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."

  • Informative Sociology

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:31 am, December 14th 2010     &mdash      4 Comments »

    Reading some recent books, Jan Riess at Beliefnet comes across a very interesting statisticMormons are the third most disliked religious group in America.  Relying on her sources, she cites three reasons – theological distrust from Evangelicals, ”uber-religious” fears from the secular, and cultural insularity.  Again citing her sources, assimilation is argued as the answer to changing this trend – which she then argues is insufficient since Mormons have been on the path of assimilation for 60 years now and this statistic remains unchanged.

    Then, in true liberal fashion, she argues for loosening of standards on things like marriage and homosexuality to overcome the “uber-religious” problem.  She concludes by arguing for humility.  No one can dispute that humility is something that should be sought by all people of faith, but I have not noted it as a particular problem among Mormons – rather I think she posits this argument for the same reasons it is sometimes put forward in Evangelical circles – to add another reason to the pile for why a church should loosen its standards.  This is a mistaken idea of what humility means, but this is not the forum for getting into a deep theological discussion of that concept.

    There are really two areas of discussion from this post that are fascinating.  The first is the idea that a church, any church, should change its teachings or standards on the basis of sociological respect.  No church exists to be popular – it exists to institutionalize and preserve that which it believes to be truth, and to spread that truth to all it can convince to listen.  To change purely for the sake of popularity is to change the fundamental reason why the church exists.  Again, this could rapidly become a deep philosophical discussion and this is not the venue for that.

    The most interesting discussion to come from this has to do with the political consequences of this statistic for Mitt Romney or any other Mormon seeking high office.  It’s a huge problem, but it is also a possible blessing.  Fear of religiosity in general from a secular public is something that Evangelicals also experience.  In many ways,  Mormons are the tip of the spear on this issue – they take the largest force, but it is a force we all experience.  Religious people general are still a a majority in this nation and if that shared experience can be capitalized upon, it can become an overwhelming political force.

    The problem, of course is the theological distrust issue – that makes building the shared experience very difficult.  That, obviously, means that any candidate has to emphasize again and again the shared aspects of the experience, while doing everything in his/her power to not get near the theological issues.  I found Hugh Hewitt’s interview of George W. Bush last night very instructive.   (Aside, in my opinion it is the best interview Hewitt, perhaps the best interviewer in radio, has ever done – it is worth the price of subscription just to listen to this one podcast.)  Bush was clearly a man of deep and abiding faith – to my Protestant Evangelical ears he really did sound just like “one of us.”  This was a very different tone than I heard from him during the campaigns or his time of service in office, when he was prone to pat statements saying little and deflecting the issue.  Frankly, during his service I thought his admissions of faith more perfunctory than heart-felt, more intellectual than life-changing.  That is precisely the kind of tone that a Mormon candidate must find, and it is hard because it seems disingenuous, but nothing could be further from the truth – it is  service on the largest of scales.  This is also more difficult for a Mormon because as the “tip of the spear” people do not tend to believe there are “casual” Mormons.

    But this all brings one back to assimilation.  It’s about shading and nuance, tipping the scales not overwhelmingly but just enough so people inclined in a direction will give Mormons the benefit of the doubt – that involves trust that can only be built in relationship.  The Mormon candidate has to press more flesh and make more friends than an Evangelical.  And Mormons that want to help him/her need to be out there pressing the flesh too – not relying on their missionaries, but the grown-ups with other grown-ups.

    Hey! – it’s Christmas, time to go to a few parties.

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    All-n-All A Dull Week

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:01 am, December 13th 2010     &mdash      3 Comments »

    Maybe it is because I was on the road all week last week, but I found the news when it comes to POTUS ’12 kinda dull.  There was a brief flare when some thought they could talk Palin into running for RNC chair, but she said “No.”  Palin really does continue to dominate the talk, despite the fact that the best political mind of this time says, “There is no front-runner in Iowa; there’s no front-runner in America.

