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 Shoe Is On The Other Foot Now

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:29 am, September 29th 2008     &mdash      1 Comment »

    What Goes Around Comes Around…

    Some people cannot leave well enough alone.   Robert Jeffress, a Baptist preacher out of Dallas, and one of the most vocal and bigoted of all the anti-Mormon, anti-Romney religious far-rightists, has stuck his head up again.  He featured prominently in the Article VI Movie, in perhaps its ugliest moment, as being unwilling to even declare himself a friend of a Mormon.  Well, Peggy Fletcher Stack caught up with him speaking at the Religion Newswriters Association last week:

    “I believe we should always support a Christian over a non-Christian,” Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, told a packed audience of journalists at last weekend’s Religion Newswriters Association (RNA) annual meeting. “The value of electing a Christian goes beyond public policies. . . . Christians are uniquely favored by God, [while] Mormons, Hindus and Muslims worship a false god. The eternal consequences outweigh political ones. It is worse to legitimize a faith that would lead people to a separation from God.”

    Jeffress made his remarks during a luncheon debate with Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a law firm and educational organization that focuses on religious-liberty issues. The DeMoss Group, a Christian public-relations firm in Duluth, Ga., sponsored the event.

    Sekulow, who also disagrees with Mormon theology but supported Romney’s candidacy, argued he would rather have a president who promoted a conservative political agenda than one who shared his doctrinal positions.

    Thank goodness for people like Sekulow and Mark DeMoss  who are willing to challenge silly people like this.  But what I found most interesting was what is occurring in the wake of this posturing that we witnessed during the primary campaign.

    While many leading Evangelicals are quick to embrace the whole “Sarah [Palin] is religious just like me” thing, it is being used as a cudgel against them.  We are seeing the same kind of stuff around Palin with this religious identity mantra that emerged around Bush is 2000 and it is a large part of why we are in this mess.  One of the great problems with the Bush administration is that he is not “just like us.”  In fact I would argue that no one seeking the office of the Presidency of the United States is going to be just like any normal Joe on the street.  The desire alone separates that individual pretty significantly from the rest of us.

    That fact does not cast aspersions on their faith, none-whatsoever, it is just to point out the illusory nature of this kind of identity politics.  But note what is happening.  At Contentions, Abe Greenwald takes on a piece by Sam Harris that discusses Palin in precisely the same incredulous tones that were used to discuss Romney’s Mormonism.  Most amazing is it devolves into a discussion of what we mainstream/creedal Christians call the charismata, the miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit.   Which is precisely the club that was used to beat Romney.  What else are the “founding whoppers of Mormonism” than claims of direct and miraculous action by God?

    But leaving aside commentary pieces, MSNBC’s breathless and ridiculing  story of a viral video showing Palin being prayed over, and specifically for protection from “witchcraft” is just contemptible.  Imagine what would happen if some one dug up videos of Obama in a dashiki, attending an African ritual of some sort and reported on it in this fashion?  The charges of racism would be so extreme as to run into actual censorship.

    And in large part we have brought this on ourselves.  When fools like Jeffress say such foolish things, it will come back to haunt.

    Elsewhere…

    Some interesting and well done work on Biden, Catholics and media bias.   It’s somewhat comforting to know that the press cannot seem to get religion correct, no matter what the religion.

    This Sunday just past was designated for pastors to protest the limitations placed by the IRS on their political speech from the pulpit.   There was a little counter view op-ed in the NYTimes Saturday.  This one is a tough call.  Pastors should be free under the constitution to say whatever they want from the pulpit, and it is reasonable to argue that the tax  laws are coercive enough to constitute a de facto form of censorship (most churches would go belly up in a matter of weeks if they lost their tax advanatges), but pastors doing politics from the pulpit is usually a recipe for disaster to the church.  Were I a pastor, I would chose to quietly support lawyers arguing the law rather than engage in this kind of protest.

    And finally, a column from Lutheran Magazine looks at the now old Pew Religious Landscape Survey and writes:

    According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life ’s “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,” a modest 14 percent of adults say their beliefs are the main influence on their political views. Many more, 34 percent, claim their personal experience is the deciding factor in shaping political views.

