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."

  • When Pastor Wright Speaks…

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:41 am, April 30th 2008     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    …The Punditry, et. al., Speak Even More!

    The WSJ reports that Obama threw Wright “under the bus” today:

    Anyone wondering when Sen. Barack Obama was going to throw Rev. Jeremiah Wright under the bus doesn’t have to wait any longer. In a press conference today, Obama condemned his former pastor in the harshest terms yet.

    But says, the WSJ’s James Taranto:

    Obama is only just now getting around to realizing this? For the past month and a half, Wright’s hateful comments have been all over the news, and Obama has bestirred himself only to criticize them in the vaguest terms.

    I tend to agree. Hugh Hewitt pointed out on the radio last night that there are really only two options, at this juncture, for Obama vis-a-vis his pastor:  He is either incredibly naive or he is now, or then was, lying. Taranto goes on to point out the incredible nature of the reversal Obama has here undertaken.

    I remain concerned that this passes for religious speech in some circles. As the Washington Post was quick to point out, a number of black pastors have lined up behind Wright’s outrageous charges and comments. As has been pointed out many times, much of Wright’s thought flows from something called Liberation Theology, which sprang from Latin American oppression and which one writer describes as:

    …a harebrained economic and philosophical prescription expounded in 1971 by a Peruvian priest, Gustavo Gutiérrez.

    Much of what Wright and his Liberation Theology compatriots say, they can claim to be rooted in theology, and as we have argued extensively here, theology should be out-of-bounds in political discussions. But the press is insisting on putting it front and center, certainly more intensively, and perhaps more generally, than even Mormon theology was when Romney was in the race. The “On Faith” question of the week is:

    Jeremiah Wright’s sermons continue to be an issue in the presidential campaign. Why? What do you think of his preaching style? What do you wish you understood better about it?

    So now we are in the position that we are going to parse the sermons of a pastor in the pulpit and try to divide his words between religious and political speech. Is this really where we want to be in America? And yet, Wright gives us no choice. He mixes the two so deeply that exegetical skill is required to separate them.

    This should be a warning shot to Evangelicals, as our leadership seems to be proceeding down the same path of mingling the theological and the political. Even if your political stances are rooted in your theology, you need to learn to defend them in a secular fashion. If you cannot offer a secular defense then you best be prepared to either lose the debate or subject your own faith to this kind of scrutiny.

    Think for a moment about the IRS complications alone. What would happen if, based on all this scrutiny, the IRS were to decide that the Trinity Church (Wright’s church) were a political organization? Or worse, they tried to subdivide its activities. Now, imagine it for your church.

    Lowell chimes in:  Just a couple of thoughts.  First, Newsweek’s assumption that all we are talking about is Wright’s “preaching style” is typical of the light-handed treatment the MSM wants to give this man.  We are not talking about style; this is 100% about the substance of Wright’s preaching.  Second, the man’s substance is simply kooky.  It does not represent responsible or even sound thinking.  Yes, Wright dresses his rantings up in religious clothes and uses the cadences of the black church to present it.  But nonsense dressed up is still nonsense.

    Speaking of Evangelicals…

    John Mark Reynolds lists five good things about them. Hey, I’m entitled!

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    Jeremiah Wright and Article VI

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 11:02 pm, April 28th 2008     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    wright_obama_lg.jpgTo say that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s National Press Club speech dominates Monday’s political news would be more than a gross understatement. It is hard to know what to add to roundups like this one. I’ll just offer a few observations:

    1. The Wright controversy is not about religion and politics. It’s mostly about a pastor who rants the extreme, borderline crackpot views of MoveOn.org over his pulpit.

    2. Adding to no. 1, the controversy over Wright is not about his theology, it’s about his political statements. The former is almost immune from political attack; the latter are 100% fair game.

    3. Wright has established himself as a kook. I almost wonder if he has done so in order to allow Barack Obama to distance himself from Wright once and for all. Obama can now say, “Look, the guy was my pastor and I looked to him for spiritual leadership, but this stuff is beyond the pale and I reject it completely.” I wonder if he will, however.

    4. Wright himself seems to be able to articulate the difference between being someone’s pastor and being a political adviser, as Power Line notes. And yet the Rev. Wright seems to have a hard time seeing the difference between preaching the Gospel and simply ranting about the same things one might expect to read on the Daily Kos, or hear on Keith Olbermann’s show (although Wright makes the moronic Olbermann seem almost thoughtful by comparison).

