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."

  • How To Make A Mess…

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:23 am, March 29th 2010     &mdash      3 Comments »

    The Left Rides to Romney’s Aid . . .

    In a Sunday op-ed in the Washington Post, noted evangelical leftie Jim Walls had this to say:

    While Beck initially claimed that “social justice is a perversion of the Gospel,” he now suggests his concern was really the association of the phrase with “Big Government.” He even adds that when “social justice” refers simply to individual charity, it is permissible to him. But for millions of people, this is not a joking matter. Christians across the theological and political spectrum believe that social justice is central to the teachings of Jesus and at the heart of biblical faith. Because Christians couldn’t “turn in” their pastors to “church authorities” as Beck suggested (the pope would turn himself into . . . himself), many have started turning themselves in to Beck as “social justice Christians” — 50,000 at last count.

    Journalists, cable and radio talk shows, and even Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have reported on or spoofed Beck’s attempt to discredit this concept. What might be lost in all this are the facts that a commitment to social justice unites Christian churches of different doctrinal and political beliefs. Even leaders in Beck’s own church and scholars of Mormonism have made it clear that they believe social justice is integral to their faith and that they want it known he doesn’t speak for the church.

    There are two very salient points to be made here.  Firstly, when Beck has picked a fight on such a footing that someone like Wallis is saying things that will very much help a candidate like Mitt Romney. (“What might be lost in all this are the facts that a commitment to social justice unites Christian churches of different doctrinal and political beliefs.”) Well, he has made a serious misstep.  Believe me, there is little that Wallis stands for that I agree with, but in this case he is absolutely right – we unite to fix real problems.

    But the more important point is this:  When some on the right start drawing sectarian lines amongst themselves and questioning the veracity of those on the other side of one of those lines, they feed the perception of us that Wallis is playing against here — and in so doing give people like Wallis the opportunity to paint all of us, not just the aberrant yahoos like Beck, with the same ugly brush.

    Something is very wrong when a conservative co-religionist of Romney’s like Beck is doing him damage, while a knee-jerk leftie Evangelical like Wallis is making statements that should benefit Romney.  At least no one I know of has yet used Mormonism to draw a line between Beck and Romney, but you have to think its coming.  Lowell and I met Beck at the “Faith in America” speech last time.   I find myself hoping I do not run into him at any events this time should Romney elect to run.

    Is Romney’s Faith Issue a Given or a Done Deal?

    Lots of political news last week, and Mitt Romney managed to have his name figure prominently in some of it.  That’s good for a man that might run for POTUS.  I remain astonished at how much is written about Romney right now and how infrequently the word “Mormon” appears in that writing.  That word was inescapable at this point last cycle.  The conventional wisdom among the political pros is that Romney was deeply wounded by it last time and that it remains a problem for him this time.  So why are we not reading about it?

    Well, for one thing, there is nothing new to write.  So much was written last time that people are a bit bored with it.  For another, the issue, while it remains potent, was delegitimized to an extent last time.  The one time it stuck its head above water – Huckabee’s “innocent” question to the NYTimes reporter in December 2007 – the Huckster was so roundly hammered by just about everybody that the discussion of it pretty well disappeared from the last cycle afterward.  Expect it, of course, in the ugly underbelly of political discussion, like the comments at Huckabee’s campaign web site.   It’s out there, but it is reduced to whispers and insinuations.

    I think, should Romney elect to get in the 2012 race, the issue will play like I thought it would in 2008, until Huckabee got ugly.  That is the role of undercurrent and suspicion reinforcement.  We have talked extensively here about the “Mormons lie” meme – we dealt with it just last week, and if you follow links and search this blog we’ve talked it to death.  That meme lent credence, at least with many orthodox Christians, to the flip-flop or “inauthentic” thing that in the end really killed Romney’s chances last time.  But the line from “Mormons lie” to “inauthentic” was straight enough that we could argue against it.

    But if the opposition just talks “inauthentic” and not Mormon, then it becomes much harder to argue – but because it was so prominent last time, the religious-based suspicion should remain and give the “inauthentic” accusation more credence that it deserves.

    I am convinced that the phenomenon is at play in all the efforts to make the Massachusetts health system look like Obamacare.  (Example here – its existence is also a tip of the hat to the fact that the the Dems view Romney as their likely 2012 opponent.)  In the first place what happened in Massachusetts is not “Romneycare” – it is some sort of warped, malformed image of what Romney put forth.  Secondly, as the various lawsuits that came out almost minutes after Congress voted on Obamacare attest, there is a huge difference between a state doing something and the federal government doing it.  But those are very wonkish arguments which are difficult for people to get their head around to begin with, made all the tougher when somewhere in the back of their mind is an itching that says, at a minimum, “Mormons are strange.”

    What saddens me is that as a non-Mormon, there is little I can do to fight this.  Without the overt accusations I cannot bring forth argument.  All I can do is continue to befriend and make political common cause with Mormons.  This one is really up to Mormons.  They need to be out there, befriending, not trying to convert, but just befriending, non-Mormons.  The more people know Mormons, the less they will think they are different and therefore untrustworthy.

    With that, the political news:

    Religion and Politics Background . . .

