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."

  • Humility, and The Lack Thereof

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 04:00 am, December 26th 2012     &mdash      1 Comment »

    Christmas is a season about humble beginnings that lead to extraordinarily humble endings.  If you don’t know what I am talking about, ask a Christian near you.  And so, humility seemed to be the theme that ran through the articles this blog found interesting during the holidays.

    There was an exceeding lack thereof both on the liberal side:

    President Barack Obama used the funeral for Hawaii senator Daniel Inouye to talk about himself. In the short 1,600 word speech, Obama used the word “my” 21 times, “me” 12 times, and “I” 30 times.

    And on the conservative side:

    Some Christian conservatives seemingly cannot help themselves.  They have to try to find some deep theological explanation for the evil we witness in places like Newtown, Connecticut.  But often in doing so, they injure the very faith they seek to represent.  
The latest example is by Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, who, in speaking about the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School, said this:

    I mean millions of people have decided that God doesn’t exist, or he’s irrelevant to me, and we have killed fifty-four million babies and the institution of marriage is right on the verge of a complete redefinition.  Believe me, that is going to have consequences too.

    And a lot of these things are happening around us, and somebody is going to get mad at me for saying what I am about to say right now, but I am going to give you my honest opinion: I think we have turned our back on the Scripture and on God Almighty and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us.  I think that’s what’s going on.

    Both of those stories are stunning, just stunning.  They become even more stunning when viewed in light of an article from the Boston Globe about the inside of the Romney campaign.  The bit from the long piece that has really made the rounds is:

    “He wanted to be president less than anyone I’ve met in my life. He had no desire to . . . run,” said Tagg, who worked with his mother, Ann, to persuade his father to seek the presidency. “If he could have found someone else to take his place . . . he would have been ecstatic to step aside. He is a very private person who loves his family deeply and wants to be with them, but he has deep faith in God and he loves his country, but he doesn’t love the attention.”

    The meme has rapidly morphed into, “Romney did not want to win.”  NONSENSE! – that is a statement of humility and service – a measure of Romney’s character.  Our best presidents have generally been quite reluctant about taking the job, starting with George Washington.  If you understand the job ,as opposed to the media that comes with it, you begin to understand that it is in many ways an odious job.  The sheer lack of available solitude would drive me up the wall before I ever “got to work” in the morning.  (Like there is ever a time the president is not working – save maybe the current one who has turned not working at the job into an art form.)

    That this meme has developed as it has makes me afraid for the nation – I wonder if the nation any longer values humility and service.  From later in the Globe piece:

    Bird was confident that Obama would commit massive resources to building an organization that zeroed in on individual voters.

    There was a significantly different view of the nation at play between the two campaigns.  Romney’s was humble, willing to serve and about big issues.  Obama’s was about the aggrandizement of himself and others on a individual basis.  The Obama view, that it is all about “me,” clearly carried the day.

    This is why, as we move forward religion and politics have to mix in new ways.  No longer can religious organizations simply be demographic groups that the political parties seek to use their organizations to gain votes in blocks.  Religious organizations need to return to their roots and become institutions that develop character; build people that the parties can then call upon.  Churches and other religious institutions can no longer turn to politics to try and shape the nation’s ethos.  Those religious institutions must now take up the job to shape that ethos by means of their own authority.

    Many, if not most, religious institutions no longer have such authority.  They must begin by working to regain it.  To discuss how that happens would be a radical turn for this blog – not one I am sure this blog is meant to make.  Time will tell on that.  But this blog can and does call on religious institutions everywhere to think things through on this level.  And get started now!  It won’t be long and it will not be a matter of recovery, but a matter of starting from scratch.

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    Merry Christmas from Article VI Blog

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 07:03 pm, December 25th 2012     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Who Comes This Night?

    Who comes this night, this wintry night
    As to the lowly manger?
    The shepherds and the kings did come
    To welcome in the stranger

    Who sends this song upon the air
    To ease the soul that’s aching?
    To still the cry of deep despair
    And heal the heart that’s breaking

    Brother Joseph bring the light
    Fast, the night is fading
    And who will come this wintry night
    To where the stranger’s waiting?

