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."

  • Root Questions

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:39 am, November 21st 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Perusing the headlines this morning, the presidents unprecedented power grab last night was a yawner.   There is the appropriate outrage from the usual conservative sources, but even that is well-tempered in order not to give Obama the political advantage he seeks with this stunt.  Very, very few dare laud this terrible misbalancing of the constitution; therefore, it is treated as a matter or course and little consequence.  As far as the general public goes, this is almost a non-event.  That would be stunning were it not for two very important facts; a) the MSM remains deeply devoted to this president, facts not withstanding and b) the general public is not well enough read, sufficiently educated, nor deeply thoughtful enough to understand the subtle yet massive shift of power the president is trying to pull off here.

    There is a temptation to cast this as a matter purely of political optics.  The president is messaging to the feelings of the American populace to overcome an intellectual and legal hurdle to achieve his goals.  In doing so he casts his opposition as mere political opportunists, hungry for power, while he simply wants to solve the problem.  This appeals to the pragmatic nature of most Americans, even if this messaging attempts to mask a power grab on a level far beyond the imagination of his opponents and destroys the opportunities to exercise the pragmatism that makes the nation work.

    This is terrible and destructive legally and its is, at best, propagandist politically – though I am far more inclined to declare it a lie.  It is tempting to want to analyze the president and try to understand what drives a man to do things like this.  And yet, history is replete with individuals that have sought, and in many cases gained, absolute or near absolute power.  It is a story as old as time itself and the motivations of each are highly varied and yet fundamentally consistent – an undying belief in their own rightness.  In the end it is not worth trying to analyze beyond trying to figure out how to defeat it.

    The pragmatic nature of the American public has seen that what this president attempts does not work.  Hence the results of the last election.  That is a good reason not to get too exercised about this – this will fail like everything else he has tried.  But as Obamacare before it, this will create a trail of destruction on its path to failure that will leave the nation irrevocably altered, and quite possibly worsened.  It will require remarkable will, energy, thought and morality on the part of the American populace to recover from this impending failure and be as before.

    What we have on our hands is, quite simply, a crisis of leadership.  Instead of a leader that leads us to be better people, we have a leader that cows us by offering “bread and circuses” in the form of apparently compassionate policies and promises of grossly expensive free healthcare.  (Yes, I wrote that totally oxymoronic phrase on purpose.)  The troubling question in all this is how the populace has come to the point where they lack the innate desire for self-improvement that would normally see through this blatant pandering.  The troubling thing about the last election is that while it did seek to “throw the bums out,” one does sense that it was looking for different bums, not for the bums to get out of the way.

    Before politics will produce a leader that calls us to be a better people we have to want to be a better people.  That is not something politics can produce.

    So, the root question in all of this is:  How can an American church, which in its most numerous and populated expressions seeks not to call the congregant to improvement, but to reassure them of their salvation, move us to the point where we desire a leader of the type that the nation now so desperately needs?  Maybe churches ought be asking themselves that question.

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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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    Posted in Social/Religious Trends, The Way Forward, Understanding Religion | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    “…Sometimes gives the impression of being a charter member of the cast-the-first-stone coalition…”

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:20 am, November 6th 2013     &mdash      1 Comment »

    That’s how the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page described Ken Cuccinelli this morning in the wake of his very near miss.

    I think it clarifies a message problem that confronts the politically active of faith.  Mark Levin did not help matters when he said, “…GOP ESTABLISHMENT AND DONORS LEFT THE FIELD.”  But he does illustrate a point.

    The word that keeps running through my mind is “winsome.”

    generally pleasing and engaging often because of a childlike charm and innocence

    Somewhere, somehow, those of us on the conservative side of the social issues have lost that.  This is a communications concern, not a policy/position concern.  Yes, our opposition wants to act like anyone that holds a position contrary to theirs is definitionally not winsome, but they can only get away with that if our approach and personality permits them to.

    I need to slip into preacher mode for one paragraph – it is also a spiritual issue.  If we are not winsome, then somehow we are not reflecting the God we worship because He is – by definition – winsome beyond description.  Think about the story to which the WSJ’s description alludes, there is no condemnation from Christ; He in fact saves the accused from condemnation.  There is only an urge to “go and sin no more.”  A lesson in winsome that.  Now back to the politics.

    The “GOP Establishment and donors,” if dollars are the best measure, did not support Cuccinelli nearly as much as his Republican predecessor – but that does not necessarily mean they are “RINOS” or that they have abandoned socially conservative issues.  It means they are searching for the right way to approach those issues and they knew that Cuccinelli was not the right way.

    History never repeats itself in as much detail as we like to think it does, so Reagan nostalgia sometimes troubles me.  Reagan would have likely found the current environment far more frustrating than the one he operated in.  But he did have the particular thing we are talking about here absolutely right on.  He made friends of his opponents and managed to stay friends with them, even when they disagreed.  They liked him, even when he disagreed with them.

