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 Importance of Religious Institutions

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:17 am, April 17th 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Fascinating story in the Desert News Tuesday and religions, religious affiliation and belief:

    For several years, the United States has seen a decline in religious affiliation. Currently, 20 percent of Americans don’t claim a particular religion or church — up from 15 percent just five years ago. Some worry that this shift into secularism will turn the United States into Western Europe.

    Yet others are more optimistic. They point out that polling data don’t always allow for a nuanced discussion of faith and spirituality, and that many individuals still want to have a relationship with God, albeit on their own terms and with their own timing. These individuals may not relate to specific dogmas or rituals, but they still seek and find solace in believing that God is in charge and that when they put him first, their lives go smoother — an acknowledgement that is at the foundation of most religions and the first of the Ten Commandments.

     ”To argue that America is suddenly becoming vastly secular is not the case,” says Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of Gallup. “You can’t say (religion) is fading out of importance when a lot of the central events of our time, for better or worse, are based on strong religious convictions. I think that rather than becoming increasingly more of a straight, old-fashioned secular society, we have the potential to be religious, but in some different ways.”

    As Spock might say, “Fascinating Captain.”  These are the now well discussed “spiritual, but not religious” and comprise many of the so-called “Nones.”  As you read through the entire well-done piece you come to understand that this group of people want to shape a personal religion for themselves rather than allow religion to shape them.  Theologically that is a subject for a series of sermons and a book.  But let’s focus here on what that means for society and politics.

    Politically, it’s significance is straightforward.  Church and para-church institutions can no longer be relied upon to provide a focal point for political action.  What used to be an exercise in herding cats has now become an exercise in chaos.  Churches, parachurch organizations, and other religious institutions have been a traditional organizing advantage for conservative.  Should the trend described in this article continue, that just does not work anymore.  In terms of organizing we begin to look much more like the liberal/Democrat side of the aisle.  They have been at it a lot longer than we have and are therefore better at it.  Big problem.

    Societally, this is an enormous problem.  American government is not designed to shape people.  Its good functioning is conditioned on a nation of good people.  Our government relies on other forces, mostly education and religion, to make those good people.  Education is pretty firmly in government hands, and the only counter-balance seems to be in decline.  The constitution has both internal and design “checks and balances,” it relies on greater societal checks and balances.  These latter checks and balances are on the wane.  Without them the future appears bleak.

    This is a problem for the church, not politics.  I would argue that it is the church relying on political/cultural force, rather than the moral and spiritual force that is unique to it, that has created this trend.  I believe it is time for the church to get serious about fixing it.

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    Posted in Doctrinal Obedience, Evangelical Shortcomings, Political Strategy, Social/Religious Trends, Understanding Religion | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    So, Who Is The Bad Actor In This Drama?

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:56 am, March 19th 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Neil J. Young pens a review of a new book, The Mormon Image in the American Mind: Fifty Years of Public Perception, by J.B. Haws. (HT: Ed Stetzer).  I quote from the review with emphasis added:

    Growing up in central Florida, I did not go to the beach for spring break. Instead, nearly every March my family would escape the swampy humidity of Orlando for the crisp mountain air of Utah. Skiing throughout the week, we’d often take one day from the slopes to rest our legs and explore Salt Lake City—which usually meant a visit to Temple Square, the institutional and symbolic heart of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There, earnest missionaries would bear their testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ brought about by the prayerful seeking of a young Joseph Smith. We’d exchange knowing glances at these moments; we were Southern Baptists, and we knew a lot about Mormonism. A good bit of that knowledge, it turned out, was erroneous, but it was the product of a concerted effort begun by the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s to make its members more mindful of Mormonism, a “heretical” faith that was gaining sizeable Baptist converts.

    [...]

    The Mormon Image is bookended with the tale of two Romneys: George Romney’s 1968 run for president and his son Mitt’s 2008 and 2012 bids for the White House. In 1968, George Romney faced hardly any questions about his faith, a fortunate inheritance from JFK’s history-making victory eight years prior. If anything, Americans saw Romney’s Mormonism as an asset, proof that he was a trustworthy and upstanding man. A 1967 Gallup poll found 75 percent of voters had no hesitation voting for a Mormon for president. Yet forty years later, Mormonism likely prevented Mitt Romney from capturing his party’s nomination. In 2007, 29 percent of Republicans had indicated they “probably or definitely” would not vote for a Mormon. As Haws writes, “being a Mormon in the public eye meant something different in 2008 than it did in 1968.”

    And so, confronted with America at its weakest internationally since before WWII made us a superpower , Obamacare wrecking untold medical and financial havoc at home, a President that thinks he can pick and choose which laws he wants to obey, and an American public demoralized, who has helped and who has hurt the nation?

    It is a question worth very serious consideration by very many parties.

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    Posted in Candidate Qualifications, Doctrinal Obedience, Political Strategy, Religious Bigotry, Social/Religious Trends | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    Rope Bridges

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:13 am, February 26th 2014     &mdash      1 Comment »

    In October we looked at Al Mohler’s speech at BYU and said:

    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.

    In January Mohler wrote of Roman Catholics and we said:

    When the Republican party is working hard to pull itself together Mohler seems to want to make sure it is poorly stitched.