    Who comes this night, with humble heart
    To give the fullest measure
    A gift of purest love to bring
    What good and worthy treasure

    Brother Joseph bring the lamb
    For they are asking for Him
    The children come this starry night
    To lay their hearts before Him

    For those who would the stranger greet
    Must lay their hearts before Him
    And raise their song in voices sweet
    To worship and adore Him

    Brother Joseph bring the light
    Fast, the night is fading
    And who will come this wintry night
    To where the stranger’s waiting

    Brother Joseph bring the lamb
    For they are asking for Him
    The children come this starry night
    To lay their hearts before Him

    Pure of heart this starry night
    To lay their hearts before Him

    –Dave Grusin and Sally Stevens
    (Who Comes This Night lyrics © EMI Music Publishing)

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    The Kind of Coverage That Will NOT Improve Things

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:05 am, December 20th 2012     &mdash      2 Comments »

    “Do Something Disease” is a name I have heard given to the desire to act in the wake of a tragedy.  In the end it is really a way of working off the emotional turmoil that results from something like Newtown.  In many cases, I find it a sign of emotional ill health.  Newtown is immensely and inconceivably tragic.  But it also happened a continent away to people I have never met.  Newtown is a stop on a train I have taken from time-to-time visiting clients in the area.  While I certainly am deeply saddened at the loss and highly compassionate towards the survivors, this simply does not evoke enough emotion in me to feel like I HAVE to do something.  Something is wrong in the identity department if one feels that strongly about events that removed.

    OR, one may be an opportunist.  That is to say, one may choose to whip up disproportionate emotion in an effort to cancel out reason and achieve some otherwise unattainable goal.  That, it seems to me, is clearly what is behind all the gun control talk in the wake of Newtown.  And with such agendas, come sub-agendas – which is precisely what I wonder about this Buzzfeed piece from our old friend McKay Coppins:

    In the wake of the Newtown, Conn. shooting, a Mormon Church-owned company announced Tuesday night it was suspending all gun listings on its popular classifieds site.

    In addition to removing gun listings, KSL.com — the online hub for Salt Lake City’s NBC affiliate, which is operated by church-owned Deseret Digital Media — took down the “Firearms and Hunting” section from its website. A company statement that replaces the site’s gun section says they were “profoundly saddened” by the Newtown shooting.

    Coppins spent the entire election cycle just begging for Romney’s religion to become a major media issue.  He had positioned himself as the “go to” journalist on the matter and was bound and determined to see such bring him to journalistic prominence.  To this day, I do not know if he was attempting to torpedo Romney’s chances or aid them in hopes of becoming the Mormon on the White House beat – but either way, I am not sure he “got it.”

    This story is further evidence. We have already presented data showing that moderate Americans are leery of Mormons as somehow uber religious.  In light of that, how helpful is it in these circumstances to tie that church to gun sales?  Having been to Utah in deer hunting season, I find the fact the church is in the business terribly unsurprising.  They do love their hunting there. The TV coverage of who bagged the biggest buck on opening day was enough to make me want to head to the gun store and get busy.  But all this Coppins piece does is reinforce an image of the Mormon church as some sort of neanderthal organization.  The piece is short and seems to have no purpose other than to emphasize that the church was in the gun business – well that and feed to gun control frenzy.

    I was asked at a presentation a few weeks ago “If Mitt Romney is Al Smith, who will be Jack Kennedy?”  If this is the kind of coverage the Mormon church is going to get – “nobody” is the answer.

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    What Religion Does

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:20 am, December 18th 2012     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Instapundit linked to a fascinating blog post out of the UK:

    Driving a car is almost certainly the most dangerous thing that any of us do in our lives. Certainly, it’s the most dangerous to other people. Even the ghastly Mexican drug wars (60,000 killed since 2006) are not more lethal than the traffic there, which kills about 17,000 people every year.

    So there’s no doubt that regulating drivers is part of any kind of utilitarian concept of morality, and certainly part of the essential functions of a state. Bad driving is wicked and antisocial under any recognised scheme of morality. I suppose you can argue that some speeding is entirely safe but in a country where the speed cameras are painted bright yellow anyone who fails to notice one is guilty at the very least of driving without proper concentration.

    So how does all this look in practice?

    One interesting thing is that there was no attempt by our lecturers to make explicit the moral dimensions of what we had done. I’m not saying there should have been. It wouldn’t have been effective. But the emphasis was entirely on self-interest and the unpleasant social and financial consequences of being caught again.

    Related to this was the extraordinary lack of remorse or even interest shown by some of the participants.

    [...]

    The resentment of cheats is an interesting emotion. According to evolutionary accounts of morality envy and “spiteful punishment” are absolutely necessary emotions if our more selfless and co-operative instincts are to flourish. The problem of defectors and free riders (and who could ride more freely than a cyclist in London traffic?) is central to game theory. Co-operative strategies can only flourish, and co-operative instincts spread through evolution, so long as no one cheats and gains the benefits of co-operation without the costs.