    Yet the press has to chatter, and they so desperately want whoever they think Obama can most easily beat; therefore, they remain focused on Palin…Palin…Palin.   “Time” wondered what she wants, saying:

    “While other Republicans followed predictable and even plodding paths toward the White House this year, Palin has moved along two parallel tracks, one befitting a candidate, the other designed for a celebrity. It is often hard to tell where one stops and the other begins, and that is by design. A presidential candidate used to need a central headquarters and satellite offices in all the early primary states; now all a contender like Palin needs is a cable modem. Working largely from her lakeside house in Wasilla, Alaska, Palin raised millions of dollars, produced three viral Internet videos and endorsed more than seven dozen Republican candidates (most of whom prevailed).”

    I am not sure how designed it is.  She can certainly do what she is hoping now that way, but when it comes time to you know, actually throw her hat in the ring, I think she is going to need all that “stuff.”  But if there is anything interesting going on, it’s that everyone notices the natural competitive placements of Palin and Huckabee which is causing the ‘Ol Huckster to whine a little:

    “Whether I do it or not, the fact is that if one looks at the overall body of information that’s available, nobody would be in a better position to take it all the way to November.”…

    Come on Mike, that’s just petulant – you may have invented this game, (is he media or is he candidate? – but really that could be Pat Robertson or Pat Buchanan) but like many innovators there is usually somebody that comes along that can commodify it much much better than you can.  The smart innovator negotiates their royalties and sits back and watches the show.  Sadly, there are no royalties to negotiate here, which is why he did the interview that started all this to begin with.  (BTW, there is some serious analysis of all this.)  The Huckster does have his supporters.  But when you see things like this you have to think he is not running.

    But all of this has the feeling of a sideshow – you know the tent full of oddities you visit before you go to the real show in the big tent.  You do not need a media empire to be president.

    There were some serious notes with Palin this week, though none with the Huckster.  Her book continues to create some controversy.  She also had a polling problem.  That said, she was well defended by some people we like, and is doing some very good things.  But for the first time I was very disturbed over something she was doing.

    Being on the road, I watched far more TV than typical and saw the promo spots for the appearance of Kate Gosselin on Palin’s TLC show more times than I can count.  Now Palin came out of the deal looking pretty good compared to Gosselin, but the whole thing just stinks to me.  The Gosslein’s and their much publicized divorce, despite their overwhelming appeal to Evangelicals, is the sort of thing that has really hurt Christianity in recent decades.  Divorce happens, don’t get me wrong, but the childish, selfish, philandering divorce that was the Gosselins is the sort of thing Christian people should be better than.  Palin’s family carries with it any number of mistakes, but they have been handled with a bit more aplomb than the Gosselins.

    Regardless, I am just not sure the kind of message a candidate that wants to rely on the Evangelical vote should be sending out is one that reinforces this kind of garbage.  The aplomb with which they have handled Bristol’s poor judgment has allowed most to overlook that incident, but to aid the media career of Kate Gosselin makes me wonder how much of that aplomb was real and how much of it was posturing for political purposes.  This is, in my book, Palin’s first major misstep.

    So, What About the Rest of The Possibles?

    They are “watching and waiting.”  Even though Chris Cillizza keeps pushing.  My personal opinion is they are waiting on Palin.  She will suck virtually all of the air out of the room for anyone not already firmly planted in the public’s mind, and her presence will radically alter the strategy of those that do get in, but that is just my educated guess.  They are also doing the traditional stuff.  So what’s happening to the individuals?

    Mitt Romney is making some very smart stops.

    John Thune is talking to some very smart people.

    Mitch Daniels was well profiled, but continues to have some issues.

    When it comes to Chris Christie and Haley Barbour, Chris Matthews made me laugh.  (Probably the first and last time)

    Newt Gingrich insists he’s serious.

    Tim Pawlenty, well he was profiled evangelically – got Powerline into and argument with Politicodid not poll well at home, and looks to have some of the same issues as Mike Huckabee (and George Dukakis.)

    See what I mean, you forget the sideshow and it’s a really dull week.

    Meanwhile in Religion and Politics Generally…

    We cannot come to this:

    Home Secretary Theresa May has said she will be “actively looking at” whether to ban a controversial US pastor from entering the UK.

    Terry Jones attracted condemnation when he threatened to burn copies of the Koran on this year’s 9/11 anniversary.

    He has been invited to the UK to share his views on Islam with activists.

