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."

  • Frenemies?

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:22 am, January 9th 2014     —     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.


    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

    How Do We Change Thinking?

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:28 am, January 6th 2014     —     1 Comment »

    Very interesting profile of Frank Luntz by Molly Ball in The Atlantic today.  The piece is two things really – one is a description of some deeply personal and emotional stuff that Luntz is dealing with and the other is a look at some serious problems facing the nation that no one is much talking about and no one at all seems to have a solution for.

    The first comment I have to make about this is that to approach the subject as a personal profile is part of the problem.  It describes Luntz’ reaction to the last election as a deep depression and says this:

    It was what Luntz heard from the American people that scared him. They were contentious and argumentative. They didn’t listen to each other as they once had. They weren’t interested in hearing other points of view. They were divided one against the other, black vs. white, men vs. women, young vs. old, rich vs. poor. “They want to impose their opinions rather than express them,” is the way he describes what he saw. “And they’re picking up their leads from here in Washington.” Haven’t political disagreements always been contentious, I ask? “Not like this,” he says. “Not like this.”

    I cannot help but reflect on the fact that part of the reason people are not “interested in hearing other points of view,” and “want to impose their opinions rather than express them: is because everything has become personal.  Those are indications that personal desire has become paramount – nothing matters but what “I” want.  By making this article about Luntz’ personal struggle instead of about the ideas at stake is to make the individual more paramount than the ideas, which is the problem being described.

    Luntz’ solution; however seems awful:

    Most of all, Luntz says, he wishes we would stop yelling at one another. Luntz dreams of drafting some of the rich CEOs he is friends with to come up with a plan for saving America from its elected officials. “The politicians have failed; now it’s up to the business community to stand up and be heard,” he tells me. “I want the business community to step up.” Having once thought elites needed to listen to regular people, he now wants the people to learn from their moneyed betters.

    That seems like an amazing disconnect to me.  Business’ objective is to fulfill personal, individual desire – what can it possible teach someone about subjecting personal desire for the sake of the whole?  Furthermore, are people really taking these discordant cues from DC?  Or has something changed in the American people to make them more susceptible to the discord that has always been the case there?

    Certainly the ever increasing media presence in DC has revealed the discord more and more which has served to then increase that discord, but can we even blame this entirely on the media?  As an avid consumer of the political rag sheets, what’s actually amazing is how few people really do consume them.  No, it’s not just that.

    This is nothing short of a spiritual crisis in the nation.  Churches are better organized for political action than they have ever been in our history, but are they anymore organized to build the kind of people that a nation like ours needs to really function?  Big swaths of America Christianity are now dedicated to  a model of the church based on a model as service provider not person builder.  Vast portions of the faith in this nation follow – they do not lead.  Large chunks of Christianity have absorbed the lessons of business and the result has been the crisis in which we now find ourselves.

    No, the solution to the problem that Luntz’ correctly senses will not come from his business cronies.  It will come from the church reclaiming its rightful place in the American culture.  Political action on the part of the church may happen from time to time, but it is not how the church is best suited to change things.  Rather the church is at its best when it is a culture maker, not a culture follower.  When the church makes the culture then the politics will follow.

    And it should be noted that making culture is not simply a matter of having the majority of people stand in the right place on the issues of the day – that’s just more politics.  It is about the very hard work of building people of sufficient character that they arrive at political stances without direct church intervention.  It is about the church building leaders that fan out through the community (not just keep the church running) and help others arrive at the same point.

    Making culture is about making people, for example, that do not watch soft porn on cable TV because they do not like it, not because they are told it is bad for them or because it violates religious teaching.  This is what the church was designed and ordained to do.  If the church does this, culture and politics will follow as naturally as the dawn comes each day.


    Posted in character, Culture Wars, Doctrinal Obedience, Evangelical Shortcomings, Social/Religious Trends, Understanding Religion | 1 Comment » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    As Apologies Go….

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 08:05 am, January 5th 2014     —     1 Comment »

    On New Year’s Eve, I said this about the incidences on Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC:

    Sarah Palin has this one absolutely right – Despicable.  to that I will add – Contemptible – apologies not withstanding.

    At that juncture, Harris-Perry had issued a apology on Twitter “Without reservation or qualification.”

