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."

  • Bachmann on Trial – so much for vacation

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 09:22 am, August 9th 2011     &mdash      7 Comments »

    Newsweek is going out of its way to portray Michelle Bachmann as a nutter, and taking heat for it.  But then we have been there before with Newsweek.  They don’t like religious people, apparently of any stripe.

    That could be discounted if it stopped there, but Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker is piling on.  Lizza does some great reporting, but his piece is heavily spun, and not merely anti-Bachmann, but anti-religion.  The piece relies heavily on a tone of “these people are nuts.”  It is a treatment that Mormons are no doubt used to, but for Evangelicals it is a relatively new experience – average Evangelical views spun in terms of our extremists, therefore rendering them incredulous to the average observer.

    The classic example comes in a section discussing the influence of the work of Francis Schaefer on Bachmann:

    At the time, evangelicals were becoming a major presence in American politics. In 1976, like many other fundamentalist Christians, the Bachmanns supported Jimmy Carter, a born-again Baptist. The Bachmanns attended Carter’s Inauguration, in January, 1977. Later that year, they experienced a second life-altering event: they watched a series of films by the evangelist and theologian Francis Schaeffer called “How Should We Then Live?”

    Schaeffer, who ran a mission in the Swiss Alps known as L’Abri (“the shelter”), opposed liberal trends in theology. One of the most influential evangelical thinkers of the nineteen-seventies and early eighties, he has been credited with getting a generation of Christians involved in politics. Schaeffer’s film series consists of ten episodes tracing the influence of Christianity on Western art and culture, from ancient Rome to Roe v. Wade. In the films, Schaeffer—who has a white goatee and is dressed in a shearling coat and mountain climber’s knickers—condemns the influence of the Italian Renaissance, the Enlightenment, Darwin, secular humanism, and postmodernism.

    First of all, note how the first two sentences of that pull quote confuse Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, while casting Bachmann in both.  Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism are two opposing views in Protestant Christianity.  They have indeed become confused in the modern reporter’s mind but they are two very different things.  Schaeffer and L’Abri were dedicated to one simple idea – we are influenced by forms of communication without realizing that we are.  The idea is that when we listen to say Wagner, a known and virulent anti-Semite, we expose ourselves to some extent and are therefore open to influence by wrong headed ideas like Wagner’s antisemitism.  It requires education and training to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff in such circumstances.  Schaeffer’s efforts were to provide such education and training.  A fundamentalist would say “don’t read anything from the Enlightenment.”  Schaeffer, an evangelical, would say “when you read such things be sure and engage your critical facilities.”

    But by confusing the two, Lizza paints Schaeffer and his disciples as near theocrats:

    Francis Schaeffer instructed his followers and students at L’Abri that the Bible was not just a book but “the total truth.” He was a major contributor to the school of thought now known as Dominionism, which relies on Genesis 1:26, where man is urged to “have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” Sara Diamond, who has written several books about evangelical movements in America, has succinctly defined the philosophy that resulted from Schaeffer’s interpretation: “Christians, and Christians alone, are Biblically mandated to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns.”

    Now this is, in fact dishonest.  While Dominionists have drawn on Schaeffer’s work in the development of their ideas, Schaeffer himself got no where near the extremes Lizza describes.  But by this tenuous thread, that Bachmann and Dominionists have read the same materials, Lizza manages to make Bachmann look like such an extremist.

    Just as a second comment, Lizza, in his depiction of Schaeffer’s film work “How Should We Then Live,” interviews Schaeffer’s son, and the film’s director, Franky Schaeffer.  Franky has turned liberal of late and spends most of his time denouncing the work of his father:

    Schaeffer died in 1984. I asked his son Frank, who directed the movies—and who has since left the evangelical movement and become a novelist—about the change in tone. He told me that it all had to do with Roe v. Wade, which was decided by the Supreme Court while the film was being made. “Those first episodes are what Francis Schaeffer is doing while he was sitting in Switzerland having nice discussions with people who came through to find Jesus and talk about culture and art,” he said. But then the Roe decision came, and “it wasn’t a theory anymore. Now ‘they’ are killing babies. Then everything started getting unhinged. It wasn’t just that we disagreed with the Supreme Court; it’s that they’re evil. It isn’t just that the federal government may be taking too much power; now they are abusing it. We had been warning that humanism followed to its logical conclusion without Biblical absolutes is going to go into terrible places, and, look, it’s happening right before our very eyes. Once that happens, everything becomes a kind of holy war, and if not an actual conspiracy then conspiracy-like.”