    If there is a lesson to be learned from yesterday’s results that’s it.  Chris Christie has a number of vulnerabilities as a candidate, but he is likable.  He manages to be quite charming in the middle of his combative bombast.

    Much has been made of the fact that Mitt Romney is also a very charming guy.  I certainly experienced that in my meetings with him.  But the public never got that image.  We are quick to blame the MSM, but there are certain preconditions that make it so the MSM can get away with that.  Primary among those preconditions is that Romney’s supporters were often precisely as dour and condemning as the media painted Romney.  Not everybody gets to meet a presidential candidate, but everybody does get to meet a supporter of a presidential candidate.  People will inform their impression of the candidate on their impression of his/her supporters.

    We need, desperately, to find our “happy place” again.  We cannot wait for things to get better.  If they are going to get better it is because we have found our way back to winsome.  Not our candidate – us.

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    Posted in Candidate Qualifications, Culture Wars, Evangelical Shortcomings, News Media Bias, Political Strategy, Social/Religious Trends, The Way Forward, Understanding Religion | 1 Comment » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    The Horse Is Dead, Keep Beating The Horse

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 08:20 am, November 3rd 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    The latest Halperin/Heilemann inside the campaign gossip book comes out Tuesday and The NYTimes coverage of the salacious highlights has created some fascinating commentary.

    From the standpoint of this blog, the most interesting tidbit revealed is that Harry Reid’s source on the “Romney paid no taxes” claim is Jon Huntsman Sr.   Not terribly surprising really, the Huntsman Jr. campaign seemed from the beginning an effort to derail Romney and the existence of a Huntsman/Romney feud is old news.

    What is fascinating is the way it is being spun in left wing circles.  So far all the commentary I have seen to date, which is not much, has felt compelled to mention that all the players in that little melodrama are Mormons.  One piece mentioned it but did not make a thing out of it, while the other acted as if it was some sort of CJCLDS inter-gang rivalry:

    Mormon Shivs Mormon with Mormon…

    …read the headline to the piece.  What’s the game here?  It’s simple, the more than can keep us fighting with each other, the less we will fight them.  They constantly portray the Tea Party at odds with the party mainstream – the Evangelicals at odds with the Mormons, the Evangelicals at odds with the Mainline Protestants, Evangelicals at odds with other Evangelicals and now they are going to have the Mormons fighting other Mormons.

    Not all of it is that politically astute, some of it is merely a fascination amongst the irreligious classes as to how religion really works.  They think all of us of faith, and especially Mormons, are culticly enslaved and incapable of independent thought.

    Both of these are questions that we have to answer as we move forward.  Religion is slowly coming to be viewed as “extremest.”  And while we are not actually at each others throats, we are not exactly one big happy family either.

    Oh BTW, there is some good news.

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    Christians, Politics and Managing the Media

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:28 am, October 24th 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    The Wall Street Journal says the Southern Baptist church is pulling away from political activism.

    Russell Moore, the centerpiece of the WSJ piece, denies it:

    Don’t call it a pullback; we’ve been here for years.

    The recent profile in the Wall Street Journal highlighted a generational change in terms of the way evangelicals approach cultural and political engagement: toward a gospel-centered approach that doesn’t back down on issues of importance, but sees our ultimate mission as one that applies the blood of Christ to the questions of the day.

    The headline, as is often the case with headlines, is awfully misleading. I am not calling, at all, for a “pullback” from politics or engagement.

    If anything, I’m calling for more engagement in the worlds of politics, culture, art, labor and so on. It’s just that this is a different sort of engagement. It’s not a matter of pullback, but of priority.

    [...]

    Pullback? No. Unless, that is, we mean pulling back to the ministry of Jesus-who addressed everything, body and soul, public and private, political and personal, but who did so with the cross in his vision at every point. That’s what the church has done in every era.

    We want to see our so-called enemies out-voted when they’re doing harmful things, unelected from office when they’re hurting the common good. But we don’t stop there. We want to see them transformed by the blood of Christ. We don’t only want to sing “Onward Christian Soldiers, Marching As to War.” We also want to sing “Just As I Am, Without One Plea, But That Thy Blood Was Shed for Me.”

    There are two essential lessons in this pair of very interesting reads.

    There first is that you can bet your bottom dollar that if you are discussing sophisticated Christian thought, the mainstream media is not going to get it.  Even a conservative outlet like the WSJ does not understand what Moore is really trying to do.  One is tempted to talk about the fact tat you have to be religious to get religion (That, by the way, is one of the things Moore is saying needs to be understood in the recalibration of approach) but there is something else at play here.

    Most media outlets write at an eighth grade level or below.  That’s because that is where the audience is – that’s the level most of the nation operates at.  Moore is making essentially the same argument we have made here over and over and over again.  To really be politically effective, we have to first be effective as a church.  If enough people are deeply genuine in their commitment to Christ, the political ramifications will flow naturally from them.  In other words, Moore is more worried that the church is failing to be the church as younger Christians fail to understand some of the imperatives that are so important to their parents generation.

