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."

  • Change Is In The Air

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 04:33 am, April 6th 2009     &mdash      3 Comments »

    Two very important articles within the profile of this blog appeared over the weekend.  This seems to always happen when I want a few days off.  I am currently in Manhattan trying to enjoy a little sightseeing with my wife prior to having to put in a few days work in the area.  Subsequently, this may not get the depth of analysis it needs, but I’ll do what I can.

    The biggest piece to appear was Jon Meacham’s new piece in Newsweek,”The End of Christian America.”  Typically, the headline grossly overstates Meacham’s thesis.  The article is framed by an extended interview with Al Mohler discussing the results of the recent religious identity survey.  The thesis is essentially:

    While we remain a nation decisively shaped by religious faith, our politics and our culture are, in the main, less influenced by movements and arguments of an explicitly Christian character than they were even five years ago.

    I personally do not think this is arguable, nor do I necessarily think it is bad.   There is no question that religious identity is fading in America.  But I think it will be replaced with something important, new and valuable.  Shifts in Christian identity are becoming relatively common in the western world.  The church split between east and west in 400 AD.  The Reformation of the 16th century moved us into an age of Christian pluralism.  The great Awakenings that spread through England and American gave rise to Evangelicalism, and now Evangelicalism is about to be replaced by something else.  When you look at it historically – it is hardly surprising.

    What that replacement will be is what is going to be most interesting.  Some say it will be the so-called “emerging church.”  I have my own theories about the role the CJCLDS will play in all this, but my theories offend both Evangelical and Mormon alike, so I will keep them to myself – besides they are theological in nature which we do not do here.

    Each of these steps has represented an advancement for the greater Christian church, and I see little reason to think that the shifts currently underway will not do the same thing.  But they also often mark the end of significant cultural and political eras.  The establishment of Constantinople marked the fall of Rome.  The rise of Protestantism changed forever the political landscape of Europe and Evangelicalism came out of the same fires as the American Revolution.  The bigger question is will America survive as we know it with these cultural and political shifts.

    That is really a question for people other than this blog – but where we can look here is at the current political landscape and what is likely to occur in the next few elections.   The other important article came from Kathleen Parker in the Washington Post who wonders about a “Political Pullback for the Christian Right.”

    Is the Christian right finished as a political entity? Or, more to the point, are principled Christians finished with politics?

    These questions have been getting fresh air lately as frustrated conservative Christians question the pragmatism — defined as the compromising of principles — of the old guard. One might gently call the current debate a generational rift.

    In some ways Parker’s piece is a bit of fluff.   It just does not go very deep, but that said, it does look at something that appears to be very real.  For an understanding of the generational aspects of this change, I would strongly recommend this article by a young friend of mine by the name of Matt Anderson.  It is not just about “the compromising of principles;” Evangelicalism suffers from a lack of serious thought on any numbers of issues and simply serves as an insufficient platform for cultural engagement for this younger generation.  A generation that has never known a nation without abortion on demand, and has been heavily inculcated with the rhetoric of “gay acceptance” and same-sex marriage.

    When you couple that with the obvious failures of Evangelicalism as a political force, especially in the last election cycle, then the simple ebb-and-flow of American politics would tend to force the so-called Religious Right to the sidelines.  For an example of those failures, we need look no farther than this last weekend either.  Saturday, we looked at Kirk Jowers comments on the role religion played in Mitt Romney’s failed campaign last year.   In what is becoming an increasingly common occurrence, The Mormon Times came in on our heels and published a story on similar lines.  Well, the Mormon Times does have a somewhat larger readership than this blog, so their piece attracted some attention – some of it not necessarily wanted.  Sunday, some blog called Sunlit Uplands, reprinted a rant from our old friend Gary Glenn vociferously denying that it was Romney’s religion -stating it was the “flip-flops.”  I will not belabor this in detail,we  have danced this dance with Glenn, but it is a prime example of the kind of ham-fisted politics that have cost those of the Religious Right way more political capital than they can afford.

    What is really happening is that religiously-motivated political activists are retrenching and rethinking and in the end will be re-engaging in a smarter, better way.  Matthew Millner recently published an essay at First Things on the value of christian culture, something that Catholics (First Things is a publication with a decidedly Catholic bent) have a much more implicit and deeper understanding of than the average Evangelical.  For Evangelicals, making something “Christian” is something highly akin to the marketing phenomena known as “branding.”  Hang the “Christian” label on it and it simply is therefore Christian.  So, a small figure of a vaguely European child in muted colors, but this time with an inpirational message printed on it somewhere, is no longer a “Hummel” – it’s a bit of “Christian-inspired home art.”

