Article VI Blog

"Religion, Politics, the Presidency: Commentary by a Mormon, an Evangelical, and an Orthodox Christian"

United States Constitution — Article VI:

"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

  • The 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

    The Importance of Religious Institutions

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:17 am, April 17th 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Fascinating story in the Desert News Tuesday and religions, religious affiliation and belief:

    For several years, the United States has seen a decline in religious affiliation. Currently, 20 percent of Americans don’t claim a particular religion or church — up from 15 percent just five years ago. Some worry that this shift into secularism will turn the United States into Western Europe.

    Yet others are more optimistic. They point out that polling data don’t always allow for a nuanced discussion of faith and spirituality, and that many individuals still want to have a relationship with God, albeit on their own terms and with their own timing. These individuals may not relate to specific dogmas or rituals, but they still seek and find solace in believing that God is in charge and that when they put him first, their lives go smoother — an acknowledgement that is at the foundation of most religions and the first of the Ten Commandments.

     ”To argue that America is suddenly becoming vastly secular is not the case,” says Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of Gallup. “You can’t say (religion) is fading out of importance when a lot of the central events of our time, for better or worse, are based on strong religious convictions. I think that rather than becoming increasingly more of a straight, old-fashioned secular society, we have the potential to be religious, but in some different ways.”

    As Spock might say, “Fascinating Captain.”  These are the now well discussed “spiritual, but not religious” and comprise many of the so-called “Nones.”  As you read through the entire well-done piece you come to understand that this group of people want to shape a personal religion for themselves rather than allow religion to shape them.  Theologically that is a subject for a series of sermons and a book.  But let’s focus here on what that means for society and politics.

    Politically, it’s significance is straightforward.  Church and para-church institutions can no longer be relied upon to provide a focal point for political action.  What used to be an exercise in herding cats has now become an exercise in chaos.  Churches, parachurch organizations, and other religious institutions have been a traditional organizing advantage for conservative.  Should the trend described in this article continue, that just does not work anymore.  In terms of organizing we begin to look much more like the liberal/Democrat side of the aisle.  They have been at it a lot longer than we have and are therefore better at it.  Big problem.

    Societally, this is an enormous problem.  American government is not designed to shape people.  Its good functioning is conditioned on a nation of good people.  Our government relies on other forces, mostly education and religion, to make those good people.  Education is pretty firmly in government hands, and the only counter-balance seems to be in decline.  The constitution has both internal and design “checks and balances,” it relies on greater societal checks and balances.  These latter checks and balances are on the wane.  Without them the future appears bleak.

    This is a problem for the church, not politics.  I would argue that it is the church relying on political/cultural force, rather than the moral and spiritual force that is unique to it, that has created this trend.  I believe it is time for the church to get serious about fixing it.

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    Posted in Doctrinal Obedience, Evangelical Shortcomings, Political Strategy, Social/Religious Trends, Understanding Religion | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    So, Who Is The Bad Actor In This Drama?

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:56 am, March 19th 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Neil J. Young pens a review of a new book, The Mormon Image in the American Mind: Fifty Years of Public Perception, by J.B. Haws. (HT: Ed Stetzer).  I quote from the review with emphasis added:

    Growing up in central Florida, I did not go to the beach for spring break. Instead, nearly every March my family would escape the swampy humidity of Orlando for the crisp mountain air of Utah. Skiing throughout the week, we’d often take one day from the slopes to rest our legs and explore Salt Lake City—which usually meant a visit to Temple Square, the institutional and symbolic heart of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There, earnest missionaries would bear their testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ brought about by the prayerful seeking of a young Joseph Smith. We’d exchange knowing glances at these moments; we were Southern Baptists, and we knew a lot about Mormonism. A good bit of that knowledge, it turned out, was erroneous, but it was the product of a concerted effort begun by the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s to make its members more mindful of Mormonism, a “heretical” faith that was gaining sizeable Baptist converts.

    [...]

    The Mormon Image is bookended with the tale of two Romneys: George Romney’s 1968 run for president and his son Mitt’s 2008 and 2012 bids for the White House. In 1968, George Romney faced hardly any questions about his faith, a fortunate inheritance from JFK’s history-making victory eight years prior. If anything, Americans saw Romney’s Mormonism as an asset, proof that he was a trustworthy and upstanding man. A 1967 Gallup poll found 75 percent of voters had no hesitation voting for a Mormon for president. Yet forty years later, Mormonism likely prevented Mitt Romney from capturing his party’s nomination. In 2007, 29 percent of Republicans had indicated they “probably or definitely” would not vote for a Mormon. As Haws writes, “being a Mormon in the public eye meant something different in 2008 than it did in 1968.”

