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Was it cynical to ask Walker if Obama is a Christian? (Yes) Was it a valid political question? (Yes)

Was it cynical to ask Walker if Obama is a Christian? (Yes) Was it a valid political question? (Yes)

Perhaps Gov. Scott Walker should have just said, "Who am I to judge?"

In a way, it appears that this may have been what he was trying to say, or at least that's one reading of his problematic remarks to The Washington Post.

Or perhaps he should have just said, "Of course Barack Obama is a Christian. The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr., confirmed that Obama was baptized in Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago sometime during the early 1990s, although it doesn't appear that the church recorded the date. Some people think that it was in 1988, but no one is sure."

Republicans who are asked this gotcha question in the future will know that -- while the doctrinal specifics of Obama's faith remain a mystery, and he has never joined a church inside the DC Beltway -- this is a man who has testified, as follows:

So one Sunday, I put on one of the few clean jackets I had, and went over to Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street on the South Side of Chicago. And I heard Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright deliver a sermon called "The Audacity of Hope." And during the course of that sermon, he introduced me to someone named Jesus Christ. I learned that my sins could be redeemed. I learned that those things I was too weak to accomplish myself, He would accomplish with me if I placed my trust in Him. And in time, I came to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world and in my own life.
It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany. I didn't fall out in church, as folks sometimes do. The questions I had didn't magically disappear. The skeptical bent of my mind didn't suddenly vanish. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt I heard God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth and carrying out His works.

As David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network candidly put it: "That, ladies and gentlemen, is called a conversion experience."

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Short test for journalists: Label the cultural point of view in this commentary

Short test for journalists: Label the cultural point of view in this commentary

One of the big ideas here at GetReligion is that we live in an age in which many of our comfortable journalistic labels are becoming more and more irrelevant. They simply don't tell readers anything.

For example, there is this puzzle that I have mentioned before. What do you call people who are weak in their defense of free speech, weak in their defense of freedom of association and weak in their defense of religious liberty (in other words, basic First Amendment rights)? The answer: I don't know, but it would be totally inaccurate -- considering the history of American political thought -- to call these people "liberals."

There are other religious and moral puzzles out there on the religion beat, these days. What to do? When in doubt, don't label people. You ask them very specific questions, especially when dealing with religious issues, and you quote what they say.

With this in mind, consider the following slice or two of a short think piece. My question, for journalists who read this: What is the proper cultural label for the speaker? I will ID the speaker at the end.

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Should religious believers keep their fasting a secret?

Should religious believers keep their fasting a secret?

HAEVEN ASKS:

I’m beginning to fast and was wondering if I should hide it from people because of the verse that says to. I don’t know if I can tell people without the intent to show off.

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

We’re heading into Lent 2015, the annual season when Christians are most likely to undertake fasting, which is part of most religious traditions though now somewhat neglected in the West. For Christians, such times of abstinence from food are a spiritual discipline intended to foster communion with God, purification from sin, and love toward others.

Haeven is referring to words of Jesus in the “Sermon on the Mount” (Gospel of Matthew 6:16-18): “When you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Let’s unpack some of what New Testament experts tell us about this.

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NPR's Diane Rehm enters right-to-die debate, with 'Kellerism' assist from Washington Post

NPR's Diane Rehm enters right-to-die debate, with 'Kellerism' assist from Washington Post

Any list of National Public Radio superstars would have to include Dianne Rehm, who is, of course, a commentator and, thus, someone who is perfectly free to speak her mind. Her decision to use her clout on behalf of the "death with dignity" cause -- that's physician-assisted suicide, for those on the other side -- is a newsworthy development in this national life-issues debate.

So let's be clear that this post is not about Rehm and her right to speak out on this subject. It's about a Washington Post feature story -- yet another example of "Kellerism" evangelism -- about Rehm's highly-personal and passionate campaign on this hot-button issue. For a quick refresher on that "Kellerism" term, click here and especially here.

The key to the story is the pact that the 78-year-old Rehm had with her late husband, John, to help him die. She was not legally able to do that, as he neared the end of his fight with Parkinson's Disease. The Post report notes:

The doctor said no, that assisting suicide is illegal in Maryland. Diane remembers him specifically warning her, because she is so well known as an NPR talk show host, not to help. No medication. No pillow over his head. John had only one option, the doctor said: Stop eating, stop drinking.
So that’s what he did. Ten days later, he died.

The religion theme?

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The press coverage down in Alabama: We're all Hegelians now

The press coverage down in Alabama: We're all Hegelians now

Talk of history is all the rage these days. The “wrong side of history” has become a cliché used by everyone from President Barack Obama to advocates of same-sex marriage, usually to condemn those who do not believe as they do.

Little is new in our world, especially ideas. In an influential 1989 article published in The National Interest entitled “The End of History?”, Francis Fukuyama argued the advent of Western liberal democracy represented the end-point of human society. He did not mean a catastrophic end, but rather the culmination or highest point in its development. History would go on, but there would be no significant change in the economic, political and intellectual bases of the world order.

Fukuyama noted the most influential proponent of this world view had been Karl Marx. At one time declaring a belief in history was tantamount to calling oneself a Communist, or in polite society, a materialist.

Later that night they talked about it again. Leamas brought it up — he asked her whether she was religious. "You've got me wrong," she said, "all wrong. I don't believe in God."

"Then what do you believe in?"

"History."

He looked at her in astonishment for a moment, then laughed.

"Oh, Liz … oh no. You're not a bloody Communist?" She nodded, blushing like a small girl at his laughter, angry and relieved that he didn't care.

