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."

  • Gay Marriage: The Crux of the Debate

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 10:20 pm, May 28th 2009     &mdash      6 Comments »

    [Note from Lowell: The following is a post from a brand-new blog, True North, where I’ll be posting about subjects outside the scope of this blog. This particular post, however, seems like a cross-over to our politics/religion portfolio.]

    The crux of the debate, huh? I know, that’s a fairly grandiose title for this post; the gay marriage debate is about many things. For one thing, gays want acceptance, and that basic human desire looms large in the discussion. So does the desire of traditional marriage proponents to uphold the ideal of a family that includes both a father and a mother.

    debate

    All those important elements aside, I think the crux of the public debate in the coming years will be this question: In the context of marriage, is sexual preference the same as race? In other words, is opposition to gay marriage the same as opposition to interracial marriage?

    Understanding the two principal competing answers to that question is crucial to understanding the nature of the national conversation that is under way right now. (more…)

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    SCOTUS Nominations and then…Philosophy?!

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:33 am, May 28th 2009     &mdash      1 Comment »

    Any number of people were pointed out that the Sotomayor nomination makes the Supreme Court “overloaded” with…Catholics.  Why do we care anymore than we care about the religion of a presidential candidate?  Oh wait…We do care about the religion of a presidential candidate, sadly.

    My personal opinion is that doing anything other than token resistance to the nomination, unless she turns out to have genuine qualification problems is to invite more of the monkey business that has plagued federal court nominations for the last decade or so.   We will hold the White House again, and if we follow the low road paved by Senate Democrats during the Bush administration we, not they, will be responsible for finally and totally politicizing the courts.

    Which makes this Dan Gilgoff post somewhat disconcerting.

    But Sotomayor’s Catholicism matters for two political reasons:

    1. It breaks the Republican Party’s recent monopoly on Catholic nominees.

    [...]

    2. Even if Sotomayor isn’t being sold as a Catholic nominee, her Catholicism, especially her Catholic school experience, gives her political advantages in the nomination process.

    That is truly bothersome because it not only points to politicization of the courts, but also religious label politicization of the courts.  Neither of these are good trends.  It was Dems that came dangerously, dangerously close to proclaiming Catholicism as a litmus test for the court in either the Alito or Roberts hearings (forgive me for not having the time to refresh my memory here) .  Somehow I doubt that will be an issue here, because, well, this is their guy.

    Which brings me to EFM’s comments on a Politico report of a “great divide” inside the Republican camp on how to respond to the nomination.  They trot out Pat Robertson and Randall Terry (Operation Rescue) as important forces inside the Repubican party.  I’m with Charles on this:

    I mean no disrespect by this, but is it really proof of a “great divide” that Pat Robertson and Randall Terry are saying one thing and a coalition of sixty groups is saying another? It seems to me that the first two, the media’s desire to cover them notwithstanding, are not considered great generals of the conservative movement (though Rev. Robertson was in his heyday), whereas Ms. Long’s group is an acknowledged leader on this issue. Relatedly, is it really news that Messrs. Robertson and Terry are saying something relatively radical? Haven’t we seen this movie before? How come it is always considered newsworthy?

    I think one could fairly argue that Politico has its blinders on here.

    What seems apparent is the willingness of the Democrats and their allies in the MSM to use religion as a pure political lever.  It matters when it helps them (Gilgoff’s observations) but it should not matter, or is a sign of bigotry, when it is in opposition to them (Politico’s report).  That lessens religion tremendously.  My faith, and I am fairly certain the faith of our primarily Mormon readership here, means more to them than a political level, much more – to reduce it to such is to completely misunderstand the nature of faith and religion in a person’s life.

    Which brings me to this post by a young man we have linked to before in this space – Matt Anderson.  Matt recently used the Maggie Gallagher Corner post that was extensively discussed on Friday to grind an axe of his own.

    Gallagher’s analysis is interesting and insightful.  But for whatever shortcomings social conservatives have politically, Gallagher’s point masques the true problem with the social conservative alliance with the Republican Party.  Fundamentally, it is an uneasy union, for the principles driving the major wings of the Republican party–the libertarians and economic conservatives–are undercutting the social conservative case in the public square.