    What is a “Christian culture?”  My own understanding of the term is borrowed from C.S. Lewis, who in turn borrows it, after a fashion, from Plato.  Lewis cites his Platonic sources in The Last Battle, the final book of the Narnia series, in which one of the characters says something about “it is all in Plato.”  (Forgive me for not giving a more accurate and full citation here, please remember the whole vacation thing I have going on).  The most read of Lewis’ non-fiction books is Mere Christianity is actually a reprinting of four series of radio talks Lewis gave during  World War II. In the first of these series Lewis discusses what he calls “pre-evangelism.”  This is one simple idea that Lewis contends is built into the world, into creation if you will.  That idea is the existence of an objective morality, that what is good and what is evil is a very part of reality, and is not defined by us, or arbitrarily defined by the will of God.  In other words something is not good because God said it is good, but rather it is good because it conforms to the goodness that exists objectively.  (To get Biblical for a moment – God looked at creation and saw that it was good – He did not simply define it as such.)

    Please note that this is very, very different than the typical Evangelical approach to morality and the political codification of same of the last decades wherein we have tried to make a good thing happen because God said it should happen.  Lewis argues (echoing the first chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, again getting Biblical briefly) that this idea of an objective morality is that which calls us to the God of Christianity – hence his labeling it as “pre-evangelism,” and the Platonic parallels since Plato argued this reality was a mere reflection of a higher one.

    Lewis, completely absent reliance on Christian doctrine as a source, looks at the ramifications of the abandonment of of the idea of objective morality in a short book called The Abolition of Man.  One need look no further than the title to know what Lewis argues will happen if this idea is abandoned.  Thus we have an argument for a “Christian culture” without direct appeal to divine mandate or holy writ of any sort.

    Herein lies the future of religiously motivated political engagement.  So Meacham is right when he opines that culture and politics are no longer so heavily influenced by explicit Christian concerns.   And Parker is probably right that the days of  the “God said so” politics of the Religious Right are drawing to a close.  But that does not mean we are necessarily going to be see huge and radical shifts in our culture, morality, or day-to-day religious lives.  It just means, I believe, that we are getting smarter about such things.  We can and will learn to argue for our political/moral stances on non-religious terms.  We will engage in the pre-evangelical.  We will leave the explicitly evangelical for the house of worship and private conversation.

    We may actually become a better nation and better Christians for it.

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    Posted in News Media Bias, Notables, Political Strategy, Reading List, Understanding Religion | 3 Comments » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    Romney’s “Faith in America” Speech: Changing The Discussion Forever

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 12:06 am, December 10th 2007     &mdash      4 Comments »

    John and I were on Hugh Hewitt’s show Friday for a few minutes and Hugh asked us if we thought The Speech put The Question to bed. We didn’t have time to answer fully.

    On reflection, I think what has happened is that Romney has irrevocably and forever changed the discussion about The Question. (K-Lo seems to agree.)

    As John notes below, Romney has drawn a line in the sand, and everyone watching this race — candidates, commentators, or voters– will need to decide which side they are on.

    Why? Because Romney has taken the high ground on the issue of religion. From this point on, the following statements from his “Faith in America” speech will guide the discussion:

    (more…)

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    Posted in Electability, Notables, Religious Bigotry, The Speech | 4 Comments » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    “Ocean” – Romney’s Seventh Campaign Television Advertisement

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 08:21 am, July 16th 2007     &mdash      1 Comment »

    This is such a perfect follow-up to this morning’s reading list that we had to post it right away. Romney’s team has essentially put some of the text of his Townhall op-ed from last Friday into this television advertisement:

    The ad will begin airing today in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. What will the response be from conservatives who are religious people? Will it be, “Yes! That’s the kind of candidate I want!” Or will it be, “That’s nice, but . . . .?”

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    A Letter To Some Of My Fellow Evangelicals

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 08:03 am, April 17th 2007     &mdash      1 Comment »

    In talking to my evangelical friends, both personally and  in some emails I receive about this blog, there are some themes or statements that come up again and again.  I thought I would address a few of them.

    How can I, in good conscience, vote for someone whose beliefs are very different than mine?

