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."

  • Demonization v Shunning and Taking Obama Behind The Woodshed

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:34 am, December 10th 2012     &mdash      2 Comments »

    The president of Fuller Theological Seminary took to Patheos to declare:

    Mitt Romney may not have fared well in his campaign for the presidency, but his candidacy was a step forward for Mormon-evangelical relations. The two groups have been hostile to each other for the past century and a half, with constant insults being traded back and forth.

    When some of us in the scholarly community initiated an evangelical-Mormon dialogue a dozen years ago, we ran into some opposition, particularly on the evangelical side. As a leader in that dialogue, I have received many angry emails from fellow evangelicals who see me as a “compromiser” of the faith. But those expressions of protest have not been as numerous during the recent campaign season.

    [...]

    For many evangelicals, Mormonism has now been “de-demonized.” This may be “the Mormon Moment” many of us have been waiting for: a new willingness on the part of evangelicals and Mormons to engage in a careful, and mutually respectful, theological discussion about matters of eternal importance.

    Dick Mouw is a good man and theologian, but I am not sure he is reading the political tea leaves very well.  “De-demonized” is probably a good word choice, but that still does not get all the way to accepted.  There is mounting evidence that Mitt Romney was shunned by a significant portion of the Christian community.  A move from demonization to shunned is probably a good one on  the theological level.  Shunning is a common technique of theological corrective within a community of faith, and this may mark a move of Mormons into the community of faith.

    However, the political stage is not an appropriate place for such a shunning to take place.  The cost to the greater community is too dear.  (see Nathaniel Hawthorne) As a measure consider, what Eric Metaxis had to say in the CNN belief Blog this weekend just past:

    Later in my speech, I talked specifically about the idea of loving our enemies. I said this was the test of real faith. Speaking to my fellow pro-lifers, I said that those of us who believe the unborn to be human beings must love those on the other side of that issue. I also said that those of us with a traditionally biblical view of sexuality are sometimes demonized as bigots, but we must love even those who call us bigots. I cited Wilberforce and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as two men who took seriously God’s command to love their enemies in the midst of the most serious political battles of their day.  They honored God in how they fought, and he honored them.

    At the end of the breakfast the president told me he would read my book on Bonhoeffer, and Vice President Biden took my picture with the president. No kidding. It was an extraordinary day and I’m not telling the half of it.

    But the reason I’m writing now is that during the past election I was disappointed to see the president’s campaign utterly abandoning these ideals of treating your opponents as you yourself would wish to be treated. Good people with principled and profound convictions about when life begins were cynically demonized as “enemies of women.”  Americans who had worked hard to build businesses, and who had given millions to charity and to the government, were denounced as fat-cats who weren’t “paying their fair share” and whose wealth was ill-gotten gain.

    These scorched-earth tactics were not presidential, much less Christian, and because the president openly professes a Christian faith, I feel I must speak about this.

    HOW we do things often matters more than what we actually do.  Metaxis is very right here and the reverberations throughout our nation, its culture and the community of faith can already be felt.  It’s not good.  The community of faith must keep a close eye on itself to make sure it does not fall into this trap.

    And speaking of self-examination, Talking Points Memo is basically a Democrat tip sheet.  I found this fascinating:

    In perfect Buzzfeed fashion Andrew Kaczynski put together a list of “15 People Who Just Saw Mitt Romney” and reported it on Twitter. As the phenomenon has grown though it’s become clear that at least a decent number of these people couldn’t possibly have actually seen Romney. I saw Romney at a midnight 7/11 in Tampa. I saw him at a Hooters in Boise. I saw him working on a fishing boat outside of Delacroix. I saw him shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die.

    Part of what gets my attention about these photos — and perhaps others are the same way — is that Romney seems a lot more normal in his political afterlife than he did before November 7th.

    Whoa!  The press worked overtime to make Romney look “abnormal” during the campaign and now that they do not need to….  I don’t know what is more stunning – the fact that some parts of the media feel they can declare normalcy based on political desire or that so many people cannot see that the people that bring them information may have an agenda and that they need to receive the information accordingly.

    I had a long conversation with friends last week in which they were busy telling me how unconnected Romney was.  I asked them why they thought that and they started talking about CNN.  To which I responded “there you go.”  Their response was to tell me how belligerent Fox was.  MY response was maybe they needed to work harder to get their info, that the truth might be between the two.  That, of course, would take too much time and energy.

