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 Flippin’ Mormon…”

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:54 am, January 28th 2014     &mdash      3 Comments »

    Last night I was able to watch the newly released documentary on Netflix, “Mitt.”  For anyone that cared about the campaign and even remotely cared about the individuals involved it is a gut wrenching experience.  I told a friend just after I watched it that my Twitter review should be “It tore my heart out and left it beating on the table in front of me.”  These were amazingly decent people, without an ounce of cynicism.  To watch their stoicism in the face of all the assaults, grounded in their faith, was inspiring,  It also made me hurt for the nation.

    Even noted lefties have found the Romney of this film appealing.  A fact that caused me to tweet:

    @NYTimesDowd, It was there if you had just been willing to see it – Peeling Away the Plastic http://nyti.ms/1cG5CCl

    Others have noted that it was Romney’s very discomfort with the process that resulted in his loss.  Note how both of these criticisms cling to a narrative that Romney was somehow “false” during the campaign.  There is, of course, some standard film criticism of the documentary.  I would make one brief note – It quickly passes over the primary of 2012, feeling I am sure it was repetitive of the well covered primary of 2008.  The 2012 primary was grueling and ugly.  I really would like to have known more about the family discussions surrounding the many failed “not Romney’s.”

    Which brings me to what I really want to say about the film.  In a sense it is book-ended by comments on Romney’s Mormon faith.  I am not talking about the much discussed scenes of the family praying together.  These were incredibly powerful, but they were a bit voyeuristic.  Romney said on Hugh Hewitt last night that he is not ashamed of his faith or his prayer life, but he has also said he wishes the scenes were not in the film.  I honestly think it would have been enough to show the family briefly at prayer, but exclude the content and depth of the prayer.  Somethings are best left between the family and God.

    No, the bookend’s I am discussing come during the 2008 primary when Romney says quite tellingly, “I’m the flippin’ Mormon…” when discussing the narrative that surrounded him and at the end of the film, after the loss to Obama, when he says to at campaign HQ, “You know, we kind of stole the primary…Our party is southern, Evangelical and populist and I’m northern, Mormon and rich.”

    In the discussion of “flippin’ Mormon,”  Romney says “I can’t change the Mormon part, but I can change the flip-flop.”  I wish he could have changed the “flip-flop,” but I thought when he said it that I wished I’d been there -  The two are deeply linked.   I would never ask Gov, Romney to consider changing his Mormon faith, but the argument that he needed to make was that there is nothing about his Mormon faith that makes him untrustworthy.  His faith sort of sat there at the bottom of everything, a hidden bigotry, giving people a reason to latch onto any narrative that called into question the veracity and genuineness of this most truthful and genuine candidate.

    I doubt that Joel Belz has enough readers to have formed the nucleus of this anti-Mormon sentiment, but he is the only one on the right to give voice to it:

    It’s not a trivial matter that Mormonism, as a cultic movement, has a bad reputation when it comes to getting its own story straight. Check out the public record, if you will, including fairly recent interviews with Mormon officials in venues like Larry King Live, 60 Minutes, and Newsweek. Do these officials hold to the fantastical 1827 golden tablets of Mormon founder Joseph Smith—or not? Well, they seem to say: We believe it when we want to, and we don’t when it’s less convenient. Where Mormonism isn’t shrouded in deliberate secrecy, it is covered with confusion.

    So when folks tell me they’re satisfied that Mitt Romney won’t try to drag his Mormonism into his politics, and that he would never ever impose his theology on the American people, I have to worry whether that’s exactly what he’s already done. When, in a relatively short space of time, he seems to be on both sides of the same issue—and when such a deviously confusing approach seems to be consistent with his faith rather than counter to it—that sets off alarm bells for me.

    Only a few weeks ago, I sat a dozen feet from Romney as he compellingly spelled out his convictions and credentials. He was winsome and persuasive. On the surface, he said almost everything I want to hear my candidate say. On the issues that matter (except for choice in education), he was as convincing as any politician I’ve heard in recent years.

    But still.

    More than anything, I want a president who tells the truth. And I worry deeply when people are overly ready to believe a man whose religious upbringing, of all things, suggests that the truth is a negotiable commodity.

    Belz makes a theological argument that Romney is essentially a liar – because of his faith.  Note how easily this blends with the left leaning narrative which hates his faith simply because it opposes the entire left-leaning social agenda.  The left simply believes that anyone that “straight” must be lying; otherwise, much of their worldview comes crashing in around them.

    The Romney’s never seem to acknowledge this problem directly.  Romney failed to see that “Mormon” made “flippin’” stick and it made “northern and rich” insurmountable.  This, in the end, is what makes Mitt Romney such a compelling and endearing figure.  He simply refused to believe the worst of the American people.

