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."

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

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

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

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

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    The Ugliest Statistic

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:28 am, June 26th 2014     &mdash      1 Comment »

    The Wall Street Journal:

    In the first quarter of 2014, GDP in the U.S. plunged at a 2.9% annual rate, and productivity—the inflation-adjusted business output per hour worked—declined at a 3.5% annual rate. This is the worst productivity statistic since 1990. And productivity since 2005 has declined by more than 8% relative to its long-run trend. This means that business output is nearly $1 trillion less today than what it would be had productivity continued to grow at its average rate of about 2.5% per year.

    Lagging productivity growth is an enormous problem because virtually all of the increase in Americans’ standard of living is made possible by rising worker productivity.

    They go on to cite a lack of new business formation as the largest single contributor to this trend.  They also mention some policy choices that could help reverse it.  Fair enough, but I look at those stats and I see a problem that cannot be fixed by simply changing a few policies.   When Ronald Reagan reversed a similar downward spiral in the 1980′s he did so leading a nation that acted constrained by the bad policy of his predecessor.  Numerous people wanted to start businesses or make other changes that would result in enormous productivity increases, all they needed was a little boost by reversing some policy obstacles.

    I see a very different picture today.  I do not see a nation chomping at the bit waiting for some sort of “go” signal.  I see a nation that honestly does not know if there is anything better.  Note that the trend cited started not with the Obama administration or even the financial disaster of 2008, but way back in 2005.  The nation started losing hope before it elected a government that piled policy disaster on the hopelessness.  Where did the hope go?  (New business start up is practically a function of ideas, the availability of capital, etc.  But fundamentally it is a reflection of hope in the risk taker.)

    Government cannot instill hope in people.  It acts upon it, and it amplifies its presence, but it does not create it.  Part of the genius of America is that it relies on non-governmental forces to create the hope that is absolutely necessary for democracy, and capitalism, to succeed.  The primary non-governmental hope creating force in America is religion.  Government can destroy hope because it can limit religion.  This is the root of the much cited “separation of church and state.”  The separation is designed not to keep religion out of the public square to to permit it to flourish and generate the hope that makes the nation work well.  The founders had seen Europe and its state sanctioned religion and had seen how ties too close to government tended to turn religion into an instrument of government rather than allow it to be religion – to be a hope creator.

    The concerns of the WSJ are far more profound that just the downturn in productivity and causal slowness in business formation.  (Something that, by the way, if not reversed will mire the nation in the debt this administration has buried us under forever.)  It is a reflection of the secularization of the nation – it is not a business problem, it is a soul-sickness.  Elections can change politicians that can change policies.  That’s a good thing and it should happen.  But if the hope does not exist to take advantage of those policy changes, the nation will remain on this downward trend economically.

    Political victory that is not accompanied by religious reform and revival will at best be fleeting.  If our hope is only in that political victory it can be taken from us as easily as it was won.  Real and lasting hope comes from something far larger and far more eternal that our politics.  Our churches, synagogues, and other houses of prayer and worship need to step up here.  Some churches today are becoming hope stealers and breakers.  They are failing to be at least one important part of what the church should be.  Some churches simply sound the bell of judgement and doom, which also does not create hope.  The wall of separation has fallen in ways far more subtle than the coercive forces of law and courtroom.

    It is time for the religious folk of America to stand up and be counted.  Not so much on issues and policy, but on the three things that abide – faith, hope, and love.  If we of deep and heartfelt religious conviction can stand up for these things, I think the issues and policies will right themselves in good order.

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    Posted in Culture Wars, Evangelical Shortcomings, Governance, Religious Freedom, Social/Religious Trends, Understanding Religion | 1 Comment » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    This Is How History Is Rewritten

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:44 am, May 28th 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Politico Magazine has published a featured piece by Randall Balmer entitled “The Real Origins of the Religious Right,” that illustrates first hand how history gets rewritten.  His thesis:

    One of the most durable myths in recent history is that the religious right, the coalition of conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists, emerged as a political movement in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion. The tale goes something like this: Evangelicals, who had been politically quiescent for decades, were so morally outraged by Roe that they resolved to organize in order to overturn it.

    This myth of origins is oft repeated by the movement’s leaders. In his 2005 book, Jerry Falwell, the firebrand fundamentalist preacher, recounts his distress upon reading about the ruling in the Jan. 23, 1973, edition of the Lynchburg News: “I sat there staring at the Roe v. Wade story,” Falwell writes, “growing more and more fearful of the consequences of the Supreme Court’s act and wondering why so few voices had been raised against it.” Evangelicals, he decided, needed to organize.