    The view from the left on the issue:

    So much for religion in politics, eh? Well, not quite. These are tragedies, not occasions for the tongue-clucking and schadenfreude that some of us secular liberals are quietly indulging. Here’s why it’s too easy to survey the would-be theocrats in Rome, Jerusalem, Gaza, Tehran, and Kabul and say, “So much for religion.”

    We’d also have to survey how the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., a seminary student named John Lewis, and poor, black churchgoers managed to walk, trembling, into Southern squares, dressed in their threadbare Sunday best, to face fire hoses, dogs, prison, and, for all they knew, death.

    We’d have to ask how hundreds of fire fighters and cops on 9/11 — many of them brought up in Catholic Youth Organization sports teams, with an old parish sense of right and wrong – could rush toward death, not to take lives but to save them, at the risk and cost of their own. I suspect that some of these people’s hearts are breaking over the church scandals and that they’re feeling demoralized and outraged.

    We’d have to ask about the courage and impressive dignity in the multitudes who took to the streets of Tehran last June to strip bare the pretensions of theocrats. They were able to do it because, like our civil rights marchers and Gandhi’s followers, they meant to redeem their faith from ecclesiastical overlords who have broken their hearts, too, as well as their bones.

    There is a lot about what this guy has to say that I disagree with, but at least he understands that religion, like most things can be used well, or not so well, and that it should not be written off.  That’s what the American experiment in religion and politics is all about – trying to capture the good religion produces in society  without breaking down into the sectarian garbage that he discusses and that ravaged Europe a few times.

    That means, as Rod Dreher points out, that we have to take religion seriously.  He is also right that the media is probably the first place that needs to learn to do that.

    On A Personal Note…

    26590_402055615794_595665794_5377099_4501896_nThis weekend saw the basketball team from my alma mater make it into the Final Four of the national championship tournament.  That’s a big deal – really big.  When I was a student there we had about 2500 students dodging the dinosaurs that wandered about campus.  Now the number seems to be somewhere around 4000.  This is a small private school and they are just not supposed to have the resources to compete on this level – but here they are.  How did they do it?

    They play a very different kind of basketball, team and defense oriented, they use strategy and execution to overcome time and time again the adversity presented to them by almost universally far more athletic opponents.  Only one player on the Butler team is likely to see the NBA, and that’s not a sure thing.  (Butler also has the highest graduation rates in Division 1 basketball.)  In other words their priorities are in the right place and they exist to serve the greater good, not just take a step towards the pros and  their own personal achievement.

    As I celebrated their victory Saturday with a tear on my cheek (my father, God rest his soul, was a bigger fan than I) I could not help but reflect on the fact that what makes Butler so attractive as a basketball team is what makes Mitt Romney so attractive as a presidential possible.  Like Butler, his priorities are right both personally and policy-wise.  But most importantly, like Butler, he is not in this for his own achievement, he is in this for the greater good.  You’ll find none of the rhetorical chest bumping and the actual high-fiving and curse laden celebratory utterances that seem to have become commonplace with the current administration in a Romney administration – it’s not about what Mitt Romney accomplishes – it’s about what the nation needs.

    That’s probably campaign rhetoric which is not what we do around here, but I hope you’ll forgive a guy the occasional observation of this type when he finds himself in this good a mood.  No matter what happens next weekend, this is an enormous accomplishment for the Bulldogs.  I am awfully, awfully proud.

    Lowell adds . . .

    First of all, go bulldogs! I am hoping for a Duke-Butler final, with the Indiana squad winning it all. When a team like Butler makes it to the Final Four a my faith in college basketball is restored just a little.

    Now on to less important things.  I am no Glenn Beck fan, but what he is trying to challenge (and, as usual, his methods obscure much of any good sense in what he has to say) is the notion that social justice is the primary purpose of religion, or if religion should mostly be concerned with saving souls.  In other words, how much does religion get involved in “Caesar’s” business?  The debate has gone on for a long time now, some holding that religion must remain focused on spiritual salvation, which includes meeting the temporal needs of mankind through voluntary charity; and others arguing that temporal salvation should be religion’s focus – and that the Gospel supports government involvement in meeting such temporal needs, even if that involvement is coercive.

    Much better thinkers than Beck have addressed this issue.  For example, in a piece entitled “Defining Social Justice,” Michael Novak  examined Friedrich Hayek’s views on social justice, and advances a definition from Hayek himself:

    Social justice rightly understood is a specific habit of justice that is  “social” in two senses. First, the skills it requires are those of  inspiring, working with, and organizing others to accomplish together a  work of justice. These are the elementary skills of civil society,  through which free citizens exercise self–government by doing for  themselves (that is, without turning to government) what needs to be  done. Citizens who take part commonly explain their efforts as attempts  to “give back” for all that they have received from the free society, or  to meet the obligations of free citizens to think and act for  themselves. The fact that this activity is carried out with others is one reason for designating it as a specific type of justice; it  requires a broader range of social skills than do acts of individual  justice.

    The second characteristic of “social justice rightly understood” is that it aims at the good of the city, not at the good of one agent only. Citizens may band together, as in pioneer days, to put up a school or build a bridge. They may get together in the modern city to hold a bake sale for some charitable cause, to repair a playground, to clean up the environment, or for a million other purposes that their social imaginations might lead them to. Hence the second sense in which this habit of justice is “social”: its object, as well as its form, primarily involves the good of others.

