Video 1: Christian engagement in politics

This is the first video in the Christian Engagement in Politics series.  I apologize for the rough nature of the video.  I’m still learning how to do the editing.  Please let me know what you think about both the content and the video formatting.

If you are interested in the Audi and Wolterstorff book mentioned in the video, you can get it through Amazon.

 Religion in the Public Square: The Place of Religious Convictions in Political Debate (Point/Counterpoint: Philosophers Debate Contemporary Issues)




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New Series: Christian Engagement in Politics

By Dr. Darrin Hanson (aka “Professor Knowsome”)

Over the past couple months I had the opportunity to teach an adult education series at Geneva Campus Church in Madison, WI.  I was asked to lead a series entitled “Christian Engagement in Politics”.  The impetus for the was the then upcoming election in November of 2012.  The church leadership wanted to help the church members think through what it meant to “think Christianly about politics”.

The first Sunday was an overview of what we would be discussing the rest of the series and jumped in with a couple controversial questions.  The first question was: Should Christians be engaged in politics at all?  If so, how?  Should the participation be through the church or as individuals?  To get the discussion rolling, I posed three competing viewpoints:

  1. Christians are called to be salt and light in the world.  In the modern world, this is very difficult to accomplish outside of politics.  The Church, which serves as the organizational body for Christians, should spearhead this.
  2. Politics is an inherently dirty business and Christians should have nothing to do with it.
  3. Individual Christians should be engaged in politics, but not the Church.  When the Church becomes directly involved, it loses some of its moral authority in the community.
Obviously, there are two strong views and one in-between view.  What also should be obvious is that these are not the only three options.  But each of these carries certain implications that should be fleshed out.
The first viewpoint supposes an activist Church–one that takes the lead in trying to transform society.  This is a common perspective in classical Reformed and modern (US) Baptist thought.  (I will provide more details on the theological perspectives in a future post.)  Often the idea stems from the belief that it is the Church’s responsibility to prepare the world for the return of Christ.  Others base Christian activism on a very immediate concern about contemporary cultural degradation and the difficulty of raising godly children in this environment.  There are, of course, other reasons to encourage an activist Church that we don’t really have time to get into.
But there are some important assumptions with this first viewpoint.  There is an assumption that the Church, as an institution, should act as a single institution.  While this is easy to understand in the Roman Catholic Church, it becomes more complicated in Protestant denominations.  One could think of each denomination as a separate entity that would act individually.  Given the wide variety of political views in the variety of denominations, one can imagine a cacophony of political noise claiming the “Christian voice”.
This first viewpoint also assumes the appropriateness of Church involvement in the political realm, if only because it is necessary for social change.  This is hardly an uncontroversial position.  Politics is a dirty business and it is difficult for anyone to get involved and not get some dirt on them.  This is even true of churches and most church leaders with whom I’ve spoken who are directly engaged in politics themselves are keenly aware of these dangers.  Even if one stays clean in politics, it is difficult to maintain the image in the public of having stayed clean.  So, those who call for direct Church institutional engagement in politics are rating the importance of that engagement highly enough to take the risks.  According to this view, the Church can’t be the salt and light of the world while remaining hidden from public view in an arena as important as politics.  The engagement in politics is a mission that comes with a heavy investment.

The inherent dirtiness of politics is what drives the second viewpoint.  From this perspective, the Church cannot help but be negatively influenced by political participation.  I know some strong Christians in the US who refuse to even vote because they are so convinced that the entire system is that corrupt.  Historically, this perspective can be found in the Anabaptist tradition.  This tradition is concerned for the sanctity of the Church and that even the appearance of political influence will sully the the view held of the Church even if it does not actually sully the Church members.

The third viewpoint is one of many middle ground perspectives.  It encourages political engagement by individual Christians, but not as a Church institutionally.  The rationale for this is that it is important to be engaged in the political realm, but politics will inevitably dirty the reputation of any institution engaging in it.  Individuals are more likely to come away unscathed.  An additional consideration is that individuals who happen to disagree with the Church’s political positions might not be able to separate the Church’s political messages from its spiritual ones.

As I said before, these are not the only three possible perspectives.  The point of using these three is simply to get our mental juices flowing.    So, in summary, here are a few questions to think about:

  • What does it mean for the Church to be “salt and light” in the political world?
  • Can the Church or individual Christians engage in politics without being corrupted by it?  Even if they aren’t corrupted, can they avoid the appearance of being corrupted?
  • How does engaging in politics affect the Christian witness?



