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."

  • Root Questions

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:39 am, November 21st 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Perusing the headlines this morning, the presidents unprecedented power grab last night was a yawner.   There is the appropriate outrage from the usual conservative sources, but even that is well-tempered in order not to give Obama the political advantage he seeks with this stunt.  Very, very few dare laud this terrible misbalancing of the constitution; therefore, it is treated as a matter or course and little consequence.  As far as the general public goes, this is almost a non-event.  That would be stunning were it not for two very important facts; a) the MSM remains deeply devoted to this president, facts not withstanding and b) the general public is not well enough read, sufficiently educated, nor deeply thoughtful enough to understand the subtle yet massive shift of power the president is trying to pull off here.

    There is a temptation to cast this as a matter purely of political optics.  The president is messaging to the feelings of the American populace to overcome an intellectual and legal hurdle to achieve his goals.  In doing so he casts his opposition as mere political opportunists, hungry for power, while he simply wants to solve the problem.  This appeals to the pragmatic nature of most Americans, even if this messaging attempts to mask a power grab on a level far beyond the imagination of his opponents and destroys the opportunities to exercise the pragmatism that makes the nation work.

    This is terrible and destructive legally and its is, at best, propagandist politically – though I am far more inclined to declare it a lie.  It is tempting to want to analyze the president and try to understand what drives a man to do things like this.  And yet, history is replete with individuals that have sought, and in many cases gained, absolute or near absolute power.  It is a story as old as time itself and the motivations of each are highly varied and yet fundamentally consistent – an undying belief in their own rightness.  In the end it is not worth trying to analyze beyond trying to figure out how to defeat it.

    The pragmatic nature of the American public has seen that what this president attempts does not work.  Hence the results of the last election.  That is a good reason not to get too exercised about this – this will fail like everything else he has tried.  But as Obamacare before it, this will create a trail of destruction on its path to failure that will leave the nation irrevocably altered, and quite possibly worsened.  It will require remarkable will, energy, thought and morality on the part of the American populace to recover from this impending failure and be as before.

    What we have on our hands is, quite simply, a crisis of leadership.  Instead of a leader that leads us to be better people, we have a leader that cows us by offering “bread and circuses” in the form of apparently compassionate policies and promises of grossly expensive free healthcare.  (Yes, I wrote that totally oxymoronic phrase on purpose.)  The troubling question in all this is how the populace has come to the point where they lack the innate desire for self-improvement that would normally see through this blatant pandering.  The troubling thing about the last election is that while it did seek to “throw the bums out,” one does sense that it was looking for different bums, not for the bums to get out of the way.

    Before politics will produce a leader that calls us to be a better people we have to want to be a better people.  That is not something politics can produce.

    So, the root question in all of this is:  How can an American church, which in its most numerous and populated expressions seeks not to call the congregant to improvement, but to reassure them of their salvation, move us to the point where we desire a leader of the type that the nation now so desperately needs?  Maybe churches ought be asking themselves that question.

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    Posted in character, Culture Wars, Evangelical Shortcomings, The Way Forward | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    President Hardhead or Cultural Portent?

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:32 am, November 7th 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    The punditry in reaction to the presidents reaction to Tuesday seems to be pretty unanimous.  The Washington Examiner says, “It’s still Obama’s way or the highway.”  Howard Kurtz surveys the pundits and writes, “Still, the media consensus was that the president had blown it.“  Leave it to Peggy Noonan to quote Chris Matthews:

    This is not just poor strategy, it seems to me to be mildly delusional. Chris Matthews erupted on MSNBC: “There’s something in this guy that just plays to his constituency and acts like there’s no other world out there!”

    One must ask in the wake of this utter repudiation how the man got reelected.  We know how he got elected, he lied.  But his character was obvious even before his reelection (remember “I won”?) though less blatantly so than the last two years.  His crack about the two-thirds that did not vote reveals much not only about his character, but about the nation.  His much vaunted GOTV effort was very much cult-of-personality based and definitely attracted the low information types.  And that, frankly, is what scares me.

