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."

  • The Pope’s “In Town,” As Was Huckabee, and more…

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 03:58 am, April 21st 2008     &mdash      1 Comment »

    About The Pope . . .

    Just so you know I am not new to this whole thing, years ago (college), I lost a girlfriend because I argued with her mother over dinner that Roman Catholics were indeed Christians. Through the course of this blog and the Romney campaign I have gained a new appreciation for the Roman Catholic Church. That church has, through history had both the worst, and, I am beginning to think – in America at least – the best, interplay with government forces of any church. And so I have been watching the papal visit with great interest. Two bits have caught my eye.

    On The Good Side . . .

    We have a WaPo column in praise of Catholicism from Michael Gerson.

    But the Catholic Church has more than endurance on its side. It remains an indispensable institution, for several reasons:

    First, despite charges of dogmatism, the church is the main defender of reason in the modern world.

    [...]

    So Catholicism offers a second contribution: It is the main defender of human dignity against a utilitarian view of human worth. And the church has applied this high view of man with remarkable consistency — to the unborn and the elderly, the immigrant and the disabled.

    [...]

    An institution accused of superstition is now the world’s most steadfast defender of rationality and human rights. It has not always lived up to its own standards, but where would those standards come from without it?

    I have to agree with this assessment. There have been louder voices in the battle over abortion, for example, but few have worked harder, or more within the bounds of reasonable discourse that the Catholic voices. It is terrible difficult for Protestants of any stripe to look to the Catholic church for anything, we after all are defined by breaking away from that institution, but in this instance, I think there is much to learn. The RCC has managed to reform, albeit much more slowly than we Protestants did, and to preserve ecclesiastical authority. They cannot afford to say it so boldly, but they have reformed. (This latter point is something they share very much in common with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.) And by doing so while holding on the the good parts of their 2000 years of existence they have gotten a lot better at some things than we are.

    On The Bad Side…

    K-Lo got an email, in reaction to her piece in praise of the Pope.

    I am sure I am not the only person disgusted by your pretending to be a good, serious, intelligent Roman Catholic. You supported a fake Christian for President. I know this. Anyone with even basic knowledge of Christianity and Mormon cultism knows this. Check your Church’s website on this, if you wish to really be more than a faux-Papist. I prefer to think that you are simply ignorant of Christian doctrine, and are to be pitied. If you knew better, you would be open to more scorn than than any one person could heap upon you. Please, quit pretending to be a Catholic in good standing. Any priest worth his salt would deny you Communion, until you admitt [sic] to your monumental error in supporting Romney and his cult.

    Now, first of all, there is no way this note was written by a Catholic – no way. No self- respecting Catholic would use the term “Papist” in any context. The idea of someone not a Catholic questioning the Catholic credentials of anyone is almost beyond belief. But for a person of such obvious bigotry to attempt to defend the “Christian” label as applied to Roman Catholics is so incredible as to be laughable. I am fairly certain that K-Lo published this because it is so over the top as to be self-criticizing.

    But that last phrase is quite revealing: “supporting Romney and his cult.” What is it about a presidential vote that supports the religion of the candidate? Well, in a nation that has separation of church and state – a nation like ours – nothing that I know of. And yet, this seems to be the one single mistake made by almost everyone. I have had many Mormons see my efforts here and conclude that I, as an Evangelical, support Mormonism. That is not true, I support Mormonism’s right to exist in the United States of America and I support their right to participate fully and equally in our political processes, but I do not support their doctrine – I live in competition with it. (I also think the “problems” with Mormon doctrine, at least in its current state, are somewhat overwrought, but that is a different story and not for this place.)

    My point is straightforward. When you vote for someone, you vote for that person, not the church he or she belongs to. Yes, that church may help to shape people, but so did their parents and the schools they went to. We do not hand any NCAA trophies to the alma maters of our presidents. Nor do we, by by electing a person of some faith other than our own, grant the church to which that person belongs the imprimatur of “truth.”

    On The Best Side . . .

    Catholic News Service Reports:

    For the first time, representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints participated in a papal prayer service — and it all started over coffee.

    In an interview with Catholic News Service and other reporters before the start of the ecumenical prayer service at St. Joseph’s Church in New York April 18, Father James Massa, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interrreligious Affairs, said that during a coffee break at a recent meeting a representative of the Latter-day Saints asked him if there was any possibility of their participation in the papal visit.

    “My reaction was, ‘Why not?’ We have shared values and there is a possibility of collaboration on a number of social issues while respecting our theological differences,” he said.

