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."

  • Honestly…

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:30 am, October 31st 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    …when this passes for Congressional testimony:

    Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers raised the issue of Obamacare’s mandated coverage of health care services that many might not even need — like pregnancy coverage. She said, Breitbart.com reported: “As far as [Obamacare’s] essential health benefits, correct me if I’m wrong — do men not have to buy maternity care?”

    [...]

    Ms. Sebelius: “Well, an insurance policy has a series of benefits whether you use them or not.”

    Ms. Ellmers: “And that is why health care premiums are increasing, because we are forcing them to buy things that they will never need. Thank you.”

    Ms. Sebelius: “The individual policies cover families. Men often do need maternity care for their spouses and for their families, yes.”

    Ms. Ellmers: “A single male, aged 32, does not need maternity coverage. To be the best of your knowledge, has a man ever delivered a baby?”

    One must have faith in God, because faith in our leadership is simply not possible.

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    The Adolescent President

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:28 am, October 29th 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    In this age when news outlets have viewpoints and spin is often confused for news, how do you know when a story is solid fact?  Well, how about when MSNBC and FOXnews carry essentially the same story?  The lede from the MSNBC story:

    President Obama repeatedly assured Americans that after the Affordable Care Act became law, people who liked their health insurance would be able to keep it. But millions of Americans are getting or are about to get cancellation letters for their health insurance under Obamacare, say experts, and the Obama administration has known that for at least three years.

    And thus the cries of “He lied, he lied” begin to echo through the nation.  And yet, opposed to virtually all this administration has done as I am, I do not believe that Obama lied about this.  He just did not know any better.  Hugh Hewitt wrote this morning about how little Hillary Clinton accomplished as Secretary of State, or Obama’s “lie” on this matter and links to a most revealing Wall Street Journal op-edBret Stephens wrote just 64 words for his op-ed this morning @WSJ, the rest is quotes of old news stories about how uninvolved the president has been in the actions of his administration.

    As someone who has on occasion managed very large projects watching the debacle that is the health insurance exchange roll-out, I see very classic, very predictable project management fails.  Everybody running around doing their piece of the puzzle, usually quite well, but no one keeping an eye on the big picture making sure the pieces fit together as they should.  No vision and no organization.  It is reminiscent of the time in junior high we decided we could put the dance together without faculty help.

    We have a president who thinks getting elected is enough.  Not exactly a new insight that.  The foremost news here is that as Hewitt and Stephens discover, this adolescent “made it” syndrome seems to have affected senior administration officials as well – specifically both people to occupy the SoS slot under Obama.  The other news is my junior high reminiscence.

    Maybe it is because a morning devotional is designed to shape your thinking for the day, but I read all of this after I read mine this morning:

    Becoming a Christian by accepting God’s grace through faith is the beginning of lifelong growth in Christ, or at least that’s the way God has planned it. Unfortunately, many Christians have chosen the path, not of growth to maturity, but of Peter Pan Christianity: “I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up, not me!” Perhaps we have been led to believe that being a Christian is mainly about going to heaven after we die, rather than living as citizens of God’s kingdom both now and forever.

    What Mark Roberts points out here seems to mark so much of the cultural milieu that we live in.  From the youth orientation of our entertainment to our religious expression to our governance, Peter Pan seems to be our model on which we choose to base our lives.  You could see it happening for decades, but until this administration there were always enough adults in the room to keep things functioning.  Now it looks like the kids have voted the adults out.  The student council managed to hide its incompetence enough to get reelected, but people are now starting to show up for the dance and the incompetence is becoming all too apparent.

    What truly troubles me is that religion has traditionally been the force in our society that called us to maturity, yet as Roberts points out, way too much religious expression is letting us get away with staying immature.  The great Evangelical “stay-at-home” that marked the last election is part of that immaturity.  It is “take my ball and go home” when a more mature compromise is called for.

    But however this plays out in religious circles one thing is for sure – we need to elect an adult in the next cycle.  And we cannot hamstring the candidate once in office with campaign messaging that appeals to the adolescent in the culture, or else they may not be able to govern as an adult.

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    Christians, Politics and Managing the Media

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:28 am, October 24th 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    The Wall Street Journal says the Southern Baptist church is pulling away from political activism.

    Russell Moore, the centerpiece of the WSJ piece, denies it:

    Don’t call it a pullback; we’ve been here for years.

    The recent profile in the Wall Street Journal highlighted a generational change in terms of the way evangelicals approach cultural and political engagement: toward a gospel-centered approach that doesn’t back down on issues of importance, but sees our ultimate mission as one that applies the blood of Christ to the questions of the day.

