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."

  • Ryan Lizza – The Interview

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 03:55 pm, September 30th 2011     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    The echoes keep reverberating from our criticism of Ryan Lizza’s piece on Michele Bachmann and our follow-up on his exchange with Ross Douthat.  The latest reverberation is an interview Lizza did with Hugh Hewitt just yesterday.  Hewitt discusses the interview and more hereTranscript here.  The transcript evokes a few additional comments.  Lizza did a review:

    RL: Oh, boy, this was a few weeks ago. Well, here’s the back story. So what I wrote in a profile of Michele Bachmann, I noted that one of the influences she often talks about is Francis Schaeffer, a theologian who died in the 80s, and was very influential in bringing Evangelicals into politics. And one of the points that I made is that one of his last books, A Christian Manifesto, suggested that violence was appropriate, and specifically, if Roe V. Wade was not reversed. Now I took some heat for that comment, because a lot of folks, and many admirers of Francis Schaeffer, argued that I was misreading A Christian Manifesto, and that Schaeffer only called for civil disobedience, and not violence. And so Ross and I had what I think is a pretty civil exchange, about four or five volleys back and forth, going through A Christian Manifesto, and Ross arguing that no, Schaeffer never called for anything beyond civil disobedience, and me arguing that yes, indeed, if you read A Christian Manifesto closely, Schaeffer, one of the main things he does in that book, is lay out the criteria in extreme circumstances when violence, including the overthrow of the government, is justified. And so that’s the back and forth.

    I think Douthat made a strategic error here.  There was a reason the citation of Schaeffer mattered but to get balled up in an extended discussion of Schaeffer was to miss the forest for the trees.  Lizza’s original piece was written in the middle of a clearly burgeoning effort on the part of leftie pundits to establish a meme about “Dominionists.“  They were all busy citing Schaeffer as the source of the apparent Dominionist movement.  The movement was of course a straw man and the talk of it has largely died down.  For disciples of Schaeffer, citing him in this fashion was something they took very seriously.  As Lizza said:

    One, there, for many Evangelicals, Schaeffer is an extremely, extremely important person. And it’s beyond just his philosophy, but there’s a sort of personal love for the man. And criticism of him is taken not just as a different subjective, or different take on the meaning of what he wrote, but as a personal attack on him, which I was certainly not doing, but which some conservatives accused me of doing. And I would say that’s probably the…so it’s one of those debates that I think I stepped in without quite realizing the sort of passion and energy on the side of people who sort of worship Schaeffer.

    But in the end, use or misuse of Schaeffer was not the bottom line issue.  Many a good author has been quoted out of context and misused for nefarious purposes.  Conversely, there are some times good things that come from horrible, even evil, authors.  What was really at issues was whether there really was a Dominionist movement, at least one that mattered, and whether Bachmann, or any other candidate, was a part of it?  By getting sucked into the debate about Schaeffer, Douthat failed to do what really needed to be done which is establish that religious people can and should get involved in political action.

    Getting involved in such a discussion reinforces the supposition of Lizza’s approach that just because you read somebody, even cite them, that you are, by implication going to agree with everything that author would say.  It would be my hope that anyone seeking high office in this land, left, right, or center, has read both “Mein Kampf” and “The Communist Manifesto.”  It is important to know history and especially the history of such wrong and evil things.  I will not attempt to argue that they contain good ideas, but their influence on the world cannot be denied.  To get deep into a defense of Schaeffer gives him more important to the Bachmann candidacy than he really deserves.

    In a different vein, it is worthy of note that in the last Lizza quote, he uses taking things personally as a means of dismissing the attacks of some of his critics.  And yet, his continued defense of his thesis concerning Schaeffer is heavily reliant on the representations of Schaeffer’s own son, for whom any opinion about Schaeffer and what he wrote would be definitionally PERSONAL.

    But there is one thing that Lizza says the reveals that he does not yet really understand the religious viewpoint.  As Hewitt says:

    Because the MSM is so overwhelmingly secular, it generally doesn’t know what it doesn’t know on matters of faith.  With a year ahead of us that will almost certainly see faith at the center of many important discussions, I hope the media elite at least tries to study up.

