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."

  • And Now, Being Charitable Is Bad

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:28 am, October 31st 2012     &mdash      4 Comments »

    As Frankenstorm and its aftermath dominate the news, even one week before a presidential election, there has been a Mormon related story brewing.  We’ve ignored it for a couple of days because it seemed only to be amongst the fringe, but as of this morning it has been so oft repeated – even if still in the lesser followed zone, that it bears some analysis.  The basic theme is that Romney is using his faith to dodge taxes.  I have seen the story at least a dozen times, and I link here to a version on a website dedicated to charitable causes becasue of the extraordinary irony.

    The meme started with Bloomberg, and it concerns something called a “charitable remainder unitrust,” or CRUT.  Here is how Bloomberg describes it, which is way down in the story:

    When individuals fund a charitable remainder unitrust, or “CRUT,” they defer capital gains taxes on any profit from the sale of the assets, and receive a small upfront charitable deduction and a stream of yearly cash payments. Like an individual retirement account, the trust allows money to grow tax deferred, while like an annuity it also pays Romney a steady income. After the funder’s death, the trust’s remaining assets go to a designated charity.

    This sounds very reasonable, just another mechanism by which our tax code enables and favors charitable giving.  This is something that our tax code has done pretty much since we amended the constitution to allow for income taxes.  It is part of keeping government limited.  But in the age of big government, or at least what the few remaining Obama supporters think is the age of big government, giving to charity is not a social benefit, it is avoiding taxes that the government could use for perceived social benefit.  Goodness gracious, we cannot let people give voluntarily and charitably when we can use coercion to take their money from them.

    But, of course, this meme has a much more sinister air than that.  Bloomberg interviews “Jonathan Blattmachr, a trusts and estates lawyer who set up hundreds of such vehicles in the 1990s.”:

    “The main benefit from a charitable remainder trust is the renting from your favorite charity of its exemption from taxation,” Blattmachr said. Despite the name, giving a gift or getting a charitable deduction “is just a throwaway,” he said. “I used to structure them so the value dedicated to charity was as close to zero as possible without being zero.”

    Well, I am sure an uncharitable soul would do that, using the mechanism more as tax dodge than charity, but is that what Mitt Romney is doing?  Again from the Bloomberg piece:

    At the same time he is benefiting, the trust will probably leave the church with less than what current law requires, according to tax returns obtained by Bloomberg this month through a Freedom of Information Act request.

    What they fail to mention is that the CRUT was established before the current limitations were set and was legally conforming when established and is therefore grandfathered.

    And, of course, there is the “sinister air” that the beneficiary of the CRUT is the Mormon church.  It would be fascinating to see this same thing about a Christian of a different stripe.  Most non-religious lefties, which is most lefties these days, do not consider religious giving as real charitable giving.  One is forced to wonder if this is really a Mormon shot or a generic religion shot in which Mormonism is simply the target du jour.

    Buried very deep in the Bloomberg piece is this goody:

    Paul Comstock, a financial adviser to LDS Philanthropies, an arm of the Mormon Church, said that while he wasn’t familiar with the trust, Romney and his trustee might arrange to compensate the church for the dwindling amount with other gifts.

    “It may be that they’ve made provisions for the charity someplace else that will make up for what this isn’t going to give them,” Comstock said.

    Oh gee, you think?  I don’t have the time to do the math, but for starters it is well established that the Romney’s tithe on their income which would include the benefit they receive from the CRUT.  I do not have time to do the math, but theoretically and properly managed such a trust with tithing on the pay-outs could result in a far greater contribution to the charity in question than minimizing the pay-outs and leaving a large remainder.  What I do know is that regardless of how the money gets to the church, the Romney’s charitable giving is extraordinary and the sums are staggering.

    But, of course, most people are not going to get into the long grass like this.  Most people are going to see the headlines and the lede and simply assume the Romney’s are “pretending” to give to the church while merely dodging taxes.  So if we are going to cut to the chase, let’s cut to the chase.  This goes back to the snark I started with.

    There is a battle in the early reconnaissance stages, in the guise of how we care for “the least of these,” between the government and charity.  As government continues to take more and more, presumably to provide such care, though bureaucracy involved makes government the least efficient form of such redistributive caring imaginable, they are setting their eyes on the money that goes to charities that provide such care far more efficiently.  What truly saddens me about such is that it kills the charitable impulse.

