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."

  • A Complete Breakdown in the Religion/Politics Line

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:05 am, June 30th 2009     &mdash      2 Comments »

    Here I thought I was going to be able to ease into vacation (see the bottom of Sunday’s post) but no such luck.  According to Politico, Mark Sanford has put up a message:

    which he posted on his personal website

    http://www.governorsanford.com and Facebook page, and broadcast via Twitter.

    The heart of the message:

    So in the aftermath of this failure I want to not only apologize, but to commit to growing personally and spiritually. Immediately after all this unfolded last week I had thought I would resign – as I believe in the military model of leadership and when trust of any form is broken one lays down the sword. A long list of close friends have suggested otherwise – that for God to really work in my life I shouldn’t be getting off so lightly. While it would be personally easier to exit stage left, their point has been that my larger sin was the sin of pride. They contended that in many instances I may well have held the right position on limited government, spending or taxes – but that if my spirit wasn’t right in the presentation of those ideas to people in the General Assembly, or elsewhere, I could elicit the response that I had at many times indeed gotten from other state leaders.

    My first reaction when I read that was how remarkably similar it sounded to the dozens of such communiques that have come from errant evangelical preachers of various stripes over the years.   I find the idea highly debatable in the church setting, but completely unacceptable in the political one.  It is hard to maintain any sympathy for Sanford’s personal issues, when he is spinning it in such a way as to try and maintain power.

    Redemption is a personal matter, sin is a spiritual one.  Both are very important to any individual, but neither are material to job performance, and that is what him keeping his job is all about.  Set aside for a minute the why’s of his absence and consider that he simply disappeared from the job.  I don’t know about where you work, but that’s a firing offense most places – no questions asked.  However, he is just doing what errant politicians always do, spinning to try and hold his job.  – there is certainly a far more appealing logic to his argument here than trying to figure out the definition of “is.”

    My very strong objections lie in his invocation of God in this spin.  He is sayng two things here that  find highly objectionable.  First of all he is saying that God wants him to keep his job and secondly he is saying that such is the case because that his how God intends to work out his (Sanford’s) personal redemption.  Not only is that a direct imposition of theological and faith concerns on the function of government – such imposition is entirely personal and individualistic and has nothing whatsoever to do with the function of government or the rest of the citizenry of South Carolina.

    What really saddens me is that this is probably pure, calculated political maneuver.  South Carolina is a deeply evangelical state, and this seems purposefully designed to appeal to that fact.  But in doing so it does two things that are just abhorrent.   For one, it will feed and encourage the very unheathy imposition of theological concerns on politics in the state.  If you will remember, the very first public religious attacks on Romney came in South Carolina in the form of Cynthia Mosteller.   Secondly and more importantly, it cheapens genuine faith.  By turning his personal repentance and efforts towards redemption into political fodder, Sanford has erected a barrier between himself, his family, and perhaps even God – staying in office is avoiding the issue.  It certainly is not, “personally easier to exit stage left.”  Faith is not a “get out of jail free” card.

    Lowell Adds:   I’m on vacation too, but because the Internet is available just about anywhere on the planet these days, here I am, albeit a little late.  The Sanford debacle, it seems to me, is highlighting the peril of American politicians wrapping themselves in religion.  I’ve never liked it, Americans have never liked it, and it really hasn’t worked in two centuries of our nation’s politics.  G.W. Bush did benefit politically from his Evangelical faith but he did not run on it or use it to justify gloss over his personal or political mistakes.  Mike Huckabee tried to run on his faith, and painted himself into a politico-religious corner he will probably never get out of.  Sanford is helping no one, except possibly himself, and he is damaging the cause of conservative religious voters every time he attempts this smarmy tactic.

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    Obama’s Policies and Religious Issues

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:20 am, June 28th 2009     &mdash      2 Comments »

    It should be a surprise to no one that I am an opponent of the health care proposals currently floating around Washington.  I have not written on them here because I never had a religious angle.  While the economics of the proposal are staggeringly bad and the quality of care that will result is equally awful, my personal primary objection has been the levels of social engineering it will enable.

    Think about it for a minute.  Most acknowledge that it will end up like the Canadian or British systems which are on de facto rationing.  On what basis will the rationing decisions be made?  I can think of some.  How about smoking?  You smoke, you forgo treatment for lung disease.  Or how about beef consumption?  You eat more than 8 ounces of beef a week and you will be denied access to the cholesterol lowering statins.  Of course, unprotected sex will not be on the list of forbidden behaviors.

    Yep – that’s social engineering.  But I failed to realize just how awful it could get until I came upon this article in the BBC:

    Doctors are demanding that NHS staff be given a right to discuss spiritual issues with patients as well as being allowed to offer to pray for them.