    Lizza demonstrates that he has a lot of studying yet to do when he refers to “a different subjective.”  People of faith do not believe in such things as “different subjectives.”  Any person that studies for Christian ministry spends a lot of time studying things like hermeneutics and exegesis.  Christians, and Jews before us, have worked for centuries to develop rules for understanding words precisely because we think there is a specific idea, and in some cases – truth, that the author intends to communicate.  Our job is not to develop different subjectives but to determine with precision what the author intended to say and communicate.

    Rhetorically, Lizza’s invocation of a “different subjective” is dismissive of, as opposed to argumentative with, those that disagree with him.  But what he really fails to realize is that to appeal to such is to undermine his own argument.  If Shaeffer’s meaning is to be understood as a subjective, then the accusations Lizza makes regarding Dominionism and the potential influence of Dominionist thought, presuming this straw man of a movement is real and based on Schaeffer, on Bachmann or any other candidate is equally dismissable.  By relying ultimately on appeal to a “different subjective,” Lizza casts his own story not as reporting but as conjured hit piece.

    I’m with Hewitt:

    Candidates for president should be prepared to respond to any question, including a host of them concerning their faith.  That’s the way our system works, even when the questions are far out of the ordinary realm of political conversation in the country.  Often the response may be short and to the point: “I am running for president, not pope and I don’t make any claims to theological expertise.”  Other questions are legitimate when asked a few times, such as those involving values and morals.  Obviously prejudiced inquiries into specifics of doctrine or practice have to be shrugged or politely laughed off, and the public will be glad they are.

    All of these sorts of questions, however, are loaded with risk for the candidates and especially for the journalist who is raising them.

    Liza has discovered that risk firsthand, undermining himself while attempting to defend himself.  That’s one of the things I like about religion.  It does not, as so many on the left would contend, cloud thinking.  It forces us to clear and concise thinking.


    Posted in News Media Bias, Religious Bigotry, Understanding Religion | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    WHOA! – This Should Get Really Interesting

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 08:47 am, September 29th 2011     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Micheal Shear at the NYTimes Caucus blog reports:

    Mitt Romney is scheduled to sit down for an interview with a 2008 rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Mike Huckabee, this weekend, The Caucus has learned.

    Could an important endorsement be in the works?

    Mr. Huckabee will tape the interview with Mr. Romney on Friday, and it will be broadcast on his Fox News show, which airs on Saturday and Sunday evenings at 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Promos for the interview are set to broadcast Thursday afternoon on the network.

    If you need any more proof that this election cycle is VASTLY different than the last, I suggest you quit paying attention.  As recently as a few months ago Huckabee was not disguising his continuing distaste for Romney, although in the last few weeks Huckabee has begun to thaw a little.

    A Huckabee endorsement of Romney is too much to imagine. A simple thawing of relations is extraordinary enough in and of itself.  One would tend to suspect an  ambush, frankly, but I have to believe Romney’s bookers are smarter than that.

    One thing is for certain, I will watch Huckabee for the first time ever this weekend – well, at least the segments with Romney.


    Posted in News Media Bias, Political Strategy, Religious Bigotry | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    Making Mountains Out Of Molehills – Ryan Lizza Strikes Again

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:37 am, September 29th 2011     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Ross Douthat has put a lot of time and energy into defending Francis Schaeffer against the rather scandalous attacks of Ryan Lizza that we first visited in early August.  Those attacks came in the guise of attacking Michele Bachmann, who has since faded into the POTUS electoral woodwork, but the debate about Schaeffer continues with this latest entry from Lizza.

    Lizza is at this juncture arguing that Schaeffer, in his book entitled “A Christian Manifesto,” called for the violent overthrow of the government under certain conditions.  To make his point, Lizza relies on citations Schaeffer made of Samuel Rutherford, a Scottish revolutionary in the 17th century.

    Several quick points I need to make here.  For one, I have not followed the entire and continuing back-and-forth between Lizza and Douthat, so I don’t know how we got here, but one thing I do note is that in the original piece Lizza was invoking “How Should We Then Live,” an extraordinarily influential work by Schaeffer, and one cited by Bachmann as an influence, to “A Christian Manifesto,” a far less widely read and hardly noticeable work by the same man, not cited, so far as I know, by any candidate.