    There are at least two approaches to the goal of social justice: the non-coercive one Hayek described and the one the Left considers a necessary and coercive marriage between government and religion to accomplish leftist ends. The difference is whether to emphasize the role of the individual (Hayek’s approach) or the role of the state (the leftist approach). In Hayek’s words:

    It is one of the greatest weaknesses of our time that we lack the patience and faith to build up voluntary organizations for purposes which we value highly, and immediately ask the government to bring about by coercion (or with means raised by coercion) anything that appears as desirable to large numbers. Yet nothing can have a more deadening effect on real participation by the citizens than if government, instead of merely providing the essential framework of spontaneous growth, becomes monolithic and takes charge of the provision for all needs, which can be provided for only by the common effort of many.

    The debate is not over whether social justice is important; it is over how such justice should be dispensed, and by whom.  I favor the non-coercive approach, as far as religion’s involvement is concerned.  This is a debate worth having, and it needs to be directed by someone other than, or in addition to, Glenn Beck.

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    When The Left WANTS To Mix Religion and Politics

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:30 am, March 25th 2010     &mdash      5 Comments »

    We looked briefly last post at efforts to have anti-Mormon, pro-same-sex-marriage rally at a Romney book signing.  Check out the results – yes, the photographs show the ENTIRE protest.  You know you are in trouble when your rally requires bagpipes, the loudest musical instrument known to man, to attract attention.

    This is so disingenuous it’s not even funny.  The left so wants religion and the public square to be separate, but they so willingly co-mingle them in an instance like this because it gets them the attention they want.  Romney has gone out of his way to say little more than “I am a Mormon,” but this group insists that he somehow — no one has yet explained to me how — change his church’s policy on the matter.

    The fact is this is a “twofer” for the left.  They take shots at their pet issue and the leading Republican possible, who keeps getting in front of the parade, all at the same time.  Problem is, they grossly underestimate how incredibly annoying most people find bagpipes – unless you’re in Scotland where they are quaint.  Even a peaceful demonstration could get arrested for disturbing the peace with those things around – they can be heard for miles.

    Religion and The Media

    The Washington Post published a profile of a “Latino Evangelical leader.“  “Get Religion” did not like it much.

    That’s a pretty good start to a potentially meaty religion story. Unfortunately, this piece focuses almost entirely on the politics and neglects important spiritual and theological elements. Religion ghosts, anyone?

    For one thing, we have a profile of a reverend with absolutely no details on his religious background — or his personal background, for that matter. We don’t find out if he was raised evangelical or perhaps converted from the Roman Catholic Church. We get no clue about his personal denominational affiliation — is he a Southern Baptist, a Nazarene, a member of an Assembly of God? Was he born in the United States? Or did he immigrate from Mexico or another Latin American country? To me, these seem like relevant questions in such a story.

    There is some interesting criticism there, but also very dangerous.  The WaPo piece is clearly press agent/news release regurgitation with little actual investigative effort – lazy journalism – that deserves criticism.

    We also are not big fans here of reporting on pure political activity by religious groups because of how much it confuses religion and politics.  People  often form religious affiliations based on political action which tends to dilute the religious practice of the group.

    But I wonder how much reporting on the religious aspects of the story, as Get Religion suggests:

    Moreover, we have an entire story focused on Latino evangelicals supporting immigration reform, but with no exploration of spiritual or theological reasons for such a position.

    In depth would be helpful.  I am not at all sure that a non-adherent reporter could even come close to accurate description of “spiritual or theological” aspects of any religious story.  Witness how much they screwed up reporting Mormon belief during 2008.

    In then end it’s up to the religious organization to get their story out, like they want it.

    Finally . . .

    A synopsis of Chaput.  Quoting the Archbishop:

    . . . Too many Catholics confuse their personal opinions with a real Christian conscience. Too many live their faith as if it were a private idiosyncrasy, the kind that they’ll never allow to become a public nuisance. And too many just don’t really believe. Maybe it’s different in Protestant circles.

    “But I hope you’ll forgive me if I say, ‘I doubt it.’ “

    I wonder how long it will be before someone on the left reads that comment about “real Christian conscience” as a “threat” of the church dictating political stances to candidates?  Probably out there already in some ill-read leftie blog.

    Lowell adds . . .

    The Romney bookstore protest does seem a little silly. We’ll never see the day when a Catholic candidate is taken to task for the positions his or her church takes on public issues.  By the way, if you Google “Mitt Romney gay Deseret Book,” or combinations thereof , the only news stories you will find about the mini-protest are on gay newspapers or blogs.  I did find this coverage in the DelMar Times, a community newspaper:

    A crowd estimated at about 1,000 turned out to get autographs from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who appeared at Deseret Bookstore in La Jolla Village Square to promote his new book on Monday night. He and his wife Ann, who own a home in La Jolla, visited the Deseret Book Store Monday night. Among the crowd was Rocky Kuonen of San Marcos. About a dozen protesters lined up outside the center, urging Romney to change his stand on gay marriage.

    That’s it – the whole story.  Hey Jason, can you spell “pathetic?”

