Politics

OK, I'll ask The New York Times: Any faith issues lurking in firestorm about Netanyahu speech?

OK, I'll ask The New York Times: Any faith issues lurking in firestorm about Netanyahu speech?

Hang in there with me, because I am going to ask what I freely admit could be a very silly question.

As you may have noticed, people here in the land of the Beltways, and in New York City, of course, are melting down as they argue about Speaker John Boehner’s decision to invite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to address Congress. How big an issue is this across the nation? I don't know, but it's a big deal here.

My question is about religion (#DUH) I am aware that doctrinally liberal, oh, Episcopalians are highly likely to be liberal politically, especially when compared with doctrinally conservative Anglicans. The same thing is true with, let's say, doctrinally liberal Lutherans and doctrinally orthodox Lutherans. Or Baptists. Or Methodists. You can see this perfectly obvious point.

Now, I know how to connect the doctrinal dots in these cases, how, for example, doctrines on sexual morality lead to political views that point left or right. What I'm struggling with is understanding the patterns in this case -- the Netanyahu wars. Consider this passage from a report in The Forward, on the Jewish left:

As the Israel lobby kicked off its meeting, Netanyahu jetted into town after proclaiming that he speaks “for the Jewish people” on Iran -- a claim that drew an unusually harsh critique from pro-Israel stalwart Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat.
“(Netanyahu) doesn’t speak for me on this,” Feinstein told CNN. “I think it’s a rather arrogant statement. I think the Jewish community is like any other community, there are different points of view. I think that arrogance does not befit Israel, candidly.”

Understood.

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Why the whole 'Is President Obama a Christian?' controversy just won't die

Why the whole 'Is President Obama a Christian?' controversy just won't die

This week's "Crossroads" podcast focuses on the Frankenstein question in American public life that has left journalists shaking their heads and muttering, "It's alive, it's alive!"

I am referring, of course, to the whole Gov. Scott Walker and the "Is President Barack Obama a Christian?" thing. Then that media storm -- click here for my previous post -- led into the silly "Does Scott Walker really think that he talks with God?" episode.

Then again, am I alone in thinking that some rather cynical political reporters are creating these monsters and trying to keep them alive? Whatever. I remain convinced that Obama is what he says he is: A liberal Christian who made a profession of faith and joined the United Church of Christ, a denomination that has long represented the left edge of free-church Protestantism.

Anyway, host Todd Wilken and I ended up spending most of our time talking about the subject that I am convinced is looming behind the whole "Is Obama a Christian" phenomenon, especially this latest flap with Walker. Click here to listen in on the discussion.

Believe it or not, this brings us to a discussion of a question that quietly rumbled through the Southern Baptist blogosphere the other day: Forget the question of whether the 21 Coptic Christians who were beheaded by the Islamic State should be declared as Christian martyrs? Were they actually Christians in the first place?"

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Scott Walker’s church is as interesting an American story as Walker himself

Scott Walker’s church is as interesting an American story as Walker himself

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, 47, is facing new scrutiny as the flavor of the month in Republican presidential politics.  Among various disputes in play, he’s an evangelical Protestant and thus needs to be prepared for skeptical questioning about religion and pesky  “social issues.”           

While in London, Walker was asked if he’s “comfortable with” or believes in evolution. He said “that’s a question politicians shouldn’t be involved in one way or another.” Skewered for ducking, he quickly followed up with a vague faith-and-science tweet.  He also ducked when asked whether President Obama “loves America” after Rudolph Giuliani raised doubts about that, and then again when asked if the President is a fellow Christian.

Walker would be a Preacher’s Kid in the White House, the first since Wilson, so reporters will be Googling a Jan. 31 Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel piece on this, datelined Plainfield, Iowa  (population 436).

When Scott was young his father Llewellyn was the pastor of Plainfield’s First Baptist Church on -- yes -- Main Street and a town council member.  Llewellyn was also a pastor in Colorado Springs, Scott’s birthplace, and Delevan, Wisconsin, where Scott completed high school.