    Second thing I note is that Lizza once again relies on the representations of Schaeffer’s son Franky:

    It is worth adding that Schaeffer’s son Frank, his father’s closest collaborator and the director of his father’s two famous movies, agrees with this interpretation. In an interview he told me, “‘A Christian Manifesto’ actually calls for the violent overthrow of the United States Government if other means fail to reverse Roe v. Wade. Dad equated America with Hitler’s Germany.”

    I have revisited this issue with some of my friends that lived at L’Abri for a period and knew both father and son.  They maintain that Franky was rebellious and troubled, and seemed desperately to want to make a name for himself apart from his father.  In other words, he is not the most reliable representative of what his father thought or did not think because any such representations on Franky’s part are grossly overridden by emotional context.

    Finally, as someone who read Schaeffer extensively at the time, I never once thought Schaeffer was calling for “violent overthrow” – he was however, calling for political action, and specifically the unseating of “magistrates” that seek to command “what is contrary to God’s Law.”  Rutherford’s language may have implied violence because he was dealing with kings and an aristocracy but Schaeffer never implied violence.  Any reasonable reader of Schaeffer knew that in a republic such as ours we were provided a peaceful means of unseating the errant  ruler.  Schaeffers’s was a call to motivate faith-based political action, and further to be as smart and effective about it as possible, but not to violence.

    To imply a call to violence from “A Christian Manifesto” or any other work by Schaeffer,  is to engage in paranoia, likely derived from the emotionally charged opposition of Franky.  As we stated in our first piece, there may be elements of our society that have called for violence and cited Schaeffer, but they are outliers and wrong – and as I have read Schaeffer, and talked to those that knew him, I believe he would agree.

    Let me close with this.  With an administration in office that has engaged in bureaucratic and parliamentary “violence” of a sort, bending the republic far beyond the reasonable limits within which it has operated, there is a bit of the old pot calling the kettle black here.  Secondly, If indeed Schaeffer calls us to violence and he is such an influence on Bachmann, why is she running for President instead of building an army?  Seems to me she is doing precisely what any reasonable person that read Schaeffer would do – engaging in the political process to accomplish in a peaceful fashion her faith says should be done.


    Posted in Candidate Qualifications, Doctrinal Obedience, Religious Bigotry, Religious Freedom | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    Rick Perry Just Plucked That String; and Harper’s Sings A Brand-New Tune

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 08:25 am, September 27th 2011     &mdash      3 Comments »

    Rick Perry just released a new video based on the old and tired “flip-flop.  Of course, they are making a mountain out of a molehill – saying a Democratic administration is doing something good is a far cry from endorsing a specific program, but that is not the point.  Review – the 2008 Vanderbilt study:

    “We find that of those who accuse Romney of flip-flopping, many admit it is Romney’s Mormonism and not his flip-flopping that is the real issue,” Benson said. “Our survey shows that 26 percent of those who accuse Romney of flip-flopping also indicate that Mormonism, not flip-flopping, is their problem with Romney.” Benson noted that the pattern is especially strong for conservative Evangelicals. According to the poll, 57 percent of them have a bias against Mormons.

    Could that be why Perry is so quick to pluck this string based on relatively little reality?  Just yesterday we said:

    Rick Perry does not strike me as someone that will take defeat well, and I have to wonder if he will take a religious swing before he fades completely.  It was such a swing that pushed Huckabee over the top in Iowa last time.

    Of course, this video by Perry is nowhere near the overt signal Huckabee sent with his NYTimes interview last cycle, but it is, if the Vanderbilt study is to be believed, evocative of the sentiments that arose in the wake of that “innocent question.”

    What is really at play here it seems to me is that the fickle power brokers that talked Perry into this are now whispering in Chris Christie’s ear and without them Perry does not have a prayer.  He is trying to woo them back.  They are certainly the Anybody-but-Romney crowd and anti-Mormon sentiment is certainly active among them.

    Will this succeed?  You know, it just might with that crowd.  But I doubt it seriously when it comes to the voters.  It’s a different cycle and many have learned the lessons of the last cycle – if they had not the signals would be more overt.  Yes, this will likely energize the hardcore anti-Mormons, but there are not that many of them.  Those who were suspicious last cycle have learned; suspicion is not always reality.  They will not take the bait this time.  This may strengthen Perry in Iowa and South Carolina, but not overall.