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    Quick Hits 11/30/12

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:59 am, November 30th 2012     &mdash      1 Comment »

    David French notes how much Gd talk there was in public debate in history.  Sadly, it’s true, but it was also a time in history when MOST Americans were concerned about what God thought on a subject.  That is not true today.  I would say that concern is a prerequisite to such debate returning to the public sphere.

    Check the vote count again.  Romney lost, but he did pretty doggone good.

    How to make an alum wince in pain.  It may not explain their NCAA performance, but it does tend to take the shine off the appearance.

    Mormon persecution continues in Russia.  One must wonder about echoes elsewhere…?

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    With Evidence Comes Discussion

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 10:16 am, November 17th 2012     &mdash      1 Comment »

    We noted yesterday that there seems to be some evidence of a Mormon problem in the results of the election just past.  Others seem to think it is conclusive.  Franklin Graham went at it obtusely yesterday on CBN:

    David Brody: What is your message to folks who are wondering what just happened, and it looks like they feel a semi hit them?

    Rev. Franklin Graham: We know that from of the statistics that I’ve heard that the majority of Christians in this country just did not vote for whatever reason. The vast majority of evangelicals did not go to the polls.

    Graham: God is in control, and if Christians are upset, they need to be upset at themselves. We need to do a better job of getting our people – the Church – to vote. Now, I’m not trying to tell you how to vote, you can vote, but vote, my goodness, and vote for candidates that stand for Biblical values.

    Now, statistically, Graham is talking about something different than we are.  We are looking at anti-Mormon bias in those that did turn out, while Graham is looking at a lack of turn out by Christians generally.  Both Brody, and MSNBC, point out that self-identified Christian turnout was higher this time than in 2008.  That does not mean Graham does not have a point.  Given the issues that confronted the electorate (HHS mandate) it should have been a record turn out.  It is only guess work as to why it was not such a record, but there is one factor I can think of in addition to anti-Mormon bias.

    Opposition to Obama has pretty routinely been denounced as rooted in racism for a while now.  I am sure people are just tired of it and did not want to have to cast a vote that could get them labelled as racist.  In other words, the charge even if baseless, has an effect.  Some might accuse us of doing the same vis-a-vis Mormonism.  I hope not, we have tried pretty hard to limit ourselves to cases where there was actual bias.  This is why we are pursuing the path we looked at yesterday – there is some evidence and not just speculation.

    When it comes to speculation, one could easily speculate about the role anti-Mormon bias may have played in the sentiments described in articles like this one:

    By the time Election Day had come, I was very enthusiastic about voting for Romney, not merely about voting against Obama.  I had stopped recalling how unenthusiastic about Romney we conservatives had been until the October 3 first debate.

    How desperate we had been a year ago to find someone, anyone but Romney.

    There was, until the first debate a tepid support of Romney for reasons that will likely remain unexplained, but which could be attributable in part to anti-Mormon bias.  Ahh, speculation.

    And while we are blaming Romney, I found this piece, and the one it links to troubling.  Romney’s not perfect, no candidate ever has been – even the now near deified Reagan.  The man fought hard, performed well and came up just a bit short.  That does not make him a bad candidate.  Perhaps if Potemra and Podhoretz had written one more piece, or a more convincing piece, or been more enthusiastically on board earlier, the results would have been different.  Let’s face it, WE lost – not just Romney.  Blaming him is a way of misdirecting from our mistakes.

    And on the subject of blame, I am hearing undercurrents from a lot of places of “Obama cheated.”  I hate to break it to you, but there is cheating in every election.  Given the superior performance of Obama’s IT system, it is very possible that there was significant cheating, as such a system would serve to both mask and aid such efforts.  That does not mean we cheat to win, that would be going against the principles that define us as conservatives, especially Christian conservatives.  But it does mean that we have to be smart enough to beat the cheaters, and if we are not, that is our fault.

    The election ended when Romney conceded – most graciously.  I think we are far better off concentrating on 1) thanking Governor Romney for his extraordinary effort and energy and his wonderful representation of our party and ideals, and 2) working on where we go from here.