    However, the report found a strong tie between political issues and Americans’ religious affiliation, beliefs and practices. “In fact, religion may be playing a more powerful, albeit indirect, role in shaping people’s thinking than most Americans recognize,” the report said.

    Members of U.S. evangelical churches and Mormons are more likely to self-describe their political ideology as conservative, with two-thirds of Mormons and one-half of evangelicals saying they are Republicans or lean that way. On the other side, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and the unaffiliated self-describe as being politically liberal. A large majority of that group plus members of historically
 African-American churches endorse the Democratic Party.

    Where the divide really hits is in what the survey calls “culture war controversies.” A large majority of Mormons and evangelicals agree that abortion should be illegal in most or all circumstances, while similar numbers among members of mainline Protestant churches and the unaffiliated contend abortion should be legal in most or all cases. “A similar divide exists on the question of whether homosexuality is a way of life that should be discouraged or accepted by society,” according to the report.

    I think that is very informative and one of the very few places I have seen that has properly analyzed the findings in that study.  Anybody that has studied statistics should know that correlation and causation are two very different things.  Just because there is a very significant correlation between Evangelicals and Mormons and conservatism does not mean one causes the others.  As this points out, while many claim both labels, religious and political, far less claim that one results from the other.

    This should put to the lie finally the idea that religious identity is necessary for political goals, but of course it will not.  It is sad sometimes how shallowly this nation thinks.

    Share

    Posted in Reading List | 1 Comment » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    Things Get Complicated, And Yet . . .

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:30 am, September 22nd 2008     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    . . . It’s The Same Old Song and Dance.

    “Pastor, Conference speaker, Professor, Talk Show Host, and Columnist” Tony Beam said on the Crosswalk blog:

    One thing is for sure . . . religion is now front and center in the race for the White House and it is showing no signs of retreating.  It proves that Americans care deeply about the religious convictions of their leaders.

    Boy is that the truth and I am not sure we are better for it.   In my lifetime we have had several presidencies fraught with scandal, criminality, and ineptitude and the lesson we have learned from them is that character matters.  Religion is certainly a huge factor in the development of character, but there is no equation between religious conviction and character (think Bill Clinton), and certainly not between religion/character and competency (think Jimmy Carter).  It is not a question of “caring about the religious convictions of our leaders,” it is about putting those concerns in the proper context.

    This is something we are not doing.  Sarah Palin is being painted largely with the same religious brush that was used to whack Romney.   Said Andrew Sullivan:

    She is a long-time member of the Assemblies Of God. That’s all you need to know.

    Now frankly, Sullivan is hardly anybody to worry about when it comes to attacking religion.   The man is so overwhelmingly obsessed with justifying his own homosexuality that he lashes out indiscriminately at anybody that might even hint that they think homosexual practice is a violation of the created order.  But that notwithstanding, his very offensive utterance brought a raft of response:

    The thing that is saddest to me about all this is that (1) it was entirely predictable, and (2) when similar attacks on Romney went “unpunished” (Jacob Weisberg is still editor of Slate; and Sullivan was even harsher on Romney than he is on Palin, and he got a better deal at The Atlantic than he had going at Time)  the door was not only left open for this stuff, it was encouraged.

    Now what is really sad is that there has been much more “offense” taken at this statement by Sullivan than at any of his very harsh statements about Romney.   One of the primary theses of this blog was that if religious attacks on Romney were allowed to stand, it would harm not just Mormons, but Evangelicals as well.  Frankly, on a theological level, Pentecostals are pretty distant from the Evangelical center, not quite as far off as Mormons, but they are out there – I know any number of Southern Baptists types that would describe Pentecostals as “heretics.”  And yet here we are.  Identity politics just don’t help much, do they.  Even if “‘Values Voters still love Romney.

    Where Does All This Come From?

