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."

  • Coming For Religion

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:28 am, July 31st 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    We have covered here before the Venture man and his ugly, nasty sign.  That story has now broken big – New York magazine.  The story is about a Ventura, California nutcase that erected an enormous neon sign in the build up to the election proclaiming Romney a racist because of his Mormon faith.  Post election local authorities have tried to force him to take it down.  It is, after all, one heck of a zoning violation.  The guy won’t do it and is now doing a little jail time.

    The story – nutcase violates zoning laws, ends up in jail due to eccentricity – is not uncommon.  It is usually fodder as a local feature and everybody gets to chortle a bit at the odd and colorful local strange guy.  But for such a story in a small California community to make news in a major New York outlet, well, that is extraordinary.  Why is it happening?  It cannot be a Romney angle really, he is done politically.

    Is it a Mormon thing?  Liberals, especially the same-sex marriage advocate arm thereof, bear a deep and abiding animus towards Mormons for their role in the passage of Prop 8.  So accusing a prominent Mormon of being racist is something liberals are going to latch onto – it seemingly helps make their point that opposition to same-sex marriage is robbing someone of a fundamental right.  I think there is something here – but even that, in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decisions does not seem like enough to drive this story onto the national stage.

    Of course there is the “freedom of speech” angle.  But that is long settled law when it comes to zoning issues and local neighborhood covenants.  That angle is usually reserved for the fellow-nutcase sections of the Internet.  That is certainly ot enough to drive this to this someplace like New York Magazine.

    Buried deep in the story is this goody:

    Showers, a surprisingly soft-spoken 60-year-old white Christian Republican…

    And there dear friends is the heart of the matter.  This is intrareligious conflict threatening to explode into “sectarian violence.”  Not to mention it paints religious people as unreasonable and bad neighbors.  That’s what this story is about – it is a chance to paint religious people of several strips as bad.  They quote Showers extensively in his accusations of racism inherent in Mormonism.  And while he, the Evangelical, does so he makes Evangelicals look bad too.  Why, it’s just like the Shi’a/Sunni conflicts in many Islamic nations.

    Any opportunity to paint religion as unreasonable and discriminatory and wrong is the order of the day in the mainstream media.  This unremarkable, ancient history, local story gives them an opportunity so we read about it in the pages of New York magazine.  Showers bona fides as a traditional Christian are not really established – no church affiliation is mentioned, no training, just an assertion.  But that makes little difference in a an age of dying denominations and “spiritual but not religious.”  The quality of the journalism is not the issue, religious intolerance is.

    It is going to get ugly for those of us of faith and we have got to get smart about how to respond.

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    Posted in Evangelical Shortcomings, Religious Freedom, Understanding Religion | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    Sometimes You Cannot Split The Baby

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:34 am, June 27th 2013     &mdash      1 Comment »

    Yesterday, K-Lo at the Corner, quoted Ross Douthat:

    The future of religious liberty on these issues is going to depend in part on the magnanimity of gay marriage supporters — the extent to which they are content with political, legal and cultural victories that leave the traditional view of marriage as a minority perspective with some modest purchase in civil society, versus the extent to which they decide to use every possible lever to make traditionalism as radioactive in the America of 2025 as white supremacism or anti-Semitism are today.

    The Supreme Court tried to split the baby yesterday.  The problem in this case, as opposed to when Solomon threatened it, is that the tactic relies on the good will of both sides.  Yes, he knew the natural mother would save the life of her child, but she would also have lost that had the “adoptive”mother not also had the child’s best interest at heart.  For the ploy to arrive at truth, both sides had to have other than self-interest at heart.   Lopez and Douthat are worried that such goodwill does not exist on the pro-gay-marriage side.  After reading the news this morning, I agree.  Consider this from an “alternative” lifestyle outlet:

    A Ventura County man was ordered to pull the plug on his flashing neon anti-Mitt Romney sign in his front yard today or go to jail.

    Steven Showers, who first put up the sign last August in front of his home in Newbury Park, said he intends to comply with the order issued by a Ventura County Superior Court judge. According to the Ventura County Star, Showers has until 5 p.m. today to take down the sign or he’ll be facing up to 45 days in jail.

    Last week, a jury convicted Showers of eight misdemeanor code violations. Showers, 60, represented himself at the trial.

    Showers insists he has a First Amendment right to display the sign, which says “Romney’s Racist Heart Dotcom. Save the GOP.” He installed it back when Romney was still running for president, and refused to remove it even though the GOP candidate lost the election.

    His issue with Romney is that he’s a Mormon. As Showers said to the Ventura County Star last year, “I was stunned to find out that the Mormon religion is a white supremacist, anti-black, racist ideology.”

    That sounds like a take no prisoners attitude to me.