    Father Massa said, “We’re not making any theological statements today,” adding, “This is a very big statement they (the Latter-day Saints) are making.”

    He said the Latter-day Saints are “a bit bruised” by reaction to the presidential campaign of Republican Mitt Romney, a Mormon. National polls found that many Americans were uncomfortable with the idea of a Mormon president.

    From my perspective this is proof positive of the superiority of Roman Catholicism over Protestantism, and certainly Evangelicalism in some areas. The rest of the article goes on to discuss how there are definitive theological distinctions between the RCC and CJCLDS, but at least they are willing to meet in the common areas, you know, basic things like prayer. I am tempted to go on at length about the maturity of Catholicism and the necessity of thought about sacrament and when theology matters and when it does not, but that would just be boring to all but seminary student. Instead applause to the RCC for this very smart decision AND ACTION.

    Lowell chiming in:

    I have a little information and insight to offer here, as well as a theory (and that’s all it is) about the difference between Catholics and Evangelicals in this regard.

    It is not widely known that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the “LDS Church”) and the Roman Catholic Church have collaborated on many public issues. California Proposition 22 in 2000 (clarifying the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman) is just one example. So is this story (interesting in its own right) about “collaboration of caring” between Catholic Relief Services and the Humanitarian Emergency Response and Welfare Services of the LDS Church. So it is not new or unusual for Latter-day Saints to be involved with Catholics, at least on temporal matters.

    Now for the theory. I think the Roman Catholic willingness to accept Mormons as fellow Christians stems from Catholicism’s maturity. That faith has been around for a long, long time and has been through an awful lot. And yet it’s still there, and still a powerful and stabilizing force for good in the world.

    What’s interesting about this is that theologically, Mormonism’s claims go straight to the heart of Catholicism’s legitimacy as a Church. We Mormons claim direct authority from Jesus Christ, restored to Joseph Smith by a personal visit from none other than Peter, James and John, three of Christ’s original apostles. If we are right, than Catholicism is wrong, plain and simple – and vice-versa, I might add.

    So it is no small thing that Catholics work with Mormons and now are willing to allow Mormon participation in a papal prayer service. That’s a much more appealing attitude than Shirley Dobson showed when she refused to allow Mormon participation in her National Day of Prayer event in Washington.

    Why the difference? I think many Evangelicals are still simply nervous about their standing in the eyes of the faithful and potentially faithful. Mormon missionary efforts make them nervous, and have since the days of Joseph Smith. (This is especially true of Evangelical pastors, in my experience, who for over 150 years have been writing books warning their flocks about Mormons.) Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention says more Baptists leave that faith to become Mormons than any other, and vice-versa. I have no idea if his data are correct, but his claim is fascinating if true.

    In the LDS General Conference just two weeks ago, Thomas S. Monson, President of the Church, said:

    I would encourage members of the Church wherever they may be to show kindness and respect for all people everywhere. The world in which we live is filled with diversity. We can and should demonstrate respect toward those whose beliefs differ from ours.

    Anyway, the Catholics are showing leadership in this regard. So is President Monson. I hope Evangelical leaders can find the courage to do the same.

    And While We Are Applauding Catholics…

    From the New Nixon Blog:

    The Daily Kos is crying hypocrisy as Nancy Pelosi was refused in Washington. However there are key differences. Rudy Giuliani’s obligation to uphold statutory law is based on his responsible temporal power as chief executive. In addition, he expressed continued reverence for the Church. Nancy Pelosi on the other hand, possesses the legislative power to promote bills which uphold Judeo-Christian values. Unfortunately she has consistently refused.

    When you put that with the third item, previous section, mountains have been spoken.

    Why I Am Not Worried About Huck “Next Time”…

    From Jonathon Martin:

    He said that he was going to focus on long-shot candidates, folks like him who weren’t give much of a shot to win. He’ll help them with tips on how to get noticed — any and all earned media they can get! — go to states and districts to rouse the faithful.

    That does not sound like a guy that really wants to be president. Winners work with winners. This preserves his opportunities to play spoiler, but does not build to a legitimate candidacy. And, in a head-to-head, spoiler cred won’t get you very far. Then there is this:

    But he’ll be on the road a good bit, in part because he’s looking at what he termed some “media opportunities.”

    Media opportunities do pay better, and Huck sure likes the attention.

    This does make me wonder about Huck’s motivation again. He obviously has no respect for Romney at all; could the roots of that disrespect be in faith? That crack about “the faithful” is ominous.

