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The Collective
Sunday, January 27, 2008
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Strange Maps (a nifty blog, if you aren’t familiar with it) has an interesting map from 2000 of Regionalism and Religiosity that is worth a gander.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

I am finding the current focus in the GOP race for the nomination rather interesting, as the debate (for the moment, anyway) has become an odd melange of politics, theology and press coverage.

To wit: we have this entry at NRO’s The Corner by Lisa Schiffren which seems to be an attempt to come to Romney’s defense on a theological barb tossed out by Mike Huckabee in a New York Times Magazine profile (which also made the AP).

The barb in question (in context, with the specific issue bolded):

I asked Huckabee, who describes himself as the only Republican candidate with a degree in theology, if he considered Mormonism a cult or a religion. ‘‘I think it’s a religion,’’ he said. ‘‘I really don’t know much about it.’’

I was about to jot down this piece of boilerplate when Huckabee surprised me with a question of his own: ‘‘Don’t Mormons,’’ he asked in an innocent voice, ‘‘believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?’’

First off, I think this is an excellent example of Huckabee the Politician answering a question in a way that Huckabee the Pastor would not have done-i.e., I have little doubt that if one could board the TARDIS1 and head, say, to 1990 when he was President of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, one would have gotten a different answer. Still, nothing wrong with demurring on the “cult” reference, especially if one is running for President—it is simply polite in that context to call it “a religion” and move on since, in basic Baptist theology, there is no ultimate difference between a “cult” and another religion in terms of eternal dispositions. Of course, the dig about Jesus and the devil (i.e., Satan, a.k.a., Lucifer) lets on that Huckabee knows more about the topic of Mormon theology than he let’s on initially. Further, by bringing up the issue he is both sending a signal to most Evangelicals that he knows that while Mormonism is “a religion,” it isn’t traditional Christianity, either. Further, he is cleverly inserting yet another attempt to suggest to the general populace that “hey, those Mormons are a bit odd, aren’t they?” Again, it is Huckabee the Politician talking, to be sure.

Now this gets to the defense from Schiffren, who wrote:

Mike Huckabee, graduate of Ouachitha Baptist University in Arkadelphia (degree in speech in a mere 2 years) with one year at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, before dropping out, claims not to know enough about Mormonism to ask nasty, disingenuous questions about Jesus and the Devil.

Now, I find this amusing (or, at least, interesting) as I see no reason for NRO to come to Romney’s defense on this obscure bit of theologica, save for the fact that the magazine endorsed Romney today.

Indeed, a quick perusal of The Corner today reveals several attacks on Huckabee and/or defenses of Romeny:

  • K-Lo: Huckabee Puts His Unholy Cards On the Table?
  • Mark Hemingway: More Huck the Disingenuous
  • Lisa Schiffren:
    Arkansas Values

It should be noted that K-Lo backtracked on some of what she wrote, after it was revealed that Huckabee apologized to Romeny for some of the comments in question.

Regardless, the whole thing is an interesting internecine version of the turning of politics into a spectator sport: NR has chosen it’s team (Romney) so now is in attack mode against Huckabee, unless, of course, he gets the nomination, at which point he will be transformed (nay, transfigured) into the Great GOP Hope.

BTW, in regards to the whole Jesus/the devil business, Sullivan looked it up on an LDS site:

But both the scriptures and the prophets affirm that Jesus Christ and Lucifer are indeed offspring of our Heavenly Father and, therefore, spirit brothers. Jesus Christ was with the Father from the beginning. Lucifer, too, was an angel “who was in authority in the presence of God,” a “son of the morning.” (See Isa. 14:12; D&C 76:25–27.) Both Jesus and Lucifer were strong leaders with great knowledge and influence. But as the Firstborn of the Father, Jesus was Lucifer’s older brother. (See Col. 1:15; D&C 93:21.)

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  1. for the uninitiated, that’s a time machine []
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By Dr. Steven Taylor

I meant to point to this last week, but forgot to do so.

Matthew Shugart has an interesting content analysis of the JFK and Romney speeches on their respective religions: Romney and Kennedy: A comparative quantitative analysis.

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By Dr. Steven Taylor

Alan Cross, a Baptist minister, has an interesting post which looks at the possible influence of internal Southern Baptist politics on support for Huckabee: Are Fundamentalist Southern Baptist Leaders Trying to Scuttle the Candidacy of Mike Huckabee Because of Old Battles During the Conservative Resurgence?

Ultimately, I think that the lack of (to date) serious evangelical-based support for Huckabee (in terms of leadership) has been because of his prior status as a second-to-third tier candidate, and therefore an electability calculus. Still, the notion that Huckabee’s tenure as President of the Arkansas Southern Baptist Convention might have bearing on internal GOP support is interesting.