    Speaking of which, I said at a presentation I did Thursday that I thought the Religious Right was spent as a political force.  By that, I mean Evangelicals.  They are still numerous and the votes matter very significantly.  But this election showed that they just cannot organize themselves.  As this WaPo piece points out:

    Some pundits have declared the death of the Christian Right, and there is evidence to back up their analyses. The once-dominant Christian Coalition is essentially bankrupt, Focus on the Family is now focusing on the family ministry, not politics, and the Rev. Pat Robertson, once the biggest voice of the movement, has recently called for legalization of marijuana and excused Gen. David Petraeus’s affair. Once leading figures as the former Rev. Jerry Falwell have passed away, and James Dobson is off the air. The movement lacks a powerful organizational structure and it has no leading spokesperson.

    The piece goes on to claim that they will “resurrect” themselves in a (surprise, surprise) more liberal form.  Resurrection is possible, but not in a more liberal form.  Consider this piece from Christianity Today.  It is by Andy Crouch and discusses ways for Christians to re-engage.  Interestingly, and not surprisingly to this observer, it is based on Roman Catholic thought.  The long history of Catholicism and its myriad political involvements over the millenia (a period to which no other Christian organization can lay claim) give it the strong intellectual base for such engagement.  When you couple that with the hierarchical structural advantages it has, and shares with the LDS – that is where I see the future.  As we sai a while ago, Evangelicals need to take the backseat.  We are much better followers than we are leaders.

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    A Mormon’s Eye View

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:56 am, November 15th 2012     &mdash      4 Comments »

    Yesterday at Buzzfeed, McKay Coppins, a Mormon “embedded” with the Romney campaign, wrote a retrospective of his view of the issue.  I have largely been disappointed in Coppins coverage of the campaign.  He seemed more interested in making the Mormon issue an issue, presumably so he could uniquely “shine,” than in genuinely reporting on the campaign.  That trend continues in this piece.

    There was one part that I found very interesting:

    This was how much of the political class was treating Romney’s religion at the start of 2012: too awkward to discuss in an open forum, yet too tantalizing to ignore altogether.

    That lends credence to a theory I am working on about the election just passed.  That is that in 2008 the issue was rendered “too awkward to discuss,” but that it remained an issue in the minds of many during this cycle.  I would draw an analogy to racism in the deep South.  Once segregation was outlawed and racist utterances were rendered politically incorrect, it was not discussed publicly in the South.  But it lived, and still does to some much lesser extent, in dinner parties and bridge clubs.  We do not have data, and likely cannot get since it is “too awkward to discuss,” whether this was an unspoken issue this election.

    Maybe the tribalism I worried about yesterday is really coming to pass.  Ann Coulter certainly seems to think so.  The problem with Coulter’s piece and other like it is that it fuels a sort of lash-back tribalism that is not at all helpful.  The American ideal is NOT that “Demography is Destiny,” but that we can change our demographics.  That is to say, things like skin color that cannot change do not matter, but that people are free to move between  economic and social classes thus rendering demographics a measure of societal change, but not a measure of destiny.

    There is no doubt in my mind that this election was a move towards tribalism and away from the American ideal.  The exit polling data seems to bear that out.  Whether Mormonism fit into that picture or not is not known.  But it is not a pretty picture, regardless.

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    So – What About Religion in The Last Election and Going Forward?

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 08:12 am, November 14th 2012     &mdash      1 Comment »

    Some say, “No big deal.“  I disagree.  Clearly Romney’s Mormonism was not a big deal to the Evangelicals that voted, but was it an “energizer” to the left as it was to the hardcore Evangelicals in Iowa in 2008 and did it have an suppressive effect in Evangelical turnout generally?  Turnout was way down in an election that should have had high conservative turnout.  I keep noting similarities between this general and Iowa 2008:

    We’ve heard very little about what went wrong on the record from top-level campaign staff. Today Romney’s political director Rich Beeson gave a very perplexing interview to National Review’s Katrina Trinko. He told Trinko,

    “We hit the numbers we needed to hit. Our ground game turned out the people it needed to turnout. They just turned out more. They turned out 18 to 29 [year olds] at a higher level. They turned out African-Americans at a higher level. They turned out Hispanics at a higher level.”

    That sounds remarkably like what we heard after Iowa 2008, just different demographics.  I have seen no data on religion in this mix – it would be interesting.

