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 Race Begin To Take Shape…

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:26 am, July 31st 2009     &mdash      1 Comment »

    It somehow saddens me that a mere 7 months into the Obama administration, the Republican primary for ’12 is beginning to take shape.  It’s too early, but so be it.  It has been clear since virtually a month after the last election that Mitt Romney was working hard to 1) help the Republican cause in what ever way possible and while doing so to 2) keep open, and enlarge if possible, an already very large door through which he could walk to try again in ’12.

    Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is another that has been spoken of as a possible candidate, but the rather massive press coverage of statements by him yesterday make it plain that he too is seeking the make sure he can run should the proper conditions prevail.

    The most interesting Pawlenty take that I read yesterday was from Dan Gilgoff.   He speaks of Pawlenty’s rather impressive evangelical bona fides, but his relative silence on them.

    Unlike prospective Republican White House contenders like Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin, Pawlenty doesn’t talk like a culture warrior, which helps explain why Pawlenty coverage in the national media ignores his faith-based side. But can his less strident tone help him win independents in a way that Huckabee and Palin have failed to, while his evangelical side makes him a hit with the GOP’s social conservative base?

    That is interesting from a couple of aspects.   The analysis of Huck and Palin is dead on – playing the religion card is a two-edged sword, it alienates some, even as it solidifies a base of others.  These reader comments to EFM from yesterday make plain the problems that both candidates have.

    But more interesting yet is the fact that like Pawlenty, Romney says almost nothing about his faith, and yet he was prodded and probed and in the last cycle and it seemed his name could not be mentioned without the word “Mormon” appearing in very close proximity.  The double standard is so plain and obvious as to be distressing.  Even Gilgoff’s lack of mention of Romney has been interesting.  Gilgoff has proven to be an extraordinarily good source of information about inside Evangelical politics, but does his lack of Romney talk indicate that Romney remains simply out of the picture in Evangelical-land, or does it reveal a personal bias?

    As we said, it is early, early, early.  This blog started about two years before Super Tuesday of the last cycle.  It is currently 33 months before the next one.   To date, The Question is getting no play. But then smart Evangelicals know that they were harmed by it last time, as Gilgoff’s analysis of Pawlenty intimates.  It is going to get interesting.

    The “Weird Factor”…

    … is a term I have heard used to describe why Romney’s religion got so much play in the last cycle, even in places where religion is generally not discussed.  Well, when it comes to weird, it’s hard to top this gem of a video that was making the rounds yesterday.  (It was all over, but HT: Gilgoff)


    It makes the case that  President Obama is the anti-Christ.  Such charges have been bandied about concerning political opponents of Christians pretty much since the Apostle John wrote of his Revelations in A.D. 90.  The fact that the charge has yet to have any substance to it, even when applied to total reprobates like Nero and Caligula, all the more gives it the appearance conspiracy theory nonsense, right up there with the Bilderbergers and “chemtrails.”

    And people think Mormon beliefs are bizarre.  Hmmmm.

    Lowell addsI can’t add anything other than my usual amazement that someone spent that much time on such hogwash.

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    Dealing With Huckabee

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:20 am, July 29th 2009     &mdash      4 Comments »

    EFM analyzes Chris Cillizza analyzing Huckabee.  The salient question is, “Does Huckabee deserve respect?”  EFM concludes:

    …let’s take Gov. Huckabee more seriously, and not underestimate either his desire for the Presidency or his willingness to do almost anything to get there.

    and Cillizza:

    Huckabee is clearly overshadowed at the moment by Palin and others. But, if the 2008 election taught us anything, it’s that he should not be underestimated.

    Both pieces make good pro and con cases, but I sort of think it’s unnecessary.  Huckabee must be taken seriously, but respect is a different thing.  Huckabee has proven his ability to alter electoral outcomes and even win a few – that means he must be taken seriously.  But respect has to be earned, and that is not something I am sure he has done.  He has a very particular constituency, and it is numerous enough and energetic enough to alter the narrative of the primary, at least a primary that has not factored them into the narrative to begin with.  But that constituency is still minority, it is unwilling to cough up cash in the quantities needed to get the job done for real, and finally and most importantly, it is too narrow minded for serious, national political success.  Interested only in their issues and their way, they are unwilling to make the compromises and accept the incremental successes they need to be truly effective.  So they spoil rather than contribute.  Thus I find respect hard to come by.

