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What is an 'evangelical Roman Catholic'?

Merry Go RoundNow this is going to be tricky. Let's see if I can tiptoe into another post on media coverage of the Mitt Romney campaign without setting off a new tsunami of comment-board warfare about Mormonism. That's going to be hard, since The Washington Post's story on which I would like to comment ran with this headline: "Romney's Mormonism Attracts More Scrutiny ... and a Whisper Campaign." The second half of that headline refers to a dumb move by an Iowa staffer for Sen. Sam Brownback.

Here's the news hook, providing yet another sign that the Mormonism story is -- sadly -- not going to go away until Romney finds a way to satisfy the questions of many (but never all) of the evangelical leaders yanking strings connected to the GOP machine:

In an e-mail obtained by The Fix, former state representative Emma Nemecek, the southeastern Iowa field director for Brownback's presidential campaign, asked a group of Iowa Republican leaders to help her fact-check a series of statements about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including one that says: "Theologically, the only thing Christianity and the LDS church has in common is the name of Jesus Christ, and the LDS Jesus is not the same Jesus of the Christian faith."

Clearly, if a staffer wants to fact-check statements about Mormon doctrine he or she should ask Mormon leaders in Iowa and experts in the Romney campaign. The staffer can also seek information from mainstream religious bodies -- check seminaries and missions offices -- that have serious, informed, hopefully respectable debates with mainstream Mormon leaders.

But what is a campaign staffer doing getting involved in that kind of issue in the first place?

However, most of this is -- sadly -- another trip on the same political and journalistic merry-go-round.

What caught my eye in this story by reporters Chris Cillizza and Shailagh Murray was the following linguistic innovation, which I sure hope is not a sign of things to come:

... Brownback has publicly taken on Romney over the abortion issue -- insisting that Romney's conversion to an anti-abortion-rights position is more political positioning than personal evolution. (Both men spoke to the National Right to Life Convention in Kansas City, Mo., late last week.)

But Romney's faith has not been a topic of contention for Brownback -- a former Methodist who has become an evangelical Roman Catholic -- until now.

Say what?

What, pray tell, is an "evangelical Roman Catholic"? I assume that this is not the same thing as a Roman Catholic evangelist, a combination of words that makes sense.

And, while we are at it, shouldn't the story have said that Brownback is a former United Methodist? Last time I checked, that was a mainline Protestant denomination that contained millions of evangelical Christians, but certainly would not, as a whole, be called "evangelical" by most outsiders.

I realize that the word "evangelical" is very hard to define, and this is a topic that comes up here at GetReligion from time to time. Click here for a helpful essay on this topic at Wheaton College's Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals, a place where you will find evangelicals who know plenty about their own history.

I also realize that Time earned jeers from the GetReligionistas and many others when the editors included Father Richard John Neuhaus, a Roman Catholic priest, and Rick Santorum, a Catholic layman who was in the U.S. Senate at that time, in their list of the 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America. It seemed that they were political evangelicals, whatever that means.

So here we go again. Perhaps this is an issue that will have to be settled by the committee that governs The Associated Press Stylebook. It's bad enough that "fundamentalist" has become a meaningless word that gets tossed around by journalists who do not know what they are talking about. Now we have people writing about "evangelical Roman Catholics"?

The last thing we need is yet another journalistic merry-go-round on the religion beat. So let me ask this again: What in the world is an "evangelical Roman Catholic"?

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