    Well, the press has certainly been no help.   Speaking on a panel at Fordham last week, SLTrib reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack, who quoted this blog in that paper often, stated:

    “I was appalled by the way Romney was treated by the press,” said Stack, senior religion writer for the Salt Lake Tribune, “I do not believe every adherent should be responsible for his pastor’s or church’s belief. I wish the questions posed [by the media] were more directly related to the job, especially in this time of national urgency.”

    And we keep getting treated to these little anecdotal bits  trying to link labels and candidates.

    The thing that is really sad is the inadequacy of the labels.  The spectrum of people behind a label is so diverse that by the time the transition from journalism to history is made, the label is rejected almost completely by the historian.

    So What Is A ‘Christian’ Voter To Do?

    Well, Joe Biden says we should raise taxes:

    “Catholic social doctrine as I was taught it is, you take care of people who need the help the most….”

    Uh, yeah Joe, but that same doctrine says that is the Church’s responsibility, not the government’s.  As Patrick Hynes notes, Biden is not helping Obama in the religious arena.  The Wall Street Journal also responds.

    But the sub-head question brings us back to the Beam piece that opened this post, which he concluded:

    Evangelicals will play a major role in this election.  I pray that we will all pray our way through the political static and allow the Word of God and the Holy Spirit of God to be our guide as we choose our next leader.  Whoever wins this election, history will record that religion and religious voters played a major role in shaping both campaigns. 

    And a piece by our old friend Joe Carter at his new gig.  Joe, who we had some significant differences with during the primary campaign seems to be growing up just a bit.  Although he previously announced his concurrence with the Joel Belz “Mormons lie” contention, Joe now says:

    In general, I remain optimistic about the role of politically conservative evangelicals, Catholics, Mormons, and Jews. 

    It is good to know some seem to be learning from the mistakes of this cycle.   But in the same piece Joe says something that I need to address:

    Our political alliances, therefore, will often be tenuous and shift based on particular issues. Adherence to our principles trumps loyalty to those who simply share our religious identity. Several years ago at Family Research Councils’ Values Voter Summit, the Southern Baptist leader Richard Land said he’d vote for a Jewish pro-life politician who promised to raise his taxes before he’d vote a Christian pro-choice candidate who promised to cut them. The rousing applause he received would be as disturbing to most Republicans as it would to most Democrats. But Land knew how the issues should be prioritized. We should too.

    6) Our allegiance to any political party should be modest, contingent, and made with a full awareness that Republicans/Democrats will attempt to distance themselves from us as quickly after the election as possible. Both parties have always done so and will likely continue that tradition until the eschaton. Our goal, then, should merely be to attempt to usher in the side that will slow the process of disorder, allowing us the room to maneuver so that we can begin to re-strengthen and fortify other institutions within society.

    I disagree with this analysis to some extent.  Being a good, reliable political ally is the best possible way to achieve our ends.  On the day before Super Tuesday I wrote:

    There is much discussion in this cycle by evangelicals of feeling like they are “taken for granted” by the Republican establishment. There is some truth to that, but there are two vitally important points I want to make.

    The first point is – grow up. It is politics, not church. This is not about making friends and feeling good about yourself. It is about gathering enough support, meaning people, to your particular cause, concern, or issue. That is definitionally about “using” people. Once you have secured someone’s support, you have to move on to the next someone. Is that taking you for granted? In a way, it is, but no more so than your employer that fits you in a spot on the assembly line. And if you quit your job because you think your employer takes you for granted, all you really lose is a paycheck. Best have someplace else to go before you make that move, I don’t care how “hurt” you “feel.”

    A brief personal aside on this point. Through the course of things it has been my privilege to meet Mitt Romney on multiple occasions. I have had extensive and personal conversations with some of his family. Over the years, I have met presidents of this country in intimate settings, and I have met presidents and potentates of many other nations. Almost all of these people have referred to me as their “friend.” When I was young, I thought that meant we were going to start hanging out and having beers together – yeah, right. But when Mitt Romney called me his friend, I knew that if time allowed, there might not be beer involved, but we could enjoy some conviviality. Simply put, the man is as genuine in his connection to the people he meets as the circumstances can possibly allow – more so than any individual of such position, and higher, that I have ever met. I can assure you, Evangelicals could never be “taken for granted” by Mitt Romney. They might get less attention than they think they deserve, but that is their problem, not his.