    The headline, as is often the case with headlines, is awfully misleading. I am not calling, at all, for a “pullback” from politics or engagement.

    If anything, I’m calling for more engagement in the worlds of politics, culture, art, labor and so on. It’s just that this is a different sort of engagement. It’s not a matter of pullback, but of priority.

    [...]

    Pullback? No. Unless, that is, we mean pulling back to the ministry of Jesus-who addressed everything, body and soul, public and private, political and personal, but who did so with the cross in his vision at every point. That’s what the church has done in every era.

    We want to see our so-called enemies out-voted when they’re doing harmful things, unelected from office when they’re hurting the common good. But we don’t stop there. We want to see them transformed by the blood of Christ. We don’t only want to sing “Onward Christian Soldiers, Marching As to War.” We also want to sing “Just As I Am, Without One Plea, But That Thy Blood Was Shed for Me.”

    There are two essential lessons in this pair of very interesting reads.

    There first is that you can bet your bottom dollar that if you are discussing sophisticated Christian thought, the mainstream media is not going to get it.  Even a conservative outlet like the WSJ does not understand what Moore is really trying to do.  One is tempted to talk about the fact tat you have to be religious to get religion (That, by the way, is one of the things Moore is saying needs to be understood in the recalibration of approach) but there is something else at play here.

    Most media outlets write at an eighth grade level or below.  That’s because that is where the audience is – that’s the level most of the nation operates at.  Moore is making essentially the same argument we have made here over and over and over again.  To really be politically effective, we have to first be effective as a church.  If enough people are deeply genuine in their commitment to Christ, the political ramifications will flow naturally from them.  In other words, Moore is more worried that the church is failing to be the church as younger Christians fail to understand some of the imperatives that are so important to their parents generation.

    That is a very sophisticated argument, one not likely to be properly understood at the level where the media operates.  Somehow, we have to learn how to communicate graduate level arguments at eighth grade levels.

    The second lesson is related. Politics is done in a very specific way and to attempt to change that way is to not really do politics.  Here I think Moore does not get it.  Moore is playing a long game, and I think the right one for a person affiliated with a denomination or church.  But politics is about the immediate.  It is about organizing and fundraising and voters guides and phone banks and direct mail and so the list goes on.  Moore does seem to be taking the Southern Baptist Convention out of that game.  So in a very real sense, the WSJ piece is correct – it is a pullback.

    So, what future for religiously motivated political activism?  From my perspective we need both things going on.  Moore is right, the church needs to fix its priorities and concentrate on being the church.  It needs to make political professionals of deep and genuine faith that go out and use related, but different, organizations to do the stuff of politics.  Of course, that is probably more sophisticated than the media can deal with too.  Which means those political professionals are going to have to be very sophisticated communicators – perhaps even more sophisticated than the preachers that breed them.  The media will never “get” the church, but we have to figure out a way for them “to get” our political arms.

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    Evangelical Impulses or Figuring Out How To Do Two Things At Once

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:30 am, October 22nd 2013     &mdash      5 Comments »

    If, as we have here asserted, the real root of the divide inside the Republican party is religious, how do we repair it?  It is not easy.  For as we have also here contended, schism is an almost defining factor of modern Evangelical expression.  But it is only one of two competing impulses in the Evangelical mindset.

    On the one hand the Evangelical demands a sort of religious or ideological purity.  Never has this been more evident than in Al Mohler’s address at Brigham Young University yesterday: (HT: Justin Taylor)

    I am not here because I believe we are going to heaven together. I do not believe that. I believe that salvation comes only to those who believe and trust only in Christ and in his substitutionary atonement for salvation. I believe in justification by faith alone, in Christ alone. I love and respect you as friends, and as friends we would speak only what we believe to be true, especially on matters of eternal significance. We inhabit separate and irreconcilable theological worlds, made clear with respect to the doctrine of the Trinity. And yet here I am, and gladly so. We will speak to one another of what we most sincerely believe to be true, precisely because we love and respect one another.

    I do not believe that we are going to heaven together, but I do believe we may go to jail together. I do not mean to exaggerate, but we are living in the shadow of a great moral revolution that we commonly believe will have grave and devastating human consequences. Your faith has held high the importance of marriage and family. Your theology requires such an affirmation, and it is lovingly lived out by millions of Mormon families. That is why I and my evangelical brothers and sisters are so glad to have Mormon neighbors. We stand together for the natural family, for natural marriage, for the integrity of sexuality within marriage alone, and for the hope of human flourishing

    What’s the lede there?  Certainly not the shared political concerns, rather it is the theological divide.  Before he can talk about joining Mormons in common political cause he is seemingly compelled to not merely acknowledge the theological differences, but to carefully delineate and explain them.  What could have been glossed over with a few words, consumes an entire paragraph of the pullquote, and several paragraphs in the entire transcript of the speech.  This is the schismatic impulse.  No bridge can be build too permanently – it cannot be shored up – it must be built in a fashion that it can be destroyed in an instant.

