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."

  • “The Flippin’ Mormon…”

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:54 am, January 28th 2014     &mdash      3 Comments »

    Last night I was able to watch the newly released documentary on Netflix, “Mitt.”  For anyone that cared about the campaign and even remotely cared about the individuals involved it is a gut wrenching experience.  I told a friend just after I watched it that my Twitter review should be “It tore my heart out and left it beating on the table in front of me.”  These were amazingly decent people, without an ounce of cynicism.  To watch their stoicism in the face of all the assaults, grounded in their faith, was inspiring,  It also made me hurt for the nation.

    Even noted lefties have found the Romney of this film appealing.  A fact that caused me to tweet:

    @NYTimesDowd, It was there if you had just been willing to see it – Peeling Away the Plastic http://nyti.ms/1cG5CCl

    Others have noted that it was Romney’s very discomfort with the process that resulted in his loss.  Note how both of these criticisms cling to a narrative that Romney was somehow “false” during the campaign.  There is, of course, some standard film criticism of the documentary.  I would make one brief note – It quickly passes over the primary of 2012, feeling I am sure it was repetitive of the well covered primary of 2008.  The 2012 primary was grueling and ugly.  I really would like to have known more about the family discussions surrounding the many failed “not Romney’s.”

    Which brings me to what I really want to say about the film.  In a sense it is book-ended by comments on Romney’s Mormon faith.  I am not talking about the much discussed scenes of the family praying together.  These were incredibly powerful, but they were a bit voyeuristic.  Romney said on Hugh Hewitt last night that he is not ashamed of his faith or his prayer life, but he has also said he wishes the scenes were not in the film.  I honestly think it would have been enough to show the family briefly at prayer, but exclude the content and depth of the prayer.  Somethings are best left between the family and God.

    No, the bookend’s I am discussing come during the 2008 primary when Romney says quite tellingly, “I’m the flippin’ Mormon…” when discussing the narrative that surrounded him and at the end of the film, after the loss to Obama, when he says to at campaign HQ, “You know, we kind of stole the primary…Our party is southern, Evangelical and populist and I’m northern, Mormon and rich.”

    In the discussion of “flippin’ Mormon,”  Romney says “I can’t change the Mormon part, but I can change the flip-flop.”  I wish he could have changed the “flip-flop,” but I thought when he said it that I wished I’d been there -  The two are deeply linked.   I would never ask Gov, Romney to consider changing his Mormon faith, but the argument that he needed to make was that there is nothing about his Mormon faith that makes him untrustworthy.  His faith sort of sat there at the bottom of everything, a hidden bigotry, giving people a reason to latch onto any narrative that called into question the veracity and genuineness of this most truthful and genuine candidate.

    I doubt that Joel Belz has enough readers to have formed the nucleus of this anti-Mormon sentiment, but he is the only one on the right to give voice to it:

    It’s not a trivial matter that Mormonism, as a cultic movement, has a bad reputation when it comes to getting its own story straight. Check out the public record, if you will, including fairly recent interviews with Mormon officials in venues like Larry King Live, 60 Minutes, and Newsweek. Do these officials hold to the fantastical 1827 golden tablets of Mormon founder Joseph Smith—or not? Well, they seem to say: We believe it when we want to, and we don’t when it’s less convenient. Where Mormonism isn’t shrouded in deliberate secrecy, it is covered with confusion.

    So when folks tell me they’re satisfied that Mitt Romney won’t try to drag his Mormonism into his politics, and that he would never ever impose his theology on the American people, I have to worry whether that’s exactly what he’s already done. When, in a relatively short space of time, he seems to be on both sides of the same issue—and when such a deviously confusing approach seems to be consistent with his faith rather than counter to it—that sets off alarm bells for me.

    Only a few weeks ago, I sat a dozen feet from Romney as he compellingly spelled out his convictions and credentials. He was winsome and persuasive. On the surface, he said almost everything I want to hear my candidate say. On the issues that matter (except for choice in education), he was as convincing as any politician I’ve heard in recent years.

    But still.

    More than anything, I want a president who tells the truth. And I worry deeply when people are overly ready to believe a man whose religious upbringing, of all things, suggests that the truth is a negotiable commodity.

    Belz makes a theological argument that Romney is essentially a liar – because of his faith.  Note how easily this blends with the left leaning narrative which hates his faith simply because it opposes the entire left-leaning social agenda.  The left simply believes that anyone that “straight” must be lying; otherwise, much of their worldview comes crashing in around them.