The father, now retired, served in the American Baptist Convention (now renamed American Baptist Churches USA), which has a liberal flank but is largely moderate to moderately evangelical.  The Journal-Sentinel missed that the current Plainfield pastor endorsed the 2009 Manhattan Declaration, which vows bold Christian opposition to abortion, assisted suicide, human cloning research, and same-sex marriage.

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Now we're talking big news: ISIS attacks museums (plus Christians and other believers)

Now we're talking big news: ISIS attacks museums (plus Christians and other believers)

The story began with reports in "conservative" and religious media, which, tragically, is what happens way too often these days with issues linked to religious liberty and the persecution of religious minorities (especially if they are Christians).

Earlier in the week I saw this headline at the Catholic News Agency: "Patriarch urges prayer after at least 90 Christians kidnapped in Syria." The story began:

With reports circulating saying that ISIS forces have kidnapped at least 90 Christians from villages in northeast Syria, Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan said prayer is the only possible response.

“Let’s pray for those innocent people,” Patriarch Younan told CNA over the phone from Beirut Feb. 24. “It’s a very, let’s say, very ordinary thing to have those people with such hatred toward non-Muslims that they don’t respect any human life,” he said, noting that the only reaction to Tuesday’s kidnappings is “to pray.”

Alas, none of these believers were cartoonists. However, as the days went past the numbers in these distressing reports -- especially this soon after the 21 Coptic martyrs video --  began to rise.

I kept watching the major newspapers and, while I may have missed a crucial report or two, I did see this crucial story from Reuters -- always an important development in global news -- that represented a major escalation of the coverage, with several crucial dots connected. Do the math.

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Godbeat progress? Yes, the White House summit on violent extremism drew lots of ink, but ...

Godbeat progress? Yes, the White House summit on violent extremism drew lots of ink, but ...

I ended my first post last week by urging readers to pay attention to the media coverage generated by the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism. If you did, you know that the gathering generated more reporting, analysis and opinion than any of the week's other events. That was as it should be. Because as head GetReligionista Terry Mattingly opined, Muslim-linked terrorism in general, and the Islamic State in particular, is the "biggest religion story in the world, right now."

Will all the scrutiny focused on the issue lead to an upsurge of attention to the broader coverage of religion? More on this below. But first a snapshot of the week that was for those who did not keep up.

Summit coverage tended to focus as much on what President Barack Obama did not say as on what he did say.  Critics blasted the president for not directly linking recent attacks in Copenhagen, Paris and elsewhere to some murderous impulse they argue lies at the heart of Islam. If you do not define the problem precisely, you have no hope of overcoming it, this line of reasoning maintains. Supporters argue that the president is playing it smart both diplomatically and militarily by not loudly proclaiming Islamic theology and mainstream practice the sole cause of the violence. Why pick a fight, insists this side of the debate, with all the world's approximately 1.5 billion Muslims and Muslim-led governments, whose cooperation is needed, when the problem is just a fanatical fringe?

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#OMG! Mother Teresa and the revenge of the religious evangelicalists! Or whatever...

#OMG! Mother Teresa and the revenge of the religious evangelicalists! Or whatever...

Oh my. How time flies when there is lots of work to do.

Has it really been a decade plus since sociologist Christian Smith published his infamous Books & Culture essay that ran under this grabber headline?

Religiously Ignorant Journalists
In search of Episcopals and evangelists.

As you would imagine, that piece received quick attention from the new-born GetReligion.org and we have pointed readers to it several times, including this 2010 post by GetReligion emeritus M.Z. Hemingway which noted an interesting, and sadly not that unusual, grammatical innovation in the following NPR passage:

Some 3,000 evangelical Christian Cubans attend an open-air service in Havana to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their public service in 1999. Evangelism is among the fastest-growing religions in communist -- and formerly atheist -- Cuba.

Now, that first reference to "evangelical" is fine. But the second one? Clearly, that was supposed to say "evangelicalism." Thus, as MZ noted:

... It's clear that this is a copy editor or copy-editing problem. And certainly the industry struggles to hire editors who are both technologically savvy and literate. But, as the reader who submitted this notes, this is embarrassing. Evangelism is not a religion. Evangelicalism is a movement within Christianity and evangelism is the preaching of the Gospel of Christ.