    5. Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from Wright’s pratfalls is that he represents everything wrong about mixing politics and religion – and then some. As a conservative Republican, I’m just relieved that this episode was inflicted on a Democrat, and not on a GOP politician who got too cozy with a religious whacko who happens to be on our side of the aisle.

    I just think Wright cannot be taken seriously and does not deserve all the attention he is getting.

    John’s comments: I have to disagree with my friend Lowell. Jeremiah Wright certainly wants this to be about politics and religion. Says Eugene Robinson:

    But his basic point — that any attack on him is an attack on the African-American church and its traditions…

    Indeed, Wright seeks religious cover for political speech. Consider this from the transcript of the speech itself:

    To say, I am a Christian, is not enough. Why? Because the Christianity of the slaveholder is not the Christianity of the slave. The God to whom the slaveholders pray, as they ride on the decks of the slave ship, is not the God to whom the enslaved are praying, as they ride beneath the decks on that same slave ship.

    How we are seeing God, our theology, is not the same. And what we both mean when we say, I am a Christian, is not the same thing. The prophetic theology of the black church has always seen and still sees all of God ‘s children as sisters and brothers, equals who need reconciliation, who need to be reconciled as equals, in order for us to walk together into the future whichGod has prepared for us.

    First, it is amazing to note that here Wright is making exactly the same argument, the “different god” argument, that was made to EXCLUDE Mitt Romney from consideration, for the INCLUSION of his views, which he does in the name of diversity. Now that is an argument we have advanced on this blog time and time again. The problem is, he is using it to place his essentially political statements above the fray and outside the realm of political criticism.

    Yet, during the Q&A Wright seeks to draw a definitive line between religion and politics:

    So I started it off in prayer. When he went out into the public, that wasn’t about prayer; that wasn’t about pastor-member. Pastor- member took place downstairs. What took place upstairs was political.

    But it seems a mighty convenient division., a division based only in action, but not in thought speech, or idea.

    This, frankly, is a nightmare for our nation. By seeking religious cover, Wright has essentially invited in depth scrutiny by press and our government into what goes on in our churches. Wright’s formulation would here, for example, prevent government observation of what goes on in any mosque in this country, up until the point that someone is actually hurt. Terrorists could feel free to use mosques for planning and logistics because it is not political until it is action.

    But worse, imagine court cases where churches are invaded and efforts are made to sort religious and political speech. Where churches are invaded by press and pundit seeking political ammunition when they should be worshiping. Yes, I know it happens now, but imagine it cut loose in the fashion that Wright here proscribes. Consider our interview with Hugh Hewitt when his book, “A Mormon in the White House?” came out:

    JS: The next place I think we’ll go — you mention this in the book, Hugh, and it was something Lowell and I found out very, very early on when we started the blog, somewhat disappointingly. There appears to be a great dearth of case law related to Article 6, and I’m just wondering why, and what does that mean?

    HH: It’s self-executing . That’s why. For the longest time everyone understood what it meant, that one did not ever suffer penalty for their religious faith in the public life of the United States. Much like the 14th Amendment removed disabilities to African Americans serving in the public life of the United States. However, the internalization of that ethic seems to have frayed, even after the 1960 campaign. And I was talking with Bill Bennett about this this morning. The bar is so low when it comes to attacks on Mormons vis a vis any other minority, that it is shocking. And I think that is because simply opinion leaders have not educated those who take their cues from them about what is and what is not acceptable concerning Mormon bashing. And unless and until they do, it is going to continue, until it becomes unacceptable, or — we internalize from public figures, how to act. And thus, many of us have watched the decline of Catholic bigotry. We have watched the decline of attacks on gays and lesbians. We have watched the decline of attacks on African Americans, on Muslims because of the public debate about those. That has not yet happened about Mormons. It has got to.

    Wright here, by seeking to blur the line between religious speech and political speech, challenges the “self-executing” nature of Article VI. Were he successful, our nation would be a much worse place.

    Now, having said all that, I do not, thankfully, think the good Reverend was successful in his arguments. But they are dangerous arguments nonetheless. as I pointed out, they are arguments that were used to exclude in the Republican primary, and frankly that is the effect I think they will have on the Democrat side as well, despite Wright’s intentions.

    OH and by the way, having been to a few black churches in my life – I am pretty sure it is the same God.

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    Religion And Politics All Over The Map

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:35 am, April 28th 2008     &mdash      1 Comment »

    Inappropriate Analogy?