    She has returned to the air this weekend and made further, deep and heartfelt apologies. (See the video.)  As on-air apologies from the left go, this one is by far the least perfunctory and most meaning filled I have encountered.  Harris-Perry is clearly disturbed by what happened and is clearly seeking to right a deep and hurtful wrong.

    It leaves us in a difficult position.  The apology is great as far as it goes.  I do not doubt the sincerity with which it is offered nor the contrition which underlies it.  But here is the thing about confession/apology – sometimes we confess and apologize for lesser crimes in order to redirect focus from the larger crimes.  Usually we do that to avoid facing our own deep demons, not just to deceive those around us – I believe that to be the case here.

    Note Harris-Perry’s focus on the adopted child.  It is clear Harris-Perry relates to the child, has empathy for the child and truly regrets any harm she has caused the child in the conduct of her show.  This is all right and good.

    But what went on on her show the prior weekend, even in the name of humor, was offensive to far more than just that beautiful baby.  Also called into question was the ability of the Romney extended family to properly love and care for that child.  If you know the Romney’s in even the slightest, you would know that nothing could be further from the truth.  It is deeply, deeply offensive the presume that because they are white Mormons, the Romney clan is somehow unable or ill-equipped to care for or parent an African-American child.  Harris-Perry mentions this issue not at all.  She offers no apology to anyone in the Romney extended family.

    Secondly, all of what went on on that show as steeped in racism.  As Harris-Perry explains at length, this was supposed to be a comedic look at interesting pictures from the year just past.  To put up that picture under those circumstances is to imply that whites and blacks generally are somehow incompatible – that there is an absurdity to such a mixture in a family setting.  That implication is purely, unabashedly racist.  Racism is harmful not just to the individuals involved, but to our society as a whole.  Harris-Perry’s apology makes no mention of her own ingrained racial attitudes, nor those of her producers and/or staff.  She barely mentions race in her apology, and when she does it is only in the context of harm to the child.  There is nothing to indicate a rethink on Harris-Perry’s part about the role of race in our society.

    I could go on like this for a while, but it is not my intent to slight Harris-Perry’s apology as far as it goes.  I just want to be clear that in accepting the apology, and it is indeed worthy of acceptance, many problems still remain.  Many underlying issues still need to be addressed.  This incident is past, but the problems that created it are far, far from over.  Those problems remain, as I said originally, contemptible.


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    When Truth Suffers

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 08:02 am, December 31st 2013     —     2 Comments »

    Forgive me while I geek out for a minute.  Most people that read this blog will have made it through at least geometry in high school in their mathematical studies.  This is the first level in mathematical education where we learn how to put together a cohesive system of looking at things in a logical and precise fashion.  If you remember, you did proofs – lots of proofs.  This was how you built the system, each statement that became an important working statement was proven logically, from previously proven statements.  But if you remember thoroughly, you will member there were 5 “postulates.“  These were statements that could not be proven but were simply “assumed” to be true and from which all other geometrical statements are proven.

    The postulates are not arbitrary, they are formulated from a) massive and collective observation and b) an inability to prove them accumulated over the millenia.  To build a comprehensive logical structure such as geometry you have to start somewhere.  So you start by looking at the world around you and making statements about it.  You compare your observations with others to make sure they see the same thing – then you set about trying to prove all your observations to a point where the statements that you cannot prove are minimized as much as possible, but such statements seem to have an inherent “truth” because while you cannot prove them they are always observed to be true.  These are the basic stuff from which everything else is built.

    “What if the postulates are not true?” is a question that every reasonably serious student of mathematics has asked since the list of postulates was first formulated.  Well, pretty much everything we understand about the world around us falls apart.  From geometry we have meticulously built higher forms of math and they are the language of science.  If the postulates are not true we could not have gotten to the moon, or built a building much more complex than a mud hut (much of Euclid’s initial work was in support of the construction of the marvelous and ancient stone buildings we find in Greece still today) or just about anything else technological that we rely upon today.

    There are non-Euclidean geometries (geometry with different postulates) in math and in recent decades they have even proven somewhat useful in forming theories in the very weird realms of science like quantum mechanics.  But when you do stuff in the world we live in and experience on a daily basis without the aid of instruments, Euclidean geometry (what you learned in high school) works very, very well.  The postulates are true in any experientially meaningful sense of the word true.  We may be able to conceive of other postulates, but our daily lives tell us that the ones we have come to know and work with are functionally true.  Those non-Euclidean concepts, interesting though they are, just don’t work in any experience you and I can have.