    You see, charity is not just about the care provided – it is about the willful giving.  We are better people when we give willingly.  We are turned miserly when our money is taken from us by the force of government, even if it is done so in the name of such care.  I am sure we have all experienced the happiness that comes with writing that check to our favorite cause, and the resentment that builds when we write that tax check.  (I’m paying my property taxes today – and working very hard to avoid the resentment – it’s a BIG check.)  Which would you rather have, a nation of happy cheerful givers or a nation of resentful, miserly taxpayers?

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    Prayer and Politics

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:33 am, October 30th 2012     &mdash      3 Comments »

    I find myself torn this morning.  USAToday reports:

    As the East Coast began to experience the initial flooding from Hurricane Sandy on Monday, Mitt Romney appealed to his supporters to consider donating to the Red Cross and to keep those in the path of the storm in their “hearts and prayers.”

    I cannot agree more.  Initial reports, late last night, indicate that the devastation in lower Manhattan may be extraordinarily significant.  The press being the press, I have seen little of elsewhere; they do tend to be a bit New York centric.  Having served clients up and down Manhattan and the Long Island sound, I find myself preoccupied with their welfare.

    But the press is also full of reports, articles and punditry on the election and religion.  The beat goes on.  Therefore, I pray hard for the entire eastern seaboard and ask you to join me.  But with that placed firmly in God’s hands I find I must turn to the normal business at hand.

    For the second day in a row, we run into an article saying Mormons were socialistic in their founding.  I find this charge leveled now and at Mormons truly odd.  There is a long history of socialist thought in Christianity generally.  (I wonder if a reporter ever read Acts 2?)  I have often marveled at the fact that this “charge” was never leveled at any candidate claiming Christian credentials.  This is not a place where Mormons and normative Christians part company, and yet they seem to want to make a big deal of it right now.  This reveals deep political motivations on one hand and a total misunderstanding of Christianity on the other.

    Entire treatises have been written this subject from a theological and sociological perspective.  I cannot begin to unpack it all here.  Let’s try and sum this up simply.  There is a major and important distinction between a community that holds all things commonly on a voluntary basis, driven by religious impulse – that’s charitable – and a society in which the coercive force of government is used to confiscate all things and distribute them in accordance with some perceived hierarchy of need.

    And while we are thinking deeply, if you have not seen this creepy apocalyptic pro-Obama ad, you really should check it out.  It is black-and-white, featuring small kinds singing.  Here’s a sample of the lyric:

    We’re the children of the future
    American through and through
    But something happened to our country
    And we’re kinda blaming you

    We haven’t killed all the polar bears
    But it’s not for lack of trying
    Big Bird is sacked
    The Earth is cracked
    And the atmosphere is frying

    The ad is frightening both in the power it assigns the presidency and the hope it places in the man it seeks to support for the job.  I have taken a lot of heat from some quarters in the last couple of years becasue I honestly did not believe that Obama could do as much damage as he has.  I thought that the checks and balances of our government would serve to temper his natural inclinations.  It looks at this juncture like the ultimate check – the vote – will do that job – but a lot of amazing stuff has transpired between votes.  We almost don’t remember now, but there was a huge turnover in the administration in the first couple of years.  In retrospect, it was the adults leaving the building.

    When Obama was elected, I looked at his appointments and figured that the obviously under-experienced president was surrounding himself with old hands that would temper his unchecked youthful exuberances and the results would not be too extraordinary.  But then the old hands started leaving like rats on a ship going down.  Clearly, this was a guy that would not listen to reason and that you could not work with.

    G.K. Cheaterton once said:

    When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.

    I see that maxim so clearly illustrated in this ad.  It really is frightening if you think about it.

    Finally, I want to turn briefly to this call for Christians to abstain from voting.  It is an interesting argument, actually couple of arguments.  On the one hand it calls for disengagement from politics if politics has become some sort of idol.  Political idolatry is precisely the sin we see in the ad we just examined.  The answer; however, is not withdrawal from politics, anymore that starvation is the answer if food has become an idol.  One must learn to balance one’s commitment to God with the world in which we live.

    The other argument the author advances by quoting Thabiti Anyabwile :

    It seems to me that if we really believe the system is broken but we vote anyway, we simply nullify our contention that the system is broken.

    I find this to be extraordinarily binary thinking.  God KNEW we were broken, but He did not abandon us, rather he redeemed us.  The system is not functioning well, but is it irredeemable?  I doubt few would claim that.  And its redemption comes not from holding it at arms length, but by diving in and seeking to correct.

    I understand the distaste for much of politics, particularly in light of ads like the one we looked at a moment ago.  But the only way to make it tasteful is to get busy.  The best way to start getting busy is to vote next Tuesday.

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    Is there a Mormon conspiracy?