    Many of the low information types also reflect a personality type that is so self righteously self-absorbed that they rise to the level of “mildly delusional.”  Obama is, in more ways than I really want to contemplate, representative of his core constituency.  “I do not care what the facts are, I want (am entitled to,  should have)….”  I don’t know about you, but I have experienced this sentiment in so many big and small ways in my daily life of late, that with a president that loudly proclaims it I must conclude what I am experiencing is more than purely anecdotal – it is a serious societal trend.

    It’s a recipe for chaos.  From the very small things (barging in line, for example) to the very large (Obamacare being Exhibit A) our society cannot survive if everyone thinks the way they see things is the only way, and their desires are the only desires that matter.  Anyone with any Christian insight should have alarm bells ringing right now; Christian thought being full of everything from wisdom sayings, to admonishments, to outright commands to “regard one another as more important than yourselves.”  That being true, our nations troubles run much deeper than politics.

    This election tells us that the nation clearly wants something different than what it is getting, but an election will not fix it.  Yes it may fix some of the big things but until the little things get fixed, this ugly, unsurvivable viewpoint will lie there, just below the surface waiting once again to assert itself in large and unhappy ways.  It takes more than politics to fix this.

    Education and religion are the two great cultural shaping institutions in our society.  They affect the little things in ways that politics just cannot address.  They cannot be turned as quickly as politics.  It takes far more energy, effort and commitment to fix our educational and religious institutions than it does our political institutions.

    We should enjoy the hard fought victory from Tuesday night through the weekend.  But come Monday there is much to be done.

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    Posted in Candidate Qualifications, Culture Wars, Evangelical Shortcomings, Governance, Identity Politics, Political Strategy, Understanding Religion | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    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

    Same Sex Marriage – There Is Something Different Here

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:24 am, October 22nd 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    One tends to think of the progression of same-sex marriage as an accelerated version of how abortion came to be legal in the land.  People started to clamor for it.  Some states started to look into it, some states legalized it and then SCOTUS stepped in and made it so.  Certainly proponents of same-sex marriage are trying to drive such a narrative, but something different is going on.

    For one thing it is more than a little “accelerated” in comparison of abortion.  It is downright forced.  This was illustrated strongly in a talk radio event I attended this past weekend.  The very conservative panel split along interesting lines.  On the one hand  there were the younger people, and one older ally, that pointed out their generation simply was not fired up about it.  The older ally pointed out that the issue of religious freedom was distinct and had political traction even is same sex marriage did not.  On the other hand most of the older people on the panel were making slippery slope arguments that same sex marriage was just the latest attack on not merely religious freedom, but religion generally, and that despite the ambivalence of the younger generation, we had to fight and fight hard.

    The talk radio audience is largely older, so it is not surprising that that latter view resonated with the room.  Certainly things like what is happening in Houston and Coeur d’Alene would add credence to the latter view.  But what we really have here is not an issue problem, but a messaging one.

    The younger argument is, for their generation, well framed.  They are libertarian with regards to same-sex marriage, as my generation was about abortion.  But the over reach that is happening in places like Houston and Coeur d’Alene really are religious freedom questions, not same sex marriage questions.  They can get traction across generational lines.  But it was also clear from the room at the event that such subtle messaging is a bit too subtle for the older generation.

    Aside from the speed and overly judicious means by which same sex marriage is spreading, this is where the abortion analogy begins to break down.  Abortion really was the dirty little secret of history.  While often illegal or illegitimate it has been practiced in various forms pretty much forever.  Most people, rightly, think that the same thing is true about homosexuality.  But same sex marriage is something quite different from simple homosexual activity.  It is without historical precedent.  Many other of what we consider aberrant forms of marriage (polygamy, for example) have historical antecedents, but there are simply none for same-sex marriage.   From the perspective of the older generation which has learned history not merely propaganda, the idea of same-sex marriage is so outside of human practice as to be unworthy of discussion, let alone serious consideration.

    One of the younger members of the panel pointed out that same-sex marriage is advancing because no one is arguing against it.  He was sympathetic that in light of history, we were caught flat-footed, but that we had to respond.  What I heard when I heard that was a young man asking to be parented.  Of course this guy is married with small children of his own, but from the perspective of my age that’s what it sounded like.  Some things are so rudimentary, so fundamental to human functioning that they should not be argued for or against.  To argue is to admit that the opposing view has some merit.  Somethings are dismissed, not argued.  For the younger generation to give credence, not dismissal, to arguments for same sex marriage is a lack of parenting, not rhetoric.