    The social conservative position on controversial issues like abortion, stem cell research, and homosexual marriage has largely been driven by Catholic natural law theorists like Robert George, Francis Beckwith, and others.  Whatever persuasiveness one thinks these have–and I find them very persuasive–it’s impossible to deny that their effect is muted in a legislative system with a metaphysic that assumes the individual, and not the family, is the basic unit of governance.

    [...]

    What’s more, Republican power brokers need to realize that such a party would be welcome by most young pro-lifers.  While it may be easy to accuse young people of deep inconsistencies–I have done so myself–the ascent of the pro-life position and leftist economic policies among America’s young people reveals, I think, an ideological core that is more unified than most Republicans would be willing to admit.  Institutional Republicans shun those like Huckabee (or Douthat) who are comfortable with a neo-compassionate conservatism to their own detriment.

    I like to read Matt because he is my personal bellwether of what people in an age group I long ago left behind are thinking.  The later paragraph quoted above strikes me as typical of persons in that age bracket.  I knew it was when I was that age, hence my personal hesitancy to vote for Ronald Reagan the first time around. (Second biggest regret of my voting life!)  But his comments about a “muted” effect of natural law philosophy are true only if one views religion as the motivator of natural law thinking – which is a mistake – and why I prefer, deeply, C.S. Lewis’ argument for natural law.  Lewis’s argument states that without natural law, we enslave ourselves – a purely secular argument, and one based on preserving the individual.

    These comments also limit, though to a far lesser extent than the SCOTUS discussion above, the nature of religion in a personal life.  Religion is supposed to make good people who them build a good country and govern it well.  When we lessen religion to purely a set of ideas or beliefs, and entirely intellectual exercise, we miss the point to some extent.  Hence, natural law is not a “Christian” philosophy, but rather a philosophy developed by Christians.

    We here see two examples of politics diminishing religion, from opposite sides of the political spectrum.  Such is what we need to be ever vigilant against.  Such is the real danger of mixing religion and politics – not that it somehow pollutes the political process, but that it pollutes religion.  We just have to be careful.  That does not mean religious people need to stay away from politics.  To the contrary, the must engage.  IT mean simply we need to be on guard and do them well.

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    Long Weekend…Big News Day!

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:41 am, May 27th 2009     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    I don’t know about around your office, but around mine people came back from the long weekend sort of sleepy.  Events; however, give us little room to relax on return.  The news yesterday was extraordinary; however, much of it was not in the portfolio of this blog, but some of it was.

    Certainly a SCOTUS nominee is news in religion and politcs.   But there really is nothing to discuss.  Bigger priorities on the plate right now and little we can do about this.

    But speaking of the court, congratulations are due to a number of people, including blogging partner Lowell and family, on the California Supreme Court decision upholding Prop 8.  Prop 8 remains the recent pinnacle of accomplishment for religiously motivated political activists and is a benchmark for inter-religious cooperation on such issues.  Most importantly, we have got to hold the coalition together.  Efforts to overturn Prop. 8 will undoubtedly be on the next available ballot.  As evidence I give you the headline from the NYTimes telling the story:

    California Supreme Court Upholds Ban on Same-Sex Marriage

    Imagine the gall to assume same-sex marriage as the norm and Prop. 8 as the “ban.”  First of all, as has been pointed out countless times by this blog, there is no negative language in Prop. 8 – it is a positive definition, it “bans” nothing.  Secondly, what it has done is restore what has held in the nation since inception, in fact in civilization since its inception.

    Frankly, it is sad the the government has to be in this fight at all.  Which is, I think the point of this really interesting little post on The Corner from Maggie Gallagher.  In a story on Scientology, The Independent of London refers to Scientology as “Registered as a Religion in the United States.”  This causes Gallagher to retort:

    Registered?  Sorry that’s not what we do with religions here.  Note the Euro-undertone:  The writer is trying to contrast the relative legitimacy of scientology in the U.S. with its prosecution in France.  Legitimacy is something that government confers.