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My Personal Webpage

Hi All.  I’m currently teaching at the University of Wisconsin, which is why you haven’t seen as much of me lately.  (Well, teaching, and running two consulting businesses…).  Since the semester is almost over, I have posted a small, very bad, personal webpage over at the Wisconsin website.  If I continue teaching there, I will make it better.  But, for now, it is what it is.

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My election-eve prediction, for what little it’s worth

by Dr. Darrin Hanson (aka “Professor Knowsome)

I predict that the nation-wide popular vote will be too close to call, but that it won’t matter because President Obama will win a clear Electoral College victory.  I think Obama sweeps the Great Lakes states (except Indiana) and Romney sweeps the South.  The final Electoral College count will be Obama 281 and Romney 257.

We’ll know in (hopefully) 36 hours how right or wrong I was in my predictions.  Note that Obama could lose 10 Electoral College points I’m predicting he’ll get and could still win the election.  That means he could lose Wisconsin (10), Minnesota (10), Nevada (6), Iowa (6), or New Hampshire (4) and still be fine.  If I’m wrong on Ohio, Michigan, or Pennsylvania, then Obama could be in big trouble.  Of course, if Romney loses Florida, North Carolina, or Virginia, then it’s probably all over for him.


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Evaluating Romney’s Vice Presidential Options

by Dr. Darrin Hanson (aka “Professor Knowsome)

People keep asking me to do this for them, so here it goes.  For what it’s worth, these are my thoughts on the most talked-about people on the so-called “veep shortlist”:


The Favorites

Tim Pawlenty 

Gov. Pawlenty is what you might call the “super-safe choice”.  No one really dislikes him, but no one gets too excited about him either. He comes from a working class family (contrast with Romney), is an evangelical Baptist (contrast with Romney), and is generally likeable even if not charismatic (contrast with Romney).  In spite of barely winning election as governor o fMinnesota twice, he is generally well-received in his home state.  He would not alienate the conservative Republican base but would not overly offend independent voters either.

Basically, no one has a problem with him, except for what may be one significant issue: Pawlenty’s another white guy.  The GOP really needs to get away from its image of being the party run by white men.  It isn’t demographically sustainable for much longer.  Pretty soon, the large majority of voters who are not white men will start asking questions.


Rob Portman  

Sen. Portman is another safe pick, but perhaps a more substantive one.  He is impressively popular in Ohio, and might be just popular enough to swing that state Romney’s way.  As the former head of the Office of Management and Budget, there are few elected politicians in Washington who understand taxing and budgeting issues as well as he does.  In a debate with Vice President Biden, Portman might make Biden look like a little kid.  In essence, he’s the “grown-up” pick.

The downside with Portman is that he may be a little too similar to Romney.  Portman, too, is a white man.  Portman also is the son of a successful businessman, with the added opportunities that affords.  Portman’s policy strengths are also in economics and business.  Social conservatives are also wary of Portman’s credentials on their issues.  A problem Portman has differs from Romney is baggage from George W. Bush.  Portman was a Bush guy, and worked for him in a number of capacities.  The Obama team is licking their chops at the chance to bring up Bush as much as possible in this election.


John Thune

I know a lot of you are asking who this is and how I could possible put him in the top tier of candidates.  Sen. Thune represents South Dakota.  His claim to fame nationally is beating then Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.  Just by doing that, he became something of a hero in the GOP.  Thune is generally well-liked and well-respected in Republican circles.  He is a by-the-book conservative without any areas of heterodoxy of which I am aware.  He is one of the most knowledgeable politicians in Washingtonon energy policy, and generally would make the Republican base happy.  He would especially please the evangelical Christians, who feel like they have been taken for granted lately.  Thune’s open Evangelical worldview would go a long way to alleviate discomfort among Evangelical Republicans about Romney’s Mormon faith.

There honestly isn’t much down-side to Thune, which is why I put him in this top category.  The biggest problem is that he is, again, a white guy.  He’s a boring pick, but the Democrats would have a hard time making him look like a bad guy.

The Less-Favored Favorites

Bobby Jindal  

(Full disclosure–I have had meetings with Gov. Jindal on a couple of occasions and am authentically impressed by him.  Hopefully this won’t color my evaluation.)

Gov. Jindal of Louisianais the archetypal “policy wonk”.  His knowledge of policy issues is almost encyclopedic.  To be honest, it’s almost scary.  There are very few politicians who can make most public policy professors look bad, but Jindal definitely does.  If his political career goes awry, he can jump into academia very easily.  No one could accuse him of being another Sarah Palin.  Jindal is also not another white guy, being an Indian-American elected to a state in the South.  The conservative base of the Republican Party generally likes him.  He supports conservative issues and frequently out-debates liberals in doing so.  He is also, arguably, one of the most successful governors in the country.  Given that he governor ofLouisiana, that is really saying something. These would all be positives in a potential Romney Vice Presidential pick.

