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."

  • So, Who Is The Bad Actor In This Drama?

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:56 am, March 19th 2014     —     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

    Worse Than Nixon?

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:44 am, March 14th 2014     —     Comment on this post »

    Howard Kurtz this morning objects to Victor David Hanson’s portrayal of Obama as “Nixonian,”  Kurtz’ objections are summed up in this sentence:

    The problem with most of these examples is there’s no evidence that Obama ordered, or knew about, these efforts. And that’s very different from Nixon, who as we know from the secret tapes, would talk about breaking into the Brookings Institution.

    So, what we learn from Kurtz is that not only is the Obama administration engaged in unconstitutional and illegal activity, but that the president has little control over his own administration.  To my mind this makes Obama a worse president than Nixon – unconstitutional crook AND bad manager.

     

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    I Object!

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:19 am, March 3rd 2014     —     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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    Stuff You Have To Read

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:18 am, February 28th 2014     —     Comment on this post »

    Scott Clement @ The FIX:

    Tuesday’s public spat between an atheist advocacy group and Christian conservatives was full of bluster and drama, all over a CPAC conference booth

    This small theater in the culture wars may be of little consequence beyond Washington, but it highlights a dynamic in which non-religious voters are gravitating steadily away from Republicans, even as Democrats have made few major efforts to galvanize their support.

    Michael Gerson on Thursday:

    The evidence accumulates that the Republican Party is sobering up — cotton-mouthed and slightly disoriented — from its recent ideological bender.

    [...]

    No political movement can persuade a great democracy without displaying a measure of democratic grace. And any ideological movement that claims to be inspired by faith and morality is discredited by language that dehumanizes its opponents.

    One can hope that Gerson is right, but only time will tell.  I am; however, convinced that much of the ideological battles the party currently face lie in the religious battles that began in 2008 with Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith.  It’s just not talked about now because it would simply appear too bigoted, but all this talk of “being true to…” began when a Mormon tried to take center stage and reached its zenith when such was the GOP nominee.

    You see parallels to this discussion and way of thinking inside the Evangelical church when you read about people writing off the decline in church attendance to the loss of “Christmas and Easter only types,” and then contending that such is not really a loss.

    This post is not the forum for deep analysis of this phenomenon, but one must react to it by saying perish the thought.   Huckabee gave air to this stuff and I don’t care how much he moderates, as such he has no business being the nominee.

    Mark Tooley asks, “Was America Ethically Christian for Only 8 Years?.”  I got to be honest – silly question.  Even Christians aren’t ethically Christian much – it’s a foundational concept of our theology called sin.  Christian ethics are not the issue when it comes to national politics and policies.  It is a question of aspiration, not actual practice.  The current apparent ethical pullback that the nation is on is not a the bottom line issue, it is how that pullback is happening that gives one such pause.  It is a discarding of ethical considerations generally that is so problematic.  No longer is the debate about what is the right thing to do, rather is it simply about what people want to do and asserting that they have a right to do whatever they want to do.  We no longer seem to aspire to what is good and then argue about the definition of good – we simply argue about what these people want versus what those people want – good apparently has nothing to do with it.  That’s what makes this cycle amongst the many such historical cycles frightening.

    Things that have a point, even if you don’t agree with the entire piece:

    Yeah, we have to avoid arrogance.

    No, the press is not to blame, but they do pick the scab and can keep the wound from healing.

    The word “cult” can sometimes be useful, but only with great care and this piece shows it more than most, but not sure they are all the way there.

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    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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