    That’s what makes his loss in 2012 so much more than just another political loss.  That’s what makes some fear that the nation has turned a fundamental corner.  That’s what drives many to their knees in prayer on a regular basis — the fact that we may no longer be able to rely on the right and best in the American people.

    This film is extraordinarily compelling and extraordinarily hard to watch.  My personal acquaintance with many of the players on the screen makes me celebrate with them they fact that they still have each other.  The emotional factor that makes this film so hard to watch is what is says in the larger context.  The nation rejected deep and real decency when it rejected Mitt Romney as its president.

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    Posted in Analyzing 2012, Film Reviews, News Media Bias | 3 Comments » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    When Truth Suffers

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 08:02 am, December 31st 2013     &mdash      2 Comments »

    Forgive me while I geek out for a minute.  Most people that read this blog will have made it through at least geometry in high school in their mathematical studies.  This is the first level in mathematical education where we learn how to put together a cohesive system of looking at things in a logical and precise fashion.  If you remember, you did proofs – lots of proofs.  This was how you built the system, each statement that became an important working statement was proven logically, from previously proven statements.  But if you remember thoroughly, you will member there were 5 “postulates.“  These were statements that could not be proven but were simply “assumed” to be true and from which all other geometrical statements are proven.

    The postulates are not arbitrary, they are formulated from a) massive and collective observation and b) an inability to prove them accumulated over the millenia.  To build a comprehensive logical structure such as geometry you have to start somewhere.  So you start by looking at the world around you and making statements about it.  You compare your observations with others to make sure they see the same thing – then you set about trying to prove all your observations to a point where the statements that you cannot prove are minimized as much as possible, but such statements seem to have an inherent “truth” because while you cannot prove them they are always observed to be true.  These are the basic stuff from which everything else is built.

    “What if the postulates are not true?” is a question that every reasonably serious student of mathematics has asked since the list of postulates was first formulated.  Well, pretty much everything we understand about the world around us falls apart.  From geometry we have meticulously built higher forms of math and they are the language of science.  If the postulates are not true we could not have gotten to the moon, or built a building much more complex than a mud hut (much of Euclid’s initial work was in support of the construction of the marvelous and ancient stone buildings we find in Greece still today) or just about anything else technological that we rely upon today.

    There are non-Euclidean geometries (geometry with different postulates) in math and in recent decades they have even proven somewhat useful in forming theories in the very weird realms of science like quantum mechanics.  But when you do stuff in the world we live in and experience on a daily basis without the aid of instruments, Euclidean geometry (what you learned in high school) works very, very well.  The postulates are true in any experientially meaningful sense of the word true.  We may be able to conceive of other postulates, but our daily lives tell us that the ones we have come to know and work with are functionally true.  Those non-Euclidean concepts, interesting though they are, just don’t work in any experience you and I can have.

    This thoughts occurred to me as I read Tom Coburn in this morning’s WSJ:

    The culture that Mr. Obama campaigned against, the old kind of politics, teaches politicians that repetition and “message discipline”—never straying from using the same slogans and talking points—can create reality, regardless of the facts. Message discipline works if the goal is to win an election or achieve a short-term political goal. But saying that something is true doesn’t make it so. When a misleading message ultimately clashes with reality, the result is dissonance and conflict. In a republic, deception is destructive. Without truth there can be no trust. Without trust there can be no consent. And without consent we invite paralysis, if not chaos.

    It seems that in how we conduct our public affairs we sometimes get a bit too interested in the “non-Euclidean” stuff.  We can conceive of it, we can find it fascinating, we can even experiment with it, but in the end it just does not work.  The practical truth of the postulates always seems to carry the day.

    Faith in the Almighty plays the role of postulate in our society.  Of course there will be many branches that spring from that root, but that root is what holds up the entire structure.  I read Coburn’s words on the heal of reading this from the Bible this morning (emphasis added):

    I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord,
    the praises of the Lord,
    according to all that the Lord has granted us,
    and the great goodness to the house of Israel
    that he has granted them according to his compassion,
    according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
    For he said, “Surely they are my people,
        children who will not deal falsely.” (Isaiah 63:7-8)

    This is heavy stuff for New Year’s Eve, a day that is supposed to be about celebration.  But celebration seems difficult when we live in a time where people seem to think the postulates, as Coburn points out, are arbitrary.  Obamacare is a glaring and on-going painful example of that.  As Jim Geraghty pointed out yesterday:

    So . . . we’re still ending 2013 with more people having lost their insurance than gained it.

    It just is not working.  Obamacare is a wonderful, even interesting, idea, but it is from the realms of non-Euclidean geometry.  It may even have some internal logical consistency, but it just does not work in the daily world.