    The strength of our republic is its ability to absorb differing views and come away in good fashion.  The first time I went to Hong Kong before the handover, but the handover was much under discussion, someone said to me, “This place will change the mainland more than the mainland changes us.”  It made a lot of sense then, because it is how American has done so well.  People come with their differing views, we take the best of what they offer and then we change the rest.  Terry Jones is a silly, silly man – but he does not advocate violence, just stupidity.  Keeping him out of the UK would reinforce his stupidity, adn demonstrate that the UK has no faith in the freedoms it offers.

    This blog has competition.  Lord I wish Lowell and I had time to write a book.  I have read the books this guy is plugging in the guise of an op-ed – we could do a lot better.

    Uh-Oh.

    This is unbelievable.  Anti-gay rhetoric = anti-Mormon rhetoric?  Uh, no.  One’s a moral ethical problem and one is a religion.

    Things are changing.

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    BEHOLD! – Has The Narrative Changed?

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:04 am, December 7th 2010     &mdash      3 Comments »

    So Richard Cohen writes about Sarah Palin? – Who is not these days?  But then you go reading through the comments and you find this little gem:

    That whole voting-for-someone-you’d-have-a-beer with sentiment seems to still be strong. And Romney and Huckabee aren’t drink a beer with you types. Romney probably drinks fancy wine and Huckabee probably abstains from alcohol altogether.

    That’s just stunning.  Look, I don’t know Mike Huckabee’s drinking habits, but I do know his entire appeal last cycle was that he was someone you’d like to hang with.  And Romney drinking wine!?!?!?!?!?!?  Please – alcohol does not touch those lips, of that I am sure.  But this is just one, obviously uninformed commenter on one WaPo column.

    Or is it?  This person’s ignorance is not corrected in other comments.  Can you imagine a comment about Romney and alcohol last cycle being allowed to pass  without massive Mormon commentary?  I can’t.  It should also be worthy of mention that anyone commenting a presidential possible this early is going to be pretty tuned in.

    It’s early yet, so definitive conclusions cannot be drawn.  It is; however, amazing to watch how the mere presence of a new possible changes the narrative on the old.  The Question is likely to yet arise.  But unlike last cycle it is becoming increasingly clear that the narrative on Romney is NOT going to be “Romney, a Mormon”.

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    It’s Way Too Early For Things To Be This Ugly…

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 04:52 am, December 6th 2010     &mdash      1 Comment »

    …But Are They Really?

    Perusing the MSM, one would suspect the Republican party is fractured into many pieces.

    The first fracture line would appear to be between “the elites” and “the base.”  We saw this last week between Palin and the old-school Bushes.   This week Joe Scarborough tried to rub salt into that woundLeftie columnists tried to make it bleed.

    Mike Huckabee, who feels his space being robbed from him, tried to pull the “not elite” attention back to himself.  (Memo to the Huckster:  Sorry dude, once you run a “credible” campaign for the party’s presidential nomination you become elite whether you want to or not – time to find as new song.)

    Then there were threats from governors-elect.  There was also the old tired and true accusations that Republicans are racist. (YAWN)  And threats of open warfare between the Christians and libertarians in the party.

    But are things as they appear?  Karl Rove has more or less called Palin and Huckabee’s bluff:

    Karl Rove said on Friday that potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee should put their money where their mouths are and dive into the race, rather than hurling criticisms at the Bush family.
    There is a deep clue in that statement.  Both are uniquely positioned to make credible if not winning runs – why take pot shots instead of throw in?  The next hint comes from Jim Geraghty who wonders if Scarborough’s actions were not just a ratings ploy.  Our final hint appears in the fact that there really is not a frontruner just yet.

    Put this all together and some draw the conclusion that Huckabee may not run and Palin may be looking for a way out of running.  Clearly the media want Palin in (Huckabee is beneath their notice at this point) because they view her as THE Republican bo-bo doll.  MSM has a vested interest in getting Obama a second term – they’ll look worse than he will if a second term does not happen.
    But that said, both are media figures, looking for approval and adulation.  But to achieve that approval and adulation, they have a vested interest in keeping people guessing about their political aspirations.  But it is all just media stuff!
    The best analysis of the week came from Scott Conroy at RCP:

    As the last presidential cycle began to kick into high gear in December of 2006, the race was already becoming defined by the unusually intriguing backgrounds of the likely contenders. From a Sept. 11 icon to a war hero to the nation’s first serious female and African-American candidates, the 2008 Republican and Democratic primary battles were shaping up as a contest of big personalities and fascinating life stories.