    Medics will tell the British Medical Association conference this week that staff should not be disciplined as long as they handle the issue sensitively.

    The doctors said recent cases where health workers had got into trouble were making people fearful.

    But atheists said it was wrong to mix religion and health care.

    There it is, in black and white.   The nationalized health care system in Britain is being used to prevent the discussion of religious matter in a medical setting.  Look at that last sentence – ponder it – “But atheists said it was wrong to mix religion and health care.”  Can you conceive of a time when religion is more important than end of life?  I bet all of us of faith have a story somewhere in our lives where faith restored health when medicine could not.  Or where it brought comfort to those in pain or even terminal.  No place do our lives intersect more with religion than when it comes to our health.  I wonder how many of those atheists have prayed, “just in case” when they received their cancer diagnosis?

    To say that religion and health care “do not mix,” is not an attempt to keep religion a “private matter,” it is an effort to wipe religion out.   And yet, the argument has some merit if the government provides health care.  Imagine a Catholic individual denied the Last Rights because priests cannot be allowed in government owned and operated hospitals because “religion and health care, since the areligious government provides it, do not mix.”

    Proponents of nationalized health care can call my assertions here preposterous if they want, but are they?  But there it is in the British system.  Yes, if you read the entire BBC article, you can see there is a chaplaincy system – its just doctors that are not allowed to discuss religion with patients – but how sterile is that?  I know many Christian doctors, many of whom pray for each patient, even if quietly and privately, as they see them, and it is effective.   Imagine health care robbed of the simple power of prayer.

    Obamacare is not nearly as benign as it appears on the surface.  Monday morning update:  Here’s a piece on the same thing from the conservative leaning London Telegraph.

    And while we are looking at Britain…

    Here is something to think about.   This article appeared in the London Telegraph by the Anglican assistant Bishop of Newcastle.

    Britain is no longer a Christian nation

    If recent trends are any guide, many Church of England parishes will have been cheered by higher attendances at Easter services. The last published statistics for 2006/7 show rises of 7 and 5 per cent in church going at Christmas and Easter.

    But these figures are just about the only signs of hope for the church and certainly not the first green shoots of a revival. Other statistics make for gloomy reading.

    Annual decline in Sunday attendance is running at around 1 per cent. At this rate it is hard to see the church surviving for more than 30 years though few of its leaders are prepared to face that possibility.

    [...]

    The figure rises by a small amount if adult baptism and thanksgiving services are included but it is hard to see the Church of England being able to justify its position as the established church on the basis of these numbers.

    Yet, if one looks at the religious identification figures from the UK in 2001 (newest I could find)  one sees that over 70% of the population still identifies as “Christian.”  So how does the assistant bishop justify his conclusion that it is no longer a “Christian” nation?  Well,of course, all his stats are about the official, established church.  Will the UK cease to be Christian if the Anglican church indeed becomes so weak that it can no longer justify its status as the established church?

    Of course not, it will just become more like America which is the most religious nation on the planet.  So why the woe?  Well, establishment is a big deal, government money, perks, etc.  I wonder how many leaders in the value voters crowd in our nation seek those perks and how many of them are really about the issues they claim to represent?  Further, I wonder how their stance on voting for someone of a different religion, even if having the same values, correlates?

    Sadly, we’ll never know.  Such data could never be reliably gathered.  But it is interesting to think about.

    A final British note…

    This Thursday, July 2, the lovely wife and I are off to cruise around the island of Britain with blogfather Hugh and friends.  We will be gone for a couple of weeks   If there is news between now and then, I will post, but while gone, unless something super major happens, I will leave you in Lowell’s way too busy hands.  Maybe you want to check he and his wife out at True North.  I’ll be “going travelogue” at Blogotional if you want to see pics and hear about adventures.

    Brief Monday postscript:  Gee, this sounds awfully “Christian” to me.

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    The Price Of Being Who We Are

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:04 am, June 25th 2009     &mdash      5 Comments »

    As the Sanford thing unfolded yesterday, I was “itchy.”  I just knew this was gonna leave a mark somehow.  Last night, my wife and I sat in a small teriyaki place, a place that always has one TV on CNN and one on ESPN, having something akin to dinner.  CNN was having a great deal of fun at the expense of social conservatives.  Sometime during Larry King they ran of litany of “the fallen.”  Oh sure, John Edwards and Bill Clinton flashed by, but they dwelled on Sanford, Gingrich, and other Republicans.  But then it is not surprising from CNN.  (I could not get near MSNBC, I just knew it would be vile.)