    In the Pearce Brosnan/Rene Russo remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, Brosnan seduces Russo and has her standard breakfast prearranged in his home for the next morning because he is confident in his seductive capabilities. Russo mutters as she digs into the breakfast, “I hate being a foregone conclusion.” I could not help but think of that when I read this story:

    Rep. Dale E. Kildee (D-Mich.), a Catholic congressman who endorsed Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) for president, told Cybercast News Service Wednesday that despite Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) failure to capture Catholic voters in the Pennsylvania primary, the majority of Catholics will vote for the Democratic candidate in the general election, whether it’s Obama or Clinton.

    My impression is that Catholics are far more diverse than this, not to mention that fact that such blanket statement makes religious people look thoughtless, because such levels of predictability imply such. Wouldn’t it be nice to read stories about how religious people consider the issues, read the information and make a decision based on the available facts?

    Speaking of Political/Religious Diversity

    Underwood and a growing number of other young, left-leaning believers are entering the political arena as campaign aides, lobbyists, grass-root activists and engaged voters. They are trying to expand the focus of faith-based politics beyond the religious right’s hot-button issues of abortion and gay marriage. And they are placing social justice issues, like poverty and war, at the intersection of their moral and political decision making.

    There is some truth to that and we older religious conservative deserve much of the blame. We have allowed the younger generation to view “our” issues as foregone conclusions. I cannot help but think that the inter-sect bickering that we have engaged in has, in significant part, created the gap through which much of this has driven.

    A View Of The Future?

    Al Mohler, not shy about inter-sect bickering himself, looks at a potential future for religion and politics based on some writings out of the UK. I tend to agree with this particular analysis of his, and, in my book it is hard evidence for why we need to be able to overcome our inter-sect rivalries for matters of public policy. We just have to, the opposite result is too ugly to consider.

    Grabbing for Religious Cred?!

    The Washington Times and a Hillary/religion puff piece. I am troubled by this stuff. I am tired of people grabbing for religious credibility – I would really rather elect a good person of political and policy credibility.

    Not Helping

    John Hagee, yes the Revelations reading, Bible thumping, John McCain endorsing, TV preacher John Hagee, is trying to remove his foot from his political mouth again. I know McCain can do better than this, but I think this guy is enjoying the attention.

    Some Quick Hits from Lowell

    Here we have a mayor (of Birmingham, Alabama) who is overtly, aggressively, and in my view misguidedly playing to religion. I can’t find any criticism of his having done so. Could that be because he’s a . . . Democrat? Check out this lede:

    Struggling to confront a worsening homicide rate, the mayor asked pastors and citizens Friday to don burlap sacks and ashes Friday in an Old Testament-style sign of biblical repentance.

    Mayor Larry Langford said his “sackcloth and ashes” rally at Boutwell Auditorium was inspired by the Book of Jonah, where residents of the ancient city of Ninevah wore rough fabric and ashes as a sign of turning away from sin.

    Just imagine the reaction if a Republican tried such a harebrained approach to fighting crime. (John:  Local politics are a different animal.)

    And here’s an interesting story (for a change) about John McCain’s faith – from the L.A. Times, no less. After reading this, I – no fan of McCain – actually think he gets it, in terms of the proper relationship between faith and politics.

    And finally: I almost never watch 60 Minutes, but happened to catch this evening’s show and a very long and engrossing interview with Justice Scalia. (Highly recommended; video here.) During the segment on Scalia’s Catholic upbringing, Leslie Stahl just had to ask him about his faith’s impact on his role as a Supreme Court justice. His immediate, firm response: “It has nothing to do with how I decide cases.”

    That was not enough for Stahl, of course, who pointed out that there are already 5 Catholics on the Supreme Court. “If there were a 6th Catholic on the Court,” she observed, “you can see that there would be a protest.”

    Really? Would there be? Should there be? How could there be, in a country with a provision like Article VI in its written Constitution?  John chimes in:  Sadly, but relying on religious labels, we can also be victimized by them.

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    Little To Talk About . . .

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 03:23 am, April 24th 2008     &mdash      21 Comments »

    But since we like Mitt Romney here . . .

    feel free to spend your money here. Wear the stuff proudly!

    To My Mormon Friends . . .

    You are not alone.

    And Evangelicals are not your only problem. Timothy Egan, in the NYTimes writes of the FLDS compound in Texas and draws a direct line to Joseph Smith, the Mormon past and, unbelievably Mitt Romney.

    Mormonism is the most homegrown of American religions, and the fastest-growing in the Western Hemisphere. There are more Mormons in the United States than Presbyterians. The church has been vocal about denouncing the renegade Mormons in Texas, and quick to point out that it abandoned polygamy in 1890, as a condition of Utah’s statehood.