    The second point is a far more important one. Party politics is how you get things done in this nation. In those rare instances where independents manage to get themselves elected, they are relegated to the role “the speech everyone sits through politely” or the “class clown” a la Jesse Ventura. Accomplishing things in government requires rounding up enough of the right people – yeah, it’s social networking. Political parties are the infrastructure necessary to build that network.

    Political parties thrive on loyalty. If they cannot, at least from time-to-time, take you for granted, they have to move on to people and groups that they can depend on so that they can accomplish their goals. It is a simple exchange. You give the party your dependable loyalty and in return they give you the means necessary to make your voice heard.

    The political process of this nation is what it is, and so long as it does not demand of us that we act outside the bounds of our religiously based morality, we owe that process our best efforts.  “Above the fray,” is a formula for ineffectiveness.  If Evangelicals, or Mormons, or Catholics, or… want to be a truly viable political force the best thing to do is engage, not limit engagement.

    This will mean compromise on non-critical issues, but the party is big enough to handle that.  Our loyalty to party will be rewarded by loyalty in return.  Our loyalty will be rewarded by our issues moving from the fringe to the mainstream of the party’s activities, provided that we are also doing our other job – you know the real job of the church – converting people – and taking our faith as more than a label.

    Share

    Posted in Reading List | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    An Example of Inter-Religious Cooperation

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 08:40 pm, September 21st 2008     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    As I watched this video from CatholicVote.com I was reminded once again that for religious conservative voters, what is really important about a candidate is not the details of his or her beliefs about particular religious doctrines, but the candidate’s positions on the great moral issues of our time:

    You’ll find more about obvious areas of interfaith cooperation at http://www.whatisprop8.com/religious-viewpoints.html. This particular site addresses Proposition 8, the California ballot measure on same-sex marriage.

    Share

    Posted in Political Strategy, Religious Bigotry, Understanding Religion | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    2008: The Year of the “Biographical Candidate” and Religious Attacks

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 06:36 am, September 10th 2008     &mdash      4 Comments »

    Issues?  Nah, just tell me your story . . .

    John noticed two stories that I cannot resist mentioning.  In “It’s Not Going to Be About the Issues,” RealClearPolitics’ Tom Bevan observes — accurately, I think — that “[t]his year’s [presidential] contest features two insurgent candidates whose campaigns are built around themes anchored largely in their biographies.”

    That only describes the culmination of a campaign in which Mitt Romney was never allowed to escape his biography, particularly his religious biography; Mike Huckabee ran on his denominational biography for awhile, then complained when it was hung around his neck; Rudy Giuliani ran as the hero of 9-11 and not much more; and even Hillary Clinton ran as a Clinton and as a candidate who would take us back to those halcyon times of the 90′s.  Bevan:

    Every four years the political intelligentsia laments the fact that the presidential race inevitably boils down to “who you’d rather have a beer with.” Guess what? The public is bellying up to the bar to take the measure of these two candidates over the next eight weeks.

    Maybe part of Mitt’s problem was that too many people (rightly) couldn’t imagine having a beer with him.  Read the whole thing.

    Oh-oh, now it’s Sarah Palin who has weird religious beliefs . . .

    Michael Medved  comments on left-wing alarm over Sarah Palin having grown up in the Assembly of God Church and then, six years ago, joining the Wasilla Bible Church.  Supposedly her “‘church speaks in tongues and believes in “rapture” and believes God tells us to build a pipeline . . . . And . . . tries to “cure” gay people.’”

    Without getting into whether or not Palin actually believes those things, Medved says it all here:

    Of course, a careful examination of any church or any denomination would find plenty of potentially embarrassing or offensive details. Assaults on Mitt Romney’s Mormonism followed the same game plan as the nasty cracks about Palin: take a religion that enriches the lives of millions of good and decent people and focus on its distinctive or unusual aspects to try to discredit the candidate (and, incidentally, the entire faith community).