    While I never went to L’Abri personally, I have a number of close personal friends that did, and they did so in the post-Roe v Wade era.  Their descriptions of Francis Schaeffer and their time at L’Abri bear no resemblance whatsoever to the picture that Franky paints here, or has numberless times elsewhere.  And this is not merely in recollection, but is also reflected in personal correspondence I had with them while they were in attendance at L’Abri.  In fact I find no reference to “war” terminology or Roe v Wade whatsoever.  I wonder why Lizza did not bother to interview any of the 100′s of people that lived at L’Abri during the period that Franky describes his father as going over the edge?

    There are many other nits that could be picked with the piece, but I am supposed to be starting a vacation.  There is one thing that is clear.  These examples illustrate that the treatment Mitt Romney and his faith was given last cycle is now the treatment that will be given to anyone of sincere and deep faith of any type if it opposes the liberal agenda.  The confusion of schools of thought and the resulting distortions of commonly held and reasonable belief that was used to paint Mormonism as “weird,” are now being used, sadly as this blog predicted those years ago, to paint us all as weird.

    As the current occupant of the White House works paint the current financial crisis as the fault of anyone but himself, so the liberal elite work to paint those of us that disagree as somehow illegitimate to engage in public discourse.

    It’s gonna be a loooooong cycle.  And now, another shot at beginning that vacation.

    Addendum – a few hours later

    Sarah Pulliam Bailey also takes down the Lizza piece, noting many of the same things we do, plus much more details.  (She must not be on the verge of leaving for vacation!)  With this kind of stuff going on one is forced to wonder – How long?

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    Looking For Hope – Fading Before They Start – Starting Before They Start – “Feuds,” Fusses and Electoral Fun

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 10:00 pm, August 8th 2011     &mdash      4 Comments »

    Seems like a dark time doesn’t it?  We just lost 30 soldiers in Afghanistan.  (Blessings to all around them.)  London is in flames and some blame the economyNational confidence is eroding at a tremendous paceObama is golfing, at least he did over the weekend before he came back to blame everyone but himself for the stock market downturn.  Change we got – for the worse –  so where’s the hope part of Obama’s electoral message?  It’s a little hard to find in this sea of negative information. That’s what we most need at a time like this -hope – the kind of hope that comes from faith, yes, but also the kind of hope that comes from confidence in our leadership.

    Leaders that call us to faith as a source of hope are a good start, but we need to have hope in the leader his or her self as well – in their competence, in their vision, not to mention in the results they produce.  I’m with K-Lo:

    …I hate having to look at everything through a 2012 prism.

    But where else can we turn?  There really was an uptick in GOP primary talk this week just past.  (Shocking isn’t it?)  Much of it had to do with what was clearly the beginnings of an extended and well orchestrated roll out by Texas Governor Rick Perry.  But before we get there we need to look at the fading fortunes of Jon Huntsman.

    The Decline of The “Other” Mormon

    In this electronic day and age I spend little time in newsstands, but had occasion to do so this past week and was surprised to find a major cover-listed profile of Jon Hunstman in Esquire under the intriguing title:

    Romney Doesn’t Scare Obama. This Guy Does.

    OK, admittedly this is a couple of months old, but let’s face it – Esquire is not exactly on the top of my reading list.  It does serve to illustrate the kind of promise that seemed so evident in the Huntsman campaign just a few short weeks ago, but like Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman just cannot seem to get any serious traction.   Last Sunday it broke that a long time Huntsman associate was being forced out of the campaign.  Huntsman kept shooting at Romney, but by Thursday the story of a campaign in complete disarray emerged.  The campaign responded with a “leak” of a confident “internal memo,” and Huntsman defended the team remaining.