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    Religion is NOT a Cause-and-Effect Thing, That and the News

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:44 am, March 22nd 2010     &mdash      2 Comments »

    Last week, there was quite the discussion around these parts, levered off of the now infamous Joel Belz “Mormons lie” contention from last cycle.  We have not covered it extensively, but Belz was buried with bigotry charges after he published it.  But like a trouper he came back for more the next month in his magazine, defending his analysis and contending that it was not bigotry.  We had thought his argument so weak that refutation was not required, but given the discussion of last week, we figure that a refutation is now in order.

    The first part of Belz’ argument:

    Or suppose that Christopher Hitchens, the popular and often appealing atheist who has taken some quarters of the nation by storm, decided he wanted to seek the presidency. It’s pretty clear that his candidacy, if he had been born in the United States, could not (and should not) be opposed on legal grounds. But to say that individuals and groups of individuals would be guilty of bigotry if they argued openly against an atheist as president is wrongheaded on the face of the matter.

    So if it’s legitimate to oppose (but not legally preclude) a candidate because he or she is a committed Muslim or atheist, I conclude we may do the same with someone because he or she is a Mormon, a Roman Catholic, a Baptist, or goodness—even a Presbyterian! And in none of these cases are we automatically guilty of bigotry.

    First of all, that’s not an argument – it’s an assertion.  Would I oppose a Hitchens candidacy?  Yes, I would – but not on the basis of his atheism.  More on that in a moment.  Why is it “wrongheaded on the face of the matter?”  If Belz had a real argument here, he would have made some attempt to answer that question as he asserted his point. Instead, he just waved his hands and said, “Voila.”  (Back in my days of studying science and math we called this the “it is intuitively obvious to the most casual observer” argument – it typically warranted the loss of a letter grade if the assertion was correct and an automatic ‘F’ if it was used out of laziness, or wrong.)

    As to the legality/legitimacy argument, well, that sounds remarkably like Jim Crow.  From the Civil War well until into the 1970′s blacks using their franchise was widely and openly opposed, and claims of legitimacy were attached to such activities.  Of course, people can claim that religion and race are very different things – but it seems to me that in a very real sense both are shapers and maintainers of culture, or at least sub-culture.  And in the end that is what we are discriminating against – sub-culture – and in the melting pot that is America such is not legitimate along any lines.

    But let’s look at Belz’ “argument” a bit deeper.  He argues

    Indeed, his very thoughtfulness makes me want to be very careful when I raise the question: How does a person’s Mormonism affect his or her possible role as president of the United States?

    But just because I’m obliged to ask the question carefully doesn’t mean I’m out of bounds in asking the question. I applauded when Romney stressed: “[Some] would prefer it if I would simply distance myself from my religion, say that it is more a tradition than my personal conviction, or disavow one or another of its precepts. That I will not do.” Nor should he; that is part of his personal character.

    But this integral and holistic nature of the person is also exactly what makes it not just right, but necessary, to ask—even in detail—just how what this man believes “religiously” affects all the rest of his behavior.

    When we linked to this piece in our review of 2008, we said this about it:

    I am going to sound very much like a civil rights attorney here, but this justification for bigotry is bigoted on its face.  It presumes a view of religion and its effects on a person and their character that is distinctly evangelical, and one that another religion may not, and many do not, share.  I will not speak for Mormons on this matter, that is for them to do, but what I will say is that we cannot measure another religion by our religion’s yardstick.  Needless to say, no religion other than our own will “measure up” under such circumstance.

    Further “fisking,” there are two key words in Belz’ argument – and we highlighted them for you, “person” and “behavior.”

    Whether it be Mormonism, or any other religion, how that religion would affect an individual person’s role as POTUS, or anything else, is going to be individually unique.  I am very different from any other Presbyterian I know.  My Presbyterianism affects me very differently than it does my pastor, or the other elders in my congregation.  One cannot draw a conclusion about how being a Presbyterian will affect another persons role as say, blogger, based on how it affects mine.  In the blogroll section of my religious blog there is a ‘ring’ of Presbyterian bloggers.  Anyone who doubts my contention here needs but to read through that ring.  You would be hard pressed to find a more diverse group.

    Thus, how religion affects behavior is highly individualized.  So while we might, in the case of a single individual, be able to analyze how their faith affects there behavior, the real question becomes why do so?  What do we gain out of such analysis that we did not already know?  We cannot conclude, based on that analysis, anything about the behavior or belief of any other adherent to that religion.  To do so would, in fact, be religious discrimination and bigotry.

    The issue boils down to simply, behavior.  Fortunately, behavior is something we can judge based on physical, real evidence, not simply beliefs.  Beliefs are the means by which people who behave badly justify that behavior to themselves, but there are many many people of the same belief, even the same evil belief, that never can actually bring themselves to behave badly.

    My father is dead, and I hate to speak ill of the dead and I loved the man more than virtually anyone but my wife; but my father had an amazing streak of bizarre thought in him.  There were times, around the dinner table, when you would have thought my father was a Nazi.  He certainly implied more than once that many of the Jews that died in the concentration camps of WWII deserved their fate.  And yet, when it came to his behavior, my father was a kitten.  He routinely did business with Jewish people – some of whom showed up at his funeral.  I never saw my father speak an ill word to anyone to their face, and frankly never behind their back about someone specific – it was always just awful, ugly generalities.