What do you know? Four years later and NPR still hasn't fixed the vague headline: "Cubans Flock To Evangelism To Fill Spiritual Vacuum." Uh, that is still "evangelicalism."

Now, I have a new reason to bring this issue up, yet again. We will get to that in a moment. First, here is a flashback to the original Smith essay, which opened like this:

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Living on a prayer: Presidential contender's God talk mocked

Living on a prayer: Presidential contender's God talk mocked

If you're interested in social media's influence on 21st century political reporting, a scholarly paper by CNN's Peter Hamby contains excellent insight.

Published in 2013, the 95-page report is titled "Did Twitter Kill the Boys on the Bus?: Searching for a better way to cover a campaign."

Among the issues Hamby explores: the incessant snark — in 140 characters or less — that characterized media coverage of the 2012 presidential campaign.

Speaking of snark, Political Wire publisher Taegan Goddard unloaded a big ole slab of cheese Tuesday on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a potential Republican presidential candidate.

Click the Onion-esque link, and Goddard makes light of Walker's inability to provide “a copy/transcript of all communications with God, the Lord, Christ, Jesus or any other form of deity.”

Strangely, though, not everyone on Twitter shared Goddard's sense of humor.

Eventually, Goddard cried uncle.

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What are the odds? Dr. John Willke as seen by his foes (and a few pro-lifer friends)

What are the odds? Dr. John Willke as seen by his foes (and a few pro-lifer friends)

Before we consider the mainstream news obituaries for the man who, for millions of activists, is best known as the father of the modern pro-life movement, let's pause and consider the top paragraphs of The New York Times obituary for one Margaret Sanger.

TUCSON, Ariz., Sept. 6 -- Margaret Sanger, the birth control pioneer, died this afternoon of arteriosclerosis in the Valley House Convalescent Center. She would have been 83 years old on Sept. 14. ...
As the originator of the phrase "birth control" and its best-known advocate, Margaret Sanger survived Federal indictments, a brief jail term, numerous lawsuits, hundreds of street-corner rallies and raids on her clinics to live to see much of the world accept her view that family planning is a basic human right.
The dynamic, titian-haired woman whose Irish ancestry also endowed her with unfailing charm and persuasive wit was first and foremost a feminist.

Now here is the question: Might the gatekeepers of news back in 1966 have considered -- at the very top of the story, in the lede -- making some kind of reference to famous Sanger quotations about race and eugenics drawn from her public writings and remarks? You know, such as this passage on the negative effects of excessive philanthropy:

Our failure to segregate morons who are increasing and multiplying … demonstrates our foolhardy and extravagant sentimentalism …

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That must-read think piece: The Atlantic listens to the voices of the Islamic State

That must-read think piece: The Atlantic listens to the voices of the Islamic State

After reading (finally) Graeme Wood's much-discussed cover story at The Atlantic -- "What ISIS Really Wants" -- it seems to me that he is saying there are two people who are dead wrong when it comes to evaluating the religion component in the campaign to create the Islamic State. These two people, of course, have followers.

First of all, there is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi himself, who has been declared the leader of the caliphate that is at the heart of the Islamic State's claim that it's approach to Islam is just and true and that all faithful Muslims must embrace it or be declared as apostates. Truth be told, there are a few million Muslims who agree with him, but millions and millions of Muslims who disagree.

The other person who is wrong, when it comes to ISIS, is President Barack Obama, who has famously stated that "ISIL is not Islamic." Like the views of the self-proclaimed caliph, this is a absolute statement that draws support for many people, including some Muslims in the West, but is rejected out of hand by many, many other Muslims -- including the leaders of ISIS.

This brings me to the first of several passages in the Wood piece -- which is a work of analysis, not news reporting -- that I believe should be taken seriously by journalists who are trying to cover this debate. The ISIS leaders insist, he notes:

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