    The Romney’s never seem to acknowledge this problem directly.  Romney failed to see that “Mormon” made “flippin’” stick and it made “northern and rich” insurmountable.  This, in the end, is what makes Mitt Romney such a compelling and endearing figure.  He simply refused to believe the worst of the American people.

    That’s what makes his loss in 2012 so much more than just another political loss.  That’s what makes some fear that the nation has turned a fundamental corner.  That’s what drives many to their knees in prayer on a regular basis — the fact that we may no longer be able to rely on the right and best in the American people.

    This film is extraordinarily compelling and extraordinarily hard to watch.  My personal acquaintance with many of the players on the screen makes me celebrate with them they fact that they still have each other.  The emotional factor that makes this film so hard to watch is what is says in the larger context.  The nation rejected deep and real decency when it rejected Mitt Romney as its president.

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    Not A Helpful Read

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:25 am, January 22nd 2014     &mdash      1 Comment »

    So, Michael Beschloss takes to the I-thought-defunk “On-Faith” WaPo space and writes on the how presidents posture about religion.

    In general and throughout American history, presidents—for the most self-protective reasons—not only avoid comments that might offend a vote of faith as sacrilegious, but also tend to exaggerate the depth of their personal religious conviction and practice.

    And so we see we have advanced from arguing which presidents are religious and which are not (this debate about the Founders will probably go on long after all of us are dead) to trying to argue that even those that seemed blatantly religious don’t really mean it.

    President’s posture on things – they always have and they always will.  It is the nature of politics.  It is in fact incumbent on a representative of the people to reflect the thinking of the people, even if that representative disagrees with the general public’s stance.  That’s not lying, that’s serving.  That is how our political system is designed.   As we have said here often, our government is in many ways intended to be a mirror.

    But to dig into “What’s posturing and what’s ‘real’” when it comes to matters of faith is truly problematic.  It cheapens religion.

    All people of faith posture in that faith.  It is part of how that faith changes us.  The alcoholic that has turned to faith to overcome their alcoholism must get up each day and “posture” as a non-drinker.  They may even slip in that effort.  Does that mean they are not sincere in their commitment?  Certainly not if they get up the next day and try again.  Religion seeks to change us at the deepest possible levels – not something that happens overnight  or without missteps.

    Religious expression in the United States is an extraordinarily diverse thing.  Why within single congregations of shared demographics, denominational affiliation and theological perspective there can be massive and sometimes ugly debate about things like what music to sing in the Sunday service.  What an old curmudgeon Presbyterian says is “the right way” to worship can be nearly antithetical to the same thing said by an African-American Evangelical.  In such circumstance within the faith community how can anyone on the outside judge what is sincere religious practice?

    There are many more arguments to be made about how a historian’s judgement on the questions Beschloss has set for himself could be significantly warped and untrustworthy.  But the bottom line is this – to even ask the question in this fashion is to call into question the legitimacy of religion generally.  It lessens religion to something that people put on and take off as circumstance and convenience dictates instead of allowing it to be the path to the supernatural and agent for change that it really is.  It reduces religion from educational and character-building to merely a demographic label.

    This is just one more effort to remove religion from public debate.

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    Worth Remembering…

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 04:23 pm, January 21st 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Victor Davis Hanson -

    I am not engaging in pop counterfactual history, as much as reminding us of how thin the thread of civilization sometimes hangs, both in its beginning and full maturity. Something analogous is happening currently in the 21st-century West. But the old alarmist scenarios — a nuclear exchange, global warming and the melting of the polar ice caps, a new lethal AIDS-like virus — should not be our worry.

    Rather our way of life is changing not with a bang, but with a whimper, insidiously and self-inflicted, rather than abruptly and from foreign stimuli. Most of the problem is cultural.

    Church/Religion is the leading agent to affect culture, save for the fact we have abandoned that role.  It is time we take it back.

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    Things You Should Be Reading

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:12 am, January 20th 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    If you are not following us on Twitter (@Art6B) you should be.  We are making increased use of it.  It is a great way to pass along things that are worth reading; however it is not a great way to make much comment on same.  Hence we are going to pass on a few links here of article that need a little comment, in no particular order.