    But scanning the news this morning has come close to breaking my spirit.  The daily headlines I get from the Washington Times, a purposefully conservative newspaper, were lead by this:

    Social conservatives fall from moral high ground

    Republicans retreat from values claims

    That, dear friends hurts a lot coming from that source.  Two thoughts cross my mind.  The first is that social conservatives, in a sense, deserve this.  We do attempt to stand on high moral ground.  And while we hold a religious belief that relies on grace, the world does not share that belief.  In such a circumstance, when we stand on that high ground, we are obligated to live up to it.

    I have said in the church for years that the scandals that plague TV preachers do the cause of Christianity real harm.   The same applies in this situation. As morally based political activists, our cause is hurt tremendously by scandals like this.  We are now in the unfortunate and unappealing situation of having to throw Sanford under the bus.  At a time when he and his family have much need, and all our instincts as people of God is to give it, we have no choice but to denounce him as a part of our movement.

    This is why, much as he has worked to regain our trust and redeem himself, there are limits to how high Newt Gingrich can be allowed to climb again.  This is also why, as appealing as she appears. there are limits to Sarah Palin too. While the issue of her daughter is just her daughter and not her, and her daighter made heroic choices in the face of the circumstance, it taints, and we cannot at this juncture afford even a taint.

    This is why we have to exercise much care, much more than we historically have, in who we choose to lead and represent us.

    The second point that comes to mind is that this headline may be the result of Republican infighting.   With Huckabee’s antics and Palin’s divisiveness, social conservatives have been under much fire inside the party since the last cycle.  It would not surprise me if fiscal and defense conservatives were using this scandal to shore up their positions in the party.

    Such is unseemly and simply cannot be tolerated.  We cannot win anything unless all three legs of the movement can restore the coalition.  Any Republican using this scandal sides with the liberal Democrats.

    Prayers for the Sanford family and prayers for the party.

    Postscript:  Jonathon Martin has a more sober analysis of the damage this causes Republicans.   Although, his lack of mention of Romney as one of the new generation of leaders is puzzling.  And Dan Gilgoff piles on.

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    This IS Interesting

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 11:54 am, June 23rd 2009     &mdash      2 Comments »

    Dan Gilgoff reports on a new “values voters” group, from an old name:

    Ralph Reed, the Republican operative who built the Christian Coalition into a potent political force in the 1990s by mobilizing evangelicals and other religious conservatives and who did similar work to help George W. Bush win two presidential elections, is quietly launching a group aimed at using the Web to mobilize a new generation of values voters. In addition to targeting the GOP’s traditional faith-based allies—white evangelicals and observant Catholics—the group, called the Faith and Freedom Coalition, will reach out to Democratic-leaning constituencies, including Hispanics, blacks, young people, and women.

    “This is not your daddy’s Christian Coalition,” Reed said in an interview Monday. “It’s got to be more brown, more black, more female, and younger. It’s critical that we open the door wide and let them know if they share our values and believe in the principles of faith and marriage and family, they’re welcome.”

    Hmmm.  Interesting.  What about “more Mormon?”  I’m betting there is room.   Consider:

    Reed is serving as chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and says he has filed papers with the Internal Revenue Service to register it as a 501(c)(4), a tax-free designation that permits lobbying and certain political activities. Gary Marx, Reed’s deputy at the 2004 Bush campaign and Mitt Romney’s conservative outreach director in 2008, will help advise the group. Jack St. Martin, a former top Republican National Committee staffer, is running day-to-day operations.  [emphasis added]

    Can an umbrella organization like say , “Yes on 8″ work on a national level?  It should and it is much needed.  Thoughts?

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    Here’s Something to Talk About Over The Weekend

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:03 am, June 19th 2009     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    There is retrenching and then there is a whole new landscape.  I am beginning to wonder if the Republican…Conservative…Religious side of the aisle is not looking at a whole new landscape.  Let’s consider two articles that appeared in the last few days.  Te first is from our old friend Marvin Olasky at World Magazine.  (HT: Kim Morleand)  Olasky’s thesis:

    Sometimes it seems that an atheistic tsunami has hit. Anti-Christian books land high on bestseller lists. Polls purportedly show a decline in belief. Newsweek this spring had one of its traditional Easter cover stories on “The Decline and Fall of Christian America.”

    Whenever the conventional wisdom points in a particular direction it’s good practice to ask: What if the opposite is true? What if nominal Christian affiliation is declining but serious biblical belief is actually on the rise? What if Christianity in America is not dying, but instead getting its second wind—or maybe its sixth wind?