    And so, confronted with America at its weakest internationally since before WWII made us a superpower , Obamacare wrecking untold medical and financial havoc at home, a President that thinks he can pick and choose which laws he wants to obey, and an American public demoralized, who has helped and who has hurt the nation?

    It is a question worth very serious consideration by very many parties.

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    Posted in Candidate Qualifications, Doctrinal Obedience, Political Strategy, Religious Bigotry, Social/Religious Trends | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    Nature Abhors A Vacuum

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 08:28 am, February 23rd 2014     &mdash      1 Comment »

    Jim Geraghty in his Morning Jolt newsletter this past Wednesday (Sorry no link):

    But in some circles on the right, Obama’s victories in the elections of 2008 and 2012 served up irrefutable evidence that the average American is an idiot. Or at least shallow, ill-informed (or uniformed) moochers eager to live off the federal teat, lazy, whiny, self-absorbed, obsessed with inane celebrities, spiritually inert, heads full of nonsense…

    [...]

    So would conservatives rise to defend “middlebrow” American culture today? Or would they look at the multiplex with the latest noisy Michael Bay Transformers movie depicting endless waves of flying CGI shrapnel, teenage girls dressing like hookers, teenage boys listening to Eminem and Robin Thicke, everyone staring down at their smartphones and updating their social-media statuses… and feel a similar pang of alienation and disdain as did those liberal intellectuals of the past century?

    Andrew Breitbart was right that politics is downstream from culture,…

    So, we see a situation where conservatives are culturally out-of-touch.  I think that’s very true, but I think that has always been true.  Why are we losing now when in the past we have at least held our own, or often won?  Well, consider this article from the London Telegraph:

    This week millions of the religious faithful in America are to be shepherded into the nation’s cinemas in order to watch ‘Son of God’, a conventional Hollywood biopic of Jesus Christ that premieres on Thursday.

    Coming after last year’s HBO mini-series ‘The Bible’, which garnered 95 million viewers, it would seem a fair bet that this film is pretty much guaranteed to be another hit.

    One Texas congregation alone has bought 9,000 tickets.

    But such displays of mega-church muscle only serve to conceal how far and how fast the ground has shifted under America’s Religious Right over the last decade or so.

    It’s not that America has suddenly abandoned its faith, but more that a large chunk of previously nominal Christians – the Christmas and wedding-only types – have become much happier to declare themselves in the religious camp marked ‘don’t really care’.

    That pattern says that the church has moved from a position of being upstream of culture to also being downstream of it.  That is a failure on the church’s part.  It is tempting to blame it on the capitalistic culture of the church in America – that it has resulted in such a disunited cacophony that leadership has simply become impossible.  But the state churches of Europe have fared no better.

    Rather I think it is the result of a combination of forces.  The first is the emphasis within churches at evangelism at the expense of discipleship.  Evangelism is a good thing – it’s a great thing, but not at the expense of pulling at least some of those evangelized in deeper.  Many churches today offer no opportunities for those that desire it to dig deeper and deeper into their faith.  There is a clear-plastic wall past which the believer is sent to seminary, but what about the believer that wants to go deeper in faith, but remain where they are professionally?  Does the church not have an obligation to raise them up?  (This also raises a question about what it means to grow deeper in a faith, but that question is way too “religious” for this blog.)

    The second trend is the fact that church itself has begun to chase culture.  The in-church phenomena known as the “worship wars” in which churches have been torn asunder in battles of music styles and liturgical choices is highly indicative of this trend.  Many want to “modernize” to remain appealing to the unchurched.  But in doing so they concede a great deal of cultural ground, they follow instead of lead. The church, at least serious church, should be a bit anachronistic – forcing the careful examination of change, even in the small things, rather than simply embracing it – to do so is a form of leadership.

    That society views the church as a specialized form of media is part of the problem because it has lead to the church to try and follow the “rules” of media.  The church may use the media, but it is something quite different from media.  The church should march to its own beat, especially when the media that serves it leads it in a different direction than it should be going.  The church was established well before there was any media – there must be something more to it for it to have gotten this far.

    I’m sure if I sat here long enough I could come up with other hypotheses about what has gone wrong, but the picture that has emerged is a clear one.  Politics has always been downstream of culture.  Church used to be upstream of it, but now seems to have moved downstream as well.  That is why things seem so out-of-kilter.