    But there is another glaring example -  Sunday’s NYTimes’ report on Benghazi.  This blog will not attempt to dissect the facts reported, we’ll leave that up to the professionals.  Nor will we assume political motivation, although the political convenience of the piece is extraordinary.  But what seems clear as I read or listen to discussion after discussion with people in Congress investigating the incident is that it is not the whole story; it is not a complete and thorough investigation.  Consider this from the interview with Congressman Lynn Westmoreland just linked:

    HH: Congressman, Hugh here. Did Mr. Kirkpatrick attempt to talk to you?

    LW: No.

    HH: Did he attempt to talk to any of your colleagues on the House Intelligence Committee?

    LW: Sir, I don’t know that.

    That pretty well defines incomplete investigation on the reporters part.  That puts the report in the realm of non-Euclidean geometry – interesting and even internally consistent – but not necessarily comporting with reality of daily experience.  Certainly not tested against it.

    Even more disturbing is when people get all wrapped up in their concepts, the foundations that replace the postulates can be horrifying.  For some, race is the root from which all things spring.  When that happens – stuff like this happens:

    The laughing starts almost immediately in the MSNBC segment. 

    But as the host and her guests yuk it up, I wanted to cringe. 

    The object of their derision, cloaked as it was in pointed humor? 

    A baby. A black baby, to be precise, being held on Mitt Romney’s knee. 

    Hysterical, huh? 

    This was Romney’s adopted grandson, in a big, professionally shot family photo. And yes, Melissa Harris-Perry kept cooing about how the baby was cute. The real target, for her and the guests, was Mitt. 

    As in, isn’t it funny that this white Mormon with a white family would find among his clan a black baby.

    Sarah Palin has this one absolutely right – Despicable.  to that I will add – Contemptible – apologies not withstanding.

    When we view our postulates as fungible we start to run into all sorts of problems.  This is deeper than culture wars or political parties.  This is the soul of the nation.  It is hard to celebrate a year just past where we have been bombarded with news of people in charge that have interesting theories totally disconnected from real life.  A year where the people that bring us the news have been shown again and again to view the world from inside their non-Euclidean theories rather than observe the world as it actually is.

    But the same faith that is our postulates tells us that tomorrow will be brighter.  I choose to celebrate that.

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    Posted in News Media Bias, Religion and Race, Understanding Religion | 2 Comments » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    A Curious Phenomenon

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 07:17 am, November 13th 2013     &mdash      1 Comment »

    Before I say anything else, I’ll say this: At this point I’m not offended, just bemused.

    About what, you ask? Well, take a look at this morning’s Wall Street Journal piece on the Arizona governor’s race and possible successors to current Governor Jan Brewer:

    On Tuesday, Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett threw his hat into the ring for the governor’s seat. Mr. Bennett, a Mormon who experts say is popular among conservatives, joins a crowded field of candidates vying to lead the independently minded border state, whose politics in recent years have been synonymous with its tough immigration crackdown.

    Three other potential candidates are mentioned, not including Governor Brewer.  Nothing is said about their religion. Instead, only their business and political backgrounds are noted:

    The Republican primary, set for Aug. 26, is expected to be closely watched. Political observers are casting it as a three-way contest between Mr. Bennett; state Treasurer Doug Ducey, formerly chief executive of Cold Stone Creamery, an ice-cream-shop chain based in Scottsdale; and Christine Jones, a political novice who is a former executive and general counsel of Internet-domain-name website GoDaddy Group Inc., also based in Scottsdale.

    Scott Smith, the mayor of Mesa, a suburb east of Phoenix, is also considered a formidable potential GOP candidate, experts said, though he has declined to state his intentions.

    In some ways this tendency among the news media is understandable because of all the attention given to Mitt Romney’s faith in the 2008 and 2012 cycles.  In other ways it’s a bit creepy.  I personally don’t mind a bit if people know I am a Mormon.  But if I am in a crowd of people and I am the only one described in terms of my religion, that begins to feel weird.

    What do our readers think?

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    Salting A Wound

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:17 am, November 7th 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Let’s not deny the fact that there are divisions inside the Republican party.  It’s too big a thing for there not to be.

    But make no mistake, stories like this from the NYTimes and this from a WaPo blog are designed to tear those natural divisions into gaping wounds.

    We cannot fall for it.  We cannot fall for it especially now when the Democrat party is trying to eat itself alive over the disaster that is Obamacare.

    Yeah, I know the elections are just over, but you have got to ask yourself why these stories now?  Republicans had a great day Tuesday.  Cuccinelli was the only major loss and that was, in the end, a win when compared to expectations.  There were no signs of vast rifts n Tuesday’s results.

    But then perhaps that answers the question of why these stories are appearing now.

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    “…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

    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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