    The article cites a dizzying array of statistics from a variety of sources.   (Just a personal aside, while I find the article credible,  I do not see how statistics can ever capture “serious biblical belief” as opposed to mere affiliations.  The metrics are all so affiliative.)   You really need to read the whole thing.  A key graph of conclusion:

    And what of those polls? Wooldridge said, “What we see in the numbers is not a waning of Christianity, but a polarization. The number of people saying that God is central to their lives is going up. We’re seeing the death of the Eisenhower era where everyone claimed to be a Christian or a Jew because that was just part of being respected, part of being a good American. Now, people who were lukewarm about religion are now more happy saying that they’re atheists or agnostics, and people who claim they’re serious about faith are serious about faith.”

    Another interesting graph:

    All of these forays are dangerous—”pastorpreneurs,” publishers, and professors all face temptations to glorify themselves rather than God—but, as Wooldridge said, “Evangelicals can choose between arguing for God or retreating.” He argues that growing churches provide “social capital” that prevents social anarchy: These churches “keep their buildings open from dawn to dusk and provide a mind-boggling array of services,” including schools, counseling and guidance groups, and children’s activities. 

    Hmmm…Christianity, or is it church, as business.  Faith without affiliation, maybe even anything we would recognize as church.   Indeed a changing landscape.  And then there is this from The Hill:

    A Gallup poll this week found that the number of Americans defining themselves as conservative is at its highest point in 20 years, at 40 percent.

    That compared to 35 percent saying they are moderate and 21 percent saying they are liberal.

    The results track closely with another Gallup poll, from May, which found more Americans defining themselves as “pro-life” than “pro-choice” for the first time since it began asking the question in 1995. And it wasn’t even close — 51 percent to 42.

    A conservative resurgence? Possibly. A boon to the Republican Party? Hardly.

    Overlay those numbers with Gallup’s recent finding that 53 percent of voters identify themselves as Democrats or lean that way, while just 39 percent identify as Republicans or lean that way.

    There’s something wrong with that picture: 40 percent conservative, versus 39 percent linking themselves with Republicans. It means there are plenty of conservatives out there who are done with the GOP, and independents aren’t replacing them.

    Yesterday we looked at religion, conservatives, party affiliation and its history just before the Civil War.   Our side of the aisle has had to form a complete new organization once in its history.  Theirs has not.  Are we looking at another such political point now?  What are the conditions that make us think so?  What lies in the future?

    Comment moderation remains off for the weekend.

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    Is History Doomed To Repetition?

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 09:07 pm, June 17th 2009     &mdash      1 Comment »

    I am currently reading a book entitled “Religion and American Politics from the Colonial Period to the Present,” edited by Mark A. Noll and Luke E. Harlow.  It is an update of an academic level book written in the 1990′s.  Chapters on various topics, or more likely historical periods, are written by experts in the specifics.  It is a fascinating, if effortful read.  I am currently reading the chapter “Ethnoreligious Political Behavior in the Min-Nineteenth Century” by Robert P. Swierenga who is a professor of history emeritus at Kent State and the A.C. Van Raalte Research Professor at the Van Raalte Institute of Hope College.  The chapter contained this fascinating paragraph:

    Not only for the Dutch Calvinists but for all ethnoreligious groups, revivalism was the “engine” of political agitation. Evangelist Charles G. Finney began preaching revival in the mid-1820s throughout New England and its Yankee colonies in western New York. By 1831, religious enthusiasm had reached a fever pitch in the area, and mass conversions swept town after town. Church membership doubled and tripled, and large portions of the populace were reclaimed for Protestantism. Finney challenged his followers to pursue “entire sanctification” or perfectionism and to become Christian social activists. The converts first entered politics in the anti-Masonic movement in New York in 1826-1827. By the mid-1830s, the evangelicals entered national politics by opposing slavery, alcohol, and other social ills that they believed the Jackson administration condoned. Converts such as Theodore Dwight Weld became leaders in the antislavery movement. And in the 1840s and 1850s, revivalist regions of the country developed strong antislavery societies and voted Liberty, Whig, and later Republican. Ultimately, the allegiance of pietists (ed. note: “evangalicals”) to the Whig party led to its demise because the pietists put ethical goals, such as abolition of slavery, above party loyalty. The idea of a party system built on patronage and discipline was much stronger in Democrat than in Whig ranks. Evangelicals had a disproportionate share of antiparty men. In their estimation, popery, Masonry, and party were all threats to freedom of conscience and Christian principles. [emphasis added]

    Did we see a similar phenomena in the last election?  Are things getting worse or better along these lines for Republicans?  Moderation is off until the next post – have at it.

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