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."

  • How We Lose

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:20 am, November 4th 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    It is election day and if the polling holds it looks to be a very good one for Republicans.  Come tonight we should have very good reason to be celebratory.  And yet I find celebration hard to come by – and not just becasue the most hard-headed presidency in history will fail, utterly, to receive the message being sent today.  No, the ennui I experience today is born of a story that has ridden pretty high, but just off the main radar, amidst the closing arguments, the final pushes and the last gasps of Campaign 2014.

    A young, beautiful and struggling with a major health issue woman killed herself last Saturday.

    Yes, she was dying.  Yes, she was looking at a great deal of suffering before her inevitable demise.  But regardless, her decision, and the rush to support it, takes something extraordinarily tragic and makes it indescribably saddening.  Life, even a life lived with extreme difficulty and pain, is too precious to waste in this manner.  Life is given by God, it is not ours to take away.

    Yet as I read piece after piece about that call to support the “right to die with dignity,” I cannot help but wonder where is the religious outrage at this act that so clearly defies centuries of religious teaching.  Is the press not covering it?  Google is not revealing much of anything, even press releases from religious organizations that have gone unreported.

    This is how we lose.

    Compassion for an awful situation demands some decorum, but the -pro-death people are busy making political hay and we allow our compassion to silence us when it should force us merely to temper our pronouncements and thus illustrate the incredibly poor taste of our opposition.  This is hard to message.  The difference between pulling the plug on a person already dead save for human intervention and a person not yet dead from disease is too subtle for Twitter and the TV sound bite.  We let this messaging difficulty silence us.  Medical science has forced most of us, or someone very close to us, to make life or death decisions and so we remain silent lest we be called hypocrite, or becasue it is too painful to face our own, perhaps wrong, calculations.

    We cannot be so silenced.  We have to find a tasteful, decorous, effective way to talk about this or we will be facing medically assisted suicide on demand  as we now face abortion on demand.  Our culture no longer bows to a greater power, it is inevitable if we are silent.

    But more important than the political opposition and the media messaging is what is going on in our churches.  That is what prepares the battlefield and sets the cultural agenda so that political and media messaging can have traction.  Politics follows culture.  And yet, as I drive around I have not seen church signs with sermons on this issue.  Of the myriad church social media streams I follow I have not seen any mention of discussion groups or youth events to deal with this situation.  The silence seems to be pervasive, not just in the media.

    This is how we lose.  I do not want to lose this one.

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    Posted in Culture Wars, Doctrinal Obedience, Evangelical Shortcomings, leadership, Religious Freedom | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 07:55 am, June 30th 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    The Supreme Court of the United States decided this morning that The federal government cannot force an employer to provide birth control if doing so violates the religious beliefs of the owners. Here’s a brief summary.

    You may recall that the Hobby Lobby case arose from Obamacare. The federal government issued a regulation requiring all employers to provide health insurance coverage to the employees for birth control services, including abortifacients (e.g., the “morning after” pill), even if doing so would violate the religious beliefs of the owners. Objections from conservatives led to the Democratic Party’s “war on women” theme, which the Democrats used to attack any Republican candidate who disagreed with the regulation. It was a brilliant and deeply cynical political ploy: Impose a requirement that had never been required before, then attack anyone who opposes that expansion of government as someone who is waging war on women.

    Here’s a short video that Hobby Lobby produced, explaining its position:

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    Posted in Doctrinal Obedience, Religious Freedom | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    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

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