    The more important question is when will this fickle bunch figure things out?  They are looking more and more foolish.

    Lowell adds . . .

    I wonder: Is the flip-flop meme getting so old now that it’s becoming background noise?

    Meanwhile, although a little off-topic this piece in Christian Century addresses many of the themes we cover here, and does so in a balanced, thoughtful manner. Sadly, that’s all too rare these days.  An excerpt:

    That Romney and Huntsman are Mormons is a huge stumbling block to their candidacies. Polling in June by the Los Angeles Times revealed that at least one in five Republican voters said that on principle they would not vote for a Mormon for president. An even higher number of Democrats—27 percent—claim that they would not support a Mormon.

    It’s not just in the arena of politics that people are suspicious of Mormons. In their 2010 book American Grace, sociologists Robert Putnam and David Campbell revealed that Mormons rank as the third-most-hated religious group in America, after Muslims (no surprise) and Buddhists (a major surprise). The study’s findings also showed, however, that suspicion of minority religions decreases significantly when people have personal interactions or friendships with members of those religions. A conservative evangelical soccer mom may claim to despise Mormonism, but her qualms tend to lessen when she becomes friendly with a Mormon co-worker or neighbor.

    Also, we get yet another taste of what the left will give us during 2012 if Romney is the GOP nominee.  This time it’s a Harper’s article by Chris Lehmann, “Pennies from Heaven: How Mormon Economics Shape the G.O.P.”  The article’s photo tells you a lot about its content:

    The Harper’s link requires a subscription, but there’s a response to Lehmann’s piece here.

    The main thrust of Lehmann’s essay is that Mormon theology fosters “an ethos of accumulation that makes so-called prosperity Gospel seem listless by comparison.” He further writes, “Mormons, unlike adherents of most mainline Protestant denominations, have very little ambivalence about the acquisition of wealth.

    “One scours the endless, incantatory pages of Joseph Smith’s revelation(s) in vain for any suggestion that wealth complicates the spiritual lives of believers.

    Not for Mormons the queasy business about the camel going through the needle’s eye before a rich man enters the Kingdom of Heaven,” he writes, adding, “Mormon scriptures stress the close alignment of wealth and virtue — a neat inversion of the New Testament ethic of self-sacrificing service.”

    As usual, what Lehmann describes is foreign to my experience as a Latter-day Saint; it is actually ludicrous.  But it makes good copy and provokes commentary.  (Hey, we’re linking to it here, aren’t we?)

    I do give Lehmann points for creativity, and the more Romney rises as the likely Republican nominee the more we will see this kind of nonsense, written by people who are not themselves religious but who consider themselves qualified, after only a cursory examination, to write about how religious people view the world.


    Posted in Candidate Qualifications, Political Strategy, Religious Bigotry | 3 Comments » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    As The Latest “Savior” Fades, Will The Primary “Go There?”

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:36 am, September 26th 2011     &mdash      1 Comment »

    When the general election begins to take on aspects of a “shoo-in,” primaries can turn pretty ugly.  (BTW, don’t you dare believe the general will be anything like a shoo-in – it will be hard fought and ugly.  This guy Obama may not know beans about how to govern, but he does know how to run.)  There is all sorts of evidence that the general election will be really ugly on the religion front.  But before we get there, let’s look at the rapidly fading fortunes of Rick Perry.

    We’ll start with the polls.  Perry is getting walloped in New Hampshire.  Perry’s lead in South Carolina is within the margin of error of the poll.  His negatives are on the incline.  Then there is this.  In the words of Scooby-doo, “Ruh-Roh.”  He got “hammered” in the latest debate.  (Could this explain his dismal debate performances to date?)  Heck, he was getting hammered in places other than the debates.  He’s got immigration policy issues.  The left is comparing him to Sarah Palin and hinting at racism.  He does continue to try to appeal to the Evangelical vote, but seems to be resonating with the wrong Evangelicals.  I think it is fair to conclude that the Perry campaign has hit some pretty rough waters.