    My father’s beliefs about Jewish people never translated into behavior.  My father was an “anti-Semite” in speech only and then only to people with whom he felt safe somehow.   So much so that most of the Jewish people he actually encountered considered him a friend (none of the them considered him an enemy) – even the legitimate “jury” could not bring itself to find my father guilty.  In the end, those of us closest to my dad, most importantly my mother and I, concluded that dad was not anti-Semitic at all, but rather someone that just liked to say outrageous things in certain social settings when he thought they were boring or he wanted attention.

    The point is that we can infer nothing about a persons behavior based on their proclaimed belief, we can only infer about their behavior based on their behavior – real, physical evidence.  That is to say we infer character from action, not declaration.

    Thus, if Belz wants to argue that Mitt Romney is a liar, all he need do is bring forth evidence of Romney lying.  He does not need to bring up Romney’s faith for we can conclude nothing reliable from it.  In bringing up Romney’s faith, Belz can accomplish only two things.  For one, he can play upon the prejudices of his readers.  If his readers are suspicious of Mormons, by bringing up that Romney is one, he plays on those suspicions and they will tend to view evidence insufficient to prove his contention as if it does actually prove it.  That is, I believe, called “false witness.”  Secondly, he tarnishes all Mormons, which in a religiously competitive environment he may want to do.  But that first of all is simply wrong, because as we have seen, not all Mormons are the same regardless of the characteristic under discussion – so even his competitive argument is not true (again “false witness”).  But further he affects the candidacy of an individual for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with the election at hand.  This has the potential affect of robbing the nation of the best choice in that election when judged on the things that do matter.  The same could be said by liberal efforts to disqualify Huckabee based on his tenure as a Baptist preacher.

    In the end, there just really is little need to bring up the religion of a candidate.  Their behavior and character is in actual evidence – and that evidence is what matters.

    What We’re Reading . . .

    Last week was the lightest week we’ve seen in a while, so we’ll just pass it on as bullets.

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    Did Not Take Long For Things To Get Really Ugly…

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:29 am, March 15th 2010     &mdash      21 Comments »

    As Romney has re-emerged with his book tour, we have seen some efforts to put him in the “Mormon box,” but in general things have been much, much quieter than last time around.  No major pieces on Romney’s “evangelical problem,” none of that.  But last Friday Bill Maher decided to turn the heat to levels we have not seen since Weisberg and “the founding whoppers of Mormonism” slam.  In discussing the airplane incident, Maher said:

    “I just couldn’t help but think maybe this has something to do with the fact that the Mormons traditionally have not had a great relation with the black people.”

    So, now by religious implication, Romney is a racist.  There are no words to describe this but “despicable.”  The Mormon church has worked very hard to undo  the racial injustices that were a part of its history, as frankly have all churches.  My own Presbyterian church actually went through a northern/southern split (in later years the split was more about the role of women in the church, but its roots were in the Civil War)  and did not manage to pull itself back together again until the 1980′s – 10 years after the Mormons fixed their racial issues.

    These comments by Maher are an outrage.  Sadly there is nothing new in Maher being outrageous, particularly about Mormons, but this one just cuts too close.  This is a not a stereotype – this is an implied accusation that Mitt Romney, and all Mormons, are racists.  Such cannot and should not be suffered.  The Newsbusters piece linked show the paucity of the evidence that Maher brings to bear, which is fine, but that is not the issue.  This is simply not a charge to be leveled without DIRECT evidence concerning the individual.

    But I have already given this more attention than it deserves because no one really listens to Maher anymore, at least no one serious.  That he has a TV show, even one that only like 6 people watch. is criminal but in this day and age we have more television distribution capability than we have decent programming so fools are going to get outlets.  That’s what Bill Maher is – a fool.

    And while we are discussing outrages – you remember Joe Carter.  Joe is a leading Evangelical blogger, now serving as blog editor at First Things.  You’ll also remember that Joe seconded, loudly and influentially, Joel Belz’ utterly bigoted “Mormons lie” piece last cycle.  Well, writing last week about the religious affiliation of recent Supreme Court nominees (it has been tilting very Catholic of late) Joe said this:

    I think I can speak for many of my fellow conservative evangelicals, however, in saying that even if the quota wasn’t going to go to another mainline Protestant WASP, we wouldn’t have much interest in a religious affirmative action program. Personally, I’d rather have someone on the bench like Scalia, Thomas, or Roberts who shares my judicial philosophy than have  a quota for someone merely because they can share a pew with me on Sunday morning.

    [Emphasis added.]  Gee Joe – when it comes to Catholics you are willing to judge them by their stances on issues, but when it comes to Mormons you are not?  When you examine Carter’s body of work here you discover nothing more than simple, base discrimination, and that is outrageous.  For one group he will judge the individual, but another group is beyond such evaluation and simply discarded.