    These are wise, wise words, and it is something that we must guard against in this nation deeply.   We never want to be in a position where government confers legitimacy to a religion, any religion.  And religion should never seek it.

    Recall that back in 2006 we reported on Al Mohler doing an hour on his radio program about whether “A Christian could vote for Romney.”  Lowell described one particular exchange:

     Mohler says voting for a Mormon candidate would be “an excruciating decision” for him personally because his first allegiance is to Christ, and a victory by a Mormon might “confuse the gospel of Jesus Christ” or “confuse persons about the gospel of Jesus Christ.” 

    Now this indicates the Mohler feels like his vote grants some level of legitimacy to his religion – very akin to what the Independent wrote.  That means that “the gospel” Mohler and his ilk seek not to confuse takes it’s legitimacy from the government!  Somehow I think God is offended.

    Which leads me to this book recommendation.   The book is by Clarke Forsythe, Politics for the Great Good: The Case for Prudence in the Public Square. (At the IVP site you can read the Preface, Introduction: Is it Immoral to Be Prudent? and Table of Contents.)  Says the recommender:

    His argument is that it is both moral and effective to achieve a partial good in politics and public policy when the ideal is not possible. In other words, there’s no moral compromise in aiming for the greatest possible good when the perfect good is not available. The historical examples of the American founders, William Wilberforce, and Abraham Lincoln are used as example of what it looks like to employ effective, virtuous prudence to fence in social evils when outright prohibition is not possible.

    AMEN TO THAT!

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    Echoes and Propaganda

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:25 am, May 22nd 2009     &mdash      6 Comments »

    Echoes…

    We’ve been saying it for a while, but aside from Hugh Hewitt, no one has been paying attention.   There was this big discussion on The Corner yesterday featuring Maggie Gallagher, Mark Steyn and EFM’s David French. Steyn and French were “dittoing” Gallagher who was, and if you read this blog regularly you’d know this, dittoing us.  Says Gallagher:

    Social conservatives simply have not been in politics. We lack institutions that can defeat our enemies and directly assist our friends.

    After a while, threatening to leave the coalition unless the coalition does what you want gets old. And tiring. And ineffective. It makes your allies not like you very much. Social conservatives talk like that because it’s our one lever of power. 

    Time to get some new levers.

    I must, however, object to her choice of the term “social conservatives” here.   She properly characterizes only a subset of social conservatives.  Yeah, they are the ones leading the way, and they are the ones that the press just adore (more on that in a minute) but that are far from the entire movement.  It is really only the Evangelical/Southern Baptist bunch that play the game the way everyone is pointing out is ineffective.  Conservative Catholics (of which there are numerous at The Corner) and those few remaining conservative mainline protestants have been far more effective when they are not crowded out of the space.

    Pointing out mistakes is a good thing, but let’s not not decry an entire movement when there are some smart people still in it.

    Which brings me to megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll who points out on FOXNews, that contra Newsweek, interest in religious things remains high in America, but religiously motivated political action may be on the wane.  He calls it Christian America v Christendom America.  Catchy phrase, but once again, you heard the same idea here, and again echoed by Hugh Hewitt, the day the Newsweek piece broke.

    Welcome aboard people!

    Propaganda…

    There is a new leading Mormon in politics this week as the president has appointed Jon Huntsman Ambassador to China.  Huntsman’s name has been being tossed around for the Republican presidential nod in ’12.  Most right leaning pundits have presumed that by accepting this post, Huntsman is taking himself out of the mix for ’12. Makes sense, it is hard to run for POTUS from Beijing, and in some sense, the campaign is already underway.