    In the meantime, Romney seems to be marching on.  He was pretty universally declared the winner of the latest debate.  He picked up endorsements from a couple of important Congressman, a former senator, and a former POTUS candidate.  A former White House official and current pundit had some good things to say.   Even the uber-left had to take note.  The calendar does seem to be in his favor, and his team is coalescing much better than last time.  Romney has the appearance of the golfer that does not try to shoot awesome scores, but just par or a little better every round.  Face it, those are the guys that usually wear the green jackets and kiss the Claret Jug.

    The two-man race really does seem to have come down to Romney v Anybody-but-Romney, and the ABR’s just seem to keep falling by the wayside.  Bachmann disappeared almost as fast as she appeared and now Perry looks to be taking that long slow ride into the sunset – although in this observer’s opinion, Perry will not go down without a fight.  But before we get too deep into the analysis, we need to look a little bit at some of the others ostensibly in the race.

    Ed Rollins acted like Ed Rollins and revealed how much trouble the Bachmann campaign may really be in.  Apparently Bachmann sought prayer over the matter.  Rick Santorum’s excellent debate performances have increased his buzz, so much so he has taken a little fire.  He was also well-praised in Catholic circles.  I am all for heavy Roman Catholic involvement in the electoral process and for candidates being prayed for and over.  But I find it a little troubling when the religious support they seem to be getting is so sectarian – Santorum, a Catholic, from Catholic sources and Bachmann, an Evangelical Lutheran, from evangelical sources.  It must be remembered that a president must unite the nation, not divide it.  The Palin drums are beating again, sometimes from some unusual places.  But then, with Perry in free-fall, is that really surprising?  The Chris Christie drums were beating a bit too, but they got no echo.  The ABR’s keep looking.

    Finally, The Brody File quotes Newt Gingrich, who has been putting on some admirable debate performances:

    Media’s Two-Man Race Storyline Smacks of “Arrogance and Stupidity”

    Uh-hmmm, Mr. Speaker, you are always one of the smartest guys in any room you enter.  You have had and will continue to have a tremendous impact on conservative political thought in this nation.  But accusing those that disagree with you of “arrogance” is the very height of arrogance and may in fact play a large role in why you will never be our party’s nominee.

    So, let’s analyze and pull out the crystal ball a bit.  I am past trying to figure out what animates the ABR crowd.  I have little doubt that suspicion of Mormonism plays a role in there somewhere, but that issue has been so delegitimized that even those that really are anti-Mormon have deluded themselves into thinking their objections lie other places.  (Prime example of that fact here.)    That said, given Perry’s decline and the drumbeats, one has to think they will take one more time at bat.  It is awfully late for anybody to get in and be serious, so if they are going to go for it, it is going to have to be a Babe Ruth figure.  There is only one person that fits that bill:  Sarah Palin.  Problem is, while she is Babe Ruth in Tea Party circles, she may have a stronger resemblance to Casey in the big leagues – particularly if she gets in this late.   If she gets in, all she does is break up the ABR coalition more giving Romney a clearer running field.  (Could that be why Romney has stated he would welcome her in the race?  Nah, couldn’t be.)

    From the perspective of this blog there is a different concern.  Rick Perry does not strike me as someone that will take defeat well, and I have to wonder if he will take a religious swing before he fades completely.  It was such a swing that pushed Huckabee over the top in Iowa last time.  In response, I think it depends on how tight Perry’s reins are on the campaign.  I  think Perry personally has the smarts not to go there.  However, if the ABR forces are are unsuccessful in coaxing a Palin or Christie into the race, or if they do get in and prove as disappointing as Perry, they may return to Perry – and in this age of Super-PAC’s they could readily go there – or do so on behalf of their next savior in line.  Only time will tell.

    There may be hints of a problem in the current Israel/Palestine crisis.  Perry has evoked faith as a basis for his support of Israel.  Historically, Evangelicals have greatly supported Israel, so there is some validity to his assertion.  But some have used it as an opportunity to take religion shots at Romney.  Remember last week when I told you about swapping Holy Land stories with a Mormon friend?  I can tell you from personal experience there is no “there” there.  Some may claim that my experience was with an “atypical” Mormon.  What I can say is that the author of the piece just cited is very atypical of mainstream Evangelicalism.   I can also say that my friend’s views are far more closely aligned with Romney’s than are anything presented in that abhorrent piece.

