining and urge everyone in America, to share in the hard work, smart thinking and optimism that make this country great. [Emphasis added.]

The fact of the matter is that for blacks a continued reliance on the politics of race has kept them segregated and denied them the piece of the American Dream they deserve because they demand it rather than earn it. There was a time when blacks were denied even the opportunity to earn, but that time is past.

This is the thing about America – everything is earned. As a democracy we removed the hereditary right to rule – you must earn your place in leadership in this nation. We cannot produce equality of result, we can only produce equality if opportunity, this means we must earn the rest.

Which brings me to . . .

The Perceived Evangelical Ghetto

In the early days of blogging, God bloggers often complained of existing in a “blogging ghetto.” By that they meant they all read each other, but none of them ever broke out an became the next High Hewitt or Instapundit, or Michelle Malkin, or…. That very sentiment carried with it the presumption that someone should have broken out. I never understood the complaint, to be frank.

Christianity Today has no where near the circulation of Time or Newsweek. It never will – it can’t – because it has a specific identity and exists in that niche, and that niche is of limited size. The newsweeklies exist in a much larger niche and therefore have a larger circulation.

The problem is simple, when all you do is hang around with people who are like you and talk about stuff only you all are interested in, you create a ghetto. Is that ghetto imposed on you? Not really, its just that no one else cares about what you care about so much. In such a circumstance you have two choices, really. One start talking about other things so that more and other people will want to join the conversation, or somehow change other people so they want to talk about what you are talking about.

In the case of evangelical political activity, tough as it is to believe, not everyone is as strident on abortion and defense of marriage as we are. We are abortion absolutists, most people are not, they want limits, but not banishment. So, how do we get out of this political ghetto? Well, we can expand our interests to join the rest of the party and thus, by virtue of joining the conversation, be better heard (provided we make our arguments in language other than the language of our ghetto), or we can evangelize the world to be Christians so they think the same as we do. In actuality the answer is probably some of both, but that is not my point. My point is that we stay in the ghetto by virtue of our behavior, by clinging to our evangelical identity above all else.

Mike Huckabee has not helped in this regard at all. His protestations nothwithstanding, – he can even try to play the victim but – Huckabee played to the ghetto. His supporters in many cases were even worse. The problem is exacerbated by how many of us there are. Just enough to have influence, but not enough to carry the day. Huckabee with his cries of “establishment” played to the perception of the ghetto and did so in a way that encouraged us to remain in it rather than break out of it. (Not to mention his getting personal gain from it as we languished.)

Through all this, we not find ourselves at best wallflowers, if not outside of the dance altogether. Evangelicals have to make some choices. We have to broaden our message or we will be stuck in the ghetto, powerless and taken for granted, exactly what Huck claimed to want to save us from.

The Potential Mormon Ghetto

Mormons historically had ghetto imposed on them through persecution, but they have spent the last 130 years or so trying to move back into the mainstream of America. Mormon are idiosyncratic, but then as Martin Marty points out, aren’t we all. There is little doubt that those idiosyncracies were used to trigger old resentments and that hurt the Romney campaign in some places and with some people. The question, as we have said over and over and over, is how many people, how effectively?

Well, in one sense, the answer makes no difference.  If people keep claiming that it was all about Romney’s faith, like this student, or this newspaper, or this magazine (even with contrary opinion in the mag’s blog) then the Mormons run the risk of a new, but still self-imposed, ghetto such as blacks have built a whole culture upon, and Evangelicals now risk doing the same.

As when this all started, Evangelicals and Mormons find themselves with far more in common than they have differences. Their political effectiveness at serious risk.

What To Do?

Look at the Larry Elder book blurb above again – What is Elder’s advice to blacks:

…sweep away race-based whining and urge everyone in America, to share in the hard work, smart thinking and optimism that make this country great. [Emphasis added.]

That is, I think good advice for Mormons and Evangelicals.

What we need to do is to grow more sophisticated – to learn better how to do politics. We need to develop a message that appeals to the majority of the American people, but we need to develop it with out giving up our distinctives, our idiosyncracies, or our uniqueness. We can do this. Thomas Sowell or Larry Elder or Ward Connerly did not stop being black when they joined the mainstream of American political and cultural thought; the only people that think so are those who are afraid to leave the ghetto.

We can remain abortion absolutists, for example, but we must be open-minded enough to accept limits as a step in the right direction. But we can only take even those steps if we leave our ghettos and join the party. We are going to be stuck in our ghettos if we keep pointing fingers at each other and naming names. But we can leave our ghettos together by finding our common ground.

This is the reason I am unwilling to grant that the elephant to which Lowell refers is “huge.” If I think that, then I think it is too big to move and I have to stay stuck here in this ghetto. I am not interested in that. I am interested in either moving it out of the way or walking around it. I don’t want to focus on the elephant, I want to focus on the end of the journey.

Lowell adds:  I hesitate to tread on John’s well-written and thoughtful post, which I agree with almost 100%, but this seems the best place to contribute (I hope) to the discussion.

I still think the elephant is huge, but as John correctly observes, what’s really important is what we do about it.  For Mormons, the teachings of our church could not be clearer.  Here are excerpts from a letter read in every Mormon sacrament meeting (the main meeting of the Sunday worship services) in the United States:

“We wish to reiterate the divine counsel that members ‘should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness’ (D&C 58:27) while using gospel principles as a guide and while cooperating with other like-minded individuals. . . .

“Therefore, as in the past, we urge members of the Church to be full participants in political, governmental, and community affairs. Members of the Church are under special obligations to seek out and then uphold those leaders who are wise, good, and honest (see D&C 98:10).

“Thus, we strongly urge men and women to be willing to serve on school boards, city and county councils and commissions, state legislatures, and other high offices of either election or appointment, including involvement in the political party of their choice.

“While the Church does not endorse political candidates, platforms, or parties, members are counseled to study the candidates carefully and vote for those individuals they believe will act with integrity and in ways conducive to good communities and good government. Hence, political candidates are asked not to imply that their candidacy is endorsed by the Church or its leaders.

“As always, Church facilities may not be used for political purposes, nor Church directories or mailing lists.”

I have been hearing almost those same words regularly all my adult life.  It seems to me that for Mormons to retreat in to the “ghetto” mentality to which John refers is contrary to the teachings and beliefs of our church.  So John’s counsel (in Larry Elder’s words, to “sweep away . . . whining and urge everyone in America, to share in the hard work, smart thinking and optimism that make this country great”) describe exactly what Mormons should be doing.  I can’t see any reason why Evangelicals should not be doing the same thing. 

At the same time, there are clearly Evangelicals in this country who don’t want to see Mormons serving on “school boards, city and county councils and commissions, state legislatures, and other high offices of either election or appointment.” I don’t know what Mormons can do about that except keep trying, and keep extending the hand of friendship and common cause to those who may disagree with us on religious matters.  Evangelicals have some work to do on increasing their brethren’s willingness to accept those efforts.

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