    Lowell: I’ve noted here several times the intriguing depth of Huckabee’s animosity towards Romney. Matt Lewis reports another of Huck’s latest Romney slams.

    All this really says much more about Huck than about Mitt. I’ll just leave it at that.

    Going Deep…

    This blog caught my eye because it deals with the writings of one of the lefties that is on our list of most-bigoted writings from the campaign, Damon Linker. Didn’t know what to expect when I tuned in, but what I got was some interesting church/state thoughts from a Mormon that knows Linker personally. Worth the read.

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    The Reading List Post In Which We Link Via Wisecrack

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:36 am, April 18th 2008     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    The Wrong Way: Using religion to call candidates liars. But the approach does belie the reason we have to look at candidate behavior and policy, not belief.

    The Right Way: The church looks at issues, informs its members, and influences its member politicians. It does not participate in elections.

    Yeah, I agree: But do Evangelicals? Please remember I am one.

    NO! – Duh!

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    Gov Romney On Why He Dropped Out….

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 03:23 pm, April 17th 2008     &mdash      Comment on this post »

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    Huckabee and Romney: “Two trains headed right at each other”

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 06:00 am, April 17th 2008     &mdash      3 Comments »

    That’s what Matt Lewis calls them, and I think he’s right. It’s not too early to start thinking about what that scenario might mean. My battle-weary, less optimistic side does not think it will be pretty. My deeply-scarred optimistic side dares to believe the nation might actually learn some important things from such a campaign.

    Consider:

    • Huckabee has formed HuckPac, clearly a presidential candidate-style operation.
    • Romney has made no secret of his willingness to accept the vice presidential nomination, and is actively campaigning for McCain. (Just yesterday I received a request from Romney’s operation that I raise $10,000 for McCain.)
    • Huck supporters, seeing what a setback it would be for their guy’s 2012 chances for Romney to be the veep nominee this year, have mounted a “no to Romney” campaign.

    What a fascinating set of events. Assuming that the presidency is in Democrat hands in 2012, these questions are only the first that come to mind:

    1. Will Mike Huckabee continue to run as “the Christian candidate?”
    2. Regardless of whether Huck does so, will rank and file voters divide up by religion anyway, with Evangelicals falling in behind him? (I am doubtful about that.)
    3. Will Evangelical political leaders simply pick and back a candidate, or simply hold back until it is too late, like they did this year?
    4. Will “flip flopper” still be code for “Mormon,” or will four years of Romney speechifying and writing cause that issue to fade?
    5. Will Huckabee still be angry about Romney’s comparison ads in Iowa?

    Of course, the answers all depend on a number of variables that won’t be known for some time — and many that will remain unknown until 2012. No one saw Huckabee coming, for example, and Hillary Clinton certainly didn’t see Barack Obama in her rear view mirror.

    But the idea of Romney v. Huckabee does provoke a lot of thinking.

    John Speculates: Four years is a life time in politics, almost none of the “predictive factors” we look at today will be in play when decision time actually comes. That said, here are some of the things I am going to be watching.

    • Huck’s campaign could not raise money, how does he expect his PAC to? Evangelicals have a lot of energy for campaigns, but not a lot of money for anything but the plate in church, or energy for the hard work of politics.
    • Huck always struck me as liking the limelight more than job, and he has signed with a Hollywood talent agent. The PAC could be all about “keeping his cred” while he is shopped for a Glenn Beck, Hugh Hewitt, or Pat Robertson type job.
    • If Evangelicals don’t wise up a bit, they are liable to find themselves on the sidelines in the next election cycle. Where would Huckabee be without his base? He barely scratched votes outside of Evangelicals.
    • Now that Romney has national name recognition he has the next four years to capitalize. If it is about the two of them next time, it will not be about first impressions. Religious labels matter in first impressions, but not so much when the candidates are known.
    • Politics is often about mistakes. We are currently watching Obama blow up. In all seriousness who do you think is more mistake prone, Romney or Huckabee? If you really think Romney, I suggest you research again.

    Bottom line is this, running for president is a very serious undertaking. Huckabee played at it – he enjoyed far more success than the average person that just plays at it, but such does not lay a base for strong future efforts.

    Oh by the way – with Obama imploding and Hillary working as hard as she is to help, I am not particularly looking at any Republican in 2012 other than an incumbent.