    But the left-leaning New Republic chimes in (HT: ABD4 SLC):

    If Huntsman was planning to run for president, why would he move so brazenly to the left at a time when the GOP seems to be heading rightward? The most obvious reason is that he may actually be a moderate. “I’m not very good at tags,” he tells me. “I just try to do my best, and maybe that makes me a pragmatist.” He joins a long tradition of moderate Republicans from Utah, despite–or perhaps because of–the fact that the state is the reddest in the country, with the GOP holding every statewide office and more than two-thirds of the state legislature. The GOP lock on Utah politics allows the party to welcome a broader swathe of politicians, and breed leaders who are less combative and ideological than their besieged colleagues in more competitive states. And if Huntsman has learned anything from the failed Mitt Romney campaign, it is that the only thing worse for a Republican than not being a conservative is being a phony conservative. 

    [...]

    Huntsman seems to have learned another lesson from the Romney campaign: A Mormon, no matter how conservative, cannot win amongst the right wing of the party–particularly evangelicals. Romney thought he could win their favor by becoming a drum-beating social conservative, underestimating the deep-rooted antipathy many evangelicals have toward Mormons. A recent Pew poll found that 39 percent of evangelicals hold negative views of Mormons–a sentiment Mike Huckabee used against Romney. Though RNC Chair Michael Steele was lambasted last week for saying “the base … rejected Mitt because it had issues with Mormonism,” he wasn’t that far off: According to a study by John C. Green and Mark Silk, the size of the evangelical community was one of the best predictors of Romney’s success or failure in each state; without the evangelical vote, they argue, Romney probably would have won in four of the five southern states he lost. In light of Romney’s experience, the more likely base for Huntsman would have been the moderate wing of the party, which is less concerned with religion in general (and the LDS church specifically).

    Folks, that is effective and dangerous propaganda.   In one piece they manage to savage Romney, Evangelicals and Republicans in general – and they do so based on some facts that are very real – all the while tilting up a “candidate” that would not represent the desires of the party base much at all.

    The good news is, a piece like this will backfire on Huntsman amongst his base consitutency in Utah.  If, as the TV piece claims, he is “distancing himself” from the CJCLDS, then I would bet the church will respond likewise.  That’s gonna hurt.  And frankly, Evangelicals don’t have much taste for people that lack the commitment to their convictions, even if they think the convictions are heretical.

    The bad news is, in many senses we deserve this.  But it also lays out the path to getting better.  The acknowledgement that Huck used anti-Mormon sentiment is the starting point.  Orthodox Christians may be suspicious of Mormons (that can be overcome with time and relationship), but those that are openly opposed have to go.  Later Huck!

    The point is, propaganda works when based in reality.  We need to sift through this and learn its lessons if we hope to prevail.

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    Mike Huckabee: Hearing Footsteps?

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 09:49 pm, May 20th 2009     &mdash      1 Comment »

    Mike Huckabee must hear footsteps.

    The once-rotund, then-thin, and now-getting-chubby-again former governor and would-be Great Evangelical Hope presidential candidate seems to be lashing out like someone who’s really worried.

    You ask, What does Huck have to be worried about?

    Well, for one thing, about being marginalized as a guy who will never get near the Republican presidential nomination again.

    Consider:  GOP Minority Whip Eric Cantor and a group of Republican leaders started a “listening tour” through The National Council for a New America, which Cantor describes as

    a forward-looking, grassroots caucus intended to bring together Congressional leaders with a national panel of experts.

    “The National Council for a New America will engage with and empower the American people to develop innovative solutions that meet the serious challenges confronting our country. It is the right time to begin a thoughtful conversation about the future of this country.”

    Mike Huckabee was apparently not invited to join the group, at least not at the beginning.  He was – shall we say? – angry:

    It’s hard to keep from laughing out loud when people living in the bubble of the Beltway suddenly wake up one day and think they ought to have a listening tour; even funnier when their first earful expedition takes them all the way to the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

    “The bubble of the Beltway.”  Hard-hitting words from the silver-tongued Huck!

    Actually Huck’s taking a ludicrous wild swing.  Apart from Cantor, the leading listening tour speakers include Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Govs. Bobby Jindal (R-La.), Sarah Palin (R-Alaska) and Haley Barbour (R-Miss.) and former Govs. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.) and Jeb Bush (R-Fla.).  The only one in that group who lives and works in Washington, D.C. is John McCain, to whom the Huckster gave his slobbering support in last fall’s presidential race.  Golly, one might have thought that Huckabee hoped McCain would choose him as a running mate.