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By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via Editor and Publisher: GALLUP: Romney Speech Flopped? Many Still Say Won’t Vote for Mormon

A new Gallup Poll finds that better than one in six Americans, including similar numbers of Republicans and Democrats, indicate they would not support their party’s nominee for president if that person were a Mormon.

The poll was conducted from Dec. 6 to 9, immediately following the major speech by Republican presidential candidate Gov. Mitt Romney, in which he addressed voter concern about his Mormon religion. The percentage of Republicans who now rule out voting for a Mormon, 18%, is just one point lower than it was in March.

How does this compare to other groups?

This stand against voting for a candidate based on one such factor is unusually high. Gallup observes: “Four percent of Americans (including 3% of Republicans) say they would not vote for a Catholic, 5% would not vote for a black, 12% would not vote for a woman, and 12% would not vote for a Hispanic.”

Meanwhile, National Review’s editorial board is clearly not part of the 18% in question, as they have endorsed Romney, Romney for President:

Our guiding principle has always been to select the most conservative viable candidate. In our judgment, that candidate is Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts. Unlike some other candidates in the race, Romney is a full-spectrum conservative: a supporter of free-market economics and limited government, moral causes such as the right to life and the preservation of marriage, and a foreign policy based on the national interest.

[…]

More than the other primary candidates, Romney has President Bush’s virtues and avoids his flaws. His moral positions, and his instincts on taxes and foreign policy, are the same. But he is less inclined to federal activism, less tolerant of overspending, better able to defend conservative positions in debate, and more likely to demand performance from his subordinates. A winning combination, by our lights. In this most fluid and unpredictable Republican field, we vote for Mitt Romney.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via CNN: Poll: Huckabee would lose to top Democrats by double digits

In head-to-head matchups — the first to include Huckabee — the former Arkansas governor loses to Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York by 10 percentage points (54 percent to 44 percent), to Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois by 15 points (55 percent to 40 percent) and to former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina by 25 points (60 percent to 35 percent).

On the one hand, it is early and Huckabee is still in the process of building national name recognition and further, I never trust such polls until there is actual head-to-head campaigning between the persons in question. Such a campaign could narrow that gap, or even widen it. There just isn’t that much general knowledge about Huckabee out there at the moment.

On the other hand, however, these numbers comport with my basic view of where a Huckabee campaign would eventually land: in a serious defeat on election day. At the end of the day, I think that Huckabee’s Baptist minister background will turn a large number of voters off. First, the current President has been perhaps the most vocal in modern history as to the way in which his Evangelical worldview has guided policy, including getting the country involved in the Iraq War. Specifically there is the example of him telling Bob Woodward that he didn’t consult with his father, the former president, on the issue of invading Iraq, but instead prayed over the matter:

Did Mr. Bush ask his father for any advice? “I asked the president about this. And President Bush said, ‘Well, no,’ and then he got defensive about it,” says Woodward. “Then he said something that really struck me. He said of his father, ‘He is the wrong father to appeal to for advice. The wrong father to go to, to appeal to in terms of strength.’ And then he said, ‘There’s a higher Father that I appeal to.’”

In short, I think that Bush has made it far more problematic for a candidate with an overtly Evangelical message. There are reasons that Huckabee doesn’t want to dwell over-much on religious doctrine.

As such, the Bush Effect on this issues will make it easier to attack Huckabee on the question of governance as influenced by an overtly Evangelical worldview, especially when Huckabee has already made claims about the power of prayer and his recent rise in the polls. Let’s face facts, even highly religious people get nervous when people starts talking like they are God’s agent, especially people who want to be the commander-in-chief of the United States of America.

And yes: there are segments of the GOP wherein his Evangelicalism will be a bonus, but the question is how will it play with Republicans currently disaffected with the Bush administration, or swing voters who went with Bush in recent cycles-especially in places like Ohio.

Beyond that, we have already seen that some Republicans think that Huckabee’s religious point-of-view makes him too soft to fight the war on terror, and then there are the critiques of his fiscal policy bona fides, as he is not seen as a small government conservative, but rather a continuation of Bush’s “compassionate conservatism.” Such issues will influence turnout-which is always key.

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Saturday, December 8, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the AP: Huckabee declines theology discussion

Republican presidential candidate and Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee says he won’t discuss “intricate, nit-picky things of church doctrine,” such as the role of women in the ministry, because the issues aren’t relevant to the presidency.