    Some of these anti-Roe crusaders even went so far as to call themselves “new abolitionists,” invoking their antebellum predecessors who had fought to eradicate slavery.

    But the abortion myth quickly collapses under historical scrutiny. In fact, it wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools. So much for the new abolitionism.

    His evidence is, that a) Evangelicals were slow to wake up to the problems inherent in the Rose v. Wade decision, and b) that some began organizing in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that removed tax-exempt status from some church related schools in the south that were segregated.  This are both facts long in evidence and denied by no one.  However, Balmer weaves these facts, along with some others, into a narrative that makes the rise of the religious right appear to be some Machiavellian scheme, foisted upon gullible, thoughtless Evangelicals solely in order to preserve segregation.

    What does Balmer not consider? Well, for one, Green v Kennedy (the SCOTUS segregation/tax case) and Nixon’s subsequent policy decisions for the IRS represented a significant step by government into defining what was and what was not religion and religious training.  Having much family in Mississippi, I am well aware that many of the church schools that sprang up in South in the wake Brown were racist to their core, but that does not change the fact that these moves represented a significant move on the part of the federal government from telling public institutions what to do to telling private and ostensibly religious institutions what to do.  These moves represented as big an (or perhaps a bigger?) intrusion by government into religion as the intrusion posed by Obamacare’s abortion coverage provisions today.  While the racial admission practices of these schools was not highlighted, the legal ramifications of these decisions was widely discussed and to my memory played a role in galvanizing religious people across the nation to political action.  Abhorrent as the racial admission policies of these schools were, if the government could attack their tax exempt status based on that policy, what other policy might they also someday decide warranted such an erosion of the separation of church and state?  There was a very real danger in these decisions and Obamacare’s abortion coverage provisions are front-and-center example one.

    Balmer makes this sound sinister:

    Although Bob Jones Jr., the school’s founder, argued that racial segregation was mandated by the Bible, Falwell and Weyrich quickly sought to shift the grounds of the debate, framing their opposition in terms of religious freedom rather than in defense of racial segregation. For decades, evangelical leaders had boasted that because their educational institutions accepted no federal money (except for, of course, not having to pay taxes) the government could not tell them how to run their shops—whom to hire or not, whom to admit or reject. The Civil Rights Act, however, changed that calculus.

    Balmer adds no facts to the historical records here.  All he does is assert motivation and weave a narrative worthy of a Bilderberger theorist.  Religious freedom was, and remains, a very real issue in all of this.

    Balmer’s “art” sees its highest expression in this paragraph:

    Between Weyrich’s machinations and Schaeffer’s jeremiad, evangelicals were slowly coming around on the abortion issue. At the conclusion of the film tour in March 1979, Schaeffer reported that Protestants, especially evangelicals, “have been so sluggish on this issue of human life, and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? is causing real waves, among church people and governmental people too.”

    “Machinations?” — “Jeremaid?”  My goodness, I had no clue that Hydra had hidden itself inside Evangelicals and Protestants just waiting for the time when it could assert its dangerous philosophy and with the aid of the computerized Armen Zola conquer the world.

    There is no question that the desire to educate their children outside of the presence of African-Americans played an early role in organizing Protestants and Evangelicals to political action.  But the movement that became the Religious Right outgrew that small and particular aspect of its beginning quickly.  Balmer offers no evidence, or even narrative, that connects the religious freedom narrative to the abortion narrative other than chronological coincidence.   (Well, in fairness there are unfootnoted references to the archives of Liberty University)  And yet it was the abortion issue that caught the concern and energy of the religious nation.

    The game that Balmer plays in this atrocious piece could be just as easily played by looking into the Communism derived motives of some early leaders in the liberal movement.  Most people of the left, even those I disagree with strongly, are good people seeking what they view as best for the nation.  The same is true for people of the right.   Every political movement, left, right, and middle, has its opportunists and less than purely motivated players.  They do not define the movement.  The movement is defined by the millions that join it and where they take it.

    Balmer here attempts in the grossest of manners to call into the question an entire movement based solely on sinister assertions surrounding facts known to anyone that was either there, or that bothers to look.  This is not journalism, it’s not spin, it’s not even agenda journalism.  (It is certainly not historical research.)  This is crafting a conspiracy theory – pure and simple.

    Such things are written and published on the Internet daily.  No surprise there.  It is; however, shameful that Politico has not merely published this tripe, but featured it.

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    The Great Divide

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:15 am, October 16th 2013     &mdash      1 Comment »

    From William Galston in this morning WSJ:

    The tea party is Jacksonian America, aroused, angry and above all fearful, in full revolt against a new elite—backed by the new American demography—that threatens its interests and scorns its values.