    I’m sure this is why Scandinavian societies were so conformist when they were egalitarian.

    Car drivers, then, are an interesting example of a society, or a social game, where this mechanism does not apply. Like Russians under communism and after its fall, they have become anarchic individualists, held in line only by fear of punishment. They don’t see anything wrong in cheating, nor in other drivers cheating. Only in their hatred of cyclists is a vestigial mark of any moral sentiment.

    I think this almost perfectly illustrates why the Founders were so interested in making sure religion flourished in our society.  You see, there are always cheaters.  And the tighter the regulatory and enforcement schemes become to eliminate them, the bigger the cheating.  Thus irritating anti-social behavior like butting in line and running a red light morphs into murderous sprees in elementary schools.  That is the bottom line out of the horror of Newtown last Friday – evil is real and always with us.

    It takes some force other than law and regulation to deal with cheaters and hold a society together.  I have mentioned before that I visited the Soviet Union in its penultimate days.  It was, frankly, a society of cheaters.  All that governmental force only created a society where law had little or no value.  Only brutality kept it functioning.  When I was there Gorbachev had allowed some religious practice to return.  It was only that context that nice people were also decent people.

    It is also worthy of note that England is a nation with a state recognized religion.  Monopolistic religiosity is an expression of the same brute force as government absent religion.  From such was the Reformation born.

    Advent is extra important this year.

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    The Meme That Wouldn’t Die

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:09 am, December 17th 2012     &mdash      1 Comment »

    In 2008 we declared the meme “Romney, a Mormon” that appeared in the press over and over and over again as one of the most damaging to Mitt Romney.  That meme did not die this campaign – I read the phrase or variations thereof a lot.  I beginning to think that despite the protestations that we did not hear about Mormonism is a bit of canard.  Consider this story:

    A study, released Friday by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, found that while 35 percent of the religion-related stories focused on Romney, Obama’s coverage was at 17 percent.

    Romney’s religion-related coverage often raised questions about how his faith would be received by voters, and religion stories on Obama often dealt with incidents in which his Christian faith was challenged, including rumors that he is a Muslim, the study found.

    The analysis noted that media’s religion coverage peaked during the primaries, when several Republican candidates – including Rep. Michele Bachmann, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum – spoke about their Christian beliefs, fueling speculation about whether white evangelical Protestants would withhold support from Romney because of his Mormon faith.

    The story does not give us raw data, nor link to it, but here is the press release from Pew which includes this stunner of a paragraph:

    By the end of the campaign, about two-thirds of U.S. adults (65%) were aware that Romney is a Mormon. But the vast majority of Americans (82%) said they had learned “not very much” or “nothing at all” about the Mormon religion, according to a Pew Research Center poll conducted shortly after the election.

    So, let’s build a picture here.  The methodology link in the Pew release seems not to work, so I cannot find out what is an is not a “religion” story, but I think I can be fairly certain in asserting that “Romney, a Mormon” in a story covering some other aspect of the campaign does not qualify.  So, what do we know for sure?

    The picture is growing conclusive that Romney’s faith was an important, if unspoken, factor in the election.  Again, I think we can liken it to the mid-to late 70′s in terms of race relations.  At that point discussion of race in electoral politics had been successfully rendered politically incorrect, but racial bias still existed and was strong.  So, it was not talked about, but it did play.

    Where we are really missing data now is what effect was most significant, the ambivalence among the base or the rejection of Romney by the religiously unaffiliated?  Given that we are in the “don’t talk about it” phase, I am not sure we will ever get that data becasue poll responses cannot be relied upon.  Will history tell us the answer to that question?

    Well, there are no Mormon candidates on the immediate horizon.  Evangelicals appear to be dying:

    I believe the cultural backlash against evangelical Christianity has less to do with our views — many observant Muslims and Jews, for example, also view homosexual sex as wrong, while Catholics have been at the vanguard of the movement to protect the lives of the unborn — and more to do with our posture. The Scripture calls us “aliens and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11), but American evangelicals have not acted with the humility and homesickness of aliens. The proper response to our sexualized and hedonistic culture is not to chastise, but to “conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12).

    I could go on about that at length, but will let it speak for itself for now.  We may be back.

    However, while Evangelicals are fading left wing opposition to religion generally is increasing, so even if a future Republican Mormon manages to “overcome” it would become apparent that the bigger problem was ambivalence in the base.  In the end, does it really matter though.  In an election this close, it only takes a small effect to change the outcome.  That is one of the things I don’t like about the Pew release.  It insists religion was not a big deal this time.