The former Arkansas governor said that while he’s open to discussing the basic pillars of his faith — and praised rival Mitt Romney for opening up in a speech Thursday about his — he won’t voice his views on the oft-discussed controversies in Southern Baptist denominations.

It seems to me that if one is going to make one’s faith a central part of one’s identity, then one is going to have to take the good with the bad (i.e., that which garners support along with that which might turn some voters off). In many ways this is more true about Huckabee than Romney, as his resume includes being a Southern Baptist minister, not to mention that much of his current success is based on his ability to appeal to social conservatives, because of his religious pedigree.

It is more than fair that candidates should have to deal with the controversial aspects of their faith, especially given that they clearly seek to use their faith as a means of promoting their candidacies.

As such, this is a cop-out:

“I think (discussing faith) is an important part of helping people get to know the candidates,” Huckabee said Friday morning after a breakfast fundraiser in Charlotte. “(But) sometimes the questions get a little laborious when they start asking you about intricate, nit-picky things of church doctrine that’s probably not all that relevant to being president.”

This might be fair if one was simply a Southern Baptist, but is a dodge for a minister-especially one who wrote in his book,

Politics are totally directed by worldview. That’s why when people say, We ought to separate politics from religion,’ I say to separate the two is absolutely impossible (98).

A position that is wholly fair. However, it also means that one has to deal with, and explain, one’s worldview if one wants to be President.

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Thursday, December 6, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

The more I read about, and think about, Romney and the way his has approached his religious views, the more it reinforces Romney’s biggest weakness: the assumption that he is not especially forthright about his views and that he seeks to shade (if not totally change) his views to make himself more palatable to votes (again, think his “conversions” on abortion and gay rights).

A reader writes in to Andrew Sullivan to note Romney’s disingenuousness in regards to his capability to comment on Mormon theology:

As a Mormon, I was put-off by Romney’s disingenuousness when he was asked on a TV interview to explain how Mormonism differs from other Christian denominations. Romney tried to give the impression that he was unqualified to speak for the LDS Church, referring poeple to the Church’s website.

When confronted with the fact that he has been an LDS Bishop, he tried to give the impression that, in a “lay church,” the calling of a Bishop isn’t important.

This is untrue.

Bishops interview, and must approve every person in their Ward boundaries (aka Parish) who wishes to convert to Mormonism and be baptized.

[…]

it is the Bishop’s job to instruct them in the theology before approving that person’s baptism.

Further:

Whenever a Mormon has a question or concern about any aspect of Mormon theology, they are instructed to ask their Bishop about it.

[…]

In short, one can not be a Bishop without understanding Mormon theology and how it differs from that of traditonal Christianity.

Beyond that:

Remember, besides being a Bishop, he served as a full-time Mormon missionary for two years.

[…]

The LDS Church brags that young men come back from two year missions who a deeper understanding of their religion than that enjoyed by believers of other faiths. Is Romney the lone exception to this?

Daniel Larson further (and correctly) observes:

This predicament really is a trap for Romney, as I and others have observed before: if he stresses what he has in common with Christian voters, he will be criticised for not being forthright and honest enough about his own religion, and if he acknowledges difference he is probably dooming himself to electoral oblivion by alienating Christian voters. Yet recent polling shows that he is damaged even more by his evasiveness and reluctance to speak on the matter, which fits into the narrative that he is inauthentic (some might even say fraudulent). Perhaps if Romney himself were not such an obviously protean, shape-shifting sort of candidate on his policy views, his unwillingness to speak about his religion would have appeared as wisdom and discretion, instead of coming across as yet another example of his inability to give a straight answer to a question.

Emphasis mine (and h/t: Sully for the quote).

Jim Henley also notes that Romney is hampered in dealing with this problem by a lack of genuineness.

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By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the AP: Romney: No religious test for president

“There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church’s distinctive doctrines,” Romney said. “To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes president, he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths.”

This is simply not true. There is nothing that prohibits voters from considering the religious beliefs of candidates when determining whether or not to elect them to office. Indeed, quite the opposite, I would argue that it is incumbent upon voters to seek to understand what candidates believe and why, as such issues will directly determine how a candidates will govern once elected.

Romney is correct that someone cannot be barred from being a candidate or from holding office because of their religion, but that has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not a candidate’s religious views are relevant to voters.

Clearly a candidate who ran as a Satanist would have no shot at the presidency in the US based on that fact alone. Adherents to the Taliban’s view of Islam would similarly be automatically rejected based solely on religious beliefs.

Beyond poorly applied constitutional principles here, Romney actually reinforced some of the prevalent criticisms of Mormonism, notably that it is ultimately too secretive (or, at least, very evasive) about its core doctrines when he suggests in the quote above that he basically doesn’t have to go into a detailed explanation of his”church’s distinctive doctrines.”