    The question is how does the church reclaim its place upstream?  There have been many books written on the subject, but to date none of them seem to have struck a chord.  Of this I have become convinced – the ministry of Jesus Christ came as a bolt out of the blue and completely changed the rules of the game.  A sect of the oppressed Jewish people became a religion unto itself that dominated an empire.  The Jews of Israel were very downstream of Rome, but 400 years later Christianity served as a pillar of what remained of the Roman empire.

    It’s time to go outside-the-box.  I wish I had a vision of what that looked like, and I pray that someone does.  What I know is that it is important to remember that this was accomplished not by grabbing the Roman (or Jewish for that matter) culture – it was the formation of a whole new culture, not exactly underground, but certainly not on the mountaintop either.   In this age do we need a new culture or do we simply need to find once again the one bequeathed to us that changed the world?  I tend to think it is the later.  This I also know – that old-new culture did not begin with a movement, an institution, or a media strategy.  Rather it began in the lives of Jesus and his followers – good Jews all.

    Sounds like a good place to start to me.

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    Frenemies?

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:22 am, January 9th 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    When last we visited the writings of Albert Mohler, he was speaking at BYU.  He went out of his way there to make sure that while we were making common political cause with Mormons, they were theologically quite distinct – like everyone in the room and the world did not already know that.

    Well, Albert is at it again, and this time his target is the Roman Catholics.  In a post on his blog he goes to great length to describe the cultural and political stakes, but then asks:

    So, are the other enemies of our enemies our friends? Mormons, Roman Catholics, Orthodox Jews, and a host of others share many of our enemies in this respect. But, to what extent is there a unity among us?

    He mentions that of course we ‘ll work with anyone to save a life from a “burning house,” and that many of the social/cultural crisis facing the country are indeed on such a life saving level, but concludes these few paragraphs by saying, “And yet, our worldviews are really quite different.”  And then he turns ugly:

    With the Roman Catholic Church, our common convictions are many, including moral convictions about marriage, human life, and the family. Beyond that, we together affirm the truths of the divine Trinity, orthodox Christology, and other doctrines as well. But we disagree over what is supremely important, the gospel of Jesus Christ. And that supreme difference leads to other vital disagreements as well: over the nature and authority of the Bible, the nature of the ministry, the meaning of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and an entire range of issues central to the Christian faith.

    Christians defined by the faith of the Reformers must never forget that nothing less than faithfulness to the gospel of Christ forced the Reformers to break from the Roman Catholic Church. Equal clarity and courage are required of us now.

    In a time of cultural conflict, the enemy of our enemy may well be our friend. But, with eternity in view and the gospel at stake, the enemy of our enemy must not be confused to be a friend to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    You know, the first thing that strikes me is how utterly self-contradictory the post really is.  He starts with the common illustration of our and England’s alliance with the Soviet Union in WWII.  But the rest of his post reveals his apparent lack of deep understanding of the history of that “alliance.”  It was not until after the Battle of the Bulge that there was any sort of communication on a military level between the western allies and the Sovs.  Political communication was quite scant.  There is massive historical documentation on our side about how carefully to deal with and handle the Soviet Union and how best to position the end of the war for the inevitable conflict we would have with them.

    But, and this is a huge “but,” it was all classified material until well after the war.  As far as the public knew we were bosom buddies with the Stalin gang.  That first military mission to Moscow during/after the Bulge by western military leadership was kept secret for fear that the public learn there had been no prior military communication!  In order to win the war, it was necessary to maintain an appearance of unity.  Anything less would undermine the needed resolve on the part of the public.

    Mohler, by declaring a partnership of sorts and then making sure everybody understands its a business only deal undermines the success of the enterprise.

    In so doing he practically guarantees its failure.  The last election was really a matter not of turnout, but enthusiasm.  We have examined at length on this blog the fact that religiously motivated voters participated in the election but went through many contortions to avoid voting for Romney.  The significant portion of the Republican base that is known as “Evangelical” seemed to accept Romney as the nominees, but they did not wholly embrace him, and that spelled the difference.

    And now, Mohler wants to turn back the clock significantly and make sure that Evangelicals have the same sort of “Air Kiss” relationship with Roman Catholics?!  That is even more troubling than the failure to elect Romney.  Virtually all of the significant intellectual work being done on the religious/political front is being done by the Catholics.  There are any number of religious drum beaters out there in the Evangelical political world (think FRC, et. al.) but can anyone doubt that the serious intellectual enterprises are centered on National Review?  National Review has its share of non-Catholic contributors, but its heart belongs most definitely to Rome.