    Of course, at this juncture there is an enormous amount of cultural analysis that could and should take place.  But from a purely political standpoint, can parenting be accomplished in political messaging?  And if so, how?

    I am not smart enough to figure out the complete answer to that question, but there is one component of it that I know is necessary.  Our political leadership has to begin again to lead, not merely cater to the voter.  Much of the urgency that we see on the same sex marriage issue right now is because the lack of political leadership in the nation is so painfully obvious that almost anyone can figure out that the next administration will be better at it, regardless of who is elected.

    But this also sets an agenda for the next Congress.  Should the polling hold and the Republicans gain both houses, they have got to lead, not merely pander for votes.  Because of the administration their leadership may be fruitless, but they have to be seen to lead.  Generals in losing battles are still leaders – winning is not the point right now – leadership is.  Such leadership will embolden the older generation to do the same in small ways throughout the nation and the cultural tides may begin to shift.  If a Republican Congress fails to lead they will be just as to blame for the cultural degradation of our society as those that openly call for so much that is symptomatic of the decline.

    It is high time we older folks acted like it.

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    Posted in Evangelical Shortcomings, News Media Bias, Political Strategy, Same-sex marriage | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    If It Is To Be, Must It Be With The Same Old Cliches?

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:25 am, October 2nd 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    FACT:  Mitt Romney insists that he is not going to run in 2016, publicly and privately.

    Fact: The press is full of speculation that Romney might run in 2016.

    Fact: Romney is in high demand as a spokesperson/endorser in mid-term elections.  As the last presidential candidate for the party, he is its senior statesmen, save for the former presidents and tradition holds them above politics.  (Except, of course, for Bill Clinton which is a matter for another time.)

    Conclusion: Mitt Romney is under enormous pressure from party insiders and money people to run in 2016, hence the massive amounts of press speculation, driven by these people applying pressure as opposed to the Romney himself.  Hence, Romney has begun to soften his public stance ever so slightly.  One would think this softening is more a nod to those that are so loyal than it is any actual change of heart, given the definitiveness of earlier statements.

    All of that is fair enough.  But one would think after two election cycles, the Mormon card would be played out or someone would come up with a far more imaginative way to play it.  But based on this FoxNews story it seems the playbook on this one has not changed at all.

    …a former Mitt Romney ad guru has made little reminders like this the centerpiece of a strange new social media campaign aimed at softening the public image of his Republican Party.

    The campaign is called “Republicans Are People, Too.” Right now, it’s a low-budget endeavor, with an online and social media presence on Facebook and Twitter.

    The man behind the push, Vinny Minchillo, told FoxNews.com he’s trying to “catch a wave” of interest by launching “Republicans Are People, Too” shortly before the midterm elections – though he’s not advocating for any particular candidates.

    [...]

    It also recycles a phrase once used by a pro-Republican drive in the wake of Nixon’s resignation, and bears a striking resemblance to the 2011-2012 “I’m a Mormon” ads, which stressed the ordinary-ness of Mormons — Minchillo said he never noticed the similarities.

    OK – is this mention the “I’m a Mormon” campaign not entirely gratuitous?  Can it serve to do anything other than try to link the Romney campaign of 2012 to the “I’m a Mormon” campaign?

    This Fox story carries a byline for Alana Wise, but googling her turns up almost nothing.  There is a LinkedIn Profile for an NBC Intern, but I have no idea if it belongs to the Alana Wise that wrote this piece, nor do I have anyway to tell the time frame of the profile.  But I am going to guess that Ms Wise is very young, still learning the ropes, and got thrown this story on a lark.

    What is stunning is that the story has garnered more than 2000 comments and seen a little under 1000 social media shares of some sort.  A very quick scan of the comments would indicate that while no one mentions the Mormon shot explicitly, the now equally tired “Romney is not a real Republican” canard (Often the Mormon card in code) does rear its head.  This last observation should go a long way towards explaining Romney’s unwillingness to run again.   Political opinion can shift with a headline, but this kind of bigotry is a deep seated mistrust that cannot be overcome so readily.