    Posted by: JMReynolds at 09:55 am, October 29th 2012     &mdash      4 Comments »

    My Facebook friends are a diverse lot, including Obama voters and uncommitted types. I am glad for it. It helps keep me honest.

    I never trust a person who cannot be friends over the political divide!

    However, a small (but not insignificant) number of people I know from religious and non-religious backgrounds feel that there exists a Mormon conspiracy to seize control of the United States. The Church in Salt Lake City is using her influence and money to dominate. Mr. Romney is the chosen candidate for this plot.

    At times this claim is supported by concerns that Mr. Romney’s public presentations sound a great deal like those of Mormon missionaries. I am also told that there exist former Mormon leaders or “insiders” who can testify to the truth of this grand conspiracy. The fact that amongst Anglos, Mormons have a high rate of second-language skills is also part of the problem according to these folk.

    “How much,” I am asked, “of the CIA and Foreign Service is Mormon?”

    My first reaction is to wonder if Mormonism isn’t, for some, a “fill-in” for the old Jewish conspiracy. Of course, nothing is equivalent to the foul fruit that came from that festering sour, in part because it was allowed to continue (and exists still) for centuries. There exists a personality type always looking for someone to blame (“the gays,” “the Jews,” the liberals,” the Religious Right) by attributing to them diabolical cleverness and power.

    But let me, for the moment take is seriously, since it seems to be held by voters on the right and the left (with more on the left). In a close race, it might matter. No less a writer than Sir A.C. Doyle compared Mormonism to the Mafia, so this idea has a long pedigree.

    There are five reasons to doubt this view or dismiss it as a worry.

    First, one assumes that the Mormon truth believes in the truth of Mormonism. They wish all of us to believe this truth and so “conspire” to spread the good news. This “conspiracy” to change my mind, at the very highest levels of the Church, is not only not surprising, but welcome.

    If I were a member of the LDS Church, I would naturally want to see my values and beliefs represented in the highest levels of government. Mormons that die for their country in the Armed Forces also have the right to be Commander in Chief. Mormon evangelistic success would, in a republic, lead to eventual electoral success. The existence of Mormon persons in both parties show that this has happened.

    And so much evidence of a Mormon “conspiracy” will be conflation of legitimate desire to evangelize and enjoy the fruits of citizenship with more evil goals. This is obviously wrong and allows non-Mormons to demonize the community. Of course, this is obvious to me because many on the Left make the same weird claims and errors about Evangelicals.

    Most “evidence” of Mormon plots turn out to be evidence of Mormon evangelism or participation in the two-party system.

    Second, if Salt Lake City has been seeking a take over of America, then their global evangelistic campaign makes little sense. The LDS Church is becoming much more global than American.

    Third, I assume that a Mormon sub-culture exists and that Mr. Romney is a product of it. He will “sound Mormon” for the notable reason that he is Mormon, grew up Mormon, and was educated by Mormons.

    However, Mr. Romney also shows speech patterns and reasoning influenced by Harvard. Is there a Harvard conspiracy to govern America? If so, it has been more successful than the Salt Lake City conspiracy and (arguably) more damaging to the United States. I am confident Harvard University wishes to place her graduates in positions of power and know they plan on doing so. Whole departments of Harvard are dedicated to furthering this quest.

    Fourth, what would Mr. Romney do for Salt Lake City if elected as part of the Conspiracy? The President of the United States is one member of government. Would the vast bureaucracy be turned out and Mormons put in the place? Would the Congress become supine in the face of dictats from the Apostles? Would the Evangelical dominated GOP go along with the plans of the conspirators?

    Finally, absent overwhelming evidence of vast Mormon patience and centuries of planning doesn’t Mormon ability to run Utah and participate in several other states in a republican manner doom the entire idea. Salt Lake City has allowed Salt Lake City to become majority non-Mormon. What kind of conspiracy is this?

    In short, Mr. Romney often sounds like a Mormon missionary because he was one. Sadly, he more often sounds like a Harvard grad because he is one (twice!).

    The notion of a Mormon conspiracy is, therefore, unworthy of Christian voters in a republic. We should reject it strongly with apologies to our LDS neighbors. As for speakers making the claims we should demand extraordinary evidence for their extraordinary claims.

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    Obama And The Three Bears – Minus Baby Bear…

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:15 am, October 29th 2012     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    The president never seems to get it “just right.”

    Benghazi seems to be eating the presidency alive.  Read though this Powerline post and follow all the links, or peruse Instapundit for all the latest.  This is inescapable for Obama.  He can talk all he wants about finding out who is responsible, etc., but by his own admission he is ultimately responsible.  I personally think he made the important decisions personally, but we will for sure not get the answer to that question until after the election.  But even if he did not, he built an administration so full of ineptitude that we stood by and watched Americans die in an attack on our nation – when we could have prevented or minimized the deaths.