    When the Republican party is working hard to pull itself together Mohler seems to want to make sure it is poorly stitched.

    Finally, there is this to note.  To have the sort of theological certainty about who is and who is not going to be with God in eternity that Mohler expresses is to my ears pharisetical and graceless.  I have deep theological differences with my Mormon friends. I find myself increasingly compatible with my Roman Catholic friends, but cannot overcome some of the theological barriers that would permit me to affiliate with that church.  But to declare that those theological differences hold those friends eternal fates somehow at stake is to make judgements that are reserved only for the Almighty.

    Do I wish to convince my friends of differing theological views of the correctness of my own?  Of course I do, but that does not prevent me from calling them good friend and deep ally.  No “frenemies” here, only friends.

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    How Do We Change Thinking?

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:28 am, January 6th 2014     &mdash      1 Comment »

    Very interesting profile of Frank Luntz by Molly Ball in The Atlantic today.  The piece is two things really – one is a description of some deeply personal and emotional stuff that Luntz is dealing with and the other is a look at some serious problems facing the nation that no one is much talking about and no one at all seems to have a solution for.

    The first comment I have to make about this is that to approach the subject as a personal profile is part of the problem.  It describes Luntz’ reaction to the last election as a deep depression and says this:

    It was what Luntz heard from the American people that scared him. They were contentious and argumentative. They didn’t listen to each other as they once had. They weren’t interested in hearing other points of view. They were divided one against the other, black vs. white, men vs. women, young vs. old, rich vs. poor. “They want to impose their opinions rather than express them,” is the way he describes what he saw. “And they’re picking up their leads from here in Washington.” Haven’t political disagreements always been contentious, I ask? “Not like this,” he says. “Not like this.”

    I cannot help but reflect on the fact that part of the reason people are not “interested in hearing other points of view,” and “want to impose their opinions rather than express them: is because everything has become personal.  Those are indications that personal desire has become paramount – nothing matters but what “I” want.  By making this article about Luntz’ personal struggle instead of about the ideas at stake is to make the individual more paramount than the ideas, which is the problem being described.

    Luntz’ solution; however seems awful:

    Most of all, Luntz says, he wishes we would stop yelling at one another. Luntz dreams of drafting some of the rich CEOs he is friends with to come up with a plan for saving America from its elected officials. “The politicians have failed; now it’s up to the business community to stand up and be heard,” he tells me. “I want the business community to step up.” Having once thought elites needed to listen to regular people, he now wants the people to learn from their moneyed betters.

    That seems like an amazing disconnect to me.  Business’ objective is to fulfill personal, individual desire – what can it possible teach someone about subjecting personal desire for the sake of the whole?  Furthermore, are people really taking these discordant cues from DC?  Or has something changed in the American people to make them more susceptible to the discord that has always been the case there?

    Certainly the ever increasing media presence in DC has revealed the discord more and more which has served to then increase that discord, but can we even blame this entirely on the media?  As an avid consumer of the political rag sheets, what’s actually amazing is how few people really do consume them.  No, it’s not just that.

    This is nothing short of a spiritual crisis in the nation.  Churches are better organized for political action than they have ever been in our history, but are they anymore organized to build the kind of people that a nation like ours needs to really function?  Big swaths of America Christianity are now dedicated to  a model of the church based on a model as service provider not person builder.  Vast portions of the faith in this nation follow – they do not lead.  Large chunks of Christianity have absorbed the lessons of business and the result has been the crisis in which we now find ourselves.

    No, the solution to the problem that Luntz’ correctly senses will not come from his business cronies.  It will come from the church reclaiming its rightful place in the American culture.  Political action on the part of the church may happen from time to time, but it is not how the church is best suited to change things.  Rather the church is at its best when it is a culture maker, not a culture follower.  When the church makes the culture then the politics will follow.

    And it should be noted that making culture is not simply a matter of having the majority of people stand in the right place on the issues of the day – that’s just more politics.  It is about the very hard work of building people of sufficient character that they arrive at political stances without direct church intervention.  It is about the church building leaders that fan out through the community (not just keep the church running) and help others arrive at the same point.

    Making culture is about making people, for example, that do not watch soft porn on cable TV because they do not like it, not because they are told it is bad for them or because it violates religious teaching.  This is what the church was designed and ordained to do.  If the church does this, culture and politics will follow as naturally as the dawn comes each day.

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

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