    What is immensely clear is that any religion attack would be ill-advised.  The left is poised to strike on religion very hard.  The left in trying very hard to fan the Mormon v Evangelical flames.  They are trying to resurrect old memes.   But we should not take such bait when some are trying to claim that faith is responsible for inequality.  They are calling people that believe God created things stupid – or maybe “rednecks.”  They are saying religion is “intuitive;” therefore, implying that devout people are somehow less rational.  They are calling all faith “voodoo.

    With all of that, it would seem that we sometimes are our own worst enemy.  The Pope took a very unseemly potshot this week.  You catch far more flies with honey, Your Holiness.  The booing of the gay soldier at the debate was also a pretty unseemly incident.  Both of these things do nothing but supply the irreligious left with ammunition.

    Mormon News…

    OK, I need someone to explain this to me.  I have argued consistently for decades in my church now that the love of Christ extends fully to homosexuals and they are welcome to worship with me, but that their moral failings disqualify them from leadership, as do moral failings in the heterosexual.

    Old news, but worth remembering.

    Fair enough, but I like my take on it better.

    And Finally…

    For a comic book geek such as myself, this Jonah Goldberg bit of Corner Sunday fluff is too good to resist.  He quotes Julian Sanchez:

    villains earn, heroes inherit:

    While the ruthless corporate CEO as villain is pretty much a stock character in modern pop culture, superhero comics have always conspicuously placed successful businessmen on both sides of the hero/villain divide. Yet an interesting, and perhaps counterintuitive, pattern recently occurred to me. Just off the top of my head, here are some of the most prominent superhero characters who have, for some significant chunk of their histories, been portrayed as CEOs of large corporations:

    Bruce Wayne (Batman)
    Oliver Queen (Green Arrow)
    Tony Stark (Iron Man)
    Ted Kord (Blue Beetle)
    Here are the first four CEO supervillains who spring to mind:

    Lex Luthor
    Wilson Fisk (Kingpin)
    Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias)
    Norman Osborn (Green Goblin)
    Ok, comics geeks, pop quiz: What do the four heroes and the four villains each have in common?

    The answer is that none of the four heroes founded the corporations that bear their family names: Each of them inherited their wealth.

    He then launches into a deep analysis of whether wealth is corrupting, yada, yada, yada.  Ok, Julian, Jonah, here’s the deal.  If you are going to devote yourself to fighting the overwhelming power of crime – to training yourself to the peak of physical and mental condition  (note: all the heroes he cites have no superhuman abilities) , you’d better be in a position where you do not have to make a living or you will not have time to get the job done.  And believe me, when it comes to the guys that created these characters, it does not go any deeper than that.  As to the criminals – They have to launder their ill-gotten gains for pitified sake!

    This is a classic case of over-thinking something.  As a 12-year-old, I went no deeper than that either.

    ‘Nuff Said. Excelsior.

    Lowell adds . . .

    In response to John’s request, I’ll comment on the decision by Mormon leaders in the Bay Area to install an openly gay man in a leadership position.  The explanation is pretty simple, although (to understate the matter greatly) it does invite additional discussion:  As long as any gay person remains celibate, he or she can be considered worthy to hold any church position.

    That is because The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints disapproves of sex outside of marriage.  Anyone, gay or straight, must live what we call the law of chastity in order to be considered worthy to hold a position in our lay leadership or to be authorized to enter our temples (which are special and sacred buildings, not the same as our local meetinghouses).

    What many gay Mormons and others consider to be the “catch-22″ in that rule is that while straight members can marry and thus enjoy sexual relationships and be considered worthy for church service, gays cannot.  And there begin not only the additional discussion I noted above, but also the often-heartbreaking  personal struggles.  We’ll just leave it at that for this post.  A little more here and here for those who are interested.

    <h3>Lowell adds . . .</h3>
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    Posted in Reading List | 1 Comment » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    Debates, Speeches And What Really Matters

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:42 am, September 19th 2011     &mdash      4 Comments »

    Far and away the most interesting event this week in the area of religion and politics was Rick Perry’s speech at the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.  C-Span has the video here.  It comes at a time, just a couple of days after a weak debate performance by Perry, where the Perry bubble may not have burst, but it is definitely leaking some air.  The Perry camp has punted on fundraising,  Even the left-leaning MSM is noting how Romney is outperforming Perry in the debates.   From the right, there was the long discussion about whether Perry was the GOP version of Howard Dean.