    I do not look for Romney to run again unless the party fails to coalesce around someone; leaving him the only individual capable of carrying the party banner forward in some form.  But I am profoundly saddened that given his current status in the party, this kind of stuff still shows up.  It does not bode well for the party or the nation.

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    Posted in Evangelical Shortcomings, Identity Politics, News Media Bias, Political Strategy, Religious Bigotry | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    Pews “Religion In Public Life” Speaks Again

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:25 am, September 25th 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    It’s that time of year again, and we get another headline grabbing poll from the Pew Forum, “Religion in Public Life.“  I have only had time to skim this, but here is what Pew headlines:

    Nearly three-quarters of the public (72%) now thinks religion is losing influence in American life, up 5 percentage points from 2010 to the highest level in Pew Research polling over the past decade. And most people who say religion’s influence is waning see this as a bad thing.

    Perhaps as a consequence, a growing share of the American public wants religion to play a role in U.S. politics. The share of Americans who say churches and other houses of worship should express their views on social and political issues is up 6 points since the 2010 midterm elections (from 43% to 49%). The share who say there has been “too little” expression of religious faith and prayer from political leaders is up modestly over the same period (from 37% to 41%). And a growing minority of Americans (32%) think churches should endorse candidates for political office, though most continue to oppose such direct involvement by churches in electoral politics.

    As I skimmed the rest of the prose, I think they have chosen the right thing to emphasize.  But as I read through it, I cannot help but note that in many ways it does not “get” religion.  Or maybe it is those of us that hold our religion dearly that do not “get” the affects of survey’s like this.  I’d have to go through this and past surveys to prove my point, but as I read the summary and reflected on the current state of things, I was struck by the impression that people seem want the good that religion has to offer, but they want to outsource it somehow.

    The survey treats religion as a social force (which it is) and acknowledges that as a social force it is somehow different from MTV or the Elks club, but no survey of this type can consider the very unique nature of religion as a social force.  Most social forces try to change society as a thing.  Religion is unique in that it tries to change the individual members of society thus changing society.  The action of religion on a societal level is indirect.  We have discussed that here many times before.

    But consider these findings from the poll:

    It finds a slight drop in support for allowing gays and lesbians to marry, with 49% of Americans in favor and 41% opposed – a 5-point dip in support from a February Pew Research poll, but about the same level as in 2013. It is too early to know if this modest decline is an anomaly or the beginning of a reversal or leveling off in attitudes toward gay marriage after years of steadily increasing public acceptance. Moreover, when the February poll and the current survey are combined, the 2014 yearly average level of support for same-sex marriage stands at 52%, roughly the same as the 2013 yearly average (50%).

    The new poll also finds that fully half (50%) of the public now considers homosexuality a sin, up from 45% a year ago. And nearly half of U.S. adults think that businesses like caterers and florists should be allowed to reject same-sex couples as customers if the businesses have religious objections to serving those couples.

    If one uses the stPR_14.09.22_religionPolitics-04ance on same-sex marriage as a barometer of personal religious devotion (debatable I know, but it is the data at hand) , and one assumes this poll an outlier since the trend in support of same-sex marriage continues upward, one begins to sense that people know things aren’t going well, and they know religion could probably help, but they do not necessarily think that religion is for them.  They are hoping the other guy who takes his religion really, really seriously will get this straightened out.

    This sense is only heightened when one look s at the polarization evident in the poll.  As always what is being seen here is the middle of the political spectrum, where the fight always occurs, is shifting towards the right and in slight favor related of religion, but no way they are going to take this religious stuff too seriously.

    Those of us that take our religion seriously know that the only way things will get really better is if such people start themselves to take religion seriously instead of just lean towards those of us that do.  So how do we react?  Do we simply take advantage of the votes that are offered to us, or do we try and get these people to take religion seriously?

    Because religion acts indirectly, as we have discussed on this blog endlessly, we can only be permanently politically successful if we are successful in making converts.   What this data indicates to me is evangelical opportunity.  In other words, there is a group of people out there that is ripe to hear WHY religion can make things better right now, something they already sense, as an apologetic for actually joining that religion.

    Now here is the good part.  If we do that, if we take evangelical advantage of this circumstance, they become solidly on our side and we move the great middle to another group.  We start to win again consistently.  Our opportunity s more than just political.  Are we prepared to take advantage?

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