God and politics in Indy

andrecarsonI wrote last week about The Indianapolis Star's failure to cover or mention the fact that a candidate running for a local congressional seat in a March 11 special election would be the second Muslim member of the House if elected. A GetReligion reader in our comments pages noted that the newspaper faced the difficult role of writing for a public that "is not the most tolerant in the republic." My response was that a difficult situation and audience should not prohibit or prevent a journalist from covering an essential aspect of the election. Case in point is the Star's coverage Monday of the same candidate's Islamic faith.

The reporter Robert King does a tremendous job of covering all of the difficult issues, which is not a surprise because King is an excellent reporter and shows a skillful hand at exploring the political and religious minefields that are involved in this story:

Andre Carson's greatest political asset may be his grandmother's name, but one of his biggest liabilities is proving to be her funeral.

That's because his family gave a spot in the parade of dignitaries who eulogized Congresswoman Julia Carson to Louis Farrakhan, whom Jewish leaders consider one of America's leading anti-Semites, gay rights activists consider a homophobe and who famously referred to white people as "devils."

In recent weeks, Andre Carson has been reassuring Jewish leaders here and in Washington that Farrakhan's appearance wasn't his idea. He has spoken publicly about his distaste for discrimination, homophobia or racism of any kind. He has talked repeatedly of his desire for unity. But the Farrakhan episode also called attention to something that went largely unrecognized before -- that Andre Carson is a Muslim and that, if elected March 11, he would be Indiana's first Muslim representative in Congress and only the second in U.S. history.

The story is long and appropriately thorough. All sides of the story are presented, and as a reader and a voter I came away from the piece feeling very informed and satisfied that other voters were equally informed. The story doesn't inflame passions, but rather, encourages a healthy discussion of religious issues.

On the flip side of the race, King wrote Tuesday about Carson's Republican opponent Jon Elrod and his opposition to the efforts of religious conservatives in Indiana to amend the state's constitution to make gay marriages, which are already illegal, unconstitutional. The gist of the story is that Elrod is not your typical Republican: jon elrod

Socially conservative Republicans look at Jon Elrod's position on gay marriage and question whether he is true to his party.

Democrats look at Elrod's suburban, almost rural upbringing and question whether he is fit to represent an urban congressional district. And others look at Elrod's life -- an amateur stage actor and former rugby player who studied abroad in London -- and note that he hardly seems a typical Indiana lawmaker, much less a Hoosier Republican.

This congressional race defies stereotypes. How often is it that the Democratic candidate is the candidate accused of associating with the anti-Semitic, "homophobe" who called white people "devils?" And how often do you see that candidate's Republican opponent facing criticism from his own party for not supporting efforts to make gay marriage in the state unconstitutional?

King goes into Elrod's religious background and his lifelong involvement with the United Methodist Church. King quotes him in the story saying that his view on marriage comes from the writings of C.S. Lewis. Essentially he believes the government should stay out of the business of regulating marriage. King also studied theology for three years and is not far from a master's degree.

I wish King had dug deeper into Elrod's own personal theology and how it affects his other views, particularly on living in the city. The story briefly mentions that he attends a downtown Indianapolis church, but that's about it.

There's a great political and religious story playing out in Indianapolis, and I am certainly enjoying it.

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