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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    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

    There Is A Cure

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:52 am, March 27th 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Daniel Henninger in this morning’s WSJ wonders why liberals can get elected, but not govern.  He uses action on climate change as an example as says:

    Put differently, it’s not about doing something serious about global warming. It’s really all about them (a virus threatening American conservatism as well). The “them” at the U.N. summits included not just the participating nations but a galaxy of well-financed nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs.

    Not a particularly insightful conclusion really, but that parenthetical shot at conservatives is what really bothers me.  You see, if we have the same issue then I must conclude we have abandoned religion just as surely as the left.  Oh to be sure we remain clothed in our religious garb, but if we are “threatened by the same virus,” then it would seem our religiosity is in garb only.

    Regardless of your particular brand of of faith, there are two lessons you can draw from faith that sink deeply into the Great American Civil Religion.  Lesson One – there is something much bigger than the self at play.  Lesson Two – It’s about service, not self.

    Before this turns into a sermon, I would simply suggest that the key to our recapturing the Senate this year, to winning the White House in 2016, but most importantly to setting the nation back on the right course are those lessons.

    That most likely means careful and deep re-examination of our religious lives and the institutions that support them.   Take your faith seriously first and the rest will follow.

     

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    Posted in Candidate Qualifications, character, Culture Wars, Evangelical Shortcomings, Governance, Understanding Religion | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    I Object!

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:19 am, March 3rd 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Ross Douthat’s column on the debate over the AZ religious freedom bill has been making the rounds.  It’s a good piece and I am with him right up to the first couple of sentences of the penultimate paragraph:

    I am being descriptive here, rather than self-pitying. Christians had plenty of opportunities — thousands of years’ worth — to treat gay people with real charity, and far too often chose intolerance. (And still do, in many instances and places.)

    I beg your pardon, while there are some ugly and harshly judgmental people out there in the church – they are the minority.  It’s not a question of “charity” v “intolerance.”  It is in fact charitable to point out when a person is engaged in wrong behavior.  Such is an effort to save the person from themselves and is loving at its root.  The church cannot ostracize the sinner, that is self-defeating – but the church can also not be called upon to tolerate sin of any sort, this particular sin or any other.  Christ was loving towards the woman at the well, but he also pointed out succinctly her sinful marital and sexual practice. In these sentences Douthat has bought into homosexuality as identity; he has bought into the wrongful argument of the opposition.

    Douthat in this piece is calling for Christian charity from those that reject Christianity wholly as a standard for human interaction.  I do not deny that there are those Christians that have failed to show the love of Christ to those that are engaged in this particular sin, but the societal shift we are currently experiencing is not a result of that, for such have existed since the church’s founding.  I am reminded of the scene in the movie “Bridge over the River Kwai” when Alec Guiness quotes the Geneva Convention to the senior officer in the Japanese prison camp where he is held.  The Japanese officer simply does not care.  Guiness holds firm, under incredible torture, until he eventually carries the day.

    The church cannot afford to concede that homosexuality is merely a matter of identity – it is a matter of sin.  We must keep it in perspective as just one of a myriad of sins, no worse and no better.  We must practice the charity we are called upon to practice towards all sinners, inclusive of ourselves.  But I fear that in the current climate even naming homosexual behavior as sin is sufficient to gain the title “intolerant.”  To try and shed the title under these circumstances is not merely to accommodate, it is to change the very nature of Christian thought.  That we cannot do.

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    Rope Bridges

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:13 am, February 26th 2014     &mdash      1 Comment »

    In October we looked at Al Mohler’s speech at BYU and said:

    What’s the lede there?  Certainly not the shared political concerns, rather it is the theological divide.  Before he can talk about joining Mormons in common political cause he is seemingly compelled to not merely acknowledge the theological differences, but to carefully delineate and explain them.  What could have been glossed over with a few words, consumes an entire paragraph of the pullquote, and several paragraphs in the entire transcript of the speech.  This is the schismatic impulse.  No bridge can be build too permanently – it cannot be shored up – it must be built in a fashion that it can be destroyed in an instant.

    In January Mohler wrote of Roman Catholics and we said:

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

    Well, ‘ol buddy Al was back at BYU yesterday 2/25/14.  This time we are looking at Tad Walch’s coverage in the Deseret News.  Tad goes on at great length describing how Mohler seems to genuinely be trying to build a political alliance, but then this paragraph appears towards the end of the story:

    As he did in October, Mohler clearly and vigorously expressed the doctrinal differences between evangelicals and Latter-day Saints. He ended with a lengthy witness or testimony of his beliefs.

    There is a gracelessness to that I find deeply troubling.  In October we discussed the lack of permanence in a bridge built in such a fashion – It’s a rope bridge and can be cut with a single swing of the machete.  Aside from the ease with which a rope bridge can be severed, it suffers from a serious drawback; you cannot move very much across it at any given time.  Mohler discusses the urgency we are jointly faced with on the social front, and yet he insists on a bridge across which it will take decades to move the needed material to effectively fight the war.  Rope bridges may be fun on a vacation adventure, but they are useless when it comes to serious commerce and community building.

    Much of this stems from Mohler’s own theology.  He has stated that salvation rests on holding precisely correct theological formulations.  With that view it is natural that he would feel compelled to make a jerk of himself in this fashion every time he steps out this way.  That also means he is not likely to change.

    But these episodes also demonstrate – repeatedly now – the futility in that theological viewpoint.  While Mohler is free to hold that viewpoint, it grows increasingly disappointing that his insistence on it harms the entire social conservative movement.

    I am grateful that my Mormon friends exhibit the grace towards Mohler that he seems to lack towards them.

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    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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