    Contentions had the most interesting analysis.  Some wonder how this would affect what they considered Huntsman’s real object – The State Departmentothers thought the whole escapade silly since Huntsman had little shot anyway:

    Knowing which figures inside the stillborn Huntsman campaign are speaking ill of each other and the futile attempts of the candidate to calm things down is interesting in a sort of “inside baseball” way, but tells us nothing about why Jon Huntsman never had a chance to succeed. While Huntsman’s personal wealth may keep his candidacy chugging along for a few more months in the same way Newt Gingrich​ can still be seen wandering the countryside, it’s not clear why he is still bothering. But the story of how his forlorn hope unraveled sounds more like comedy than “drama.”

    Mormon That Matters

    So, color me confused.  There is a lot of fuss about something that seems obvious.  As Huntsman appears to being fading, Romney continues to be presumptive.  Which means that there is going to be a national discussion about Mormonism.  It will be radically different than last time, but you can bet there will be a discussion of some sort.  So how does the CJCLDS respond?  By saying they will be apolitical while at the same time launching a Mormon version of the ADL.  This all came in advance of the FAIR Apologetics Conference last weekend.

    These were really part of the same statement.  Apparently the “MDL” will work to fight stories like this, but will remain neutral with regards to the primary.  Gee, there’s a shock – that’s pretty much how the law says it has to be done.  (Churches can take issue stances, but not endorse candidates under IRS regs.)  Analyzing all this, Seth Mandel at Contentions:

    The article also notes the Church will bar permanent employees and their wives from participating in the campaign, which will to some degree undermine the fundraising of the Mormon candidates. [Um, Seth, the CJCLDS has very few permanent employees, relying heavily on volunteers] But this line the Church plans to walk–not supporting Mormon candidates but pushing back against anti-Mormon bias that emerges during the campaign–is bound to get blurred. When a presidential candidate is not Protestant, he is often taken as a representative of his faith. This is less of an obstacle for Catholics and Jews, who are familiar enough to the greater population they don’t usually need to worry about being the only Catholic or Jew voters will be acquainted with.

    Of course the line is going to get blurred!  What the CJCLDS is doing here is what it has to do to protect itself given what happened last time.  Besides, is stuff like this about the Huntsman or Romney campaign or about the CJCLDS?  The MDL approach is gong to naturally aid a candidate of their faith, but so what?  But guess what – Mormons are not the only ones that will benefit:

    While I condemn — as I did last week — any who rely on bigotry and distortion about religion in deciding who receives their votes, what I would emphasize is that when reporters paint an incomplete picture that evangelicals are biased against Mormons, it is a picture that can be not only unfair to Mormons but to evangelicals as well. It makes Mormonism look unusual and evangelicals look bigoted.

    Yep, that’s about right, so fixing misinformation about Mormons will also “fix” Evangelicals that might be seen as otherwise bigoted.  Besides, we are not quite as unpopular as we think.  A few tactical problems may remain for the Mormon candidates, but with what is at stake in this election, that should be the least of our concerns.

    And that brings us to the Romney campaign which, as the presumptive, is getting some serious push back.  Depending on who you talk to he is the GOP’s only hope in the general or dreaming the impossible dream.  Of course the later opinion belongs to:

    Paul Goldman formerly served as chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia. Mark J. Rozell is professor of public policy at George Mason University.

    That pretty well dispenses with that opinion don’t you think?  The left thinks he is hiding,  when in fact he is kicking things up a notch.   His supporters are showing extraordinary fundraising prowess, so the left has to make something totally legal look sinister.  (Pardon me while I snicker.  Not only was there no sinister, there was no effort at cover-up.)  He is putting together a smart team and taking smart positions.  This is classic campaign positioning executed extraordinarily well.  However, classic does not always work so it will be interesting to see the final result.  If there is trouble where might it come from?

    Feuding With Perry

    Recent polling shows that unannounced candidate Rick Perry is coming hard.  But then so was Michelle Bachmann just a few weeks ago.  Regardless this is causing many to start painting this as a two horse race – Romney v Perry.  In fact, some are trying to make it look personal – something that Contentions calls into serious question.  I look at all of this and I wonder why people that watch politics more than I do cannot see what is happening here as plain as the nose on my face.