    I heard a little buzz amongst the liberals at church Sunday about the wonderful pacifistic impulses.  It would take a very long time to theologically unpack pacifism and faith.  I am still chuckling over Whoopi Goldberg’s weird fail on The View a couple of weeks ago to paint Mormonism as pacifist.  I find it hard to believe that Goldberg is that ill-informed, rather I think she was making a political strike, trying to make Romney look bad because of his draft deferment related to his mission.  They say there are no atheists in a foxhole.  I have also thought there were no pacifists once the shelling began – but it appears there may be.  All I can say is it takes a cold disregard for human life to allow people to die rather than shoot back – Christ’s example not withstanding, He was after all coming back, something not available to the rest of us.

    Nor do I think Obama is going to get the so-called “Frankenstorm” just right.  The Gulf oil spill has already proven the man cannot get his head around a natural disaster.  Unlike Benghazi, where he did waaay too little.  Look for O to overreact to the storm.  He is already loosening up federal dollars (That is to say driving the nation deeper into debt) even before the damage is assessed.

    Regardless of how this storm plays out eventually, I look for it to turn the election litigious.  Chris Cilizza is trying to make it look like the storm will freeze the campaign in place.  That I doubt.  The eastern seaboard is not really in play anymore, Romney seems to have sewn it up.  The real fight is in the Midwest which looks to only be nominally affected by the storm.  Time will tell, these things never work out like we think.  However, I do expect many people claiming they could not get to the polls because of of effect X from the storm, not to mention ballot boxes going missing in transport and other sorts of shenanigans – hence the litigation I foresee.  Hold tight.

    Meanwhile the left continues to try and make mountains out of molehills with regards to Mormonism.  I found this WaPo story about the absence of Mormon action in the current Maryland same-sex marriage battle almost humorous.  It is as if they have no clue that Mormonism is a pretty regionalized faith, and there just are not enough Mormons in Maryland to make a difference in that battle.  Despite allegations to the contrary, it has nothing to do with the Romney campaign – it is pure demographics.

    And while we’re laughing, Salon, yes Salon, is trying to define Mormon belief.  Come on, you know that is funny.

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    Like A Phoenix From The Ashes

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:50 am, October 28th 2012     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    In 2008, Evangelicals, particularly from western Iowa, pretty much cost Mitt Romney the Republican nomination for the presidency.  And yet, yesterday the Editorial Board of the Des Moines Register, the biggest journalistic voice in that state,  endorsed Mitt Romney for the 2012 general election now less than 10 days away.  This marks the first time in 40 years that the paper has backed a Republican.

    Newspaper endorsements do not matter like they used to, but they do matter, and this one is huge.  The signs continue to mount that Mitt Romney has captured, fully, the Evangelical vote.  The Catholic Bishops are coming dangerously close to outright endorsing him, so the Catholic vote is seemingly his as well.  That is quite possibly an unbeatable combination.  Once again we see evidence that Barack Obama thinks the world thinks like he does.  I don’t think he realized that for many of us, faith matters deeply and predominantly.

    CNN is recycling an old story, by their own admission, about Romney’s “faith journey.”  There is a sort of “at a distance” about the story that simply rings hollow to the believer of any stripe.  Faith is not a demographic, and identity, nor a mere affiliation.  It is something much deeper, something that we seek to allow to change us fundamentally – to make us better and to allow us to rise above our base desires.  But then the press has not “gotten” deep, committed faith for quite some time.

    I am not sure Obama understood this either as he began his assault on religious conscience and freedom.  I have to believe he thought most people of faith would just shrug their shoulders, as he obviously did when listing to the rants and “God Damn America’s” of Jeremiah Wright, because in his mind faith was just a box we tick off on Sunday.

    It may be without historical precedent that an incumbent candidate for the presidency has so profoundly misunderstood the American people.  We will probably never know whether he was intentionally not listening or simply lacked the mental capacity to hear.  And the possibility remains, though it is shrinking, that he may yet prevail.  But it is now clear that were that unlikely event to occur, that like the first time, it would not be because he represents the will of the American people.  It would be because he capitalized on an extraneous set of circumstances that made the election about something other than what really matters most to most Americans.

    But that is not the “big picture” I am getting.  I am getting a picture of Mitt Romney, rising from the Iowa that rejected him some four years ago, becoming the next President of the United States and unleashing the natural forces that have made this nation uniquely great in the history of nations.

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    A Double Standard for Mormonism?