    And yet, the other impulse seems in opposition.  That is the impulse to win.  Despite the recent rise in “spiritual but not religious” among young people – Evangelicals in the midst of their schismatic impulse run from megachurch to megachurch.  They seem to like being in the herd.  One would think that the “spiritual but not religious” movement amongst the young was the ultimate expression of the schismatic impulse, but it is not – it is a violent counter reaction to the schismatic impulse.  It is the very temporary nature of the institutions of Evangelicalism that make them appear valueless to the young.

    Evangelicals, as they run from megachurch to megachurch, are simply using the “mega” as a measure of success and seeking to affiliate with that success.  It is the ultimate expression of the old adage “nothing succeeds like success.”  Apparently even if that success lasts only a decade or so.

    Republicans do not currently appear to be winning.  Fred Barnes in this morning’s WSJ:

    In the deal that ended the government shutdown, Republicans lost. They got almost nothing they’d sought. But what has been largely overlooked is that the deal didn’t curtail, much less end, the automatic spending cuts known as the budget sequester. And undoing the sequester is what President Obama and Democrats wanted most of all.

    The survival of the automatic spending cuts gives Republicans the upper hand in confronting the White House and congressional Democrats on budget issues and new proposals by Mr. Obama that would involve new outlays, such as his plan for universal pre-K education. For Republicans eager to corral federal spending—and that’s most of them—the sequester is a gift that keeps on giving.

    Democrats, especially Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, are fit to be tied as they watch cherished social programs gradually shrink.

    Yes, there is a silver lining to what happened – but silver linings are not success and therefore they do not help build more success.  But if you think about it for a moment, the spiritual but not religions young people have a point.  A temporary institution is not really a win either – it is more the appearance of a win.

    However, what is most interesting is that the temporary appearance of a win seems to override the schismatic impulse since Evangelicals flock to megachurches – at least for now.  Schism eventually reasserts itself when the latest thing does not deliver permanence either.

    So, how do Republicans win back the religiously motivated voter?  Accusing them of having competing impulses and chastising them to pull it together clearly is not the answer.  We need to act to on those impulses.  If the preservation of the sequester was the win we got, at least the conservative outlets should have been talking about needing to do that a week before things plummeted to a conclusion.  The appearance of a win is based largely on expectations.

    Who even knew the sequester was at stake in that whole thing?  Only deep in the bowels of Washington was it known.  And it matters not that the MSM would not discuss it, the appearance of a win needs to only happen for the loyal.  “The sequester is at stake” should have been the cry from Rush Limbaugh to Local Talk Radio Guy X.  My Twitter feed should have seen “Obama wants the Sequester Eliminated” hundreds of times.  Then its preservation would be perceived as a win, at least among the loyal and that is a sufficient enough success on which to build more success.

    Yes, we still have to build permanence and suppress the schismatic impulse after that.  But that simple bit of messaging and that simple bet of forming expectations would have been enough for now – it would give us the opportunity to address the other issues.  We do not even have that opportunity at the moment.

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    More Data On The Pile

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:58 am, October 19th 2013     &mdash      1 Comment »

    We have been accumulating data on the effect of Mitt Romney’s faith on the last election.

    To date we have three very significant data points:

    We now have another point for the stack of data.  There is a blog post from a Benjamin Knoll @ HuffPo:

    Using a logistic regression statistical estimation procedure, I analyzed how individual-level attitudes toward Mormons affected the likelihood that someone would vote either for or against Romney in the 2012 general election. This procedure estimates the effect of a single variable (attitudes toward Mormons and Mormonism) on another variable (likelihood of voting for Romney), statistically controlling for a host of other factors including political ideology, demographics, and socioeconomic status.

    [...]

    It appears that most attitudes toward Mormons did not affect the likelihood of voting for Romney one way or another, with the exception of one key factor: whether or not a voter considers Mormons to be Christian. These results suggest that about 1 out of every 20 Republicans decided to stay home instead of turning out to vote for their party’s nominee because they don’t perceive Mormons as Christian.

    After that, rigor disappears fro the analysis and Knoll concludes, rather obviously:

    While I have provided evidence that Romney very likely did lose some (mostly Republican) votes as a result of negative attitudes toward his Mormon faith, this was ultimately not the decisive factor in the outcome of the election.