    Could it be that Huckabee fell out of love with McCain when the Senator chose Sarah Palin?  Palin, after all, is now the darling of the fickle religious social conservative voter bloc that Huck thought he owned.

    That’s got to sting.

    John adds some thoughts

    The Huckster’s loves are obvious – they begin with himself and end with…himself.

    What is amazing to me is that presidential politics 2012 is actually taking some shape.  Fred Malek has declared Romney the frontrunner.  This is risky.  If Obama’s popularity holds by ’12 any Republican candidate is going to be cannon fodder and if I am serious player, which Romney is, I’m not wasting a shot.  However, it does seem like Obama’s policies cannot help but bring him to ruin quickly- only time will tell.

    But that said, Huck did have a bit of a point. (THAT hurt to write!)  Unquestionably, economic and security concerns are front and center right now and ought to be.  They are the lead issues.  Social conservative concerns are in a supporting role at the moment – actual conditions, not just politics, demand it.  But the party needs social conservatives.  It does not need the extremist religious-based identity politics of the last cycle, but it needs, desperately, the vast majority of religiously motivated social conservatives.

    The GOP is losing ground amongst every demographic out there but regular churchgoers.  Like it or not, I think that defines “the base.”  The party needs to be visibly and actively in the fight on abortion, stem cells, same sex marriage and whatever else the left decides to throw at us.  This is a fine, fine needle to thread indeed.  Mitt Romney seems to be threading it well.

    Ross Douthat, on the other hand, in his freshly minted columnist for the NYTimes role,  has written on the lastest anti-Catholic rant called “Angels & Demons.

    These are Dan Brown’s kind of readers. Piggybacking on the fascination with lost gospels and alternative Christianities, he serves up a Jesus who’s a thoroughly modern sort of messiah — sexy, worldly, and Goddess-worshiping, with a wife and kids, a house in the Galilean suburbs, and no delusions about his own divinity.

    But the success of this message — which also shows up in the work of Brown’s many thriller-writing imitators — can’t be separated from its dishonesty. The “secret” history of Christendom that unspools in “The Da Vinci Code” is false from start to finish. The lost gospels are real enough, but they neither confirm the portrait of Christ that Brown is peddling — they’re far, far weirder than that — nor provide a persuasive alternative to the New Testament account. The Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — jealous, demanding, apocalyptic — may not be congenial to contemporary sensibilities, but he’s the only historically-plausible Jesus there is.

    Hmmm…?  Would this include Mormonism?  If Douthat thinks it would, then he is missing the eye of the needle, and we simply cannot afford that right now.  Public action based on religious motive will involve a variety of theological backgrounds – many of which will view the other as “weird.”  So what?  It is the action that matters.  In a nation that relies on personal morality, but does not establish a religion, such must be the case.  Save the theology/philosophy/canon and other purely religious arguments for the religious battlefield – they are not for politics.

    Failing to make that distinction is why Mike Huckabee, unlike Sarah Palin, finds himself on the outside looking in as the GOP tries to figure out its next moves.  One thing is for certain though.  Whatever those moves are, they better include a significant outreach to the religiously motivated social conservative.

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    The Question Remains!

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:35 am, May 15th 2009     &mdash      6 Comments »

    The Michael Steele story is now old news.  But little stories keep appearing.  The latest we have run across is from the Philadephia Bulletin.  This is a newspaper which claims to be “Philadelphia’s Family Newspaper.”  The story says NOTHING that has not been told a thousand times already.  We have ignored a dozen such stories here.  But the headline makes this one notable:

    Romney Defends Mormon Faith As GOP Infighting Continues

    And yet, none of the response from Romney nor any of his aides, including those reported in the story make any mention of Mormonism – only Steele said anything about it.

    This is the first hint of anything remotely resembling the kind of stuff we saw during the primaries since the election.  I was hoping it was over.

    Lowell adds:  Sigh.

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