    We’re in trouble.

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    Posted in Religious Freedom, Same-sex marriage, Social/Religious Trends | 1 Comment » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    Speaking of Religious Tests…

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 02:16 pm, May 17th 2013     &mdash      2 Comments »

    From Chris Moody (HT: Jim Geraghty):

    On June 22, 2009, the Coalition for Life of Iowa received a letter from the IRS office in Cincinnati, Ohio, that oversees tax exemptions requesting details about how often members pray and whether their prayers are “considered educational.”

    “Please explain how all of your activities, including the prayer meetings held outside of Planned Parenthood, are considered educational as defined under 501(c)(3),” reads the letter, made public by the Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm that collected evidence about the IRS practices. “Organizations exempt under 501(c)(3) may present opinions with scientific or medical facts. Please explain in detail the activities at these prayer meetings. Also, please provide the percentage of time your organizations spends on prayer groups as compared with the other activities of the organization.”

    Geraghty said, “Today’s hearing on IRS abuses had a lot of “are you kidding me?” moments….”  That is frankly – understatement.  I find myself praying for the patience to let the system work.  That is simply contemptible.  Not to mention utterly chilling.

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    Posted in character, Religious Bigotry, Religious Freedom | 2 Comments » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    The Need To Be Smart

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:21 am, May 2nd 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    At The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf responds to a Matt Lewis column with this opening:

    In The Week, columnist Matt Lewis, a conservative who is regularly willing to criticize the right, explains why, despite his occasional frustrations, he isn’t tempted to defect. “I am repelled by the Left’s worldview, which implicitly argues that morality is subjective,” he states. “This is a natural outcome of a rejection of the numinous, but it’s an idea that has consequences. When there are no moral absolutes, we make policy decisions based on efficiency instead of compassion. Or we make decisions based on our own individualistic needs, not on what is right or good.”

    Given his beliefs, I’d never urge Lewis to defect to the left for all sorts of reasons. But I don’t think the one he’s offered is what should hold him. The left encompasses a lot of people who believe in God, while the right has its atheists. I don’t think that there is any single world view that encompasses the whole left. And even if we presumed for the sake of simplicity that it makes sense to talk about “the” world views of the left and right, I don’t think the left embraces moral subjectivity any more than the American right, despite the fact that so many conservatives insist otherwise. How common is moral subjectivity on the left, according to Lewis? It is unclear, perhaps understandably, since he was constrained by writing at column length for print.

    Pending clarification, let’s set the left aside and talk about the American right. To what moral absolutes does it subscribe in practice? Certainly some of the ones that are shared by the whole political spectrum. Slavery is wrong. So is rape. And genocide. Surely we can all agree that, on those significant questions, that neither the American left nor the American right are non-absolutists.

    Friedersdorf then goes on to pick on the supposed “hypocrisies” of the right.  The use of torture in the gathering on information on terrorism being his biggest bug-a-boo, but along the way he also discusses immigration, Gitmo and arms control.  Then he says this:

    In what moral absolute was their position grounded?

    In other words, “How can we preach compassion when we engage in torture or deport the oppressed?”  There are three things at play here that need to be noted.

    First, there is a difference between something being absolute and something being universal.  We must always act in compassion, that’s absolute.  But that does not mean we act compassionately to everyone, that’s universal.  Unfortunately, life presents us with situations where to act compassionately towards some we will be required to act harshly with others.  It is an unavoidable reality.  If a man is standing poised to kill another man, killing the threatening killer is, in fact, quite compassionate towards the intended victim, even if it is extraordinarily cruel towards the actor.  Someone is going to die in this situation, compassion cannot be judged solely on the fact that someone is killed.  Compassion is exercised in the choice of who dies and how.  Morality may be rooted in absolutes, but that does not make it simple, by any stretch.

    The second thing at play here is the where the moral absolutes are rooted.  We cannot argue religion in public anymore, but there was a time we could invoke God.  However, even then, it was not good to argue theology in the public square.  Once we are discussing the complexities of applying our absolutes, the discussion will become theological very rapidly.  Theology, even amongst protestant Christians, is far more diverse today than it ever was at the time when the invocation of religion in the public square was more common.  In fact, there are some schools of theology that have grown not out of the religion in question, but purposefully to develop religious apologia for a political or social issue previously considered anathema to the religion in question.   For example, the last couple of decades have seen scores of theological arguments attempting to make homosexual practice acceptable; something Judeo-Christian thought as rejected as wrong throughout its history.

    Because of the confusion between absolute and universal, the gate-keeping functions inside religion have failed to sort the wheat from the chaff in these arguments and all are deemed valid.  How is a public, largely not trained in how to think about these things, to judge what is a good application of the absolutes and what is not?  Are we to now argue theology publicly?  The result of this dilemma has been the sort of dogmatic approach that leads to the perceptions of hypocrisy that Friedersdorf presents.