    Things seemed a draw in the endorsement department, Romney getting Pawlenty and Perry getting Jindal, but were they really?  At Hotair, Allahpundit wonders if Huckabee, yes Mike Huckabee, might not be leaning to Romney!

    He’s not saying definitively that Romney is the most electable candidate, but add up the soundbites here.

    Why on God’s green earth would a baptist preacher with a known predilection to speaking nastiness about Mormons not automatically gravitate to the seriously evangelical Perry?  Hold that question and we’ll get to it after the analysis of Perry’s Liberty U speech.

    Perry’s speech also comes at a time when religion generally is under fire and its role in politics continues to be hotly debated.  Universities are getting in on the actNPR is running major storiesSome are saying it is all phonyPastors are jumping in.  Now they are trying to pit the Jews and Christians at each others throatsWhere does the Tea Party fit in?  Formerly potent activist Christian groups are flounderingTraps are being set everywhereThe “dominionist” thing continues to echo.  There is some reasonable stuff being written, and some are concluding it is ‘new” Christian voters that will decide the election.

    Against this backdrop there is something admirable about a presidential candidate wading in with a speech that swung between stump speech, sermon, and commencement address as readily as Tyra Banks changes clothes.  The man did not let his candidacy shade his overt religiosity and definitive evango-speak.  However, like the prayer rally held in Houston just days before Perry announced, this religion heavy speech was, as pointed out in Perry’s introduction, scheduled before he had decided to run – a fact that seems to provide a convenient excuse for the heavy religious content.  Forgive me if I am beginning to smell a rat on this one.  Rumors of a Perry candidacy were hovering about for months and months and months before he decided.  The rumors pretty well stayed below the press radar, but they were out there.  One begins to wonder how much is serendipitous and how much is carefully orchestrated.  Evangelicals have learned that it is disadvantageous politically to be “too religious.”  And yet it is such evango-speak that they so long to hear.  More on this in my analysis of the speech.

    The speech was appreciated in the expected quarters, described as defensive in others, and the Washington Post reaction seemed a bit chameleon like.  Wizbang points out:

    Drudge linked to an article about Rick Perry’s faith in this morning’s Washington Post: “Perry casts himself as spiritual, forsaking talk of jobs for a day

    But before I talk about the article and the role of faith in today’s politics, I want to point out that both the web title and URL of the article are very different from its published title: “Perry casts himself as anti-intellectual, says life shaped by faith.”  Something tells me that the WaPo editors intervened before the article went to press, but weren’t able to change the working title of the piece that was saved on their server.  Oops.

    The “anti-intellectual” crack brought cheers from the far left-leaning Sarah Posner and some derisive analysis from Sarah Pulliam Bailey at GetReligion.  I agree with Pulliam Bailey’s analysis that intellectualism and spirituality are not mutually exclusive, which is what the WaPo piece does seem to rely upon, but I would also agree that the Perry speech lacked the kind of depth of thought one would hope for from a person of his standing.

    Perry’s apology for his, at best, mediocre academic performance was not anti-intellectual, it was just lazy.  Clearly Rick Perry is a smart man.  Dumb people do not get to be the governor of places like Texas.  Yeah, I know, the left thinks differently about that – but let’s be serious, anyone that gets elected to high office is pretty doggone smart.  That said, however, Perry’s willingness to readily accept less than excellence in himself is, to this observer, off-putting; but it is strangely in line with some strains of evangelical thought.

    Likewise, Perry’s advice to “follow where lead,” is very common in some parts of the evangelical universe, but carries with it implications that are not so admirable.  For one thing it is very difficult to achieve anything extraordinary by just wandering into it.  Planning and foresight and hard work are all important contributors to success in any endeavor – no matter how you measure success.  This notion Perry lays forth also implies that he was “called by God” to run for President – something he has claimed pretty explicitly on earlier occasions.   Claiming divine imprimatur on leadership is part of what got pre-Reformation (even post- Reformation, for a while) aristocrats into all sorts of hot water, eventually leading to things like the American Revolution.  Such language is not to be entered into lightly.  Not to mention the fact that nutcases throughout history have used such “callings” to justify all sorts of nastiness, big and small.