    This is more than a columnist’s speculation. Stan Greenberg, a Democratic survey researcher whose focus groups with Macomb County Reagan Democrats in Michigan transformed political discourse in the 1980s, has recently released a similar study of the tea party. Supporters of the tea party, he finds, see President Obama as anti-Christian, and the president’s expansive use of executive authority evokes charges of “tyranny.” Mr. Obama, they believe, is pursuing a conscious strategy of building political support by increasing Americans’ dependence on government. A vast expansion of food stamps and disability programs and the push for immigration reform are key steps down that road. [emphasis added]

    Yesterday on The Hugh Hewitt Show Congressman John Campbell reported the the breakdown in the House came when those with religious objections to Obamacare objected to any funding deal that extends past the end of the year when rules requiring religious institutions to provide coverage for abortifacients would kick in.   As we said yesterday, religion is the elephant in the room.

    There are very real and extraordinarily serious religious issues facing the nation.

    Some comments need to be made.

    Firstly, these issues are too serious and way too deep to be resolved in the current crisis.  The best anybody could hope for is an extension in the delay of the implementation of the abortifacient rules.  Crisis’ like this are great messaging (up to a point) and they provide strong negotiating leverage for resolving very specific and well-defined policy differences.  But they do not and cannot resolve fundamental differences in philosophy, ideology and worldview – within a party or between the parties.  This point applies to all the practically innumerable objections to Obamacare.  It’s not going away, at least not right now – get specific and get real.

    Secondly, being in the minority and in opposition to governance is hardly new to the church.  The church in fact arose out of just such a state.  It is important to remember that Constantine was not regulated or legislated to Christianity, he converted.  Our faith is not defined by our governmental status.  Yes, there will be grave consequences to Obamacare’s regulations, but we have suffered many grave consequences throughout history.  We are still here, the Roman Empire (among others) is not.  We must bear that in mind as we conduct this fight.

    Finally, this old Emo Phillips joke too often describes how the church in America resolves its issues.  Res Ipsa Loquitor.


     

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    We Are Not A Cartoon! (or a demon)

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:38 am, October 1st 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    There is a new thing happening in media and we need to tread smartly as we deal with it.  My latest peek at this phenomena comes from this HuffPo piece by Franky Schaeffer.  The son of renowned evangelical thinker Francis Schaeffer, Franky (little known but often referred to on this blog, here, here, and here)  has been on a crusade for quite sometime now to paint religiously motivated conservatives as somehow having compromised their Christian faith.  While I agree that it is possible for political activism to become an idol that blocks our true deep spiritual development, Franky seems to think that if your faith has political ramifications at all you’re somehow compromised – at least if those political ramifications are conservative.

    In the latest HuffPo piece he picks up a drum beat that he has used before that now seems to be gaining momentum.  Ostensibly he is promoting a documentary, but consider:

    As my dad’s sidekick schmoozing with congressmen, famous preachers and even US presidents, I watched and participated during the 1970s and 80s as fundamentalist religion shaped American politics.

    Note that term, “fundamentalist.”  It is showing up more and more and more in any MSM discussion of religion.  The term Evangelical is disappearing rapidly.  This is not all bad as that word has been beaten out-of-shape so badly has to no longer have meaning.  But “fundamentalist” is no substitute.  Modern Evangelicalism largely arose as reasonable response to the hyper-conservative, often unreasonable. rise of Fundamentalism.  Modern Evangelicalism arose and came to be the mainstream of Christianity in America, consigning the Fundamentalist to the corner with the crazy uncles where they belonged.  But more and more it seems that if you are religious and politically active, you are “Fundamentalist.”

    This relabeling has arisen for numerous reasons.  Two important one comes to mind.  One, Evangelicals are largely spent as a political force – they have not gone away mind you, they just are no longer much of a political movement.  (This is a story all to itself and for another time.)  Secondly, the rise of terrorism by fundamentalist forces in Islam has created a convenient association between the word “fundamental” and extremism.  Attaching such a label to reasonable domestic religious forces recasts them not as political opponent, but as enemy.  The net result is that in the mind of the average liberal, religiosity of any sort, because it is all somehow “fundamentalist,”  can simply be disregarded.

    There was nothing fundamentalist at all about the religiously motivated political action that arose in the 70′s and reached its peak of influence during the Reagan years.  It was conservative, but hardly fundamentalist.  Fundamentalism is marked by such things as young-earth creationism and a condemnation of virtually all divorce.  That is far to the right of the abortion and same-sex marriage opposition of the modern Evangelical.  But there is that label being stuck to us.