    For a long time, though, the church was at odds with basic American ideals, and not just because old guys sanctioned marital sex with dozens of teenage girls. What you see in Texas — in small part — is a look back at some of the behavior of Mormonism’s founding fathers.

    When Mitt Romney, in his December speech about his religion, said, “My faith is the faith of my fathers — I will be true to them and to my beliefs,” he was taking on a load of historical baggage.

    I am not sure what to make of this piece. Mormonism’s past is significant, but it is the past. I find little reason to write this piece other than to mix up the past and the present in people’s minds. To reinforce a historical connection that people are trying to break – to punish a group for a sin for which the group has long since recanted. This guy is apparently arguing for historical revisionism, but his argument is so mired in detail as to serve to make the assiciation he seems to argue against.

    Then, of course, there is the historical baggage that every other religion carries with it. Longer ago, perhaps, but not always. Many churches supported slavery, a practice abandoned mere decades before the LDS stopped polygamy, and those same churches carried deep racism well into the 20th century. As a son of the south, I have attended more than a few in my life. “But only a few churches did that” comes the protest. Well, less than a majority of Mormons practiced polygamy as well.

    I have made the point before that to the average American, polygamy is all they can associate with Mormonism. I believe this article to be evidence of that fact.

    Lowell adds: This line tells you all you need to know about the article:

    For a long time, though, the church was at odds with basic American ideals, and not just because old guys sanctioned marital sex with dozens of teenage girls.

    What a smear. “At odds with basic American ideals?” Doesn’t that phrase cry out for just a bit of support? “Old guys sanctioned marital sex with dozens of teenage girls?” Does any serious student of that unique historical period describe what happened that way? Do they not have editors at the New York Times?

    One of the books Egan cites as support for his article is “No Man Knows My History,” a deeply controversial anti-Mormon book by a well-regarded ex-Mormon author, Fawn Brodie. If that’s Egan’s source for understanding Mormon history, he needs to get out more. Maybe he should crack open Richard Bushman’s more recent, and widely-acclaimed work, “Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling,” which is certainly no valentine to Joseph Smith.

    John and I have documented over the last two years that the truly bigoted pieces about Romney with the biggest circulation (i.e., in the MSM) come from liberals. A quick review of Egan’s past articles for the New York Times reveals that — big surprise!– he’s a solidly conventional liberal.

    Final thought: It’s interesting to ponder what would be happening if Romney had won in Florida and then sailed on to be the presumptive nominee instead of McCain. As depressing as it is to say this, I think pieces like Egan’s would be all over the MSM and the blogosphere as well. We still have some work to do in this country.

    Editors’ Note: Comments on this post have been closed. Thanks for your thoughtful contributions, which we hope have contributed to understanding (not necessarily agreement).

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    A Little More Poking Around The Internet

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 10:14 pm, April 22nd 2008     &mdash      2 Comments »

    calvin2.jpgThis story out of Washington, via the Salt Lake Tribune, will cause some buzz. It will especially excite those who, like Al Mohler, seemed very afraid that Mitt Romney’s success would put the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a positive light. In a public address, Elder Russell M. Ballard, of the Church’s Council of Twelve Apostles, commented on that subject:

    “I’d much rather have people talking about us than ignoring us.” . . . The biggest problem we face is apathy. Still, we have learned a lot. One thing we have concluded is that even after 178 years, there is more misinformation out there than we had imagined.”

    . . .

    Ballard, one of the first LDS leaders to speak out about the race’s impact, says anxiety about Mormons primarily came from conservative Christians who are against the LDS Church’s doctrine and, from the other end of the spectrum, those who oppose the church’s position on moral issues such as abortion or same-sex marriage. . . .

    “While we do speak authoritatively for the church,” Ballard said, according to prepared remarks, “we look to our responsible and faithful members to engage personally with blogs, to write thoughtful, online letters to news organizations, and to act in other ways to correct the record with their own opinions.”

    Well, we’ve certainly seen plenty of that.

    John adds some thoughts: While I cannot disagree with the basic analysis Ballard here presents, I would caution our LDS readers to not commit the same “sin” my evangelical brethren have. It is easy to paint with a broad brush. For some Evangelicals “flip-flop” meant flip-flop – they may not have done their homework on Romney’s record, but they did not commit religious bigotry.

    So what to do? – and here I do disagree with Ballard. writing letters to the editor saying “Mormons are not like that,” even if they really are not, will tend to perpetuate the battle. I have simply had too many conversations with Evangelicals where they were arguing with the literary constructs of the LDS rather than with LDS people.