    Violence and discrimination against religious groups by governments and rival faiths have reached new highs in all regions of the world except the Americas, according to a new Pew Research Centre report.

    - from a Reuters story.  I found that tid-bit really interesting in light of this op-ed out of Zimbabwe:

    While the constitution states that no person can be hindered from the enjoyment of his or her freedom of religion, it also states that in the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health the law in can limit the freedom of religion.

    However, the danger of enacting a general law which allows for the infringement of religious freedom is that such a law could be used as a political tool, even to the detriment of sincere and law-abiding believers as is the case currently in tumultuous Egypt.

    To maintain the rift between the church and the state, the only reasonable way of monitoring religion would be through a statutory religious ombudsman consisting of respectable and impartial citizens and mandated with the two-fold functions of protecting the public from pulpit predators, and keeping politics and state separate from issues of faith.

    That’s just fascinating is it not?  Note that a) the public cannot be trusted to decide the issue (that would be competition) and b) how precisely is the ombudsman going to enforce its rulings?  Is religion really free under the circumstances here described?  Sounds like a formula to enhance Mugabe’s dictatorial hold to me.  Which is why, as Robert P. George and Katrina Lantos Swett argue on CNN today, religious freedom is an important matter to foreign policy.

    Said so often it is now trite, “freedom of religion is not freedom from religion.”  The key seems to be to not merely create adherents to a religion but to actually make religious people – there is a difference you know.  Religious adherents follow blindly their leaders.  Religious people allow themselves to be shaped by their religion into people that can argue and discuss with their religious leaders.  Religious adherents are kept ignorant, religious people thirst for learning.

    As we said repeatedly during two election cycles, there is more to religion that merely identity.  Evangelicals are starting to see how this really works.  That does not mean there will not be liars in the whole thing – people that try to take advantage.  But the answer is not to divorce yourself from religious institutions.  That is really how Evangelicalism was born and we have just seen how that is coming full circle.

    Answers lie in the many, many checks and balances of our system.  This is pointed out quite adroitly in an article we did tweet out last week:

    The democratic truth is that we’re all created equal, but truth, by itself, easily morphs into apathetic passivity and material self-indulgence.  The aristocratic truth is that to be human is to have a singular greatness (and misery) not shared with the other animals.  The Christian truth is that all men were equally created to display the greatness of unique and irreplaceable individuality, and part of that greatness is the truth about who we are that we can joyfully and responsibly share in common.  The danger in democracy is that Christian churches lose their capacity to be genuinely countercultural—or teach the truth that will be neglected “on the street” in middle-class democracy.  And so the separation of church and state is to keep the church from being corrupted by excessive concern with endlessly egalitarian justice and the logic of the market.  The separation is for the integrity of the church by limiting the claims for truth and morality of the democratic “social state,” which includes the democratic state

    Oh yeah, and on a closing note, the president remains and unthoughtful, silly, self-involved twit.

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    Quote Of The Week

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:46 am, January 14th 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    from “Socrates Rises With Christ” in Intercollegiate Review:

    Is there any way to bring political philosophy and revelation, Athens and Jerusalem, into a coherent, non-contradictory relation to each other without undermining the integrity of either? The issue is ancient no less than medieval and modern. We need a philosophy that only “searches” for wisdom but did not constitute it. We need a revelation that is open to reason, not based solely on the voluntarist proposition that each existing thing could be otherwise. To consider this relationship, we presuppose that both political philosophy and revelation talk of intelligible things.

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    A Question For Our Readers

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:36 am, January 10th 2014     &mdash      1 Comment »

    On Hugh Hewitt yesterday Mark Steyn said this discussing Chris Christie:

    “The bigger lesson of this is there is a kind of permanent political class of operatives, who regardless of the front man at the top of the pyramid, carrying on, pulling a whole lot of stunts – regardless of whether it’s a focus grouped blow-dried phony politician at the top of the pyramid, or Mr. Authentic, like Chris Christie,” Steyn said. “And that gets to an interesting question about American politics – what’s the point of having a super-authentic candidate if he just hires the same old lousy campaign operatives as everybody else?”

    Do you know enough about how the campaign operates to know what were operatives and what was the candidate?  Do you think Romney’s selection of operatives hurt him in the last cycle?  Other comments?

    Comment moderation remains in place because some of those operatives might just try to involve themselves in this discussion, but I’ll try to stay on top of it and get comments through quickly.

     

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