    Thursday Humor…

    The Boston Globe recounts a “Top Ten” list that Romney gave to a correspondents dinner on why he dropped out:

    No. 10: There weren’t as many Osmonds as he thought.
    No. 9: Got tired of the corkscrew landings of his campaign plane while under fire
    No. 8: As a lifelong hunter, I didn’t want to miss the start of varmint season.
    No. 7: There wasn’t room for two Christian leaders in the presidential race
    No. 6: I’d rather get fat, grow a beard and try for the Nobel prize.
    No. 5: Got tired of wearing a dark suit and tie, and I wanted to kick back in a light colored suit and tie.
    No. 4: When his wife realized he couldn’t win the GOP nomination, my fundraising dried up.
    No. 2: I took a bad fall at a campaign rally and broke my hair.
    And the No. 1 reason Romney dropped out: His campaign relied on a flawed campaign strategy that as Utah goes, so goes the nation.

    Self-deprecating humor as weapon – I like it. (I can hear a bunch of people howling over no. 7 right now.)

    Lowell:  Those who are upset about no. 7 have no sense of irony or humor.  But what else is new?

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    Deep Thoughts On A Wednesday

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:36 am, April 16th 2008     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    In The “Lightest” Vein Of The Day . . .

    The NYTimes writes on the battle for the Catholic vote. I have two reactions to this piece. The first is the reduction of an entire church to a demographic, but that seems to be an inevitable. The second comment centers on this:

    There is widespread agreement that American Catholic voters are far more diverse than monolithic.

    Now that is a reasonable statement about religious people in general, but the Times writers seem to want to paint other religious groups in monolithic and close-minded terms. I think it is because Catholics are not prone to sound bites. While Evangelicals find themselves somewhat cornered in Republican politics right now, the religious voice remains loud in the party and many of the leading voices are Catholic, or Catholic- educated.

    Interesting.

    Marx/Theology – Contrast or Competition?

    R.R. Reno has written a fascinating piece at First Things in which he argues, on a deeply theological level, that the “revolutionary” fervor of the left is quite analogous to the religious fervor of the right. Old point, really, but quite well made. The other point it makes obvious is that the current highly competitive level between left and right thought and the general coarsening of political discourse, is probably a result of direct competition over the same territory.

    I also think this can account for the rise of identity politics. With many people unwilling to work this hard at their political decisions, the labels become a handy shortcut.

    On the Other Hand . . .

    Another religious writer, Al Mohler, looks at Obama’s abysmal utterance (I hereby copyright that phrase:-)) and arrives at a conclusion that pretty well misses the point entirely when it comes to religious discussion in the political realm. Mohler notes that Obama’s statement has a “functional” view of religion:

    A functional view of belief assumes or “brackets” the question of whether the beliefs are true. One who holds to a purely functionalist view of religious conviction is not concerned with the truthfulness of these beliefs, but only with the effects the beliefs have on the believer, both privately and in social contexts.

    Now, I think Mohler is absolutely right about that as far as it goes there. Obama certainly has this kind of view of religion. But then Mohler moves on to use the comment to attack the right as well as the left:

    In the early stages of modernity, many thinkers — assuming that there is no validity to religious beliefs in terms of truth — nevertheless noted what they described as its functions. Sigmund Freud detailed his psychiatric theory in Totem and Taboo. Karl Marx defined religious belief as “the opiate of the people,” used by the politically powerful to oppress workers and keep them subservient. Other figures spoke of religious belief in more positive terms, describing its contributions to social order and cohesion.

    In other words, functional views of religious belief are found among both conservatives and liberals. In one famous example, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican, conveyed a functional view of religious belief in an almost quintessential expression. Speaking on Flag Day in 1954, President Eisenhower said: “Our government makes no sense unless it is founded on a deeply felt religious faith–and I don’t care what it is.”

    Now, not knowing well Eisenhower’s personal faith, I cannot say whether his statement reflects holding a “functional” religion, or if he is simply addressing the issue of what the function of religion is in our society. That is an important – very important – distinction. It is Mohler’s conclusion where the issues become incredibly clear:

    Christians should learn to detect a functional account of religious belief when listening to public figures speak. Liberals tend to speak in functional terms of meaning and purpose. Conservatives tend to speak functionally in terms of social order, stability, and morality.

    None of these is a substitute for authentic Christianity — a faith that is predicated on being true — not merely meaningful or helpful.

    What Mohler has here done is advance an argument for his faith, precisely his faith, because, of course, it is the only one that he would view as true, as the only reasonable faith for an American. But what Mohler fails to look at in his analysis is how to operate a country when, excluding “functional religion,” different religions all make truth claims.