    This thoughts occurred to me as I read Tom Coburn in this morning’s WSJ:

    The culture that Mr. Obama campaigned against, the old kind of politics, teaches politicians that repetition and “message discipline”—never straying from using the same slogans and talking points—can create reality, regardless of the facts. Message discipline works if the goal is to win an election or achieve a short-term political goal. But saying that something is true doesn’t make it so. When a misleading message ultimately clashes with reality, the result is dissonance and conflict. In a republic, deception is destructive. Without truth there can be no trust. Without trust there can be no consent. And without consent we invite paralysis, if not chaos.

    It seems that in how we conduct our public affairs we sometimes get a bit too interested in the “non-Euclidean” stuff.  We can conceive of it, we can find it fascinating, we can even experiment with it, but in the end it just does not work.  The practical truth of the postulates always seems to carry the day.

    Faith in the Almighty plays the role of postulate in our society.  Of course there will be many branches that spring from that root, but that root is what holds up the entire structure.  I read Coburn’s words on the heal of reading this from the Bible this morning (emphasis added):

    I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord,
    the praises of the Lord,
    according to all that the Lord has granted us,
    and the great goodness to the house of Israel
    that he has granted them according to his compassion,
    according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
    For he said, “Surely they are my people,
        children who will not deal falsely.” (Isaiah 63:7-8)

    This is heavy stuff for New Year’s Eve, a day that is supposed to be about celebration.  But celebration seems difficult when we live in a time where people seem to think the postulates, as Coburn points out, are arbitrary.  Obamacare is a glaring and on-going painful example of that.  As Jim Geraghty pointed out yesterday:

    So . . . we’re still ending 2013 with more people having lost their insurance than gained it.

    It just is not working.  Obamacare is a wonderful, even interesting, idea, but it is from the realms of non-Euclidean geometry.  It may even have some internal logical consistency, but it just does not work in the daily world.

    But there is another glaring example -  Sunday’s NYTimes’ report on Benghazi.  This blog will not attempt to dissect the facts reported, we’ll leave that up to the professionals.  Nor will we assume political motivation, although the political convenience of the piece is extraordinary.  But what seems clear as I read or listen to discussion after discussion with people in Congress investigating the incident is that it is not the whole story; it is not a complete and thorough investigation.  Consider this from the interview with Congressman Lynn Westmoreland just linked:

    HH: Congressman, Hugh here. Did Mr. Kirkpatrick attempt to talk to you?

    LW: No.

    HH: Did he attempt to talk to any of your colleagues on the House Intelligence Committee?

    LW: Sir, I don’t know that.

    That pretty well defines incomplete investigation on the reporters part.  That puts the report in the realm of non-Euclidean geometry – interesting and even internally consistent – but not necessarily comporting with reality of daily experience.  Certainly not tested against it.

    Even more disturbing is when people get all wrapped up in their concepts, the foundations that replace the postulates can be horrifying.  For some, race is the root from which all things spring.  When that happens – stuff like this happens:

    The laughing starts almost immediately in the MSNBC segment. 

    But as the host and her guests yuk it up, I wanted to cringe. 

    The object of their derision, cloaked as it was in pointed humor? 

    A baby. A black baby, to be precise, being held on Mitt Romney’s knee. 

    Hysterical, huh? 

    This was Romney’s adopted grandson, in a big, professionally shot family photo. And yes, Melissa Harris-Perry kept cooing about how the baby was cute. The real target, for her and the guests, was Mitt. 

    As in, isn’t it funny that this white Mormon with a white family would find among his clan a black baby.

    Sarah Palin has this one absolutely right – Despicable.  to that I will add – Contemptible – apologies not withstanding.

    When we view our postulates as fungible we start to run into all sorts of problems.  This is deeper than culture wars or political parties.  This is the soul of the nation.  It is hard to celebrate a year just past where we have been bombarded with news of people in charge that have interesting theories totally disconnected from real life.  A year where the people that bring us the news have been shown again and again to view the world from inside their non-Euclidean theories rather than observe the world as it actually is.

    But the same faith that is our postulates tells us that tomorrow will be brighter.  I choose to celebrate that.