    The Perry roll out is underway and Romney is the guy he has to beat, so he is going to work hard to position himself as the only viable alternative to Romney to try and draw voters from the rest of the down card.  Perry is honing his stance on the sensitive social issues.  Points out Allahpundit:

    Two caveats to his otherwise strict support for the Tenth Amendment, both of which happen to serve the agenda of social conservatives whose votes he’s depending on. He backed away from his “states’ rights” defense of legalizing gay marriage last week; here’s the inevitable climbdown on abortion too, which he described as a states’ rights issue a few days ago.

    I wonder if the Romniacs are drooling over being able to play the “flip-flop” card on the latest Evangelical political savior.  He did, after all host a prayer meeting over the weekend.  But he drew heat from the ADL and some Christian groups.  There is no public money involved, but there sure is a lot of public profile which makes this thing really interesting.  Just like the LDS contortions discussed above, this is the kind of stuff that is necessary given our current strange mix of religious opinion and governance.  There are lawsuits about the meeting, of course, but I wonder if there will be about this?

    Besides, most of the analysis is that even though the prayer meeting was apolitical, it was a positioning move in the race.  As such, I think it was too specifically evangelical.  Yes, we need hope as I said at the open, hope that is rooted in faith, but for national leadership we need something generically hopeful onto which we can plaster our own faith as the root.  This thing, while great religiously, is going to leave Perry as branded Evangelical as much, and probably more, than Romney is branded Mormon.   That puts him in a dog fight with Pawlenty and Bachmann – not Romney – and as such he cannot mount a strong challenge to Romney.

    Some say religion’s role in politics is waxingOthers note:

    This use of religion in politics is a source of cynicism. It should raise alarms when the views of the Almighty conveniently match our most urgent political needs. A faith that conforms exactly to the contours of a political ideology has lost its independence. Churches become clubs of the politically like-minded. Political dialogue suffers, since opponents are viewed as heretics. And when religion becomes too closely identified with a detailed political platform, both are quickly outdated.

    Sounds like a good note to go out on.  This most certainly is not.  I’m on vacation for the next few weeks – you’re in Lowell’s hands.

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    Governing Matters More Than Elections – It Was Quiet Last Week

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:25 am, August 1st 2011     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    The debt ceiling debate dominated last week and hence things on the election front were pretty doggone quiet.  I thought it worthy of a rant and there was a plethora of articles like this trying to figure out where the candidates stood in the debate, or bemoaning the fact we don’t know.  Which is really the Dems trying, once again, to divide us.  The fact of the matter is that is the way it should be.  There was enough infighting in the whole thing that the last thing needed is candidates stirring the waters even more.  However, I will comment that that sentiment does not extend to sitting legislators like Michele Bachmann.  They, of course, have to have an opinion because they have to vote.

    Or do they?  The Hill reports that Bachmann has missed roughly 40% of the votes cast in the House since announcing her candidacy.  On the one hand, running for POTUS demands the candidate to be a lot of places besides Washington.  On the other, when such critical matters are in play, the candidate is presented with an opportunity to a) make their positions crystal clear, and b) LEAD.  That’s right – this debate has suffered most from a lack of leadership.  Out of office candidates have no platform to stand upon and exercise real leadership, but sitting candidates do.  In this situation they could attract far more media than they can on the stump – far more.  It’s an ideal opportunity; unless the candidate in question is either not really a leader and therefore know they would fail or not as interested in leading the country as they are in say… building an audience for a media career.

    The Big Political Story In The Race…

    …was the dust-up between Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty.  The roots of the beef long predate the campaign.  It started out as more or less typical political attack, but soon grew into a bit more and keeps going and going.  Bachmann has great star power, but really does not have the executive governing experience or accomplishments of Pawlenty – which was how the typical political attack started – Pawlenty had the temerity to point that fact out.  Unfortunately, in a country where star power is increasingly confused with seriousness, Bachmann is stealing what little spotlight Pawlenty has managed to gather to himself.  The attacks on Baachmann are not as effective as Pawlenty might hope, and they may help Bachmann build her star power, but I think Cillizza overstates things in thinking it helps her win the primary.

