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 Internet and Authority

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:42 am, July 19th 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    We’ve been thinking a lot around these parts about the fact that religion is losing currently because it has quit leading culture and started catering to it.  This is especially true in Evangelicalism, but I have Catholic friends that would argue Vatican II is pretty much the same thing.

    An interesting back and forth between Damon Linker and Rod Dreher contends that the Internet is contributing to the problem as well – especially for Catholicism.  The contention is, in essence, that you can no longer “cover-up” the scandal.  Linker puts it this way:

    Stated simply, the problem is this: Traditionalist churches preach a moral outlook that diverges sharply (especially in sexual matters) from the latitudinarian and egalitarian ethic of liberalism that increasingly dominates the lives of 21st-century Americans. When a scandal reveals that those who preach the stringent traditionalist view of morality fall far short of the standards they publicly demand of others, it makes them look like hypocrites and the church’s teachings look like a cruel sham concocted by psychologically unbalanced clerics.

    But that’s not even the heart of the problem. To become a potentially church-destroying trend, which is what I think it could develop into over the coming decades, it must be mixed with one additional ingredient: The technologies of publicity (email, instant messaging, social media, news sites greedy for clicks) that have proliferated in the past generation.

    Both admit, as I would be quick to point out, that scandal in church is as old as church.  I know of no one that takes their faith seriously that has not had to deal with how to relate to the institution that they believe is God’s representative on earth when that institution fails.  Anybody that has done serious work in a religious institutions has run into a scandal.  It is the nature of the beast.  And there have always been elements that sought to cover such up.  But religious institutions, even the Roman Catholic church, are all about people knowing other people’s business.  Every scandal I have ever run into everybody knew about, just nobody talked about it much and thus maybe those not paying attention (the irreligious) did not know, but that does not mean the information was not readily available.

    Word of religious scandal may spread a bit faster and seemingly less gossipy than it once did, but that only reinforces the church’s lack of authority with those that already doubted its authority.

    Scandals hurt the church’s authority more than they used to because the church no longer responds to scandal authoritatively.  “Gotchas” rarely remain a problem if the situation is dealt with swiftly and definitively.  The current crisis over the jetliner shoot down in Eastern Ukraine is a perfect example.   Our president has chosen to declare it, unacceptable, but he brings no consequence to bear on the situation.  Thus Obama only looks more weak and powerless than he did before.  And so, anymore, churches respond to a scandal.  They declare it bad, but there are no genuine consequences.  Pastors and priests are counseled and restored; no longer are they defrocked and shamed.

    The roots of these issues are deep in theology and psychology and they are not for this blog – they are for each church to struggle with.

    What is for this blog to say is that if a priest is caught in sexual impropriety and the word goes out over Twitter, “See we told you the church were liars,” and the particular diocese in question responded repeatedly with a tweet, “Priest X is no longer is a priest of the Roman Catholic Church,” the “liar” meme would die in a big hurry.  That is an authoritative response using the internet.  The internet is not the issue.


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    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:38 am, July 15th 2014     &mdash      1 Comment »

    Regular readers know that I am Presbyterian.  Most do not know, nor care really, that I am Presbyterian Church in the United States of America – PC(USA).  There are many Presbyterian denominations in the US and the world.  PC(USA) is the largest in the United States.  It is also the most liberal.  At its last General Assembly, the highest governing body in the church, it voted, among other things, to divest from Israel for the sake of peace and to allow pastors moved by conscience to perform same-sex marriages.

    I find myself in the rather unusual position of having the church I was raised in and that inculcated me with my sexual mores calling me a bigot because I believe homosexual practice is outside of God’s will.  People of many different faiths read this blog.  One thing we all share is the idea that what is good, typically defined by divine order, is static, not subject to whim, fashion, or even time.  It is strange indeed to have gone from faithful adherent to bigoted old fart without ever changing my view.  It is also rather unusual when I have visited Israel and been under rocket fire from the Gaza to be told by people that have never left the Midwestern United States that I have no understanding of peace and war and the situation in the Middle East.   It is as if reality is warping around me.

    People are deriding the Church of Jesus Christ, Latter Day Saints for standing firm on things that have been a part of it from the beginning:

    The true legacy of the Mormon Moment might just be that the church was given the chance that many religious institutions desperately need to stay relevant in the 21st century: the opportunity to open itself to criticism and inquiry. The church has chosen not to. And it has killed its own moment by doing so.

    Note that phrase “stay relevant,” we will return to it momentarily.

    Dennis Prager has written of how upside down the anti-Israeli view has become in the current conflict between Israel and Hamas playing out in the Gaza region:

    And what is the primary concern of the United Nations, nearly all the world’s media, and nearly all the world’s intellectuals? That Entity B, while hundreds of missiles are launched at its most populated cities, not kill any of the civilians among whom Entity A’s leaders hide.

    The moral gulf between Israel, our Entity B, and Hamas, our Entity A, is as clear and as great as the one that existed between the Allies and Nazi Germany. It is one of the few instances in today’s world when the Nazi analogy is accurate.

    It is clear that while free and democratic countries such as those in Western Europe value the freedoms of speech, assembly, and press for themselves, the absence of these freedoms among Israel’s enemies means nothing to the Europeans in morally assessing the Middle East conflict.

