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."

  • “…Sometimes gives the impression of being a charter member of the cast-the-first-stone coalition…”

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:20 am, November 6th 2013     &mdash      1 Comment »

    That’s how the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page described Ken Cuccinelli this morning in the wake of his very near miss.

    I think it clarifies a message problem that confronts the politically active of faith.  Mark Levin did not help matters when he said, “…GOP ESTABLISHMENT AND DONORS LEFT THE FIELD.”  But he does illustrate a point.

    The word that keeps running through my mind is “winsome.”

    generally pleasing and engaging often because of a childlike charm and innocence

    Somewhere, somehow, those of us on the conservative side of the social issues have lost that.  This is a communications concern, not a policy/position concern.  Yes, our opposition wants to act like anyone that holds a position contrary to theirs is definitionally not winsome, but they can only get away with that if our approach and personality permits them to.

    I need to slip into preacher mode for one paragraph – it is also a spiritual issue.  If we are not winsome, then somehow we are not reflecting the God we worship because He is – by definition – winsome beyond description.  Think about the story to which the WSJ’s description alludes, there is no condemnation from Christ; He in fact saves the accused from condemnation.  There is only an urge to “go and sin no more.”  A lesson in winsome that.  Now back to the politics.

    The “GOP Establishment and donors,” if dollars are the best measure, did not support Cuccinelli nearly as much as his Republican predecessor – but that does not necessarily mean they are “RINOS” or that they have abandoned socially conservative issues.  It means they are searching for the right way to approach those issues and they knew that Cuccinelli was not the right way.

    History never repeats itself in as much detail as we like to think it does, so Reagan nostalgia sometimes troubles me.  Reagan would have likely found the current environment far more frustrating than the one he operated in.  But he did have the particular thing we are talking about here absolutely right on.  He made friends of his opponents and managed to stay friends with them, even when they disagreed.  They liked him, even when he disagreed with them.

    If there is a lesson to be learned from yesterday’s results that’s it.  Chris Christie has a number of vulnerabilities as a candidate, but he is likable.  He manages to be quite charming in the middle of his combative bombast.

    Much has been made of the fact that Mitt Romney is also a very charming guy.  I certainly experienced that in my meetings with him.  But the public never got that image.  We are quick to blame the MSM, but there are certain preconditions that make it so the MSM can get away with that.  Primary among those preconditions is that Romney’s supporters were often precisely as dour and condemning as the media painted Romney.  Not everybody gets to meet a presidential candidate, but everybody does get to meet a supporter of a presidential candidate.  People will inform their impression of the candidate on their impression of his/her supporters.

    We need, desperately, to find our “happy place” again.  We cannot wait for things to get better.  If they are going to get better it is because we have found our way back to winsome.  Not our candidate – us.

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    Posted in Candidate Qualifications, Culture Wars, Evangelical Shortcomings, News Media Bias, Political Strategy, Social/Religious Trends, The Way Forward, Understanding Religion | 1 Comment » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    An Interesting Reflection – Defining A Fundamental Problem

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:24 am, November 4th 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Peggy Fletcher Stack of the SLTrib was one of the better reporters on the Romney/religion angle.  She was a friend of this blog, and Lowell interacted with her frequently – I only on occasion.  She has recently put up a long “reminiscence” of both campaign cycles at “ABC Religion and Ethics.“  It is a great and worthy read.  I found one paragraph most interesting:

    Again, as a journalist, it was not my agenda to support or defeat Romney, only to help explain his frequently misunderstood faith to a public eager to know something about his church. Another task I took on during his campaign was to correct misinformation about Mormonism, mostly made by secular journalists unfamiliar with religion. (Mind you, the country’s religion writers at major newspapers did an excellent job of explaining some elements of the candidate’s faith.) I did this by blogging or tweeting about the errors, knowing that or readers would be amused or outraged.

    That is a fascinating view of the job for a journalist to do in a presidential campaign.  It raises a number of fundamental questions.  Should the religion of a presidential candidate need to be explained?  How much of the religion of a candidate can be explained without discussing it with the candidate personally.  (Stack admits Romney never sat for an interview with her.)  In any religion there is faith, belief and practice.  Which of that is “fair game” and which is not?