    Who knows, maybe Carter’s comments here are evidence that he is learning, even changing his mind, but he needs to write about that if such is the case. UPDATE LATER THE DAY OF PUBLICATION: Joe Carter has, as of this date, in the post in question, retracted his endorsement of the Belz’ piece – indicating that he has indeed changed his mind about the role of Romney’s religion. Based on that I will withdraw my accusation of “base discrimination” made above. Though Carter’s distaste for Romney remains evident, that such not be based on a religious charge is all we ask in this blog. Back to the original post.

    And speaking of Carter’s writings, another piece he did at the “First Thoughts” blog illustrates part of the problem when many evangelicals approach politics.  He works very hard, in the tall grass, to distinguish Rousseau’s “civil religion” from Ben Franklin’s “public religion.”  There are a couple of comments to be made here.  In citing “public religion,” Carter relies on Jon Meacham.  I know for a fact that Mecham’s book was one of the major sources Romney used in preparing his “Faith in America” speech – talk about sharing public philosophy!  Secondly, the distinction Carter is making here, while intellectually valid, is so far past the average voter that it can only serve to confuse matters.  In the modern era, when discussing retail level politics, messaging matters almost as much as message.

    When it comes to religion and politics and the general public our messaging has to make our message accessible – this sort of stuff is simply off-putting, it practically reeks of “you’re not smart enough to participate in this discussion.”  We need to be searching for language that unites conservatives of faith, not makes distinctions no one wants to bother with.  Recent studies show:

    . . . that young adults hold their religious beliefs in abstract, “mentally checked off and filed away.” Doctrine does not determine their lives. Religion is about being good and living a good life, not believing the right things.

    Now, the article I just cited goes on to argue  the need for doctrine, but that is a religious argument and we are talking politics here.  Politics are about meeting people where they are in order to get stuff done that needs to be done.  If this is where people are, then when it comes to political activism, that’s where we need to go.

    Moving on . . .

    That’s a lot of discussion and there is still a lot of news, so let’s go bullet form.

    Glenn Beck Is Simply No Help . . .

    Because people think “all Mormons are alike,” Glenn Beck matters, but he sure has moved into silly land.  And by the way, it is no more Beck’s business to tell Catholics how to behave than it is my business to tell Mormons what to do.  Here’s the coverage:

    “Candidate” News . . .

    Romney . . .

    Both Politics Daily and the CSM note Romney’s comments about the Tea Party Movement, and seeking to bring it in/keep it in the Republican fold.  That’s ironic, since apparently the movement “scares” evangelicals.  But then Instapundit and Gateway Pundit and GetReligion see through the canard.

    If there is a new narrative  meme forming around Romney, it’s Massachusetts health care.  Slate and David Brody have observations.

    “Team Romney” continues to advance.

    Finally, Romney talks about last time.

    Thune takes the first action to demonstrate the rumors are probably real.

    Pawlenty is just not getting anywhere, and in this case taking religious punches.

    Huckabee continues to poll well in Iowa.  (Gee, there’s a surprise)

    Palin continues to have an identity crisis.

    Religion In The News . . .

    Deep Thoughts . . .

    These are all pieces worthy of a lot of discussion, but Maher’s outrage had to consume that, so here they are for your edification and thought.  Feel free to discuss in the comments – or use the discussion center at our Facebook page.

    Lowell adds . . .

    No one pays much attention to Bill Maher. That’s why he says outrageous things – to get noticed.  Enough said about him.

    As for former Huckabee supporter, outspoken Romney detractor and foe of Mormonism generally Joe Carter, his much-labored-over First Thoughts piece is summarized well in one of the comments:

    [T]here is too much confusion, in my opinion, in your essay’s articulations of “civil religion” for one even to agree or disagree with it.

    And Glenn Beck. Oh, dear, Glenn Beck.  Most Mormons who are not hard-core right-wingers will tell you they wince often when they hear what he has to say (and only the hard-core watch him).  Still, it was interesting to see how some of the commenters to Joe Carter’s piece on Beck took the opportunity to bash Beck’s Mormonism, although his show is political.  I guess those are the kinds of reader Carter attracts.  That’s not the high-minded First Things crowd I have known.

    As for the ludicrous notion that the tea partiers scare Evangelicals (doesn’t the MSM love a rift among conservatives?), I liked this quote from Grover Norquist in the L.A. Times:

    “The reason why social conservatives and economic conservatives can play well together … is the guy who wants to go to church all day just wants to be left alone. So does the guy who wants to play with his gun all day, and the guy who wants to make money all day,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. “They don’t agree on how to spend their time, but they do agree on their central issue: They want to be left alone.”

    Well, yes.  Common ground is common ground.  I wish more conservative leaders would talk about this.

    And yes, Romney has to come up with a convincing reponse to the claim that RomneyCare and ObamaCare are the same thing.  They are not, but the charge is sticking.  Mitt needs a short, non-wonkish answer to the charge.  If you watch the video just below all the way through, you will see that he is getting closer, but he’s not there.  The right 38 words at the beginning of his answer would have done the trick:

    In Massachusetts we imposed a state plan, not a federal one.  Health care should not be reformed at the federal level.  Besides, our plan was based on conservative free-market principles, and you don’t find any of those in ObamaCare.

    Somewhat ironically, Romney’s superb intellect is causing him problems. As a health care lawyer I know exactly what he is saying, but most people don’t spend every day in the tall grass the way I do. Romney needs to break this stuff down a little more for people.