Here, from my perspective, is Jindal’s big negative.  Jindal is horrible at giving speeches.  I mean really bad.  He seems incredibly uncomfortable saying words in front of an audience that are pre-written.  He seems much more comfortable in debate situations, but even here he runs into problems.  If he were debating in front of a group of college professors (such as myself), then he would be tremendous.  The problem is that he is not good at translating his vast knowledge into language that a general audience can understand.  That is probably not good for someone running for national office.


Paul Ryan 

Picking Rep. Ryan would make a lot of Tea Partiers happy, especially the ones focused on budget issues.  Ryan is the bulldog in the House of Representatives who every year proposes the Republican budget that goes nowhere.  He would energize a large portion of the base and might even bring along some libertarian-leaning independents.  Ryan is also very well-spoken and generally leaves people with a positive image after hearing him.

But I think Ryan would turn into the whipping boy of the campaign.  The Democrats would have a field day with him, attacking him on things such has wanting to take money away from Medicare and Social Security, thus hurting the elderly.  Your personal likeability can only take you so far when you are constantly being accused of trying to take money away from grandma.


Chris Christie  

Gov. Christie is another potential candidate that would energize the base.  It isn’t because he is particularly conservative (how conservative can you be as the governor ofNew Jersey?) but because he is very blunt.  He will tell you exactly what he thinks and do it in a way that gets attention.  In that respect, he is similar to Vice President Biden, and a debate between the two would be entertaining, if nothing else.

But the comparison with Biden is where we run into trouble.  Biden knows a lot more than Christie and is better at explaining it.  I think Biden would make Christie look almost as bad as Biden made Sarah Palin look in 2008.  There is also the problem that Christie might lose the support of the conservative base once they learn his specific views on a lot of issues.


Marco Rubio 

Sen. Rubio gets a lot of attention.  He is Latino, so that might siphon off some Latin American votes from Obama.  Rubio grew up working class. He is well-spoken and good looking.  He is popular in his swing state ofFlorida.  He gives members of the Tea Party warm fuzzies all over.  In these respects, he could be considered the “anti-Romney” in Republican circles.

What’s the problem?  He lacks experience.  We also don’t know that much about him.  No one is quite sure what may come out if he is vetted for the Vice Presidency.  People are afraid of a Sarah Palin repeat performance.


The Long Shots

Condoleeza Rice 

The former Secretary of State is the first person on this list with foreign policy expertise and experience.  That is somewhat astounding when you are talking about a running mate for a presidential nominee with no foreign policy experience.  Normally if your candidate lacks experience in foreign policy, the vice presidential candidate has to have it.  Think about it.  Joe Biden for Obama.  Dick Cheyney for G.W. Bush.  Al Gore for Bill Clinton.  Condi Rice is the only person on this list so far with foreign policy experience.  (Someone might argue that Portman does as well, but his experience is limited to commerce, so I don’t count it.)  She is also neither white nor a man.

But, Secretary Rice will not get the nod.  At least I would be shocked if she did.  There might be a riot on the floor of the Republican convention if the veep spot is filled with someone who is admittedly “moderately pro-choice”.  She also has the “Bush” label on her, so that could also hurt in the general election.


Kelly Ayotte 

I honestly don’t know much about Sen. Ayotte, except that, she seems to be a down-the-line conservative Republican, which is surprising given that she is from New England.  Being relatively new to the Senate, she lacks any real experience, having spent most of her governmental career as a prosecutor and state attorney.  Again, picking her might give voters flash-backs to Palin, except that I imagine Sen. Ayotte comes across as more intelligent and thoughtful.


Nikki Haley 

Nikki Haley is the second governor of Indian descent elected in the United States(the first being Bobby Jindal).  She is a Tea Party favorite and comes across very well in interviews.  She would definitely make the ticket look diverse.  She is a hero among those who want stricter immigration law enforcement, as both a strong advocate of those views and the daughter of immigrants.  However, I think we might again venture into Sarah Palin territory here.  Gov. Haley arguably has less experience than Palin did, even if she comes across as more intelligent than Palin in the media.