    Again, that does not mean they should not be taken very seriously as a political force, but that is different than respect.

    To me the key question is how to handle them.  The Repulican nominee, whoever that may end up being could sure use their help – the party in general could.  But if all they seem willing to do is demand attention and immediate results on issues that are not as clear cut in the general public’s mind as they are in theirs, they are no help.  Thus, rather than try to find a way to include them, we have to find a way to neutralize them.

    There are two very important facts to remember.  One, Huckabee’s success in the last cycle was based not on taking a piece of the traditioal Republican pie, but in adding new players to the game.   Secondly, if Palin is in, her natural appeal is to the same constituency.  Such new players often lose patience with politics if they do not achieve dramatic success in the first try.  Think Pat Robertson’s second try – he too brought new players to the table – those that were serious soon aligned with the the more mainstream forces in the party, those that were not proved far less consequential the second time around.  And if the remaining constituency is divided between Huck and Palin they will be far less able to play the spoiler than they were last time.

    Any serious player in the  next cycle should, at this point be reaching out to these groups and attempting to bring them into the tent.  Unfortunately, I see Huckabee trying to build his own tent.  That leaves us little option but to try and figure out how to prevent him from spoiling.

    Changing the primary rules comes first to mind, which is something that needs to happen anyway to prevent shenanigans from the opposition.  I know the RNC has a working group on the primary rules going now.  If I am a Romney or a Pawlenty, then I have people in that group that are thinking not just about the Democrats, but about the spoilers.

    Lowell chimes in:  John has hit on the key issue.  As long as the GOP starts in Iowa, with its quirkiness, and follows that up with New Hampshire’s open primary and Democrat voters skewing the outcome, it will be difficult for an electable center-right conservative to develop the momentum he or she needs to win the nomination.  In 2008 Iowa made Mike Huckabee and New Hampshire resurrected John McCain.  Both candidacies were doomed.  McCain was the third choice of the majority of Republicans.  Surely we can do better than that.

    Huckabee’s a formidable force and so is Palin.  Romney is as well, but he does not draw on the same base as the other two.  If all three of them run in 2010, it will be fascinating to see whather the Huck supporters stick with him.  I think they will desert him in droves for Palin.  But will Huck rough Palin up in the primary with his silver but sharp tongue?  How will he try to do that without alienating her supporters or admirers?  And, after all is said and done, will conservative values voters go after a serious, tested, and proven candidate (Romney or Pawlenty, for example) or follow a pied piper like Huck or Palin?

    Watch this space.  ;)

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    Quick Links – 7/28/09

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:42 am, July 28th 2009     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Mormonism in the spotlight, whether they like it or not.  HT: Gilgoff, who headlines the meat of the survey.

    We talked about our old friend Mark DeMoss on Friday.   He continues to make impact with his civility project.

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    Why Religion Matters – An Editorial From An Entirely Personal Perspective

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:16 am, July 27th 2009     &mdash      3 Comments »

    What an interesting few weeks it has been.  My recently concluded vacation in the British Isles included a day in Belfast, Northern Ireland with the family of some very close friends.  We had lunch with those good friends yesterday to thank them for making all the arrangements and the conversation was wide ranging indeed.  At one point when I complained about the awful use to which the primary church structure in Dublin had been put, I was reminded by my good Christian friends that Europe was, indeed, a “post-Christian” society.

    At another point I expressed astonishment at the extraordinary tax rates we encountered.  In the Republic of Ireland the VAT was 21% and the personal income tax was the same 21%.  In the United Kingdom the VAT was 15% (recently lowered from 17% to “help” with the recession) and personal income taxes can run higher than 50%, depending on the bracket.)  Our friends were quick to defend the taxation on the basis of universal health care and education.   When I pointed out that the quality of both was superior in the United States, they responded only that not everyone in the US gets those things.  At that point, for the sake of pleasantness, I let the conversation die.

    Then it dawned on me, what could be a better expression of a post-Christian society than the desire for government to supply those things so universally.  Old notion, I know, but it came in light of some recent encounters so I thought I would build the case, once again.