    There are no “decisive” factors in elections, despite the press’ never-ending attempts to turn the enormously complex into the stupefyingly simple.

    More work needs to be put into this question, not so much to understand Romney;s loss, but to help understand what is at root in the divisions that just cost the party such an enormous loss in the shutdown/debt limit debate.  How much did Romney’s candidacy contribute to the widespread impression among Christian voters that the Republican party has abandoned them?  What will it take for the party to woo them back?

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    Lines…

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:30 am, October 17th 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Daniel Henninger in the mornings WSJ on Republicans and messaging:

    Want a look at how a pro is spinning the Washington mess? Punch into Twitter.com and type “Barack Obama” into the search window. Click on “Barack Obama,” next to the “End This Now” logo. The Obama tweets the past week have been fairly amazing. As in the presidential campaign against Mitt Romney, the Twitter feeds going out in the name of the president of the United States are virtually wall-to-wall propaganda.

    Barack Obama: “If the debt ceiling isn’t raised by Thursday, America could face an economic shutdown.” This from the man who accuses the GOP of “manufacturing crises.”

    Everyone recalls the 2012 campaign’s carpet bombing of “the wealthiest,” even after they’d been shelled with a tax increase. Barack Obama has found—actually, it was handed to him—a scapegoat analogous to “the wealthiest” and “the banks” for his campaign to suppress votes for GOP candidates in the 2014 elections. It’s “tea party Republicans.”

    Barack Obama: “Tea Party Republicans are threatening an economic shutdown. Tell them to #EndThisNow.”

    Henninger has a heck of a point there, but there are also some lines that Obama seems to be willing to cross in his messaging that we should not.

    Line One – Henninger himself points out, “‘If the debt ceiling isn’t raised by Thursday, America could face an economic shutdown.This from the man who accuses the GOP of ‘manufacturing crises.’  In other words, the Obama messaging team in pretty much lying on this one.  Reasonable and attentive people know that a default was not happening today (soon, but not today) had yesterday’s poor excuse for a deal not occurred and that a default, while tremendously problematic would not completely shutter the US economy.  I suppose a case could be made that this phraseology was just “shorthand spin,” not really lying, but that is a pretty thin line.

    The second line is related – Obama is willing to pray on people’s ignorance, while we seek to end it.  The impact of a tweet like the one cited in the paragraph above is based solely on people not understanding how the government and the economy work or how they are related.  And this begins to raise issues when tweets are messaging.  How do we educate in 160 characters?

    The bottom line is one Henninger states outright, “ the Twitter feeds going out in the name of the president of the United States are virtually wall-to-wall propaganda.“  Do we really want to engage in propaganda?  Propaganda, “ideas or statements that are often false or exaggerated and that are spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a government, etc.”  Propaganda is the tool of dictators, not democracies.  Propaganda erodes freedom and we are a party that seeks to promote and expand it.

    Henninger seems to think we need to dip into this pool:

    It may be voter brainwashing, but in the expanded media age in which we all marinate, it works.

    I will agree with its effectiveness, but I do not think we are therefore to “Go forth and do likewise.”  We have to find a better way.  In point of fact it could be argued that propaganda from our side of the aisle fueled at least part of this crisis.  Yesterday we looked at the fact that a significant portion of the Republican base has Obama so demonized in their view that he probably is covering his pitchfork and horns with make-up in public.  Obama is eight kinds of wrong, but he is not the devil.

    The theme of this blog during the crisis has been a bit different than JUST messaging.  (Messaging is important, but it is not the entire picture.)  Obama’s propaganda succeeds because our base is divided.  Everybody knows that, but everybody is seeing the divide in the terms Obama is defining instead of where they are.  It is not “Tea Party” v. “Establishment.”  It is “religiously motivated” v “those for whom religion is a secondary concern.”  (OK that needs to be rephrased in a tweetable form – ‘socialcons v tradcons’?)  Rightly or wrongly, the religiously motivated voters have perceived themselves pushed out of the Republican mainstream and have responded by starting to radicalize.  While I agree wholeheartedly that this is a matter more of perception that reality – the results of that perception are indeed very real.

    It is this divide that has to be fixed.  Fixing messaging is part of fixing that divide.  The party has to find a way to message that closes the divide, not enhances it.  Hence Hugh Hewitt’s statement:

    Look, it was a nasty defeat.  No Black Knight nonsense here. But there is zero upside in making a bad situation worse with the equivalent of a GOP mob war.

    But the people that lead the Religiously Motivated/socialcon/Tea Party bunch have to figured out how to message in a way that educates, not radicalizes.

    Otherwise we are playing by their playbook, not ours.  We cannot win that way.

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