    But as the 2012 Republican primary season begins to take shape more slowly, early indications suggest a race that may be defined by more prosaic questions of competence and proven accomplishments.

    [...]

    The consensus among many Republican strategists that competence will be a particularly valuable commodity for White House hopefuls is a primary reasons why Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour continue to be named as top-tier potential candidates, even though each currently polls in the low single digits nationally.

    Daniels and Barbour are neither telegenic nor particularly captivating orators, but each governor would be able to brag about a clear record of accomplishment, particularly on fiscal issues. And it might not hurt that both of their personalities seem so diametrically opposed to Obama’s.

    The impending shift in emphasis in this presidential cycle might best be personified by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who spent much of 2007 trumpeting his socially conservative bona fides, as part of his failed strategy to win the Iowa caucuses and then build on that momentum to steamroll his way through the rest of the early states. This time around, Romney is widely expected to emphasize from the beginning his persona as a competent manager, which he turned to more forcefully and with some belated success in subsequent 2008 primary contests.

    Gee – it sounds like Conroy in making the same division we did between media candidates and serious players.  That makes an enormous amount of sense as the hallmark of the current failed administration is not it’s media presence, but its utter incompetence.

    I’m just grateful religion is not overtly a part of this mix – at least not yet.

    So, with that said, let’s turn our attention to the serious game – which at this point means fund raising and collecting political “chits” around the nation.

    In The World Of The Serious…

    …It’s all about fund raising and funds distribution.  Guess what?  Mitt Romney is leading the pack in both departments.  Not much of a surprise there.  Nor is it surprising the Haley Barbour is playing this game particularly well.  He spent $15M in his last run for Miss. governor – a state of 2 million people.  The man can obviously raise money.

    While we are on the subject of Haley Barbour, and guys in Ivory Towers are talking, let’s use it as an excuse to run down the candidate “news.”  I still do not think Barbour will run.  I have some pretty well placed sources in Mississippi and I think there is too much baggage with him.  He will be a big player in the game, but not a likely candidate – look for a cabinet post for Barbour should the Republican candidate prevail.

    John Thune is attracting bets.  In another age – when the game was more inside -  this would be a smart bet,  but not in the modern era.  John Thune will very likely be POTUS someday, but not in 2012.

    Tim Pawlenty finds himself stuck in a Huckabee-like scandal.  Too early, too little to really affect anything.

    Mike Huckabee speaks entirely inappropriately given the venue.

    Mitt Romney continues to poll well, but take heat on health care.  He appears to take voters from Obama.  He also has history on his side.

    Sarah Palin is attracting argument on religion from her most recent book.

    And now that we have finally gotten to religion, let’s turn to this week’s…

    …Background Reading

    Non-religious people should not write about religion.

    Mormon publication of the handbook continues to make news.  This is a  good thing.

    Mormons don’t really have a “gay suicide” problem.  Nor do they have a problem with women or polygamy.  These stories are starting to appear more, but to date no connection to Romney.  Again, evidence that such connection were delegitimized in the last cycle.  But will it hold?

    All this – and things are not even warming up yet!

    Lowell adds . . .

    I’ve got only one addition, and it’s about the Dana Loesch piece on how the MSM “Wants A Brawl Between Libertarians And Christian Conservatives In Tea Party.”   I recommend the entire Loesch post, but also The Sundries Shack’s take on the issue:wormtongue

    We start by facing facts. Libertarians don’t trust, or particularly like, social conservatives and vice-versa. There are plenty of good reasons that’s so, but none of them have anything to do with the pressing fiscal issues of the day. Each sides’ pet social issues can wait a year or so until we get a real and lasting handle on Washington’s spending and get some people in office who we won’t have to watch like a toddler in a toy store. To do that, we’re all going to have to extend some trust on credit and make darned sure we don’t betray that trust. If not, we’ll end up with more progressive hopenchange and, like the man freed of the “unclear spirit” [sic] in Matthew 12:43-45, we’ll find ourselves in a much worse condition than when we started. Trust is easy to lose and difficult to gain, especially with the Wormtongue media whispering words of betrayal in our ears and the Democratic Party driving divisive social issues into the public square. Let’s just keep our eyes on the prize and stop listening to the folks who want us to fail.