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    Romney In A Box

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:57 am, March 10th 2010     &mdash      6 Comments »

    The book Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin is one of those “inside the campaign” books that is both fascinating and gossipy all at the same time.  But the purpose of this post is not to review the book.  Chapter 6 of that book has the intriguing title “Barack in a Box” which we have here borrowed.  In that chapter is this most insightful paragraph:

    The debates fed a narrative that was becoming pervasive in the press: Edwards was running on bold ideas (universal health care, a new war on poverty); Hillary was the mistress of the nitty-gritty; and Obama was a lightweight, all sizzle and no steak. This is what the media did—it put every candidate in a neat little box and slapped a pithy label on it. Obama understood. But for the past three years, as the press fawned over him, the box he was stuffed into bore a succession of tags that were flattering and advantageous. New. Fresh. Inspiring. Post-racial. He’d never had a negative run of press on the national level, and therefore never developed the kind of thick protective hide that repelled the media’s slings and arrows.

    [Emphasis added.]  There is little question,  as we discussed in our review of campaign ’08, that the box Romney was most stuffed into was labeled “Mormon.”  As Romney has begun, with his book tour, to reemerge publicly, some in the press are continuing with that narrative, as we saw in yesterday’s review of the coverage.   Due to Mike Huckabee’s deliberate attempts to box in Evangelicals, being stuffed in the “Mormon” box harmed Romney significantly in ’08.

    Questions:

    • Will the press be able to put Romney in that box this time, or will it be so “old news” that to use it is a sign of poor reporting?
    • What strategies, if any, can Romney employ to break out of the box?
    • Should Romney ignore the box – pretend it is not there?
    • Assume neither Huckabee nor Palin are in, will the box be harmful?  Assume one or both are in?
    • Should the CJCLDS take steps to reduce the potential harm the box might cause?  What would those steps be?

    We are interested in our readers’ input here.  Comments on this blog are subject to moderation, which means they may not get up for a while as your moderators have limited time to check.  This post should appear on our Facebook fan page within 24 hours (although at this moment the Facebook servers seems to be a bit behind) and there comment is immediate and unmoderated, though limited by size.  Either place, let us know what you think.  Answer these questions and any others that may come up in the course of the discussion.

    Lowell adds . . .

     

    Since John posed the questions, I guess I can try to answer them.  (It would be bad form for John to answer himself.)  Here goes:

     

    • Will the press be able to put Romney in that box this time, or will it be so “old news” that to use it is a sign of poor reporting?

    I think they will because for so many of the liberal members of the MSM, Romney’s religion is important because he is conservative.  They do not manifest any concern over any liberal politician’s religion.  Example:  Harry Reid, Romney’s fellow Mormon.

    • What strategies, if any, can Romney employ to break out of the box?

    His only hope is to continue to respond patiently that his religion doesn’t matter to the American people, which he has been doing for years now.  I certainly do not think any overt effort, like The Speech, will be necessary.  I think such a step would attract attention to, and legitimize the issue.

    • Should Romney ignore the box – pretend it is not there?

    See comments above.

    • Assume neither Huckabee nor Palin are in, will the box be harmful?  Assume one or both are in?

    If neither is in, then I think the issue is almost neutralized.  If one of them is in, it will be present, if for not other reason than that “The Question” is like catnip to the MSM and the blogosphere if there is an Evangelical-Mormon divide they can write about.

    • Should the CJCLDS take steps to reduce the potential harm the box might cause?  What would those steps be?

    Hard to imagine what the Church could do without making things worse for everyone.  But that’s just my opinion, and I the Church never consults me. (Very wise of them.)

    And, in the words of Forrest Gump, “That’s what I have to say about that.”

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    The Public Eye Continues To Glare, Palin Not Serious, and more…

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:33 am, March 9th 2010     &mdash      2 Comments »

    Romney Remains Front-and-Center…

    …funny how a book tour does that.  We’ll start with a sampling of the headlines:

    You just have to love this letter-to-the-editor out of Des Moines:

    Had Republicans set aside their problem with Mitt Romney’s religion, I have no doubt we would now have a president leading our nation with honesty and integrity, who actually understands fiscal responsibility and who has a track record of fixing institutions that are broken.

    And some coverage just won’t help.  Consider this from The Hill’s Blog Briefing Room on comment by Orrin Hatch:

    Hatch endorsed Romney, a fellow Mormon, for the Republican nomination for president in 2008, though Romney eventually lost the GOP primary to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

    Why the “fellow Mormon” crack?  Do we read such things about Episcopalians or Presbyterians or Catholics?  Clearly the press, at least some of the press, is not through playing with this particular toy . . .

    and “Flip-Flop/Inauthentic” is still out there . . .

    Mitt Romney is still trying to be what he isn’t – Jay Bookman, Atlanta Journal Constitution

    Mitt Romney, version 2012 – The Boston Globe (hey, there’s a surprise!)

    Compared To Other Possibles . . .

    . . . Romney looks pretty good though.  Palin is shopping a reality TV show.  That’s new, and inadvisable, ground for a presidential possible, but then we have contended all along, she’s not running.  In London they think she came out ahead in last Tuesday’s late night wars, but conclude with this stunner:

    Neither candidate has yet said whether they will stand. Romney told Fox News: “I’m not going to make that decision until I have to . . . and it’ll be after November.”

