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."

  • Rope Bridges

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:13 am, February 26th 2014     —     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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    Posted in Doctrinal Obedience, Evangelical Shortcomings, Political Strategy, Understanding Religion | 1 Comment » | 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     —     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

    A VERY SPECIAL EVENT FOR OUR SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA READERS!

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:16 am, February 18th 2014     —     Comment on this post »

    Come hear “blogfather” Hugh Hewitt speak on his latest book ” The Happiest Life” at La Crescenta Presbyterian Church tomorrow, Feb 19 at 7PM.  Details:

    hugh-hewitt-copy

    2902 Montrose Avenue

    La Crescenta, CA 91214

    (818) 249-6137

    Book signing to follow.  A few books available for sale – cash and check only.  I’ll be there too and hope to meet you.

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    Star Trek or Orwell?

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 08:05 am, February 9th 2014     —     Comment on this post »

    On Friday Jame Taranto recounts all the usual suspects support for the news that Obamacare is serving as a disincentive to work so “people can spend more time with their family,” and concludes:

    It is therefore reasonable to construe the deployment of this excuse by Krugman, Dionne, Fournier and the others as further evidence that ObamaCare is a failing policy.

    I think Taranto is being charitable.  This argument is either Orwellian:

    Orwellian” is an adjective describing the situation, idea, or societal condition that George Orwell identified as being destructive to the welfare of a free and open society. It connotes an attitude and a brutal policy of draconian control by propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, denial of truth, and manipulation of the past…

    or they think Star Trek is real:

    When Lily Sloane asked how much the USS Enterprise-E cost to build, Picard tells her “The economics of the future is somewhat different. You see, money doesn’t exist in the 24th century… The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of Humanity.

    Either way, this is not run of the mill spin.  This is a serious departure from reality.

    And they accuse the religious of living in a fantasy world?!  I may believe in a flying spaghetti monster, but at least I have a basic comprehension of how the world actually operates.

    I wonder if these people have seen the statistics on how the family is breaking down amongst those that do qualify for Obamacare subsidies?  I wonder if they have read the studies on how prior efforts at government support (welfare, ADC…) have torn families asunder?  I wonder if they have ever spent any time with the less economically fortunate they pretend to want to help?  Please, start knocking on doors in your average “poor” neighborhood.  You’re not going to find a lot of healthy intact families there.

    I own and operate my own business.  Sometimes things get a little thin.  I am one of the blessed ones.  After decades of hard work, when things do get thin, I now have enough resources around to weather the storm.  But in the early days, it was a nip-and-tuck thing.  I used to tell myself when things got slow, “This is just God telling you to slow down and pay attention to what’s really important.”  But you know what I learned is really important?  Doubling down on my efforts to find more work!  Anything else resulted in things being too thin for too long.

    One can only hope that these arguments represent the first stage of the five stages of death for Obamacare – denial.  Anything else is too horrible to contemplate.

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    “The Flippin’ Mormon…”

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:54 am, January 28th 2014     —     3 Comments »

    Last night I was able to watch the newly released documentary on Netflix, “Mitt.”  For anyone that cared about the campaign and even remotely cared about the individuals involved it is a gut wrenching experience.  I told a friend just after I watched it that my Twitter review should be “It tore my heart out and left it beating on the table in front of me.”  These were amazingly decent people, without an ounce of cynicism.  To watch their stoicism in the face of all the assaults, grounded in their faith, was inspiring,  It also made me hurt for the nation.

    Even noted lefties have found the Romney of this film appealing.  A fact that caused me to tweet:

    @NYTimesDowd, It was there if you had just been willing to see it – Peeling Away the Plastic http://nyti.ms/1cG5CCl

    Others have noted that it was Romney’s very discomfort with the process that resulted in his loss.  Note how both of these criticisms cling to a narrative that Romney was somehow “false” during the campaign.  There is, of course, some standard film criticism of the documentary.  I would make one brief note – It quickly passes over the primary of 2012, feeling I am sure it was repetitive of the well covered primary of 2008.  The 2012 primary was grueling and ugly.  I really would like to have known more about the family discussions surrounding the many failed “not Romney’s.”

    Which brings me to what I really want to say about the film.  In a sense it is book-ended by comments on Romney’s Mormon faith.  I am not talking about the much discussed scenes of the family praying together.  These were incredibly powerful, but they were a bit voyeuristic.  Romney said on Hugh Hewitt last night that he is not ashamed of his faith or his prayer life, but he has also said he wishes the scenes were not in the film.  I honestly think it would have been enough to show the family briefly at prayer, but exclude the content and depth of the prayer.  Somethings are best left between the family and God.

    No, the bookend’s I am discussing come during the 2008 primary when Romney says quite tellingly, “I’m the flippin’ Mormon…” when discussing the narrative that surrounded him and at the end of the film, after the loss to Obama, when he says to at campaign HQ, “You know, we kind of stole the primary…Our party is southern, Evangelical and populist and I’m northern, Mormon and rich.”

    In the discussion of “flippin’ Mormon,”  Romney says “I can’t change the Mormon part, but I can change the flip-flop.”  I wish he could have changed the “flip-flop,” but I thought when he said it that I wished I’d been there -  The two are deeply linked.   I would never ask Gov, Romney to consider changing his Mormon faith, but the argument that he needed to make was that there is nothing about his Mormon faith that makes him untrustworthy.  His faith sort of sat there at the bottom of everything, a hidden bigotry, giving people a reason to latch onto any narrative that called into question the veracity and genuineness of this most truthful and genuine candidate.