    As we watch the White House compare Republicans to bomb vest wearing terrorists and say they do not have to give anything, we see the game that is afoot.  We are being demonized.  It is just that simple.

    We have to make our stands on the issues known – REPEATEDLY, but you cannot argue with demonization.  “You’re a jerk” – “No I’m not” is not much of an argument.  We need to do more.

    Now, more than ever, we have to be good people of reason.  Who we are in our political conduct and in our personal lives is the only thing that can put to the lie the charges being hurled at us.  Now, more than ever, our faith has to be evident not just in our words or even in our stances on the issues, but in our bearing, our conduct and our families.  Now, more than ever, we have to be the shining city on a hill.

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    Genuine Reasons To Separate Church And State

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:34 am, August 1st 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Our founders were wise men.  They looked at the problems of Europe very carefully and tried to design a government that did not share them.  We have discussed here often how governmental power was destructive with regards to religion in Europe – that our much-misunderstood separation is to help the church be the church.  We have also discussed how religious diversity in the nation forced the issue.  But there was another very wise reason for the separation.  That reason is the character of man.

    European monarchs, when they held the power of both church and state in their hands, tended to become a bit full of themselves.  Not all of them mind you – monarchy worked quite well with a monarch of sufficient character and wisdom.  But such people are very hard to find and as the cliche goes, “absolute power….”  Monarchs that were both head of state and head of the church often began to confuse themselves with God.  Whatever their theological leanings may have been, our founders acted on a practical level as if the doctrine of original sin was operative.  The checks and balances of the constitution and the separation of church and state are both part of helping our executive leader to understand that his/her role is limited, and most assuredly not divine.

    Daniel Henninger in this morning’s WSJ sounds a warning that should be apparent to any watching this president closely.

    If we learned anything about Barack Obama in his first term it is that when he starts repeating the same idea over and over, what’s on his mind is something else.

    The first term’s over-and-over subject was “the wealthiest 1%.” Past some point, people wondered why he kept beating these half-dead horses. After the election, we knew. It was to propagandize the targeted voting base that would provide his 4% popular-vote margin of victory—very young voters and minorities. They believed. He won.

    The second-term over-and-over, elevated in his summer speech tour, is the shafting of the middle class. But the real purpose here isn’t the speeches’ parboiled proposals. It is what he says the shafting of the middle class is forcing him to do. It is forcing him to “act”—to undertake an unprecedented exercise of presidential power in domestic policy-making. ObamaCare was legislated. In the second term, new law will come from him.

    didn’t see it coming. As always, Mr. Obama states publicly what his intentions are. He is doing that now. Toward the end of his speech last week in Jacksonville, Fla., he said: “So where I can act on my own, I’m going to act on my own. I won’t wait for Congress.” (Applause.)

    The July 24 speech at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., has at least four references to his intent to act on his own authority, as he interprets it: “That means whatever executive authority I have to help the middle class, I’ll use it.” (Applause.) And: “We’re going to do everything we can, wherever we can, with or without Congress.”

    Henninger is absolutely right and if you stop and think about it for just a minute – it is a terrible to contemplate.  It is not even necessarily what he will do, but how he will do it.  Bad policy creates much pain, can be undone.  It is very difficult to undo power shifts of this sort.

    Heninger’s solution:

    A principled opposition would speak out. Barack Obama is right that he isn’t running again. But the Democratic Party is. Their Republican opponents should force the party’s incumbents to defend the president’s creeping authoritarianism.

    If Democratic Senate incumbents or candidates from Louisiana, Alaska, Missouri, Arkansas, North Carolina, Montana and Iowa think voters should accede to a new American system in which a president forces laws into place as his prerogative rather than first passing them through Congress, they should be made to say so.

    And to be sure, the other purpose of the shafted middle-class tour is to demolish the GOP’s standing with independent voters and take back the House in 2014. If that happens—and absent a more public, aggressive Republican voice it may—an unchecked, unbalanced presidential system will finally arrive.

    To this I would add another.  We need a loud and active voice of religion in the public square.  They are trying to cow us and we cannot let it happen.  We have to be smart about it; we cannot simply declare “God’s desire” and demand action.  We have to start by being better people and better citizens.  We have to demand character in our officials not merely effectiveness, and certainly not theological solidarity.  We have to teach our children about the checks and balances of the constitution and about all aspects of the separation of church and state.

    Henninger notes that there are few checks on a president that simply refuses to execute the laws passed by Congress.  (If California is to be believed, laws passed by the people either.)  But the people – that’s us – remain the ultimate check.  We check with our votes, but we also check with our voices and our character.  It is one of those times in history where we have to step up.

    The nation as we have understood it is at risk.

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