    Posted in News Media Bias, Religion and Race, Understanding Religion | 2 Comments » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    Fine Reading For Christmas

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 02:00 am, December 25th 2013     —     Comment on this post »

    Good books can be read on many levels.  Such is very true for a book due to ship New Year’s Eve – The Happiest Life: Seven Gifts, Seven Givers, and the Secret to Genuine Success by Hugh Hewitt.  I recommend this book in the strongest possible terms – hit the link and order it now.

    But let’s talk about the levels.  On the one level this is an eminently readable and delightful collection of stories from the life of a very interesting man in politics, government service, the legal profession and media.  It is a light little airy read that will leave a smile on your face – an enjoyable two or three hours.  This is the perfect airplane book.  If it stopped there it would be a success, but it does not.

    On the second level it is memoir.  Wikipedia says this about a memoir:

    Memoir is more about what can be gleaned from a few years or a moment in the life of the author, than from the author’s life as a whole.

    In this case, what can be gleaned is revealed in the title.  Beginning with the virtue of courage and proceeding to a call to generosity born of that courage, one learns to see life as a series of gifts both given and received.  In doing so one’s perception is altered.  Rather than seeing life as a series of duties and burdens, we come to appreciate the blessings that are in our lives on a daily basis.  Hewitt finds gifts in the large and the small – the mundane and the glorious.  In the discovery of those blessings we find ourselves happy.

    On this level this book is memoir at its finest.  It is not an exercise in the ego of the author, picking and choosing vignettes designed to paint the author in a good light, and stroke his insatiable need for praise. Rather, the author uses stories of his experience to draw us to a lesson we need to learn, with all appropriate humility.

    Which brings me to the third level.  Sometimes good books transcend the authors intent and I think that is true in the case of this book.  This book reveals two deep mysteries of the Christian faith.  Hewitt is not shy in the book about discussing his deeply held faith, but he also admits extensively to not being able to explain nor even understand much of it.  He seems to simply know that it works.

    book_heroThe first mystery revealed in this book is that in giving, regardless of the situation, we receive.  This I do think the author intended us to see.  This is a lesson of scripture and one plainly illustrated throughout the book.  This is a mystery that we see revealed in literature throughout the ages.  The great story of this season, Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” is one such example.  “The Gifts of the Christ Child” by George MacDonald is another example of a story in which gifts are given in the most tragic of circumstances.  This is a mystery because of the deep contradiction within, the giving discussed is not transactional.  There is no quid pro quo.  There is simply giving.  And blessing simply flows.

    But it is in Hewitt’s disclaimer of theological understanding of this first mystery that the second deeper mystery is revealed.  That is the mystery of the Christmas season – the mystery of incarnation.  Some matters are not subject to our understanding – we can see them, we can know their truth, but we cannot understand them.  Thus it was necessary for God to incarnate to show us these mysteries.  Not teach them to us, but show them to us.  By showing us the first mystery, Hewitt reveals to us the second.

    Hewitt has said repeatedly on his radio program that he wanted this book released on December 31 so that people could use it in the formation of the New Year’s resolutions.  This is admirable and all of us will be greatly benefited by resolving to be more giving of the seven gifts in 2014.  But this is also a Christmas book.

    It is a one part of the Christian life – one that cannot be taught – well illustrated.


    Posted in Book Reviews | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    A Christmas Thought

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:00 am, December 24th 2013     —     Comment on this post »

    For to us a child is born,
        to us a son is given,
        and the government will be on his shoulders.
    And he will be called
        Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
        Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

    It’s Christmas!  You’ve heard this verse sometime in the last couple of weeks, you know you have.  And yet it seems when we do we focus on the names “Mighty God,” “Prince of Peace.”  I don’t hear a lot of discussion about:

    …and the government will rest on his shoulders.

    Some might ask, “Is it even American to say something like that?”  There is a point there.  In a land of religious freedom theocracy, which that verse can be interpreted to support, is not the way.  But that is a wrong interpretation of that verse.

    Historically, I would argue that America is the best expression of that verse to date precisely because we do not have a King anointed by the church nor do we have theocratic rule.  Historically what we have had is a country that relies on the people and the individuals they elect being good people because of their reliance on the Wonderful Counselor and Everlasting Father.

    The government rests on us and we rest on him.  This Christmas it is important that we renew our commitment first to rely on the child whose birth we celebrate and then our commitment to be active, smart, and good citizens.


    Posted in Understanding Religion | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

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