    He was given a boost from the blogging sphere by claims that the Tonight Show manipulated Palin’s performance by adding laughter tracks to cover up audience groans and silence. “I can recount many portions where there was little or no laughter or response,” wrote Michael Stinson, who was at the recording.

    “But at the later broadcast they are smoothed over with applause and laughter that were not there at the taping.”

    And poor Tim Pawlenty, he has gone from losing traction to spinning on ice.

    Meanwhile the assault on religion generally continues . . .

    . . . although it is getting “grayer.”  There was this story out of Tennessee covered by a couple of different Catholic bloggers on a tract put out by a Baptist church proclaiming Catholics not be “Christian” and calling Eucharist wafers “death cookies.”  Just a couple of comments.  Thankfully this is not political debate – it’s religious, and religions differ.  But this is just ugly.  Talk about places where Catholic doctrine is wrong, argue, but “death cookies” is just over the edge!

    Which brings me to this interesting piece from a blog featuring religion conversations between Mormons and more conventional forms of Christianity:

    A common characterization of the difference between Mormonism and Evangelicalism is the idea that Evangelicals emphasize orthodoxy (right belief) and Mormons emphasize orthopraxy (right action).  If you ask an Evangelical and a Mormon “what is more important a correct understanding of God or the proper mode for baptism?”  you will most likely get different answers from each.

    Catholics, like Mormons, emphasize orthopraxy and it is funny how the conversation seems to get really ugly along that othropraxy/orthodoxy line.  Of course when all you have is the intellectual ascent of orthodoxy, it is very hard to do much but argue.

    Which brings me to this interesting piece of health care reform:

    Now I do not object to those whose opposition to even indirect funding of abortion is unrelated to matters of faith.  If they feel strongly about abortion as a public policy issue, fine.  I can live with that.  More important, so could James Madison.  (Although I absolutely have nothing but contempt for those who argue that all life is precious while supporting war and capital punishment — and opposing free health care for every child in America out of concern for “life”).

    But if the issue is one of personal faith (i.e., the particular religion a Member of Congress adheres to), legislators must not consider it in the making or unmaking of policy.  Frankly, I apply the same logic to Jewish Members and Israel.  Their belief — if some actually hold the belief — that God gave the land to the Jews should be utterly irrelevant to US policymaking.

    The views of the various religious orthodoxies on any of the so-called social issues like abortion or marriage should be confined to their respective house of worship and their homes, not the houses of Congress.

    Interesting statements.  Policy is based on the will of the people and if the majority of the people have a particular religious view, or multiple religious views arrive at the same policy conclusion forming a majority, then it seems to me that religious view should prevail and become policy.  Also, his argument is somewhat self-defeating.  If you cannot form a policy based on religion, you cannot reasonable reject one based on religion either.

    But there is an interesting hypothetical in all this – what is an elected official to do if his personal religious views are at odds with his constituency, or the law?  It seems to me that unlike most politicians, Mitt Romney had to face this very dilemma when it comes to same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.  I think he made the right choice – follow the law.

    Speaking of Interesting . . .

    I found this really interesting about freedom.

    And this is interesting as well.  A leading Evangelical blogger is quoting one of the preeminent Calvinistic preachers trying to sum up that preachers views on political action.  Quoth the preacher (John Piper):

    My main job is not to unite believers and unbelievers behind worthwhile causes.  Somebody should do this.  But that is not my job.  Some of you ought to be doing that with a deep sense of Christian calling.  My job is to glorify Jesus Christ by calling his people to be distinctively Christian in the way they live their lives.

    [Emphasis added.]  So many preachers use politics as a lever to gain converts or at least proclaim their viewpoint, never understanding that such is politically self-defeating.  It is great to see a preacher that understands the inter-relationship between the two.

    Lowell adds . . .

    The blog post about Mormons, Orthopraxy and orthodoxy caught my eye.  Not surprisingly, I think most Mormons would find it an oversimplification at best, flat-out wrong at worst.  But that is how religious discussions go.  There is just so much nuance and it is so hard to convey.  For the record, Mormons believe that the foundational principles of the Gospel are first, faith in Jesus Christ and second, repentance.  Not much orthopraxy there.  After a person has, by faith in Christ, repented, next are the first “ordinances” (a term unique to Mormons, I think) of the Gospel:  baptism by immersion and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.  So practices (ordinances) are preceded by belief (faith) and are animated by it.  But I’ll stop there.  This little discussion is an excellent reason why such “inside baseball” aspects of religion are not appropriate for evaluating candidates.  Indeed, I daresay that my theological cousins among Evangelicals who promote the idea that such nuances are in fact important are much more familiar with their own faith’s nuances then those of others.  Not pointing fingers, just trying to analyze the problem.  By the way, if you ask two Mormons “what is more important a correct understanding of God or the proper mode for baptism?”  you will still probably get different answers from each.

    Regarding Orrin Hatch’s endorsement of Romney, by the way, I am still waiting for the MSM to report that Chuck Schumer has been endorsed by one of his “fellow Jews.”

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