From "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" by John le Carré (1963) p 37.

Fukuyama observed that the “concept of history as a dialectical process with a beginning, a middle, and an end was borrowed by Marx from his great German predecessor, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.”

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Dear Time editors: Why couldn't Obama talk about his liberal Christian faith in 2008?

Dear Time editors: Why couldn't Obama talk about his liberal Christian faith in 2008?

Well, here is a real shocker. Not.

Still, this Time headline is precisely the kind of thing that creates water-cooler buzz here inside the D.C. Beltway:

Axelrod: Obama Misled Nation When He Opposed Gay Marriage In 2008

The key words in this story are, of course, "misled," "conceal," "modified," "evolving" and "deception." The word "lied" is not brought into play. Here is the top of the story, leading up to the soundbite that everyone will be discussing:

Barack Obama misled Americans for his own political benefit when he claimed in the 2008 election to oppose same sex marriage for religious reasons, his former political strategist David Axelrod writes in a new book, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics.

Axelrod writes that he knew Obama was in favor of same-sex marriages during the first presidential campaign, even as Obama publicly said he only supported civil unions, not full marriages. Axelrod also admits to counseling Obama to conceal that position for political reasons. “Opposition to gay marriage was particularly strong in the black church, and as he ran for higher office, he grudgingly accepted the counsel of more pragmatic folks like me, and modified his position to support civil unions rather than marriage, which he would term a ‘sacred union,’ ” Axelrod writes.
“I’m just not very good at bullshitting,” Obama told Axelrod, after an event where he stated his opposition to same-sex marriage, according to the book.

Now, three cheers for the Time team for using quoted material that cited the specific hook -- it's a religion hook, of course -- that led to this political decision.

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Who is calling who a 'crusader'? Obama enters a minefield at the National Prayer Breakfast

Who is calling who a 'crusader'? Obama enters a minefield at the National Prayer Breakfast

There is an old saying in baseball that "nothing good ever follows a walk."

In the world of religion, that's how I feel about references to the Crusades and the Inquisition. (Oh yeah, and comparing public figures to Adolf Hitler.) We are talking about very complicated and controversial historical subjects, here. It's hard to turn the Crusades and Medieval theological disputes (yes, some leading to combat) into modern one-liners.

President Barack Obama and his speech-writing team are learning about that right now, after he used the Medieval C-word in his address at this year's National Prayer Breakfast. Here is a key early slice of The Washington Post report:

... At a time of global anxiety over Islamist terrorism, Obama noted pointedly that his fellow Christians, who make up a vast majority of Americans, should perhaps not be the ones who cast the first stone.
“Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history,” he told the group, speaking of the tension between the compassionate and murderous acts religion can inspire. “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”
Some Republicans were outraged.

Note how the piece immediately turns this into a political story. That's refreshing, isn't it?

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Say what? Another revelation shreds the timeline in sad case of Bishop Heather Cook of Maryland (updated)

Say what? Another revelation shreds the timeline in sad case of Bishop Heather Cook of Maryland (updated)

First, a confession (as Great Lent approaches): I am an Eastern Orthodox Christian who lives in Maryland, which by definition means that I know many former Episcopalians. So from the beginning of the sad saga of the DUI Bishop Heather Elizabeth Cook, I have heard people trying to make sense of the timeline and trying to discern its impact -- spiritual, political and financial -- on the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.

The working theory: Cook was a legacy case, the daughter of a powerful local priest (a recovering alcoholic who was a pioneer in ministry to alcoholics). It appears that Cook was an effective parish pastor and then, during a decade as an administrator in the quiet and well-bred Eastern Shore Diocese of Easton, her work load pushed her deep into drink. Thus, the horrible 2010 DUI episode involving burning rubber, vomit, a fifth of whiskey and some marijuana.

But she received treatment and the Diocese of Maryland, without letting all of the voters know about that DUI thing, selected her as a bishop. Then perhaps the stress returned? Thus, the strange sermon on bad habits and safe driving and then the fatal collision with a cyclist. She has been charged with criminal negligent manslaughter, using a texting device while driving, leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in death and three charges of drunken driving. Bail: $2.5 million.

But now there is this timeline shocker, care of The Washington Post and several other sources, including former GetReligionista George Conger, who now writes for The Media Project. The Post story opens with this:

The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland suspected that Heather Cook -- now charged in the drunken-driving death of a Baltimore bicyclist -- was drunk during her installation festivities this past fall, a new official timeline shows. ...

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'Special pleaders,' church-state issues and the new Republican shape of the U.S. Congress

'Special pleaders,' church-state issues and the new Republican shape of the U.S. Congress

Good stories lurk in ideology-driven magazines and web sites on the religion beat, perhaps more so than with other fields.

For example, there’s often useful fare blended with the partisanship of Church & State, monthly house organ of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. This lobby and litigator closely monitors those it assails as “far-right religious conservatives,” provides some useful information and is always happy to brief reporters on its side of an issue.

Consider, for example, the cover story in Church & State’s current issue, “New Congress, New Challenges,” by assistant communications director Simon Brown. Republicans rode to victory on “fundamentalist support,” he says, so “2015 could be a cataclysmic year for church-state separation.” 

Stripped of the tendentious rhetoric and alarmism, Brown assembles some good tips.  As he observes, during the next two years the Republican-run Congress may revive hot-button religion bills that previously died in committee or passed  the G.O.P House but not the Democratic Senate. They would:

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