    The bottom line cause of all of this, and the third factor at play, was mentioned in that last paragraph.  It is the failure of the gate-keeping functions inside religion.  This failure has come as a) religion itself has become more personal that societal/cultural, and b) rather than fight inside the church, groups split off and form smaller groups that lack the critical mass to form the institutions needed to perform the function effectively.

    Frankly, in today’s world, there is validity to what Friedersdorf has to say.  It should not be so, but that is a failure that can be laid squarely at the door of the faithful.  We continue to work on our series telling the 2012 election story.  Unlike the 2008 story, the 2012 is not themed so much in politics as it is in the failure of the religious to do and be all that they are supposed to do and be.  Thus that series will lead to a series on where Evangelicalism has failed.  Thus we will leave this third factor at this point and allow the deeper discussion to come at a later time.

    We are not the hypocrites Friedersdorf wants us, or paints us, to be.  However, we have to be a lot smarter about our faith and its application in the public square if we do not want to appear as such.

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    From Tragedy, Truth….

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:03 am, April 16th 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    I spent a good deal of yesterday chastising myself for thinking about the politics of the Boston Marathon bombing.  The human tragedy is is immense.  I prayed and I prayed.  Not only for the victims and their loved ones, but for myself that I could resist the temptation.

    I was not really tempted to “make political hay” of this, but I found myself planning political defenses.  I EXPECTED the political opposition to be opportunistic.  I was pleasingly shocked when the presidents statement was, at least in words, an apolitical statement of sympathy and resolve.  But this president has made so much political hay out of so much tragedy that I could not help but note that his tone and demeanor while delivering those words did not necessarily match them.  Therefore, I expect the hay making to begin soon and in earnest.  This is after all, the administration that famously holds, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”

    I then I ran across a piece from Warren Rojas @ Roll Call under the headline:

    No Separation of Church and State When Tragedy Strikes

    The piece reprints eight tweets from Congressman, some of them famously left wing, calling for prayer in the aftermath of the bombing.  There is, of course, no dearth of church-going on the left, they just claim to keep it in “its proper place.”  No doubt these Congressmen will claim they were not acting as representatives of the government, but as individuals moved by what they were witnessing – but these were all on Twitter accounts bearing their offices and titles.  The old adage about there being no atheists in foxholes comes to mind.

    From this there are two important lessons that I think we must make note of right now, if only to preserve them for our future political use.  We are swimming in  a political sea; I do not think it can be avoided.  I do not think we can afford to grant our opposition momentum here.

    Lesson 1 – For our political opposition, religion is a target of opportunity, not conviction.  This means that they often are not attacking religion, but simply attacking our specific religious convictions, often in an effort to divide us one from the other and gain political advantage.  This is bait we swallowed whole in the last election and they reeled us in like catfish.  We have got to get smarter.

    Lesson 2 – There is room to appeal to all but the most hardcore atheists through religion.  But it has to be the right appeal and it has to be sufficiently religiously generic so as to have broad appeal.

    I will not go on about this at length – I will return to praying for those directly affected by this heinous act.  But I will hold onto these lessons.

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    Growing Up, Religious Freedom, and Evangelicalism

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 04:00 am, March 25th 2013     &mdash      6 Comments »

    Last Friday, Jim Geraghty wondered “How Do We Win Arguments in a Fragmenting Culture?” and came up with some interesting observations:

    Every day, you can discover some little subculture that a lot of folks dabble in, and some folks can get completely wrapped up in:

    There are 211 million video-game players in the United States. For perspective, 130 million voted in last year’s presidential election.

    About 35 million Americans and Canadians play a fantasy sport (fantasy football, fantasy baseball, etc.).

    At least 31 million Americans are “foodies,” with an avid interest in food and culinary trends, as of 2008.

    A site of “Bronies” — grown men and women who are really into “My Little Pony” — estimates that there are 7 to 12 million of them in the United states.

    [...]

    Mind you, the niche culture has been good for conservatives in a lot of ways. You could argue we’ve become a “niche” culture ourselves, with our own news channel (Fox News) and entertainment programming (“24”, the History Channel’s “The Bible” series, Sarah Palin’s reality show, some would argue “Duck Dynasty”), sports heroes (Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin) , our own books, our own newspapers, magazines, web sites, morning newsletters . . .

    But by becoming the well-cultivated niche, we’ve become this acquired taste, not always easily appreciated by newcomers and outsiders. Things that we think are absolutely vital, like the debt or Benghazi, end up being ignored by large swaths of the electorate, while things that seem absolutely unimportant to us, like the latest celebrity news, are given enormous attention and focus by millions of citizens who have a vote just like the rest of us. (Right now on YouTube, a guy getting punched by a street performer has 11 million views in three days. Remember, that’s about two-thirds of the audience of the most-watched broadcast television show last week.)