    Every religion looks odd from the outside – very much including my own. I know that it seems weird to non-Jews (and to non-observant Jews) that my observance involves shunning some delicious foods, praying with a contraption of leather straps and wooden boxes every morning, and not riding in a car on Friday night or Saturday. Those unfamiliar with Catholicism might find themselves perplexed by doctrines ranging from transubstantiation, to the virgin birth, to papal infallibility.

    All points we’ve made many times here.   Again, the whole thing is an excellent read and reminder of where we’ve been during this campaign.  I hope we’ve learned something from all that, but I do wonder.

    Share

    Posted in Electability, Religious Bigotry, Understanding Religion | 4 Comments » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    Exploring the Line

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 04:50 pm, September 8th 2008     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    CNSNews has an article on Islamic efforts to use the power of the UN to control speech about religion:

    Critics of the OIC campaign say existing human rights instruments adequately protect individuals from incitement to violence based on religion, and they argue that a religion cannot be defamed.

    They say the Islamic states promote the idea of religious defamation because international law recognizes that freedom of expression may be limited to protect reputations.

    What the OIC actually is opposing is a range of social phenomena to which its objects.

    According to a study drawn up by the U.N.’s new high commissioner for human rights ahead of the HRC session, these include “stereotyping and negative portrayal of religions, in particular Islam, [and] the association of Islam with violence and terrorism” after 9/11, as well as “ridicule,” “insults” and “Islamophobia.”

    (Examples cited in OIC documents include newspaper cartoons caricaturing Mohammed, and a Dutch lawmaker’s documentary released earlier this year, linking the Koran to terrorism.)

    Looking at this caused me to reflect on our American political battles just ended.   Mormons have been treated throughout this campaign, both primary and Veep, to any number of really ugly, insulting statements.  They have been subject to misrepresnetation and in some cases, accusations that almost rise to the level of liable.  As we have denounced those utterances on this blog time and time again, it has been tempting to want to control those statements along the lines that are here proposed concerning Islam.

    As you read through the article, one cannot help but be struck by how Orwellian a society would be that actually did so.  As objectionable as much of what we have chronicled on this blog has been, it is important to remember that the fact that people can say such things without the fear of reprisal, argument perhaps, but  no reprisal, is part of what makes American great.

    Suffering such insulting speech is difficult, but consider the alternative.

    Share

    Posted in Religious Bigotry | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    So Much for “Adieu”

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:47 am, September 3rd 2008     &mdash      1 Comment »

    I always figured we would be back, election postmortems would demand it.  As the race of journalism was replaced by the slow progress of historical writing (and as we attempted to add to it), I figured we’d have things to talk about here, but not this soon!

    Old Business

    Well, it did not take long for somebody to blame EVERYTHING that happened in re: Romney on religion.  In this case it is a Sprinfield, MO columnist.

    We can thank the media for killing Romney’s chance at being two. With constant references to his religion, you’d think he was in the running for Assistant Head Pastor of America.

    [...]

    There is a double standard when it comes to religion. The media dumps on conservatives of all religious stripes, while giving liberals a free pass.

    OK, having spent the last 2.5 years documenting the role religion played in Romney’s political fortunes, I would be a fool to say it was not important – particularly in the primary campaign.  I think, however, that it was not much of a factor in the Veep race.

    LDS people need to be careful in how they approach this.  In the final analysis I think this is less about discrimination and more about identity.  Not so much that Romney was hated because he was LDS (save in some dark, dank, ugly corners of traditional Christianity), but that Huckabee, and now Palin, connect, on a pure identity basis, with people that just significantly outnumber the LDS.  In a different election with different players, this would have been a very different story.

    It is way too early to start writing the history of this election and make final judgments about what mattered and what did not and whether “Mormons need not apply,” is a conclusion that can be drawn with sufficient evidence to support it.

    As Romney supporters, all of us must exercise great care in not allowing our disappointment to override our reason when it comes to responding to the results.