    That is a very sophisticated argument, one not likely to be properly understood at the level where the media operates.  Somehow, we have to learn how to communicate graduate level arguments at eighth grade levels.

    The second lesson is related. Politics is done in a very specific way and to attempt to change that way is to not really do politics.  Here I think Moore does not get it.  Moore is playing a long game, and I think the right one for a person affiliated with a denomination or church.  But politics is about the immediate.  It is about organizing and fundraising and voters guides and phone banks and direct mail and so the list goes on.  Moore does seem to be taking the Southern Baptist Convention out of that game.  So in a very real sense, the WSJ piece is correct – it is a pullback.

    So, what future for religiously motivated political activism?  From my perspective we need both things going on.  Moore is right, the church needs to fix its priorities and concentrate on being the church.  It needs to make political professionals of deep and genuine faith that go out and use related, but different, organizations to do the stuff of politics.  Of course, that is probably more sophisticated than the media can deal with too.  Which means those political professionals are going to have to be very sophisticated communicators – perhaps even more sophisticated than the preachers that breed them.  The media will never “get” the church, but we have to figure out a way for them “to get” our political arms.

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    Posted in Candidate Qualifications, Doctrinal Obedience, Evangelical Shortcomings, News Media Bias, The Way Forward | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    The Roots Of The Divide

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:33 am, October 15th 2013     &mdash      2 Comments »

    Conor Friedersdorf @ The Atlantic is best described as a leftie provocateur.  His writing and arguments, while left-leaning, are generally cloaked sufficiently in reason to warrant a read.  And he usually gets read because his real stock in trade is to take on right-leaning media icons, thus “stealing” their audience, at least for the life of his most current piece.  He is the consummate counter-puncher.

    That is again the pattern in his latest:

    The Tea Party Gets Its Information from Enablers of Bushism

    This piece, cloaked in reason (and a discussion of a recent Ross Douthat piece) if not necessarily born of it, is really two things.  First it is a shot at Rush Limbaugh.  Not much of a surprise really – now he has the attention of all those Limbaugh listeners out there and his click rate skyrockets.  Secondly it is an attempt to separate the “Tea Party” from the “Republican Establishment.”  Which is, of course, an effort to permanently weaken the Republican party, turning the natural factions inside any party into mortal enemies.

    But inside this piece is a question worth examining.  Consider:

    Yes, Tea Party supporters regard the Republican establishment as having been thoroughly discredited during the Bush years. Yet they’ve continued to vest extraordinary trust in the cable news and talk radio personalities who spent the aughts slavishly supporting the GOP establishment. They get their information from erstwhile purveyors of pro-Bush propaganda, taking their cues come from the same people who enabled George W.  

    If the White House staffers, Washington, D.C., think tanks, and establishment media figures who enabled Bush-era excesses have all lost credibility, why not the movement conservative talkers who carried water for the same flawed governance?

    Let me rephrase this observation a bit.  “Gosh darn it, the ‘Tea Partiers’ just are not turning as whacky or moving away from the mainstream of American as much as I would like.”  Yet I must agree with Friedersdorf that there is a certain level of irrationality to the divides inside the Republican party.  The internal party conflicts seem out of proportion with the actual differences between the factions.

    Some of that sense is, of course, the MSM portraying it that way in an effort permanently cripple Republicans.  But I think there is an elephant in the room that no one is discussing.

    Religion.

    The Tea Party was born out of one really bad presidential candidate (John McCain) losing the election and in protest to the incredibly left leaning policies of the victor of that election.  McCain is no friend of the Religious Right.  What we are now seeing, which is a bit ugly but not nearly so ugly as the MSM would have us think, is born of a candidate that many of the Religious Right viewed as antithetical to their faith.   This latter fact is a crying shame because Mitt Romney, while a Mormon, came much, much closer to representing the Christian Right than John McCain could ever dream of.  But because he was a Mormon, many viewed him as McCain writ large.

    Religious talk was suppressed in the last election.  It was destructive to Romney in the 2008 primary and therefore sidelined in 2012.  The opposition left it lying because suppressed it provided a hidden lever that could be used in the general.  Even after the Civil Rights movements and its legislative results, African-Americans in the South had a difficult time obtaining office because while race was never discussed, it was whispered.  Romney’s Mormon faith was whispered throughout 2012.  Many a conservative vote was idle when it got to the presidential portion of the ballot.

    The reason the divide inside the Republican party seems irrational is because no one is willing to discuss its roots.  The current crisis is too immediate and too consequential for such a discussion now – but once past, the discussion must begin.  You cannot solve problems that you are not willing to stare in the face.

    Tradition holds that a failed candidate like Romney is supposed to fade into the woodwork, but maybe he is the only one that can start this discussion?  Maybe the Limbaughs of the world that Friedersdorf paints as the irrational bridge between the two factions can get the job done?  I am sure there are other and better ideas on how to get this working again, what I know is we have to acknowledge the elephant.

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    Posted in Analyzing 2012, News Media Bias, Political Strategy, The Way Forward | 2 Comments » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

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