    Why would your conscience be troubled?  You are voting for someone to do the job of president, not pastor.  You are voting for the individual, not his beliefs.  Can he do the job?  Will he do the job in a way that aligns with my principles and values?  Those are the questions that matter.  When hiring someone for my business, those are the question I ask.  Of course, I would prefer someone that believes as I do, but often I find candidates much better qualified for the job with other, or more frequently simply without, beliefs.  I frankly would be foolish to hire a lesser qualified candidate to operate a soil sampling drill rig simply because the best candidate was a Jehovah’s Witness instead of a Presbyterian.

    People’s beliefs really matter in their lives, and Mormons believe so differently.

    Indeed Mormon belief is quite different, but how precisely does that matter?  It is my opinion that Mormon belief is grossly misunderstood.  It is not orthodox by any stretch of the imagination, but it is not so far off as the common perception might suggest.  Consider the Godhead, to use the LDS term.  Mormons are decidedly non-Trinitarian, fair enough.  But does that make a difference in how a Mormon would govern?  I don’t think so.  Are our values based on our Trinitarian views? - No.  Our values are largely based on the Judaic law, which is in turn based on monotheism, but not Trinitarianism.  Some try to paint Mormons as polytheists, and the strictest possible interpretation of their theology of the godhead would indicate they are, but I have read enough Mormon theologians to know they do not carry their views of the godhead that far.  Ask any Mormon if they are polytheistic and they will deny it vociferously.  At best we can accuse them of having lousy logic in their theological formulations, but in practice and life they are little different than us.  Please remember they hold the same scripture we do, plus  “The Lord your God is ONE God” is scripture for Mormons just as much as it is for us.  The additional scripture of Mormonism does not to the best of my knowledge contradict a word of the Bible – they interpret it very differently, but that is not a critical matter in this instance.

    So, my question to you – specifically what is it that Mormons believe, as cited by Mormons, not anti-Mormon activists, that will affect how they govern?  My researches of the last year and 100 years of Utah history says that they govern just like we do.

    If you are still concerned, consider:

    How do you feel when atheists say you should not vote for X because he is a Christian?  This is America; our freedom to practice our faith is highly dependent on the freedom to have religious diversity in all areas of society, including government.  If we, even in the privacy of the voting booth, exclude someone of another faith, then we are giving permission to allow others to exclude us.  And we are increasingly in the minority in this nation . . . .

    [tags]Mormons, belief, difference, Evangelicals, Mitt Romney[/tags]

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    Posted in Candidate Qualifications, Doctrinal Obedience, Notables, Questions, Understanding Religion | 1 Comment » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    “If the Mormon issue wasn’t floating around in the background . . . .”

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 09:36 am, August 18th 2006     &mdash      1 Comment »

    Welcome Hugh Hewitt readers! If you are here for the first time, please take a minute to check out the rest of the blog. Writing on the fine Real Clear Politics Blog this morning, John McIntyre writes approvingly of Romney's recent progress, notes that "2008 was probably not going to be George Allen's year," and concludes that "Romney is fast emerging as the alternative to the two moderate heavyweights McCain and Giuliani." Then comes this provocative statement:

    But back to Romney: If the Mormon issue wasn't floating around in the background, he would almost certainly be the clear frontrunner for the nomination. Expect to see Romney's stock continue to rise as many conservatives unhappy with the prospect of McCain or Giuliani start to line up behind the Massachusetts Governor.

    "If the Mormon issue wasn't floating around in the background." If McIntyre is right, then we really have come to a place where the only thing standing between Romney and front-runner status as a presidential candidate is . . . his religion. As much as my mind rebels against such a thought, politics is the ultimate realists' game. It doesn't matter whether it's fair or right for Romney's religion to be so important; if that's the way it is, then that fact must be dealt with. What does this mean?

    Leaving aside the question of whether pundits should raise the "Mormon issue" in such a cavalier manner, which John addresses toward the end of this post, here are a few ideas:

    • If Romney does start to look more and more like a front-runner, then attacks on him will proliferate. No one will directly attack him for being a Mormon, but whisper campaigns may be attempted. The problem with whisper campaigns is that they are effective only in short-term situations (such as the last few weeks before a primary election). When there's time for the whispers to be countered, the effort usually peters out, and 2008 is still quite a ways off.
    • He can probably expect more subtle attacks, such as this rather clever piece by a Gingrich operative, who suggests that Romney is the candidate of the blueblood elites– the modern-day Rockefeller Republicans. Trouble is, as a Mormon, Romney's already an outsider to the world of bluebloods; his only Ivy League connections are in graduate school; he didn't go to Yale and does not belong to Skull and Bones; and he's probably not even in the Bohemian Club either (too much drinking there, you know). So that one won't stick, but others will be attempted.

