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."

  • Very Confused Thinking In Opposition to Traditional Marriage

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:25 am, November 19th 2014     &mdash      1 Comment »

    Religion Dispatches is a web site we have monitored regularly at this web site since its inception.  It has a very liberal agenda and indiscriminately attacks religion in pursuit of that agenda.  It arose after Prop 8 in California.  While it rarely attacked Romney directly, it has been after Mormonism tooth and toenail since its founding.

    A piece appeared there today, that has echoed a bit, that I find stunning.  Using the recent admission by the CJCLDS that Joseph Smith did practice polygamy as a springboard for the discussion, the gang at RD “reveals” that polygamy is still an active part of Mormon theology through the doctrine of celestial marriage.  Therefore, of course, Mormons should be excluded from any serious discussion on marriage – especially the conference that is happening at the Vatican this week, which has featured the likes of Rick Warren and Russell Moore.

    That the Mormon concept of celestial marriage allows for polygamy in the hereafter is not news.  Anybody that takes more than a minute or two to learn about Mormon teaching will know this.  And what, exactly, does what a particular religion believes happens to marriage in the hereafter have to do with a discussion of marriage in the here-and-now?  Many of the  Christian expressions that are participating in the conference do not believe marriage exists at all in the hereafter.  Does that disqualify them from discussing marriage in the here-and-now as well?  The discussion simply is not about eternity, it is about this life and this place and the marriages that are present in it.

    There is one interesting tidbit from the discussion.  It seems clear that they intend to avoid the slippery slope of same-sex marriage leading to polygamy and bestiality and other aberrant forms of marriage by relying on the old tried and true “polygamy hurts women while same-sex marriage produces no harm.”  That is so ignorant of history as to not even be funny.  It must be remembered that historically, marriage was a woman’s means of obtaining property, wealth, standing and security in a society.  Even in our egalitarian age there is no doubt that a successful marriage produces greater economic stability than the alternatives.  Polygamy arose in the Old Testament as a means of providing security to women that otherwise were without prospects.  Polygamy as traditionally practiced in the Old Testament was far from an act of oppression and was instead an act of grace and mercy.

    But then if ones concept of marriage would permit same-sex marriage, this glaring misunderstanding  of historical polygamy is not surprising.  Theirs is a view of marriage based solely on the legitimization of sexual activity, not in the concepts of bonding, covenant, reproduction, or economic activity.

    So let me sum up their argument.  A church that used to, but no longer, practice polygamy (which includes them all by the way) has no standing to discuss same-sex marriage because they still think plural marriage exists in heaven.   That’s not an argument, that’s attempting to play “peek-a-boo” with a ten-year-old.  It’s just not working.  As the aforementioned peek-a-boo game reveals only how little the adult understands of a ten-year-old, this discussion reveals how little these particular proponents of same-sex marriage understand about serious, committed traditional marriage.

    Don’t you think you should fully understand something before you attempt to change it completely?

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

    Staring At Evil or What Makes the U.S. a “Christian” Nation

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:27 am, September 11th 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    The nation is unhappy.

    This is an anniversary date  on which we should remember the evil that was enacted upon us and the justice we brought to the world.  Instead we find that many do not remember (because they were not taught) and the evil is closing in on us once again.

    The president tried to turn that mood around last night and failed, utterly.  My Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of memories and disappointments.  Hugh Hewitt rounds up just a small sampling of the disappointed reaction to the president last night.

    No wonder we are unhappy.

    Much of the failure of this administration lies in its inability, perhaps unwillingness, to recognize some essential tenets of the American character.  These tenets are deeply rooted in Christianity; they are in large part what makes us a Christian nation.  I can hear The Left screaming charges of “theocracy” right now.  Nonsense , this is not about theology in any serious fashion.  Those of us on The Right look at the moral/social place we find ourselves and wonder if we really are a Christian nation anymore.  I would argue that in many important ways we still are.

    Americans recognize evil when they see it. Christianity recognizes evil when it sees it.  We don’t parse it, we don’t split hairs, we name it for what it is.  In order to fight it, you have to look it square in the eye and recognize it.  We believe evil can be redeemed, but generally there is a penance to achieve that redemption.  Without the penance, we can never be sure the evil will not return.  This is not theological (Evangelicals and Catholics will argue eternally about the role of penance) this is practical.  Practically speaking you do bad, you suffer consequences so I can know you have learned not to do bad again.  You don’t renounce the bad, the consequences keep coming.  This president truly does not get that.

    Americans worry about more than just themselves.  Christians are commanded to do this.  Few passages galled me more in the president’s address last night than this one, “American power can make a decisive difference, but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves,….”  In other words, “Not my problem, really.”  That is remarkably self-centered, even selfish.  In the preceding paragraph of the speech was this gem, “While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland,….”  In other words, “Evil does not really matter unless you perpetrate it on me.”  Well, you know, we weren’t gassing Jews here in America way back in the day, so why did we bother with Europe?  It was the Japanese that hit Pearl.  We fought in Europe because it was the right thing to do.  But then if the president cannot recognize evil, then he cannot really recognize “right” either.

    Americans die for others, we do not ask others to die for us.  That, dear friends, is the heart of Christianity.  While Obama committed an entire additional  475 troops to non-combatant roles, John Kerry bragged about the “40 nation coalition.” (Talk about herding cats!)  Inherent in every action taken and proposed by the president is an effort not to spend American lives.  No one wants to see an American die, but it is honorable and good, even Godly, when they die in defense of what is right – in the destruction of evil.  But then again, you have to recognize evil to get that.

    No wonder we are unhappy.

    But we will not stay unhappy for long.  Americans hope, and Christianity is the source of our hope.  We will get through this, and eventually we will be accorded the opportunity to rebuild this great nation and to put evil back into its dark places.  Despite this administrations best efforts, we remain rooted in our hope in the ways I have just described and so many more.

    We will be happy again.

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    Posted in character, leadership, Political Strategy, Religious Freedom, Social/Religious Trends, Understanding Religion | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    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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    Posted in Culture Wars, 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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