    Besides, the bigots still say it was “the flip-flop.”  Remember Lawrence O’Donnell? – The Big Love actor that levelled a rather bigoted diatribe Romney’s way on McLaughlin?  He was reported at the convention yesterday:

    Dorchester homey Lawrence O’Donnell, who plays a Mormon attorney on HBO’s “Big Love,” said Mitt Romney’s faith wasn’t his downfall in the 2008 presidential election.

    “It was much more do to with his wealth and his flip-flopping, said O’Donnell,” a former political operative for the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and a writer/producer of “The West Wing.” “Being a Mormon was way down the list.

    Well, of course it was from O’Donnell’s perspective; otherwise, instead of an astute commentator he would just be a bigot!

    Lowell adds:  After McDonnell’s shocking on-air anti-Mormon meltdown on McLaughlin, I’m surprised anyone cares what he thinks about anything.  I don’t.  By the way, he plays a polygamist attorney on “Big Love,” not a Mormon.

    Ah, but then Romney was never the victim of his religion in this cycle – it was Mike Huckabee?!

    With the mounting complications over John McCain‘s pick of Sarah Palin as his running mate, some conservatives have been asking why the expected Republican nominee didn’t choose former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won eight GOP primary and caucus contests and appeals to the same Christian social conservatives who have hailed the Palin pick. After all, Huckabee has more executive experience, was vetted by the media during the primary season, and honed his debating skills in myriad televised matchups. The answer, according to Richard Land who heads the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, is pretty simple. Huckabee is an ordained Baptist minister and, Land says, “polls show that 15 to 20 percent” of the electorate don’t think a minister should be president.

    I am going to bet that Land is being taken a bit out of context there, but regardless, talk about being “way down the list.”  Which one of Huckabee’s opponents EVER brought up, even as an “innocent question” to a reporter, his former occupation?  Just wondering.

    New Business

    Lowell and I cannot seem to stop talking politics.  So, we were discussing the issue of the Palin daughter pregnancy yesterday and  Lowell said this little wonder:

    Morally, we are about to see a mini-debate on families, pre-marital sex, sex education, abstinence, parental responsibility, sin, forgiveness, responsibility, unconditional love, and so forth.  Those are not good subjects for the political arena, and are not safe in the hands of the MSM.  Nor are they McCain’s strong suit.  It will be interesting and probably a little depressing.

    And, as if on cue, as soon as I turned to my feedreader, Al Mohler had risen to precisely that point:

    But the entire nation felt the awkwardness of the situation, and even part of the embarrassment.  Yes, as Steve Schmidt said, “Life happens,” but not always like this.  And Mark Salter is certainly correct in describing the situation as “an American family.”  Still, this is not the script many families would choose — especially evangelical families who had been most encouraged by Gov. Palin’s choice as Sen. McCain’s running mate.

    Said Rich Lowry:

    The fact is that Palin was largely a political, not a governing choice.

    Which Jonathan Martin backed up with:

    All that complaining over the years by Republicans about identity politics and political correctness

    Yeah, never mind.

    But it is probably best summed up in Hugh Hewitt’s repeated citation on his radio show of the Tee shirts he saw at the convention yesterday reading “I am Sarah Palin.”

    Palin’s obvious appeal is identity based.  Her daughter’s pregnancy puts us in the unfortunate position of having to “identify” with a family that has responded in the best possible manner to a most unfortunate circumstance, but in so doing we seem to lose sight of the fact that the ideal is to avoid the circumstance altogether.  Reminding people of that is likely to bring charges of “religious zealot.”  Such debate will undoubtedly degenerate into a debate over whether Christianity is essentially about forgiveness or standards – which simply has no place in politics.

    Too early to say whether this helps or hurts the McCain campaign.  But not too early to judge that this lowers the level of national debate – again – and that is sad.

    And now, hopefully, we can get back to transitioning from events to history on this blog . .  . .

    Share

    Posted in Reading List | 1 Comment » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    « I Guess This Is Adieu . . . for Now  |  Exploring the Line »