    Religious practice, that is to say behavior, has always been fair game in reporting on a candidate for any office.  How a candidate behaves, what he/she will do is perhaps the most vital question to ask.  But faith and belief?  When we step into that realm, things become highly problematic.  Some beliefs, or theological precepts, just don’t matter.  For example the Mormon concept of the Godhead is at the heart of the theological question of whether they are Christians or not.  But that theological formulation makes virtually no difference in the behavior of any believer of Christian tint, orthodox or heterodox.  So why does it matter when electing a president?  And then there is the fact that not all adherents to a particular flavor of Christianity hold faithful to each theological precept of that flavor.  Just because the PCUSA, my church, ordains practicing homosexuals to holy office does not mean I agree with that.

    Which brings me back to journalism.  Journalism serves a role in our national fabric.  It is not merely to tell people what they want to know, but by not necessarily telling them everything, telling them what matters.   Journalism is one of the checks and balances in our nation.  A journalist must keep that in mind when they write.  (I make no judgement on Stack here, I only use her piece as a springboard for this discussion.)  I am not talking about spin here, I am talking about things that matter and things that don’t.

    I do not think we were well served in this arena in the last few election cycles.  Candidate reporting now resembles People magazine more than the great journalism of my youth.  In their print editions, the greats of old are highly partisan, but they have yet to dip into this well.  However, online, their blogs and Tweets are as salacious as the rest.  At one point People was a sideline at Time, now it is the other way around.

    As usual, this says more about the American people than anything else.  Why has journalism gone this way?  It’s what sells.  But a little push back against the market would certainly be a breath of fresh air.  Who knows, it might even help.

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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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    The Stubborn and Ego Driven Pursuit of Failure

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:26 am, October 3rd 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    The political theater that is the shutdown show is one of the most amazing things this observer has seen in a very long time.  From “I don’t have to offer anything” to “anarchist” to “the Showdown at the WWII corral,” to any one of the other now almost countless inanities that have marked the Obama administration’s attempts to define essential and non-essential government service we are being treated to something rare.  And if one can remain sufficiently objective, something quite entertaining.

    But the lead story in this morning’s New York Times, moves this bit of political theater from rare to frightening:

    A sweeping national effort to extend health coverage to millions of Americans will leave out two-thirds of the poor blacks and single mothers and more than half of the low-wage workers who do not have insurance, the very kinds of people that the program was intended to help, according to an analysis of census data by The New York Times.

    Now the story goes on to try and blame Republicans:

    Because they live in states largely controlled by Republicans that have declined to participate in a vast expansion of Medicaid,….

    But come on, we see through this in a blue minute!  Blaming Republicans accomplishes nothing here.  They passed this mess of legislation with but a single goal and they have failed to meet the mark.  They should have either expanded Medicaid in a fashion that was not optional  (they tried, but the Supreme Court told them it was unconstitutional) or they should have exercised some leadership and convinced the Republican states to come along willingly.  Instead they chose, and continue to choose, to shove it down the throat of the American people.

    This entire mess, from the the parliamentary legerdemain that passed Obamacare to begin with to the massive absurdities that have marked this government shutdown, has been in pursuit of a laudable goal.  But this NYTimes story makes it apparent that goal has been missed by a wide margin.   Not only that, any competent administration would have seen this coming back when SCOTUS handed down their decision, and reacted.  Instead we are treated to administration and media driven efforts to hide the ball and forge ahead.  They can blame Republicans all they like, they have still failed to meet the mark.

    One must wonder at what point we slip from the world of partisan battle into the world of the delusional.  With this revelation, what we are witnessing – Obama’s unwillingness to negotiate in any fashion – is not a tough stance but a failure to recognize that he has failed to accomplish that which he intended to accomplish.

    Reality  has left  the building and only ego remains.

    This is not compassionate or equitable or praiseworthy in any fashion.  It is failure compounded on failure.

    Americans won’t stand for it.