Jon Hunstman 

As I told a number of my friends (although I don’t remember if I ever said it on this blog), if the Republicans were smart, they would nominate Huntsman.  He has foreign policy success.  He has domestic policy success.  He was a successful governor.  And, if the Obama team tries to attack him on his positions, he can retort, “Then why did you hire me to be ambassador toChina?”  A lot of Democrats I know authentically like Hunstman more than they like Obama, even though ideologically Huntsman is clearly a Republican. In many ways, if the GOP was going to nominate a Mormon candidate, Hunstman would have been the smarter choice.  (But I would never accuse the electorate of either party of being particularly smart.)

So, here’s why Huntsman won’t get the nod for VP:  1) Demographically, he looks way too much like Romney (I think they are even distant cousins).  2) Huntsman used to work for the Obama administration, which makes him unpalatable to most die-hard Republicans.  3) I have friends who know both families well, and apparently Romney and Huntsman don’t like each other at all.


And, with that, I am officially out of ideas about who might end up as Romney’s running mate.  If you have any more ideas, please comment or email me (especially if I missed someone obvious).

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Sorry I haven’t been around in a while…

Yes, I know I haven’t been around in a while.  Life got really busy and the blog took a back seat.  I am also trying to figure out what to do with it as far as focus.

In the meantime, I do want to mention that my friend over at Intellectual Christian Geek has a new blog, Intellectual Christian Academic.  So far it’s an interesting read for those of us in academia.  I disagree with a lot of what he says, but that’s the nice thing about it.  We can disagree and still be friends.  I don’t think there will be much political stuff on this blog, even though he is a political science professor.  (I’m sort of hoping he starts an “Intellectual Christian Politics”.)

He tends to write a lot about the challenges facing universities.  For example, he writes about how academic structure disincentivizes good teaching and why college costs so much.  It is interesting reading and I think most of it is accessible to a broader audience (you don’t need a Ph.D. to understand what he’s talking about).

So, as I figure out what I’m doing with this blog, I encourage you to scrounge about to see what others are doing.  Since Intellectual Christian Geek was kind enough to plug me when I first got started, I’m returning the favor and giving him some props on his new endeavor.



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Video lesson: What is government?

by Dr. Darrin Hanson (aka “Professor Knowsome)

This is the first video lesson in my Introduction to US Government course.  (Hopefully all the technology works.) It addresses the first, fundamental question, “What is Government?”

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One Christian’s look at the Separation of Church and State

by Dr. Darrin Hanson (aka “Professor Knowsome)

This is the first in my “One Christian’s look at…” series.  I figured I’d jump right in with a tough issue, but one that might indicate my thinking on a lot of other issues.

Doing a Biblical analysis of the separation of church and state is tricky at best.  In the Old Testament, the church and state were intimately intertwined and kings were regularly chewed out by prophets.  In the New Testament, church and state were two separate entities, clearly distinguishable, and frequently in conflict.

A lot of how one positions oneself on the separation of church and state will be determined by whether one focuses on the Old or New Testaments.  I lean strongly toward emphasis on the New Testament in this area for a few reasons.  First and foremost, I do not see any Biblical evidence that the United States, where I live, is God’s chosen nation.  The relationship between God and Israel was a special and unique one.  Israel was, in many respects, a theocracy.  The main set of laws was handed down directly by God.  My current living situation does not mimic this.  I see a much stronger analogy between the US and Rome in its relationship to Believers.  (If you disagree with me on this set of assumptions, then you will clearly disagree with this post’s conclusions.  I’m fine with that.  I really am.  I think disagreement can be healthy, and force both sides to think more clearly about important issues like this.  Please keep reading, and you can provide a comment with links to sources with other perspectives that you think I should look at.) Continue reading

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Coming out of the Christian Closet

After six months of working on this blog, I decided to change things up a bit.  That’s right, I’m coming out of the closet–the Christian closet.  I originally wanted to make this blog something of a introductory guide to politics without a political or ideological slant.  Given that I don’t know of anyone who is doing something similar, I thought I would have at least a small audience of people who wanted to learn about politics without the ideological underpinnings or assumptions of previous knowledge that wasn’t there.  Basically, the original idea was to provide an introduction to politics course that was available to a wide audience.  That was Professor Knowsome, v1.0.  Having developed only a small audience, I tried something else. Continue reading

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Now Santorum is the Romney alternative

by Dr. Darrin Hanson (aka “Professor Knowsome)

I suppose it was bound to happen.  Rick Santorum is now the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney in the GOP presidential race.  While most people (including myself) were surprised at how well Santorum did, my friend Mark over at Intellectual Christian Geek was kind enough to explain it to me and give me permission to try to explain it to all of you (he’s getting married and moving in a few months and has not been able to blog frequently himself).

Mark explains that the key to Santorum’s recent success, especially relative to Gingrich, has had more to do with geography than anything else.   Continue reading

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