    See, “functional” religion as Mohler here describes is not really religion, it is sociology. And that is fine, but it delegitimizes it in terms of being protected religious expression in our nation, a la Jeremiah Wright. But by the Mohler analysis, anyone who holds genuine religion, but is willing to set aside the competitive truth claims of various religions, for the sake of meeting the common communal good, based on shared religious function, is also disingenuous. What it boils down to is that because we have separation of church and state, our government is not the place where the truth or falsehood of any religion is to be determined, but all religion is to be allowed to function in our government.

    Any religion has both function and truth claims, yet Mohler would appear to define religion only by its truth claims. That strikes me as precisely antithetical to the great understanding that is American religious/political life.

    Lowell adds: The bottom line here is that Al Mohler sees politics and government as a vehicle for preaching the Gospel as he understands it. Over the course of the last 24 months I have come to regard Mohler’s views as borderline dangerous.

    Something I Wished I’d Known About…

    Where my friend Mark Roberts was last weekend. I might have gone, but then I am not Ivy League so maybe I could not have.

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    Where The Outrage?

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:32 am, April 15th 2008     &mdash      1 Comment »

    Heck – Where The Coverage?

    Clinton and Obama stood up for something called “The Compassion Forum” over the weekend. In some ways the thing bordered on a religious debate considering, for example, questions about why God allows suffering. More to the point it was an attempt to can religious credibility for Democratic candidates. A fact which, I think, accounts for the lack of serious coverage. Here is coverage from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the NYTimes. I did find one interesting commentary post.

    Now imagine for a minute, if you will, a similar forum for Republicans. There would be massive coverage, all spun to make it look like Republicans were close-minded religious automatons. In the primary cycle now complete, there would have also been massive efforts to compare and contrast Romney’s views as a Mormon with the views of more mainstream Christians.

    Had this event happened with Republicans, we would have been treated to endless commentary, blogging, TV discussions, etc. on how religion cannot creep too much into the public square – yet this event featured discussions of religion and religious issues in depths that Republicans would routinely refuse to answer – well, save for Huckabee who never passed up a religious question. What is amazingly outrageous is that Democrats who, for several decades, have decried the role of religion in politics – worked tirelessly to eliminate all mention of religion in a public setting – here invoked it on levels that Republicans could never contemplate.

    I think this bespeaks an important point: Religion is a political hot potato and moderation in its discussion is key. With the Republicans apparently employing a religious test in the primary, this sort of discussion amongst the Democrats begins to look moderate. While they discussed the metaphysical and theological on levels we would never go near, they did talk about unity and diversity and community.

    Our nation loves its religion when it builds bridges, but hates it when it builds walls. The Republican primary appeared to build a wall and the Democrats are not hesitating to capitalize on it. And what is worse, is this version of religiosity is not one that Republicans would agree with much when it comes down to policy. And so, once again, by applying a religious test, even if only amongst individual voters in the voting booth, we have limited our ability to get the policies we want, not enhanced it.

    Oops . . .

    Lowell jumps in:

    I found the Democrats’ behavior in the Compassion Forum fascinating. (I understand McCain was invited but declined to attend. A wise decision, I think.) It makes me wonder if conservatives have a better substantive message, but lousy delivery.

    Predictably, the religion Obama and Clinton professed Sunday was the “social gospel” type: Government is a means to deliver the charity taught in the Scriptures. As John notes, the MSM treated the event and its content as totally unremarkable.

    I am wondering (worrying) that the Democrats’ religious “message” might be more appealing to the general public than the social conservative/values voter message we saw in the GOP primaries, which was largely driven by Evangelical and like-minded voters. I also worry that Huckabee-style overt religiosity will repel voters to whom the social gospel simply feels better. I am taking about people who are more interested in being made to feel comfortable by vague notions of a kind and benevolent government.

    Finally, I worry that although most people probably like the more conservative, values-voter views about the big issues– i.e., the content of the message– most people also prefer a less strident tone. If that’s true, then conservatives win on debating points, but lose on style and delivery.

    Speaking of which…

    Obama’s “bitterness” gaffe is not playing well when it comes to the Dems’ attempts to garner a religious sheen. Which means we may have the opportunity to recover the high ground before it is all said and done, but we need to get about the business of digesting the lessons of the primary.

    More On The Religiously Mute McCain . . .

    This time from the Washington Times. And you know, given the analysis just completed, I am wondering if such muteness does not go a long way to explain the Republican primary results – not to mention bode well in the general with Obama’s problems.

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