    • Back to the religion issue. Would it receive such attention if pundits didn't bring it up all the time? Maybe not, but remember, politics is a realists' game. My hunch is that after all is said and done, Romney's Mormonism will simply die out as an issue in the GOP primaries. His lifestyle and wordlview are too simpatico with those of the religious conservatives who might care about a candidate's faith. If he's nominated by the GOP, Romney will be viciously and openly attacked by the Daily Kos crowd, who will paint him as a homophobe for his stand on same-sex marriage, a bigot because of Mormonism's all-male priesthood and its former policy on African-Americans and the priesthood, and who knows what else. Expect them to try to make him look like the American version of the Taliban. Will any of that stick? I am doubtful; time will tell. But it's going to be an interesting ride.

    John adds: Lowell beat me to the punch on this one, frankly it honked me off when I read it very early this AM. Here's the thing. There appears to be two different attacks on the religion front. The first is from the left, who frankly cannot tell the difference between Romney and an Evangelical – their worry is that he will be more committed to the issues than a "normal" Evangelical. It's a blanket religion attack – it's the same attack that Bush had to deal with. It's the same attack Republicans will be dealing with as long as they remain closely aligned with religious interests.

    The other attack, and the one that really bothers me, is what I call "The Question." It's from the right, it's from within. Everybody loves Romney, then comes one of Laura Ingraham's "But…Monkeys." "Can a Mormon get elected?" Nobody actually knows, but they have to ask.

    I truly wonder if it has occurred to anybody that the mere asking creates and fuels the issue – an issue is, after all, a question the political process seeks to answer. While I was reflecting on McIntyre's piece this morning I think I figured out what needs to happen here. The Commmonwealth PAC needs to pay for a real study, not a quick phone poll, but a real study where polling is used to form focus groups, put together demographically, and get some genuine data.

    Right now, from a purely political standpoint the only issue in terms of the primaries is "The Question." And that exists only in minds of the political watchers. I am beginning to resent it because it implies that Evangelicals are some sort of semi-bigoted rubes. "Of course, all we political insiders know it's not really an issue – but the great unwashed masses, are they really that sophisticated?" Either the insiders really do have a problem with Romney's religious affiliation, and they have found "safe" way to express it, or there is a problem. If the former, it's time for Romney to get busy dealing with them. We need data to even know how to proceed with the later – and the insiders above all should know that!

    We are a humble blog and lack the resources to do the kind of polling and testing needed, but the insiders most assuredly do not. It's time for them to stop asking and start answering.

    Lowell: I wish I had said that. Simply tossing the issue into a piece that is about something else seems intellectually lazy and borderline irresponsible. Further analysis from a pro-Romney site here.

    John's Addendum: I have summarized my evidentiary support for the assertion that no one really knows if Romney's faith is an issue here.

    [tags] Romney, Giuliani; Gingrich, George Allen, McCain, Mormon, Mormonism, religious bigotry, Rockefeller Republicans [/tags]

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    The Healthcare Issue – Yes, It Does Relate To Religion

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 12:30 pm, August 16th 2006     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    No doubt, most view Romney's greatest accomplishment as governor is the health care plan he made happen. (Although, his actions in the Big Dig mess and most recently in response to the foiled terror plot may be changing that.) It is being broadly discussed as the wave of the future. There is a good analysis here.

    The plan is an excellent, provided that one accepts that health care is an entitlement. I realize that such acceptance is a public reality and a political necessity, and yet I am unwilling to make it personally. While not a libertarian on most things, I find myself passionately libertarian when it comes to matters of health and health care.

    Before I launch into this completely, I want to state that I do not think the nightmarish problems that I am concerned with are the intention of Romney or anyone else that brought the new system to pass. But there is such a thing as the Law of Unintended Consequences. Who knew that the welfare system of the early 60's would result in the virtual destruction of traditional family structure in the poor of America and particularly in the Afro-American community?

    One's health is, save perhaps for one's spiritual state, the most personal aspect of one's life. What we eat, how we spend our free time, who we have in our bedrooms, all are issues related to health and health care. As health care becomes an entitlement, the providers of that entitlement will be obligated to control the costs and one way they will do so is by trying to control these very private choices of an individual.