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    One Of Those Places We NEED Religion w/ UPDATE

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:54 am, May 23rd 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    The Wall Street Journal ran a powerful editorial this morning.  It concludes this way:

    If the scandal is showing anything, it is that the White House has a bizarre notion of accountability in the federal government. President Obama’s former senior adviser, David Axelrod, told MSNBC recently that his guy was off the hook on the IRS scandal because “part of being President is there’s so much beneath you that you can’t know because the government is so vast.”

    In other words, the bigger the federal government grows, the less the President is responsible for it. Mr. Axelrod’s remarkable admission, and the liberal media defenses of Mr. Obama’s lack of responsibility, prove the tea party’s point that an ever larger government has become all but impossible to govern. They also show once again that liberals are good at promising the blessings of government largesse but they leave its messes for others to clean up.

    ***

    Alexander Hamilton and America’s Founders designed the unitary executive for the purpose of political accountability. It is one of the Constitution’s main virtues. Unlike grunts in Cincinnati, Presidents must face the voters. That accountability was designed to extend not only to the President’s inner circle but over the entire branch of government whose leaders he chooses and whose policies bear his signature.

    If the President isn’t accountable, then we really have the tea party nightmare of the runaway administrative state accountable to no one. If Mr. Obama and his aides are to be taken at their word, that is exactly what we have.

    I could not help but reflect when I read those words that the scandals are evidence of the need for ultimate accountability.  Yes, the checks and balances of the constitution are a form of accountability, as is the voting booth.  But in the end, and the founders knew this, men are accountable to themselves and to God.  Without the internal ethical and moral compass that good people have, things just go awry.  From pilfering produce in the grocery store to the kind of government scandals we are witnessing to the horrid happenings in London yesterday, good religion is the only force that can keep such things in a reasonable state of check.  Governmental forms of accountability can intercede after the fact, but only a person’s sense of accountability to a just and reasonable God can keep them from acting to begin with.

    As I reflect on the perversity that was the last election campaign, where in some circles a man was depicted as inhuman and uncaring BECAUSE of his faith in God – where is some circles theology was confused with character, I shudder.  The fact that the current president was believed by sufficient numbers to the ethically and morally superior candidate to be elected points to a nation that is horribly confused about morality and ethics and one that is looking to its government for all the wrong things.

    The relative lack of outrage at unfolding scandals of this administration are also reason for concern.  The scandals of the Clinton administration showed a lack of character, but not necessarily a problem of governance.  One must go back to the Watergate scandals of Nixon to see this kind of abuse of governmental authority.  But those scandals created a sense of moral outrage in the press and the people.  These scandals, at least for the moment, have more of an air of “business as usual” than of the horrific violation of trust that they are.  This speaks to not just an administration that does not feel itself under ultimate accountability, but also a nation that does not.

    Our nation has a way of correcting itself – that is what such ultimate accountability can do.  I find myself wondering if a sufficient amount of such accountability still exists within the nation for that self-correction to kick in.  Fortunately,  my faith in placed in higher places.

    UPDATE

    (A few minutes later) Things are worse than I expected.  Check out this from our friend David French:

    Earlier this week, in a feeble attempt at humor on Facebook, I posted: “If you haven’t been audited by the IRS during the Obama administration, can you even call yourself a conservative?”  Given the scale of the abuses, I should probably just shorten it and say, “Only RINOs don’t get audited.” My wife and I got audited in 2011, with the IRS examining every inch of our adoption the previous year. The process was painful, but we got through it, and our refund may have been adjusted by a few dollars (the amount of the adjustment was so small, I don’t actually remember). In other words, the audit was a gigantic waste of time — for the IRS and for our family. A Facebook commenter, however, pointed me to a report that made me rethink the experience.

    As we get word that the IRS has harassed a number of pro-life groups, including at least one alleged demand that a pro-life group not picket Planned Parenthood, check out this statistic: In 2012, the IRS requested additional information from 90 percent of returns claiming the adoption tax credit and went on to actually audit 69 percent.

    David discusses the personal turmoil such wrought in his and his wife’s life with their adoption,  and I do not wish to be dismissive of that personal hardship.  But there is something much deeper here.  This level of discouragement of adoption means the government thinks of children as property – more, government property.  Talk about a broken moral and ethical compass!

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