    Well, ‘ol buddy Al was back at BYU yesterday 2/25/14.  This time we are looking at Tad Walch’s coverage in the Deseret News.  Tad goes on at great length describing how Mohler seems to genuinely be trying to build a political alliance, but then this paragraph appears towards the end of the story:

    As he did in October, Mohler clearly and vigorously expressed the doctrinal differences between evangelicals and Latter-day Saints. He ended with a lengthy witness or testimony of his beliefs.

    There is a gracelessness to that I find deeply troubling.  In October we discussed the lack of permanence in a bridge built in such a fashion – It’s a rope bridge and can be cut with a single swing of the machete.  Aside from the ease with which a rope bridge can be severed, it suffers from a serious drawback; you cannot move very much across it at any given time.  Mohler discusses the urgency we are jointly faced with on the social front, and yet he insists on a bridge across which it will take decades to move the needed material to effectively fight the war.  Rope bridges may be fun on a vacation adventure, but they are useless when it comes to serious commerce and community building.

    Much of this stems from Mohler’s own theology.  He has stated that salvation rests on holding precisely correct theological formulations.  With that view it is natural that he would feel compelled to make a jerk of himself in this fashion every time he steps out this way.  That also means he is not likely to change.

    But these episodes also demonstrate – repeatedly now – the futility in that theological viewpoint.  While Mohler is free to hold that viewpoint, it grows increasingly disappointing that his insistence on it harms the entire social conservative movement.

    I am grateful that my Mormon friends exhibit the grace towards Mohler that he seems to lack towards them.

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    Posted in Doctrinal Obedience, Evangelical Shortcomings, Political Strategy, Understanding Religion | 1 Comment » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    How Do We Change Thinking?

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:28 am, January 6th 2014     &mdash      1 Comment »

    Very interesting profile of Frank Luntz by Molly Ball in The Atlantic today.  The piece is two things really – one is a description of some deeply personal and emotional stuff that Luntz is dealing with and the other is a look at some serious problems facing the nation that no one is much talking about and no one at all seems to have a solution for.

    The first comment I have to make about this is that to approach the subject as a personal profile is part of the problem.  It describes Luntz’ reaction to the last election as a deep depression and says this:

    It was what Luntz heard from the American people that scared him. They were contentious and argumentative. They didn’t listen to each other as they once had. They weren’t interested in hearing other points of view. They were divided one against the other, black vs. white, men vs. women, young vs. old, rich vs. poor. “They want to impose their opinions rather than express them,” is the way he describes what he saw. “And they’re picking up their leads from here in Washington.” Haven’t political disagreements always been contentious, I ask? “Not like this,” he says. “Not like this.”

    I cannot help but reflect on the fact that part of the reason people are not “interested in hearing other points of view,” and “want to impose their opinions rather than express them: is because everything has become personal.  Those are indications that personal desire has become paramount – nothing matters but what “I” want.  By making this article about Luntz’ personal struggle instead of about the ideas at stake is to make the individual more paramount than the ideas, which is the problem being described.

    Luntz’ solution; however seems awful:

    Most of all, Luntz says, he wishes we would stop yelling at one another. Luntz dreams of drafting some of the rich CEOs he is friends with to come up with a plan for saving America from its elected officials. “The politicians have failed; now it’s up to the business community to stand up and be heard,” he tells me. “I want the business community to step up.” Having once thought elites needed to listen to regular people, he now wants the people to learn from their moneyed betters.

    That seems like an amazing disconnect to me.  Business’ objective is to fulfill personal, individual desire – what can it possible teach someone about subjecting personal desire for the sake of the whole?  Furthermore, are people really taking these discordant cues from DC?  Or has something changed in the American people to make them more susceptible to the discord that has always been the case there?

    Certainly the ever increasing media presence in DC has revealed the discord more and more which has served to then increase that discord, but can we even blame this entirely on the media?  As an avid consumer of the political rag sheets, what’s actually amazing is how few people really do consume them.  No, it’s not just that.

    This is nothing short of a spiritual crisis in the nation.  Churches are better organized for political action than they have ever been in our history, but are they anymore organized to build the kind of people that a nation like ours needs to really function?  Big swaths of America Christianity are now dedicated to  a model of the church based on a model as service provider not person builder.  Vast portions of the faith in this nation follow – they do not lead.  Large chunks of Christianity have absorbed the lessons of business and the result has been the crisis in which we now find ourselves.

    No, the solution to the problem that Luntz’ correctly senses will not come from his business cronies.  It will come from the church reclaiming its rightful place in the American culture.  Political action on the part of the church may happen from time to time, but it is not how the church is best suited to change things.  Rather the church is at its best when it is a culture maker, not a culture follower.  When the church makes the culture then the politics will follow.

    And it should be noted that making culture is not simply a matter of having the majority of people stand in the right place on the issues of the day – that’s just more politics.  It is about the very hard work of building people of sufficient character that they arrive at political stances without direct church intervention.  It is about the church building leaders that fan out through the community (not just keep the church running) and help others arrive at the same point.

    Making culture is about making people, for example, that do not watch soft porn on cable TV because they do not like it, not because they are told it is bad for them or because it violates religious teaching.  This is what the church was designed and ordained to do.  If the church does this, culture and politics will follow as naturally as the dawn comes each day.

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    Posted in character, Culture Wars, Doctrinal Obedience, Evangelical Shortcomings, Social/Religious Trends, Understanding Religion | 1 Comment » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    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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