    However, in an election decided by less than 500,000 votes in four states, little deals are very big deals indeed.  It seems religion mattered more in this election than anyone wants to admit.

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    An Open Letter To Christian Leaders Of All Kinds and Throughout the United States (Part 4)

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 08:39 am, December 15th 2012     &mdash      1 Comment »

    And so, we have made the case the nation has seemingly lost what we called a “sacrificial ethos.“  We have noted that this ethos must exist culturally for government to reflect it and that Christianity is the best force to shape culture that way.  We have examined how the church has abandoned its role as a shaper of culture, and we summarized it in one sentence:

    Practically, the church abandoned leadership for marketing.  Theologically, the church abandoned the shaping of people for simply gaining their identification.

    And so now the question before us is how can we return the church to the role it once had?  I will not pretend to have answers here.  The specific answers will be different in virtually every situation.  I will here present some ideas.  I sure others will have other ideas that may be just as good or better.  But the conversation needs to get serious.

    IDEA – Return Churches to Authoritative Forms Of Governance

    In the lest post in this series we looked at the fact that Christianity in America had moved from denominations to conventions or independent congregations.  Such fracturing continues.  Cultural influence depends, in part, on mass.  The bigger, the more influential.  But the issue runs a little deeper than that.  Fracturing and fracturing again is in fact a symptom of the lack of a sacrificial ethos.  Rather than make the sacrifice to stick around and try and make the larger church work, people just keep splintering off and going their own way.  One could argue; therefore, that this is no idea at all, but simply a circular discussion.  I disagree.  There is no substitute for simple discipline.

    In other words, just affiliate a just stay.  “Practice makes perfect,” as they say.  Even churches well organized on authoritative models are struggling here – as evidenced in portion of this discussion between Roman Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput and Hugh Hewitt.   But the answers lies not in abandoning the model, but in restoring leadership.  Larger organizations can teach their leaders how to lead.  An individualistic pastor cannot.

    Which leads me to one other point that needs to be made in this section.  Messaging matters.  In the current media environment you need people who are experts and messaging – a larger organization can provide that.  With all these small spaces filled by numerous, similar messages the result is not a message at all but a din.  Part of what has eroded our cultural message so deeply is that out opposition reaches into the din and pulls out the worst messages to react to rather than the best.  Eliminate the din and they cannot do that.

    IDEA – The Slippery Slope Is Real

    As I read stories about the fact that single women are overwhelmingly turning liberal and churches are battling over the leadership role of women, I could not help but think about where all this came from.  Of course, there is a chicken-and-egg question, but the dam broke on the woman’s role in society when churches began to liberalize their views on divorce.  It all sort of rolled downhill from there until we have the issues we have today about same sex marriage and abortion and so on.

    Some of our answers may lie in turning back the clock on some key issues.  Certainly the leading lights of Christianity in the public square right now – Catholicism and Mormonism are more conservative on marriage and family issues than Evangelicals.  Where you stand when you try to make an argument matters.  Limited marriage to between a man and a woman is a difficult place to stand when marriage has already been cheapened by divorce, co-habitation and single motherhood.

    The problem with turning more conservative may appear uncompassionate, but is it?  That all depends on how it is done.

    I am quite certain there are many more ideas here, and I may return to them from time-to-time.  I hope you will discuss these and more.  But this is the point where I step off my political podium and step into the pulpit.

    Recall that in the last post we said, “Theologically, the church abandoned the shaping of people for simply gaining their identification.”  At root, this is a personal leadership problem.  If we are going to ask sacrifice of people, if we are going to lead them “backwards” on family and marital issues, then we have to be models of same.  And more, we have to learn how to communicate the love of Christ while at the same time pronouncing certain behaviors as unacceptable.

    I do not pretend to know how that is done, what I do know is that Jesus did it.   If we read of Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well in John 4 we see Jesus confronting the woman with her lack of stable family life and yet she is attracted enough to Jesus to stick around and continue the discussion.  There was something about Jesus that made her feel connected even when being confronted.  What this tells me is that we have to endeavor to be more Christ-like.

    The place to start with a restoration of the church’s cultural influence; therefore, is with ourselves.  We must take our personal faith far more seriously so that our public faith can use that as a base to stand upon.  We must reject the idea that a life meritoriously lived is somehow disingenuous.   Our response should not be to “sin a little” so that we can relate to others.  Our response must be to go even deeper in our pursuit of Christlikeness.  Not only must we moderate our behavior, but we must learn the inner presence of Christ so that in our moderation we do not appear haughty or uptight, but loving.

    And so I believe  we start where all Christians start – with confession – “I believe, help me with my unbelief.”

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