    I doubt that Joel Belz has enough readers to have formed the nucleus of this anti-Mormon sentiment, but he is the only one on the right to give voice to it:

    It’s not a trivial matter that Mormonism, as a cultic movement, has a bad reputation when it comes to getting its own story straight. Check out the public record, if you will, including fairly recent interviews with Mormon officials in venues like Larry King Live, 60 Minutes, and Newsweek. Do these officials hold to the fantastical 1827 golden tablets of Mormon founder Joseph Smith—or not? Well, they seem to say: We believe it when we want to, and we don’t when it’s less convenient. Where Mormonism isn’t shrouded in deliberate secrecy, it is covered with confusion.

    So when folks tell me they’re satisfied that Mitt Romney won’t try to drag his Mormonism into his politics, and that he would never ever impose his theology on the American people, I have to worry whether that’s exactly what he’s already done. When, in a relatively short space of time, he seems to be on both sides of the same issue—and when such a deviously confusing approach seems to be consistent with his faith rather than counter to it—that sets off alarm bells for me.

    Only a few weeks ago, I sat a dozen feet from Romney as he compellingly spelled out his convictions and credentials. He was winsome and persuasive. On the surface, he said almost everything I want to hear my candidate say. On the issues that matter (except for choice in education), he was as convincing as any politician I’ve heard in recent years.

    But still.

    More than anything, I want a president who tells the truth. And I worry deeply when people are overly ready to believe a man whose religious upbringing, of all things, suggests that the truth is a negotiable commodity.

    Belz makes a theological argument that Romney is essentially a liar – because of his faith.  Note how easily this blends with the left leaning narrative which hates his faith simply because it opposes the entire left-leaning social agenda.  The left simply believes that anyone that “straight” must be lying; otherwise, much of their worldview comes crashing in around them.

    The Romney’s never seem to acknowledge this problem directly.  Romney failed to see that “Mormon” made “flippin’” stick and it made “northern and rich” insurmountable.  This, in the end, is what makes Mitt Romney such a compelling and endearing figure.  He simply refused to believe the worst of the American people.

    That’s what makes his loss in 2012 so much more than just another political loss.  That’s what makes some fear that the nation has turned a fundamental corner.  That’s what drives many to their knees in prayer on a regular basis — the fact that we may no longer be able to rely on the right and best in the American people.

    This film is extraordinarily compelling and extraordinarily hard to watch.  My personal acquaintance with many of the players on the screen makes me celebrate with them they fact that they still have each other.  The emotional factor that makes this film so hard to watch is what is says in the larger context.  The nation rejected deep and real decency when it rejected Mitt Romney as its president.

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    Posted in Analyzing 2012, Film Reviews, News Media Bias | 3 Comments » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    Not A Helpful Read

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:25 am, January 22nd 2014     —     1 Comment »

    So, Michael Beschloss takes to the I-thought-defunk “On-Faith” WaPo space and writes on the how presidents posture about religion.

    In general and throughout American history, presidents—for the most self-protective reasons—not only avoid comments that might offend a vote of faith as sacrilegious, but also tend to exaggerate the depth of their personal religious conviction and practice.

    And so we see we have advanced from arguing which presidents are religious and which are not (this debate about the Founders will probably go on long after all of us are dead) to trying to argue that even those that seemed blatantly religious don’t really mean it.

    President’s posture on things – they always have and they always will.  It is the nature of politics.  It is in fact incumbent on a representative of the people to reflect the thinking of the people, even if that representative disagrees with the general public’s stance.  That’s not lying, that’s serving.  That is how our political system is designed.   As we have said here often, our government is in many ways intended to be a mirror.

    But to dig into “What’s posturing and what’s ‘real’” when it comes to matters of faith is truly problematic.  It cheapens religion.

    All people of faith posture in that faith.  It is part of how that faith changes us.  The alcoholic that has turned to faith to overcome their alcoholism must get up each day and “posture” as a non-drinker.  They may even slip in that effort.  Does that mean they are not sincere in their commitment?  Certainly not if they get up the next day and try again.  Religion seeks to change us at the deepest possible levels – not something that happens overnight  or without missteps.

    Religious expression in the United States is an extraordinarily diverse thing.  Why within single congregations of shared demographics, denominational affiliation and theological perspective there can be massive and sometimes ugly debate about things like what music to sing in the Sunday service.  What an old curmudgeon Presbyterian says is “the right way” to worship can be nearly antithetical to the same thing said by an African-American Evangelical.  In such circumstance within the faith community how can anyone on the outside judge what is sincere religious practice?

    There are many more arguments to be made about how a historian’s judgement on the questions Beschloss has set for himself could be significantly warped and untrustworthy.  But the bottom line is this – to even ask the question in this fashion is to call into question the legitimacy of religion generally.  It lessens religion to something that people put on and take off as circumstance and convenience dictates instead of allowing it to be the path to the supernatural and agent for change that it really is.  It reduces religion from educational and character-building to merely a demographic label.

    This is just one more effort to remove religion from public debate.

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