    The only Mormon most Evangelicals know they have ever met is the missionary that has annoyingly knocked on their door – “annoyingly” because they feel guilty about their own lack of evangelical zeal when it happens.

    My suggestion to my LDS friends can be wrapped up in one word – “Engage.” Find an Evangelical neighbor and invite them to dinner, let them know you are LDS (the Evangelicals will be frightened you are going to try to convert them, so once you identify, be quiet about it.) Try to start joint humanitarian projects with more mainline Christian organizations.  Yes, such will strip such activities of any “religious content,” but might it not be worth it for the relationship bridge that is built?

    My point is simple, the best way to remove the Mormon “stigma” is to be a Mormon that “is not like that.” Most of you that I know are not, but then I KNOW YOU. See my point?

    Lowell jumps back in:  John’s comments are excellent, and for Mormons who have been paying attention, they mirror what Elder Ballard himself has encouraged members to do.  Here’s Elder Ballard’s classic 2003 address about that very subject.

    As for engaging, we are now faced with the challenge of engaging in the Internet.  I am sure that Elder Ballard’s recent exhortations have been in large part inspired by the way the LDS faith is protrayed in cyberspace.  If you Google “Mormon,” 90% of what you find will be anti-Mormon, some of it viciously and virulently so.  Engaging with neighbors, whom you can see and with whom you can converse, is hard enough; engaging with nameless folks in the Internet is even more difficult. 

    But John’s right – both Mormons and Evangelicals need to do a better job of engaging in a constructive and Christ-emulating manner.  I see it as an opportunity for everyone.  With rare exceptions, neither side is going to convert the people with whom they engage on-line, but we all need more friendships with people of good will and similar values.

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    Poking Around The Internet…

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 04:27 am, April 22nd 2008     &mdash      1 Comment »

    More About The Pope…

    We pointed out yesterday, the interaction between the Pope and Mormons on this past weekend’s papal visit. As proof positive of the Pope’s ecumenical nature, at least when it comes to political action, apparently he is even willing to hang out with jerks.

    Linked Without Review…

    I am on the road this week (Boy! am I on the road – 7 cities, 7 nights from Florida to D.C. to NYC to Indiana) so time does not permit me to review this fully:

    A passionate discussion is unfolding in public and in private among Evangelical leaders and communities. Should Christians be involved in politics and if so, how? What has gone wrong, and what has been learned from the Moral Majority up until now.

    American Public Media gathered Chuck Colson, Greg Boyd, and Shane Clairborne. I think the discussion, particularly when combined with this book (also as yet unread by your humble blogger), would be fascinating. There is a shift afoot in the Evangelical vote in this country, we need to be aware of it.

    Bad Examples…

    England does not have the same church/state structures we do, though functionally they operate in much the same manner, more by common consent that constitution. Says a good Christian blogging blogging friend of mine who lives in the London ‘Burbs:

    For my American readers, some useful background for you is that in the UK very rarely will an openly professing Christian stand for any political office as it is considered a handicap by all our main parties.

    And yet, the same post points out a candidate seeking the London Mayor’s office on a strictly Christian platform. Shall we call this the “Huckabee Effect?”

    Meanwhile, in South Carolina, I am forced to defend Barack Obama against a scurrilous attack by a preacher.

    Byrd said that the message wasn’t meant to be racial or political.

    “It’s simply to cause people to realize and to see what possibly could happen if we were to get someone in there that does not believe in Jesus Christ,” he said.

    Precisely how does this pastor Byrd know what Obama believes or does not believe when it comes to Jesus? He professes a faith in Jesus, albeit quite different than mine. But then so did the candidate I backed – which is my point.

    Thinking Philosophically…

    John Derbyshire defends the proposition that religion is relativistic. Don’t want to get into that debate, but do want to borrow this:

    Suppose I line up a Christian, a Moslem, and a Hindu, and ask: “You guys all promote a different set of ‘fundamental truths.’ How can I figure out who’s right and who’s wrong? What external test can I apply? What can any of you point to in the beliefs of the others that doesn’t square with observable facts about the world, or about human life?” What will they say? After a lot of babbling and pointing, it will boil down to: “You gotta have faith. You have to feel the truth within yourself.” In other words, it’s an interior, subjective experience. What’s more relative than that? There is no objective test one can apply to confirm or falsify statements like “Jesus was the Son of God,” or “Mohammed was the Messenger of God,” or “Vishnu has four arms.” You just gotta believe.

    PRECISELY! So the question is how to govern with those competitive truth claims all present in society. The answer, of course, is to place the truth or falsity of the claims outside of the realm of government power. Ah, the genius of the founding fathers.

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