    This week featured, on BBC America, a mini-series from a science fiction program called Torchwood.   The show, through its two seasons and now this mini-series which seems to conclude it, has been very politically correct.  Its lead character was described as “Omni-sexual, and it prominently featured homosexual public displays of affection.  But nothing has ever reflected its modernity, or even post-modernity, more than this final mini-series.  The plot involved characters having to make extraordinarily difficult decisions between two evils.  It was all about decisions to purposefully kill a few to save the many.  It was depressing, not heroic, just depressing.

    I could not help but reflect on it in comparison to last May’s quintessentially American Star Trek- a movie which revolves around the phrase “I don’t believe in the no-win scenario.”  It is a movie full of hope.

    Back to taxation, education, and health care for a moment.  There was a decided hopelessness in my Irish friends cry for extraordinary taxation and socialization of health care.  Had I pursued the conversation, I would have pointed out that excellence in both health care and education are available to anyone in this nation that chooses to pursue it hard enough.  Yes, the pursuit of same can be extraordinarily difficult, but it is achievable.   Compare that to their their nation where universal availability also limits quality as evidenced by statistics in cure rates and mortality.  While I readily admit there are problems in American health care and education – I have hope – while those willing to sacrifice the availability of excellence, clearly have little or none.

    From whence such hope?  I would answer that it comes from my faith.  Religion plays an extraordinary role in our society in the creation and sustenance of the hope that drives us.  Conversely, when we make policy decisions that limit freedom, based on hopelessness, we drive religion down.  Hence we must fight for religion in the public square – hope is an enormous part of what defines us as Americans.  If we discharge religion from the pubic square, we give up that hope – we stop being Americans.  And some people seem dead set to do just that.

    But this also points out why it was so extraordinarily silly to oppose Mitt Romney based on his faith last cycle.  Last Friday was Pioneer Day in Utah – a day that celebrates the Mormon exodus to that state.   What an extraordinarily American and hopeful religious event that exodus was.  People endured tremendous hardship based on a hope for a better life.  That is what has made America great.

    Moreover, that hope is not built just in the religion itself, and this is where we differ from Europe so much, but in the freedom that America promises to have and practice that religion.  The impulse that drove the Mormons to Utah is the same impulse that drove the Protestants to America – the desire for a place to worship and achieve – a place free from the constraints of “established” religion whether by the state as is the case in Europe or by social convention as was the case facing the Mormons.

    If Mormonism can generate that kind of hope then it most definitely deserves a place at the table in the American political structure.  They’ve earned it.  And in giving them that place, we preserve and uphold the freedom that has made my non-Mormon faith thrive, and the hope that has made this nation the greatest in history.

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    Food For Thought This Weekend

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:17 am, July 24th 2009     &mdash      5 Comments »

    Our old friends at EFM point to a new project by our old friend Mark DeMoss.

    A Republican and a Democrat walk into a bar — a coffee bar, that is.

    That’s the plan, anyway.

    But, as Republican Mark DeMoss and Democrat Lanny Davis will tell you, a civil conversation can take place anywhere.

    They are behind The Civility Project, which launched in January. Their goal is simple but lofty: To get Americans to agree to disagree without being disagreeable.

    DeMoss and Davis are calling on liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans and people of all faiths to take the “pledge,” which reads:

    I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior.
    I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them.
    I will stand against incivility when I see it.

    To take the pledge, enter your first and last name and country at www.civilityproject.org.

    I think most people will get behind something like that, the problems will start to arise when people try to decide what is “civil.”   Most of the very serious anti-Mormon crowd, for example, would call what they did last cycle as “civil,” I on the other hand would not.  To accuse an entire religion of lying ala Joel Belz, or to make reference to the “founding whoppers of Mormonism” like Jacob Weisberg, simply is not civil – particularly considering the comments are about a religion that works as hard to be contributing members of society as the LDS do.  Yet many insist that such is just “the stuff of politics.”

    A civility project seems most appropos in a post Prop 8 world where vandalism and near violence ruled the day for a bit, but uncivility is an incremental thing.  I do not think it a large challenge, but it is a necessary task, to try to role back the protests and vandalism we saw last fall, but the ugly speech and barely disguised bigotry of the primary campaign is a different story.

    We wish DeMoss and Davis the very best.