    The news media, too, have no moral focus. They are preoccupied with Gazans who have died, and with the disparity between the number of Gazans killed and the number of Israelis killed — as if that is morally dispositive. Imagine that during World War II, the Western press had converged on German hospitals and apartment buildings and repeatedly announced the huge disparity between German civilian deaths and British civilian deaths. More than 10 times the number of German civilians were killed as were British — but did that have anything at all to do with the morality of the British war against Germany?

    There are voices pointing out that  sometimes we have to “go against the grain:”

    So if there is one thing we can learn from Glenn Beck (and subsequently Jesus) it is that we must be willing to go against the grain to stand for what we know to be right, even if it costs our job, wealth, power, position, or privilege. We must be willing to stick our necks out and seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. If we do, God will take care of everything else.

    Note that Beck is going against a conservative grain here (humanitarian aid to illegal immigrant children), not a liberal one.  Which raises some interesting points.

    One is that Mormons seem to be standing firm more than others.  And yet we were worried about Romney’s Mormon faith?!  I am sorry, there is a lot of sour grapes in that – which is unbecoming, but gosh darn it – I told you so.

    The second interesting point is that religious values and political values do not always align, on either side of the political spectrum.  Beck is absolutely right on this one – as I wrote last week.  The conservative orthodoxy regarding illegal immigration ignores the humanitarian disaster we are confronted with.  Politically, governmentally, we cannot take them into the nation – on that I agree.  But churches, as separate entities, should be offering all the humanitarian aid they can.  To do less only harms the reputation of religious folks.  It makes us look like the beasts the left wants to claim we are.

    Which brings me to my third point.  It is one we have made here over and over and over again.  Democracy can only work with a good and moral populace.  It is the job of the church to help people find that goodness and morality.  Absent divinity, reality can indeed warp.   Some churches seem to be abandoning divinity, the left certainly has.  The question is not relevancy, it is right.  Politics is an expression, not a source.

    Before we can get our politics correct we have to return to our source.


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    “How cold do you have to be to use children in this way?”

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:13 am, July 11th 2014     &mdash      6 Comments »

    That headline quote is Peggy Noonan in this morning’s WSJ piece on the border crisis.  Here’s a fuller quote of her conclusion:

    Meanwhile some in the conservative press call the president incapable, unable to handle the situation. But he is not so stupid he doesn’t know this is a crisis. He knows his poll numbers are going to go even lower next month because of it. He scrambled Wednesday to hold a news conference to control a little of the damage, but said nothing new.

    There is every sign he let the crisis on the border build to put heat on Republicans and make them pass his idea of good immigration reform. It would be “comprehensive,” meaning huge, impenetrable and probably full of mischief. His base wants it. It would no doubt benefit the Democratic Party in the long term.

    The little children in great danger, holding hands, staring blankly ahead, are pawns in a larger game. That game is run by adults. How cold do you have to be to use children in this way?

    A couple of weeks ago, writing about the downward trend in new business formation, I wrote:

    The concerns of the WSJ are far more profound that just the downturn in productivity and causal slowness in business formation.  (Something that, by the way, if not reversed will mire the nation in the debt this administration has buried us under forever.)  It is a reflection of the secularization of the nation – it is not a business problem, it is a soul-sickness.

    This border crisis is more soul-sickness – It is soul-sickness on a new and heinous level.  Even if the president genuinely does not know what to do, even if he really is completely incapable, he must still, as Noonan says, “know this is a crisis.”  The fact that he is doing anything other than enabling (that is to say, getting the h%^$ out of the way of) people that do know what to do is political calculation.

    Jim Geraghty discussed the issue yesterday and while he lauded Glenn Beck’s charity efforts he quickly pointed out such is not enough – that action is needed on so many levels.  As I read Geraghty yesterday the idea flooded into my head that the thing to do would be to organize a massive number of church buses to provide humanitarian aid and transport these kids home to their families. (A Dunkirk kind of thing.)  But then it dawned on me, for that to work we would need the cooperation of the governments of Mexico and Guatemala and Nicaragua and….  We would need physical protection from the highly organized gangs of criminals that are providing the networks that move these children.  In other words we would need the help of the United States government, and that is unreliable.

    Somewhere on talk radio yesterday I caught a quick snippet of a guest discussing with the host the fact that the reason nothing is happening in Washington is that the Congress cannot trust the president to honor an agreement.  There is no point entering into negotiations, he will simply do as he pleases.  That, in a nutshell, is the heinous level of soul-sickness that infects the land.  It matters; it is not just the president.

    I have no statistics, but it certainly seems to me that I am more and more experiencing people violating the commonly accepted social contracts.  You know the simple politeness of life, from butting into lines to talking in movies to roadway behavior.  The  amount of profanity and dismissive insult spilled after the Hobby Lobby decision is not merely a reflection of the pervasiveness of social media, it is also a reflection of the fact that those taking to social media do not feel compelled to engage in civil discourse.  That is a reflection of what is happening in Washington.  It is not good.

    The culture war before us now is no longer about issues, it is about simple human decency.  All I want from the president is a chance for those of us of religious bent to be humanly and humanely decent in this border crisis.  Whether through incompetence or political calculation or both, he denies even that opportunity.  I will not pretend to understand his motivations, but I will tell you that whether it be the loss of life in the continued struggles of the Middle East or the humanitarian crisis on our border, his actions or inactions have produced evil.

    Such is not what made America the leading nation of the world.  We are much, much better than that.  We need our president to let us be so.


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