    Is the Evangelical Right now deadIs it now up to Catholics?  We concluded long ago that the Catholics hod now taken the lead in the Evangelical/Catholic coalition.  But I think there is a bigger rethink than just demographics in order when it comes to the religious approach to all of this.  There are some good ideas in this Powerline post, but it is still demographic/issue focused.  There are also some good thoughts in the messaging focused Breitbart offering.  But what I am talking about is something much deeper than issues, demographics, or messaging.  I think Romney actually lead the way on this.

    Let’s begin with this:

    The back cover of the advance reading copy says that “the ‘Age of the Martyrs’ is a fiction” and that “these stories were exaggerated, invented, and forged, often centuries later, in order to fight heresy, inspire the faithful, and fund churches.”

    The book’s author is a professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame.

    You see, there is some deep sickness even in the church and its institutions.  Then I turn to a favorite Catholic blogger, The Anchoress:

    What we’re seeing with the Petraeus sexcapades is a classic magician’s misdirection. Two months past the attack on Benghazi, which resulted in the death of an American Ambassador and three others — an attack we are told the White House watched while ordering no response; an attack the mainstream media helpfully blacked-out, at first, then allowed to be spun — we are now being served The Prestige, where all of reality is being turned on its head, and the audience isn’t even sure what it’s seeing, so it simply becomes giddy, and content to be led.

    I agree, and I wonder if there is more being covered up than simply Benghazi.  With reports of precincts with 100% of the votes cast for Obama and others with turnout in excess of 100% one can see where a major misdirection might be needed for the administration.  But the fact that the public is taking the bait is where I see the real issue.

    So what is the approach I see going forward that Romney lead the way on?  Simple – goodness and character.  No one that matters, left or right, denies the essential decency, goodness and outstanding character of the man.  The humility born of such prevented Romney from making an issue of it – but we look around and we see a church denying its own founding principles and a nation enthralled by sex over substance.

    When it is about issues and demographics people tend to value winning the issue over matters of character.  Presidents don’t decide issues, legislatures and courts do.  We should, as a nation, be rising above demographics, and yet we are sinking into them like tribes in some very unsavory parts of the world.  I have witnessed first hand tribalism in some of its grossest forms.  It makes the segregation of the South that I witnessed in my youth look quite decent.

    We need leadership now that does not decide issues but that models character.  Nobody really knows what an administration is going to face and any agenda they may proclaim will likely be overcome by events.   Presidents react far more than the act.  In point of fact, my greatest hope for the next four years lies in the fact that events are likely to force this administration to set its agenda aside.  He is likely to make bad decision about those events, but at least they will present us with an opportunity to discuss and will take him off what we know he wants to do that will be bad.

    In such a model it is character and ability that matter, not issues and demographics.  Had we succeeded in making this election about those things we would have won going away.  To some extent we have to overcome our own humility on these matters.  More, when appropriate, we have to be willing to make the charge about a lack thereof in our opponents.  No one of character likes to play that rough – but do we have a choice?

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    Big And Little Questions

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:02 am, November 12th 2012     &mdash      3 Comments »

    Big Question:

    Were Christians winners or losers in the election or somewhere in between?  Here’s how we voted.

    Little Question:

    What if less than half a million people showed up or voted differently?  Romney would have won.  My father always said “What if” questions were a waste of time.  But then again, Dad never read comics.

    Huge Question:

    DO YOU REMEMBER when school cafeterias and restaurants around the nation served fish on Friday because our Catholic friends did not eat meat?  Apparently that change in practice created a void:

    The Los Angeles City Council has declared every Monday to be a so-called ‘meatless Monday,’ and is urging all residents to participate in the weekly day of vegetarianism.

    NBC Los Angeles reports that with the vote Los Angeles has become the largest city to embrace the Meatless Monday campaign, a nonprofit with the goal of cutting down on meat consumption for health and environmental reasons.

    Neither city officials nor law enforcement will be allowed to force residents to not eat meat, The Los Angeles Daily News reports. Rather, the resolution is meant to encourage residents to not eat meat once a week in the hopes of starting a city-wide trend.

    Somehow I think this goes back to the first question this post asked.  We HAVE to be engaged in politics and government because if we are not the alternatives will be.

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