    The most disturbing thing about what I just wrote is that Joel Belz is proudly evangelical.  Should not church and Christian leadership be leading in civility?  The fact that they did not in the last primary makes be fear for moves like this on the local level.

    Enter the Faith and Family Values Republican Club of Pasco County, the first of its kind in the state.

    [...]

    Faith-based political groups are nothing new, but the state Republican Party’s official stamp on such a club is. The Pasco organization is the first GOP-chartered club in Florida that is focused solely on faith and family values, according to state Republican officials.

    I’m all for the issues, but  this strikes me a bit as “going tribal” around them and that is where incivility arises.

    More interestingly though is that the left’s native incivility can work in our favor.  Consider this obvious Palin hit piece from MSNBC:

    As the shadowboxing for the GOP nomination begins, Palin’s eroding favorability among Republicans and white evangelicals could be a hurdle. The poll showed former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee leading a pack of potential contenders.

    There is a great deal of disingenuousness in how the poll results are presented in the piece, but don’t you just love that little tidbit.   They want to portray the Republican primary as a fight between the ugly religious people.  In Huckabee’s case they may have a point, but regardless the nature of what passes for “journalism” in this piece is quite uncivil since it plays rather liberally with the actual facts.

    And finally, one need look no further than Salt Lake City for uncivil journalism.

    Mormons have not only posthumously baptized President Barack Obama‘s mother into their faith, but they may have performed the ritual for the president’s African ancestors as well, including his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, according to researcher Helen Radkey.

    I realize how controversial, even among Mormons, the practice of posthumous baptism is, but reporting like this has little or no purpose other than to try to make Mormons appear a little freaky to non-Mormons and to inflame the controversy inside Mormonism.  This is a purely religious practice and the controversy should be left on purely religious grounds – it makes little difference whether it was practiced on Obama’s ancestors or mine.

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    Getting It Exactly Wrong

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:09 am, July 23rd 2009     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Down in Florida there is a new billboard ad campaign:

    A Hillsborough public policy group whose Christian platform included a push for a state ban on gay marriage has embraced a new attack on an old target: the separation of church and state.

    Ten billboard advertisements against what activist Terry Kemple called the separation “lie” are being put up across Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Seven or eight of the billboard messages already are in place, and the rest will be by the end of this week, Kemple said.

    They are brought to you by these folks.  I have sympathy for these peoples ideas:

    “The Judeo-Christian foundation that the Founding Fathers established when America began is the reason that this country has prospered for 200-plus years,” said Kemple, president and sole employee of the local Community Issues Council, which paid for the Web site.

    “The fact is, for the last 40 years, as anti-God activists have incrementally removed the recognition of God’s place in the establishment of our country, we have gone downhill.”

    But they are going about it so wrong that I simply must condemn them.  These guys are very correct that freedom requires morality for a society to function well, but that does not mean separation of church and state is a “lie,” it means they are separate, but interdependent.  Remeber Venn diagrams from school?  Church and state intersect – often even – but they are still separate things.  (For detailed discussion, see the writings of Abraham Kuyper.)

    Clearly what these people want to do is stem the tide of decreasing in morality in our society.  A laudable goal.  But this approach, by calling spearation of church and state a “lie,” is frought with difficulty on philosophical, theological and political levels.  Let us summarize the philosophical and theological problems by noting that true, deep religious experience and expression can only be found int he context of true freedom.   The moment that religion and the power of state are linked is the moment that such requisite freedom begins to die.  The effort is self-defeating.

    But as typical for this blog, we will concentrate on the political problems.  If church and state are not separate then one must immediately ask, “Which church is connected?”  Of course, this bunch would answer “the Christian church.”  Yeah, but then challenge them to define what that church is.  I promise you the answer will come back sounding amazing like the particular Christian church they belong to.  But they are a coalition of Christians from different churches, which means their coalition might fracture along those lines, before they can answer even the first question.   And with that fracture all capability for political action disappears.

    This problem only expands as you need a larger and larger mass of people to accomplish your particular political goals.  The bigger the group the more the sinlge fracture line begins to look like a spider web.

    If we, as Christian people, want to restore higher levels of morality to our society, then we need to figure out how to do so on the basis of our own actions in the religious sphere and with individuals, not simply try to usurp the authority of government to that end.  This later approach is self-defeating.

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