    Amen!  You need to read the whole thing in order to understand why we’ve added a photo of Grima Wormtongue.

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    “City of Man” by Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner – A Review

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:30 am, December 2nd 2010     &mdash      4 Comments »

    “City of Man – Religion and Politics in a New Era” by Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner may be the best book written on religion and politics in many, many years.  I have one beef with it, which I will get to in a moment, but rather than tell you what the books says – consider a few choice quotations:

    Sorting out the proper relationship between religion and poli­tics is particularly difficult for Christians. Unlike Moses or Muham­mad, Jesus of Nazareth did not set out a political blueprint or ideal of any kind. He specifically rejected the political utopianism of some of His followers. He lived within a Roman Empire whose ex­istence He hardly mentioned. Jesus’ main arguments were with re­ligious authorities, not political ones. He proclaimed a kingdom “not of this world,” a kingdom based not on an alternative leader­ship but on transformed lives.

    Yet Jesus was executed as, in part, an enemy of the state. Con­temporary leaders, political and religious, found His otherworldly kingdom threatening because it demanded obedience to an au­thority beyond their own. Jesus’ followers were soon being executed for failing to show proper respect (that is, refusing to offer sacri­fices) to the Roman emperor. In the Roman world, Christians chal­lenged the political status quo on any number of issues, including slavery, infanticide, and the status of women. Christianity may not have laid out a blueprint for an ideal government, but “love your neighbor” had social and political consequences.

    That’s just from the Preface.  Consider this concluding the first chapter:

    There is no easy shortcut, no prepackaged formula that tells Christians when to get involved in politics and when to pull back, when speaking out on public matters will help or hurt their Chris­tian witness. This side of the heavenly city, we can only peer through a glass darkly. One day the clouds will part and all things will become clear. Until then, our obligation is to sort through, even in an imperfect way, the choices before us; to seek the coun­sel of people of wisdom and integrity; to examine and re-examine our motives and the state of our hearts; continually to revisit our approach and stance in light of events; and to pray, in the words of the author of Colossians, that God will fill us with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.

    The third chapter concludes:

    The Christian political movement is changing and maturing. The younger generation feels alienated by leading figures on both the right and the left. Along with so many of their elders, they are looking for something deeper and something better.

    The last chapter on “Persuasion and the Public Square” includes “A Primer for Christian Persuaders” with five basic tenets:

    • Maintain self-awareness
    • Maintain spiritual grounding
    • Maintain perspective
    • Maintain community
    • Maintain a spirit of grace and reconciliation

    I think that is enough for our readers to understand why I liked this book so much.  The premise is simple – how we are involved in politics is changing, we should do it well.  Further it cannot be a matter of slogans and issue stances – serious thought and reasonable engagement are required.

    That last sentence somewhat defies modern communication theory which says it has to be said over and over and over again in one sentence or less.  That fact alone may ultimately prevent the excellent vision of these writers from reaching a wide audience.  Even despite the fact that the book is short, concise and well written – it formulates as many questions as it provides answers.

    But such is not my bone to pick with the book, that is more my lament on the general state of things.  They quote James Madison “Justice is the end of government” and then go on to make the case that religion is the one force that has defined justice in terms other than “might makes right.” – fair enough.  But they then go on to make the case that as such, government should be involved in charitable acts.   Not surprising since their old boss make the same case in non-religious terms in the Washington Post just yesterday.

    I agree with the point, if not the tone, of John Derbyshire on The Corner this morning:

    It is the most elementary error, though — and certainly one no conservative should make — to confuse private charity with state action. When governments are generous, they are generous with our money, after ripping it from our pockets by force of law.

    That being true in theory – I wonder if such “compassionate conservatism” is not at this stage in our history a political necessity?  I certainly thought so when I voted for Bush, both times.  But this also is changing in our political landscape.  Only time will tell.

    That caveat notwithstanding – this book is marvelous for its clarity and thoughtfulness.   Recommended to all.

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