    [...]

    If you are lucky enough to find a way to keep your favorite childhood joy in your life as an adult, good for you. Some kids who grew up loving “Star Wars” ended up working in Hollywood, I’m sure almost every professional athlete loved their sport as a child, and so on. But as one of Harry’s commenters pointed out, “not everyone has the luxury of holding onto their childhood.” Some people had to grow up and put their favorite toys aside and become farmers and lawyers and accountants and doctors and parents.

    Some argued that when television was an endless succession of “Friends” clones, our culture was celebrating an extended adolescence — the carefree dorm-room life extending well into your 20s. Seeing grown adults almost obsessively embrace something designed for children exacerbates this sense that our culture is having a hard time groping with the concept of maturity.

    “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

    Quick, that closing quotation, where’s it from?  Yep, the Bible. (I Cor. 13:11)  Church, religion generally should teach more than theology or even a simple ethical code.  In an age when education is largely propaganda, religion is the only force in society that pushed us towards maturity, some reasonable semblance of adulthood.  This is one of the many reasons to preserve a place for religion in our society.  Geraghty is right, we are rapidly becoming a culture of children.  It shows up in more ways than you might think.  Part of being an adult is wanting to stand on your own.  When you are a child, you accept your parents care and it allows you to pursue childish things.  Apparently now, we accept government care so we can pursue childish things.

    Or is that “bread and circuses?”

    Nor is it “crying wolf” to discuss preserving a place for religion in our society.  Consider this brief blog post at Christianity Today of real university legal cases where, “nondiscrimination policies and religious freedom” have clashed.

    And speaking of crying wolf, at NR’s “Bench Memos” Matthew J Franck reports in three parts, on a “report” by Jay Michaelson which claims, among other things:

    Michaelson writes, “The notion that the U.S. Constitution protects all religious liberty is really a creation of the last 80 years, and the result of the work of marginal religious groups, not mainstream ones.”

    Franck describes the report as:

    …characterized by factual errors, the bullying language of the smear artist, passive-aggressive advancing of and retreat from very grave accusations, and a pervasive begging of important questions.

    You really should read all three parts to get a flavor of this thing.  The problem is a lot of people are going to buy this report.  A lack of education about religion in our schools leaves people free to but all sorts of nonsense in the press about it.  This includes, by the way, claims “marginal religious groups” like the Mormons at least were at one point in history – and even their cases go back more than 80 years.

    Before we move on, there is some pressure that “religious freedom” should be the new theme for this blog.  Thoughts?

    How did we arrive in a place where this kind of nonsense could see the light of publication, let alone, be considered seriously by anyone?  I really think we need to figure that out if we are to figure out how to recover from it.  In pursuit of that question, one of the things that caught my eye was a series, just beginning, at Patheos by Bradley Wright, trying to define “Evangelicalism.“  Being an academic, Wright takes a very scholarly approach to the subject and reports on a number of approaches to the definition.  This piece makes apparent something we have discussed here over and over and over which is it is pretty hard to decide just who is and who is not an Evangelical.

    Of the many things Wright discusses, I found this most fascinating:

    Historian David Bebbington defines Evangelical Christianity as having four main qualities (quoted from here):
    * Biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible (e.g. all essential spiritual truth is to be found in its pages)
    * Crucicentrism, a focus on the atoning work of Christ on the cross
    * Conversionism, the belief that human beings need to be converted
    * Activism, the belief that the gospel needs to be expressed in effort

    [...]

    Sociologist Brian Steensland and colleagues point to these characteristics: ”Evangelical denominations have typically sought more separation from the broader culture, emphasized missionary activity and individual conversion, and taught strict adherence to particular religious doctrines.”

    I find both of those pretty good descriptives, and there are a couple of things I want to note about them.  Note particularly that in the sociological description, you do not have to squint your eyes much to see a child taking his ball and going home.  This takes us back to Mister Geraghty.  The predominate religious expression in our nation is a bit childish in its very foundations.  Evangelicalism could be viewed as a collection of niches.  Fracture, schism, and church shopping are prominent features of Evangelicalism.  Is it any wonder then that the culture grows childish?

    Secondly, that historical description is quite a narrow description of what a religion should be about – particularly in comparison to the more robust expressions of Christianity like Catholicism or Mormonism.  This narrowness ceded cultural territory, and hence people can claim that “religious freedom is a modern creation.”

    How we got here has less to do with the pressures of our culture than it has to do with how we choose to exercise our faith.  That is food for deep thought.

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