Setting question of who is “right” in terms of theology, it is a fact that the Church of Latter Day Saints adheres to doctrines that deviate substantially from Catholic and Protestant theology, differing on key issues such as the Deity of Jesus Christ-no minor issue there. As I wrote just over a year ago on this very subject (man, this campaign has been long):

The main issue between Mormonism and orthodox Christianity (Catholicism, mainline protestantism, Evangelicals, etc.) of various stripes is pretty fundamental: it is disagreement over who Jesus of Nazareth was and is. One cannot get more fundamental than this issue. Orthodox Christianity sees Jesus as the literal incarnation of God and the doctrine of the Trinity states that the Father, Son and Spirit are all God, not Gods, not part of God, not simply manifestations of God, but God: God in three persons. And the God in question is the eternal God, the creator of all things, and is ultimately singular in all of existence for all time.

The Jesus of Mormonism is literally the son of a God, although Jesus Himself is also a God. However, instead of being a complex ontological proposition like the Trinity, the idea here is that there are actually many Gods throughout space and time, Jesus being only one. Further, we all, as humans, can become a God as well.

It is this fundamental difference, in different iterations, that separates orthodox Christian theology from Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Scientists. Regardless of any other issue, they have different views on the essence of Christ. This is why, in a nutshell, orthodox Christians will often call these groups, Mormons included, as being cults.

One can see why Romney wouldn’t want to go into the doctrinal issues here.

Further, the LDS does not like to discuss the inner workings of the church (indeed, there are parts of their ceremonies that are not open to the general public, unlike the aforementioned Catholics and Protestants) nor does it like to deal in public with the more controversial elements of its doctrines (again, a fact that Romney is reinforcing by his statement).

Despite all the JFK comparisons, the issue for Romney is really quite different. For Kennedy the main issue was independence from the Pope and the Bishops. For Romney is about overcoming the perception that he belongs to an odd sect that many see as a cult. Moreover, Romney’s problem is fairly acute insofar as the issue is not convincing the vaguely religious that he is a-okay, but it is convincing hardcore Evangelical voters in the South that being a Mormon is really not that different from a Baptist. That is going to be a hard sell and it would appear to me that this speech won’t help much.

Back to the JFK comparison, Romney said:

“When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God,” Romney said in a pledge echoing the famous speech Democrat John F. Kennedy made in 1960 when he was seeking to become the first Catholic elected president.

This is a good place to illustrate the difference: Protestants see Catholics as worshiping the same God (although there are Catholic-haters who see the Pope as agent of Satan, but that is a fringe element) while they see Mormons as worshipping (and wearing an oath to, in this case) another God (one that they would see as fictitious).

One last note. In comparing his faith to that of Huckabee, he noted in an interview:

“It has nothing to do with what faith a person has — it’s whether or not that person’s life is consistent with how he lives it.”

Considering his inconsistency on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, this strikes me as an odd thing to say-especially if he is trying to persuade Evangelicals that he is just like Huckabee on the issues that matter to them.

Excerpts of the speech can be found here: Excerpts Of Governor Romney’s “Faith In America” Address

BTW, I am not arguing that his Mormonism would make him govern differently than, say, a mainline Protestant. Rather, the issue here is solely about how it affects his campaign.

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Friday, October 19, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

WaPo notes that Evangelicals Lukewarm Toward GOP Field, to which I say: why should evangelicals be any different than the rest of Republicans? Aside from the Ron Paul supporters who are so enthusiastic that they actually believe he is being under-polled by somewhere between 20 to 40 percentage points in some bizarre polling conspiracy, I would argue that there isn’t a candidate in the GOP field that really has generated broad (or even narrow) excitement.

Really, why else did Fred Thompson generate so much initial excitement for really no good reason except that he had a deep voice and had been on the teevee?

Meanwhile, speaking of evangelicals, Romney’s Mormon problem continues to be big enough that it is going to be a factor in the primaries (especially when combined with the fact that he just comes across as plastic and a flip-flopper on key issues). The DMN reports:
Dallas minister urges vote for a Christian, not Romney:

Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, said that Mormonism is a false religion and that Mr. Romney was not a Christian.

“Mitt Romney is a Mormon, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise,” Dr. Jeffress said in a sermon Sept. 30. “Even though he talks about Jesus as his Lord and savior, he is not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. Mormonism is a cult.”

Some in the large crowd began to applaud as Dr. Jeffress continued with his remarks.

One suspects that Jeffress isn’t the only one preaching such sermons.

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