    Posted by: JMReynolds at 06:09 pm, October 27th 2012     &mdash      7 Comments »

    Changing one’s mind can be a good thing or a bad thing.

    Before evaluating one needs to know (at least!) two things: motivation and the value of the new opinion.

    We don’t normally praise a man from moving to a new opinion for bad reasons or for shifting from the truth to falsehood.

    His critics oft describe Governor Romney  as a politician with no core. Over his long career in public life, which began as a boy on his father’s knee, Mr. Romney has changed his mind. I am unpersuaded he has done so more often than any other political figure. He is a decent man, but not yet a saint: unless you count the Latter Day kind.

    It is here that desperate critics have hatched a new way to attack the man likely to be the next President of the United States. With some political risk, Mr. Romney has stayed true to the Church of his fathers: he is a Mormon. This appears to be proof positive that he has a core and will not choose expediently.

    “Ah,” the critic says, “but the LDS Church itself is an ‘etch-a-sketch’ church. Look at changes in doctrine like that dealing with African persons in the priesthood.”

    Now the critic has an immediate problem since all philosophical positions change with time.

    Why attack Mormonism? Since all decent Americans believe that the change on issues like the priesthood was a good one, the criticism is surely not with the change.

    The general line of attack is challenge the motives for the change or the reasoning for it. First, the critic argues the “noble” change was driven by a need to increase “market share.” It was a politically or economically motivated shift.

    The problem with such a charge is that it will prove impossible to refute. The LDS claims it came as a result of divine revelation, but “hidden” motives are always possible. The LDS community was under pressure to change their point of view, so the skeptic can always claim they did so for ignoble reasons. What is a citizen to do?

    He must do to other people what he would have done to him. Motives often are hard to judge and so a veil of charity should be placed over the motives of those groups we might be inclined to attack. What else can we do? The hurricane winds of hatred unleashed by any other course would tear the Republic to pieces.

    “But the teachings of the Church are still racist!,” says the critic. “Look at the documents,” he says. “Look at the statements of the founders of Mormonism such as Young.”

    A nation whose greatest President was a slaveholder, George Washington, has long learned to judge men by the standards of their times. It is true that the Founding generation of America defended race-based slavery. Many did so on secular grounds and a few on Christian ones. The least religious portion of the nation, the South before the Civil War, kept slavery longest, but most white Americans were infected with racism.

    It is our ugly original sin as a nation.

    As far as I can tell, and I am no Mormon and no expert, some of the Founders of Mormonism were no better than their times on race. Some Mormons owned slaves. Some Mormons, including important ones like Young, made racist statements wrapped in theology. However, this racism need no more be part of contemporary Mormon doctrine than the precedent of Washington having slaves in the President’s house (which continued for decades) need keep our culture racist forever.

    Mormons have moved on. Young could have been inspired in some areas and not in others . . . a distinction Mormon theology made even at the time! If Washington City can still be named for a slave holder, I see no reason BYU must change her name!

    As for Mormon Scriptures, reading old documents for a living makes me charitable to them. I do not see any passage in the Book of Mormon that is “white supremacist” by nature. A charitable reading of the text, like that I would give Plato or the Bible, shows alternative readings to difficult passages. It is true that Joseph may have translated the Book with the language of his time, but this language was amazingly elevated for a man of his background and education. In fact, it is amazing to me that the Book of Mormon actually has an elevated view of native Americans, Jewish people, and other persons of color given the period in which Joseph lived.

    We must also look at the life of the contemporary Mormon church. It does not show any evidence of being a “white supremacist” movement. In fact, the next few decades should see the balance of power shifting fully from North America to the developing world.

    When my grandmother was a little girl, secular teachers told her that African-Americans were inferior. She was taught to pity them and that science supported racism. Only her church softened these claims. Genesis taught her that all men and women were designed from the same original pair. The concept of “race” itself was foreign to Scripture. Her schooling failed her . . . but I do not, therefore, condemn schooling.

    Secularists have shaken off their racist past and charity commands we allow them to do so. The eugenic ramblings of Sanger and the white-power rants of Jack London are in the past. I can enjoy “Call of the Wild” in any case.

    Mormons must not be held to a higher standard. The Church claims divine revelation clarified old assumptions. Mr. Romney rejoiced in that change. Nobody has charged Mr. Romney with racism . . . and the modern Mormon church shows commendable growth in leadership of color.

    In short, as a non-LDS person, I see no reason in Mormon Scriptures or teachings (as defined by the LDS community) to think the LDS church “racist” or founded on racism . . . except by the same accidental historica associations that exist in the American founding.

     

     

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