    For example, because HIV is primarily transmitted via homosexual activity, would not health care providers seek to limit such activity? Conservatives might not mind that too much, so let's look at some other examples. The Hindu religion mandates vegetarianism, at least some forms of it. Suppose this diet was shown to have health ramifications – now what? Can we force Hindus to eat meat, or can we force everyone to become Hindu? What about the use of psychotropic drugs by some religions? And those are just the obvious examples. What about family size limitations? Do we really want to end up like China?

    Some recent studies attribute long life to religious faith – shall faith now be a government mandate? If so what religion? These kinds of things are being discussed today. We've seen it with smoking and now we are seeing it with weight. When health care is an entitlement, you are required to have policies about things that the government just should not be having policies about – personal, private matters. Thus, while I think Romney's plan is excellent if we accept healthcare as an entitlement, I think it is a mistake to do so.

    Lowell: I've spent the last 20+ years in the heath care industry, so this is an issue near and dear to my heart. John has identified the most common "hot button" objection to Romney's plan: The "individual mandate," which requires everyone to have health insurance of some kind, much like many states require everyone to have auto insurance. The new Massachusetts law is described in (somewhat wonkish) detail here. (Full disclosure: The last link is to a newsletter published by my law firm, and in which I had a hand.)

    The Romney plan does get a mixed reaction in the conservative community. The individual mandate is anathema to libertarians; but the plan was crafted in close cooperation with the Heritage Foundation, an organization with impecable conservative credentials. My response to John is long, but I'll summarize here:

    First, I feel your pain. I am not in love with the idea of the government requiring citizens to spend money on an item as personal as health insurance. I also am worreid about the unintended consequences.

    Second, however, I think the pain is necessary. The auto insurance analogy is useful in this regard: As a society in which the automobile is a ubiquitous and indispensible element of our lives and our economy, we have come to accept the fact that the costs to all of us from a libertarian approach to auto insurance would be catastrophic. (A libertarian purist would disagree with that statement, but I think I'm right.)

    Similarly, the health care industry now represents about 16% of our gross domestic product. It is simply a huge part of our lives. Also, and just as important, I believe we have made a decision as a society that everyone is entitled to a minimum level of health care. One can disagree with that decision, but I believe it has been made; it might well be described as part of the American social compact by now.

    Given that, I do not see the U.S. returning to Charles Dickens' England, where people had to depend on the mercy of others to get good care. (I know John is not even close to arguing for that; it's simply a point of contrast.) In other words, we are simply not going to tolerate a system in which people will be forced to do without health care. There is a religious component to this view (witness the many Catholic and Adventist hospitals in existence), as well as a social democratic "nanny state" element, but it is undeniably woven into the fabric of our society.

    My opinion: Given the immutable nature of that societal compact, the Romney plan is an ingenious form of social policy jiu-jitsu that turns us away from creeping socialist approach and actually incorporates free market principles of individual autonomy, even as it encroaches on citizens' freedom not to have health insurance. The Heritage Foundation notes the Romney plan's achievements:

    1. Creation of a new market for health insurance in which individuals and families can buy pri­vate coverage of their choice, own it, and take it from job to job without losing the existing favorable tax treatment for employer-spon­sored health insurance, and

    2. Creation of a new system of premium assis­tance for lower-income individuals to purchase private coverage based on leveraging existing uncompensated care funds used to cover the cost of care for the uninsured.

    "These two components," say the Heritage authors,

    could revolutionize the traditional health care system by empowering individuals, including low-income persons, to buy and own their health care coverage, and they can be adapted to the unique conditions of other states.

    So the Romney healthcare plane is a mixed bag. There's that non-libertarian individual mandate, but there's so much more that empowers individuals, which at the same time just might solve the problem of the uninsured in this country. If the plan works, 95% of Massachusetts citizens will have insurance within three years, and they'll have it in a free market, not in a single payer health system like Britain's disastrous National Health Service or the quickly deteriorating Canadian system.

    As for the religion angle, as long as we have a plan that incorporates individual autonomy with market principles, the chance that unintended consequences, of which Jon rightly warns, will encroach on our personal beliefs seems pretty small. But it's an experiment. Let's see how it unfolds. If the Massachusetts system fails in the short term, Romney's fortunes will take a huge, probably unsurvivable hit. If it succeeds or is perceived as succeeding, he'll be sitting pretty.

    [tags]healthcare, Romney, freedom, restriction, personal choice[/tags]

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