    Pawlenty needs; however, to work on Pawlenty – not Bachmann.  He is facing serious problems.  But worse, the feud is being used to whip up anti-religious arguments, even under the guise of “defending” Bachmann.  I heard a local LA radio show talk about the feud early in the week as a debate about who was “more Christian.”  That impression is unbecoming and entirely unhelpful.  It’s a near relative of, “I can’t vote for him because he is a Mormon.  We really should be smarter than all this.

    The Feud That Isn’t…

    …at least on both sides.  The race is pretty much looking right now like Mitt Romney versus “everybody else.” Bachmann, Pawlenty, Perry (more on him in a minute) and the minor-leaguers seem to be fighting for the same “not Romney” space.  But then there is Jon Huntsman.  Gov. Huntsman seems unworried despite abysmally low polling.  This caused the typical levels of sarcasm from Geraghty.  But he is also shooting directly at Romney.  Whether it be on taxes or in campaign strategy, he seems to be trying to take the “Romney Space.”

    We pointed out long ago that there is little to make these too comparable other than their religion.  Romney was a conservative that moved moderate because he was in the farthest left state in the land.  Huntsman was a left-leaning moderate that moderated even more because he was in one of the farthest right states around.  So what’s the game here?  What I really don’t understand is Huntsman playing this game in South Carolina.  If there is a state other than Iowa where the religion thing will play larger than anything else – that’s the one.

    For sure I think that the media want a Mormon on Mormon feud so they are going to play up any angle that can make that seem to be the case.  But I wonder about a Huntsman/Romney personal beef?  There are rumors.  Fortunately, unlike the Huckabee personal animus towards Romney, Huntsman has little to stand on to damage Romney with.  (Which brings me back tot he whole South Caroline question.)  It will be interesting to see this play out.

    The Mormon thing is getting really weak right now.   The Washington Post, here syndicated to the Seattle Times, tried to  evoke it with a story on Romney’s family in Mexico.  That got no discussion – none, nada, nix – blank slate – despite the story being syndicated to several outlets.  Politico tried to make something out of this, laughably so on so many levels.  Turns out most Americans don’t know what religion Romney, or any other candidate for that matter, subscribes to.  Not to mention Mormons are getting some good press from regular Christians.

    This proves a point – the Mormon issue last time was not determinative,the strategy with which it was played was.  But that also means that good strategy in response can overcome it.  And that is why I think it just is not getting any traction this time – Team Romney has developed a strategy that is preventing it form getting traction.

    Evangelicals; However, Still Have A Problem

    They want an evangelical presidential candidate, but the nation – it turns out – is not quite there with them.  With Rick Perry looking to launch in late August many Evangelicals seem to think they have found the Evangelical they are looking for.  Some seem excited about that from the angle of the whole Mormon thing, but given what we learned above, I am doubtful.

    The real problem is Perry is likely not the Evangelical Evangelicals are looking for.  Last week we looked very briefly at the fact that Perry had said the New York gay marriage bill was acceptable based on federalism.  But he walked back from that a little late in the week.  But at the same time, he is asserting federalism again when it comes to abortion.  As Allahpundit says in the link just presented:

    A smart middle-ground play for independents, but I thought he was supposed to be the great evangelical hope.

    Oops.  Perry has some evangelical backing to be sure, but it is a far more moderate, and less numerous, set of Evangelicals than those that are backing Bachmann and that backed Huckabee.  Again, Perry lines up like Fred Thompson, it’s hard to remember Thompson was even in the mix last time.

    Not to mention Evangelicals have a bigger problem:

    Republicans are once again arguing that American Jews will abandon the Democratic Party. But it won’t happen, because Jews recoil from the GOP’s overt Christianity, even when it comes with staunch pro-Israel views.

    There is a lot to think about there.  One thought that occurs to me is that there area lot of ways to be a Christian.  One of them is to be really vocal, so vocal that you end up scary to other people.  Another way is to simply act in a Christian fashion; a fashion that by definition is attractive to others, even others that believe differently.

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