    Perry’s speech seemed, in its pat but comfortable phraseology and its lack of depth and its approval of mediocrity to capture most of what I disagree with in the evangelical movement I call my own.  Christianity is unique in two very special and related ways.  The first is that unlike most religion it does not demand a code of ethical behavior – excellence – from its adherents, rather it seeks to empower them to recover the  excellence that into which they were created.  (Read C.S. Lewis’ science fiction trilogy for insight in to Lewis’ view that all people were created to be kings and queens.)   Secondly, the empowerment Christianity offers comes not in the form of a coronation, but in form of humble service (“humility even to death” to paraphrase Paul’s letter to the Philippians).

    Consider how these ideas are built into the American system.  With the people sovereign and our leaders servants, with opportunity for all to reach whatever station in life one chooses, with a system that seeks not to dictate but to stay out of the way – these ideas from Christianity are a very part of the fabric of our nation.  And yet, as the left has chosen to challenge, assault and overturn these ideas how have we responded?  For many in the evangelical movement the response has been a lowering of the bar as to what constitutes excellence and demands concerning our place at the table.   Many have responded to the left in kind rather than in the unique fashion that Christianity calls wholly its own.

    As a democracy we are indeed free to follow the nation where it leads, but if we continue in the direction we have been going, we will become something very different than what we have traditionally been.  Perry’s speech seems to continue in the direction of response in kind.

    There is a lot of campaign ahead, so the jury is still out on Perry, but this was not his shining moment.  His speech seems to put him squarely in the space Huckabee occupied in the last cycle: a space designed to lead but a segment of the party – a segment that moves from near, but not quite, majority in the GOP to decided minority in the nation.  Hence the hint of a lean in the Romney direction from the ‘ol Huckster.  He does not want the competition in his space.

    We spent a lot of time in the last cycle discussing the fact that Evangelicals with much of their behavior seemed to want to isolate themselves into an evangelical ghetto.  With these maneuvers by Perry – the supposed “offline” very religious speeches – it appears they want to stay mainstream in the electoral world, but isolate the religious speak to the ghetto.  They can be assured that their guy is one of them, but he won’t blow it by being “too religious.”  And yet that seems so antithetical to those ideas unique to Christianity.  If Christianity empowers us to the excellence to which we were created, why should it be isolated to a rhetorical ghetto?  Well, if rhetoric is all you have….  Not to mention that such isolation does nothing to combat the tide of anti-religiosity that seems to be sweeping the land.

    Meanwhile Mormon Chatter Continues

    So, there was this poll, and it caused all sorts of discussion.   There seem to be a lot of stories about people with personal axes they want to grind on the nation, or generally cash in on a dying story.  For once, Religion Dispatches had something really enjoyable in response to one of those trying to cash in.  There was this dust-up in Denver.

    This week past I had the privilege to swap stories about visits to the Holy Land with a Mormon friend of mine.  My visit just weeks ago and his at the conclusion of his mission some decades ago.  We both had many interesting stories to tell and in those moments we had far more in common than we did differences.  People might want to consider that.

    Romney himself does not think his Mormon faith will be an issue this time.  I both agree and disagree – it will not be in the primary.  Nor will it be overtly in the general, but we already know we are going to here a lot about “weird.”  In the general we will see a lot of stories about Mormon distinctives, far more than we saw last cycle and written with a much greater air of incredulity.  There will be nothing aimed at Romney directly, but there will be a lot of stuff.

    However. there will be attacks on religion generally as the left cannot really distinguish between Mormon, Protestants, Catholics and Copts.  They will be ugly and virulent.  Romney might do well considering how he can join people of faith under a defensive banner against the coming onslaught.

    But in the end, all I can say is when it comes to why to vote for a Mormon for president – actions speak louder than words.  (What you see happened in Logan , Utah – I think the conclusion that Mormons were involved is valid.)

    Closing Congratulations…

    …to our friend, EFM’s Nancy French.  She’s getting good press!


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