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Soros: He's invoked from DC to Malaysia. An anti-Semitic dog whistle? Atheist straw man?

Soros: He's invoked from DC to Malaysia. An anti-Semitic dog whistle? Atheist straw man?

OK, readers, it’s pop quiz time. My question: What do the following political players have in common; Franklin Graham, George Soros and the Koch brothers?

Did I hear you mumble “nothing,” other than gender and the aforementioned political-player designations?

Not a bad guess. But not the answer I’m looking for at the moment.

The commonality I have in mind is that they all serve as public boogeyman — names to be tossed around to convey a suitcase of despised qualities that need not be unpacked for opponents skilled in the art of in-group rhetoric.

Those on the left tend to think of Graham and the Kochs as despicable actors poisoning the political well with hypocritical religious justifications (Graham) or by employing their vast wealth to back libertarian, hyper pro-business, anti-tax, anti-regulatory agendas (the Kochs).

Those on the right tend to view Soros as an atheist billionaire, internationalist busy-body set on destroying what they view as rightful national norms for the sake of unrealistic democratic (note that’s with a small “d”) fantasies. In America, many conservatives see him as a fierce enemy of the religious liberty side of the First Amendment.

If you paid close attention to the soul-numbing Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation fight you may know that, unlike Graham and the Kochs, Soros’ name popped up at the tail end of that scorched-earth display political bloodletting — which is why I bring him up now. (President Donald Trump, as he has before, first mentioned Soros; Sen. Chuck Grassley disparaged Soros when asked about Trump’s comment.)

But first.

My point here is not to convince you of the rightness or wrongness of Soros or the others mentioned above. Frankly, I have strong disagreements with them all. Besides, love them or hate them, I’m guessing your minds are already pretty well made up about what level of heaven or hell they’re headed for come judgement day. So what chance at changing minds do I really have anyway?

Also, they're all entitled, under current American law, to throw their weight around in accordance with their viewpoints — again, whether you or I like it or not.

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Read it all: The New Yorker offers a stunningly good take on the 'Christian' rock wars

Read it all: The New Yorker offers a stunningly good take on the 'Christian' rock wars

First, here is yet another tmatt confession: I am so old that I attended one of the original “Jesus music” rock festivals held in Texas in the early 1970s. Then I went to Baylor University during the era when various branches of Word Records in Waco were releasing early albums linked to what would become Contemporary Christian Music.

There’s more. Anyone digging into the roots of “folk” and later “rock” music inside church doors will eventually hit a 1967 landmark — the “Good News” folk musical by Bob Oldenburg. Who played the role of the “skeptic” the first performances? That would be my big brother, Don, who was playing a ukulele before it was cool.

As a journalist, I have been covering the “Christian music” wars since the late 1970s and, of course, that topic ended up in my book “Pop Goes Religion: Faith in Popular Culture.” The key theme: CCM is music defined by unwritten rules about lyrics and the belief that all “Christian art” should, in reality, be evangelism in disguise.

Hold that thought. I wrote all of that to add punch to my praise for an almost unbelievably good New Yorker feature by Kelefa Sanneh that just ran with this epic headline:

The Unlikely Endurance of Christian Rock

The genre has been disdained by the church and mocked by secular culture. That just reassured practitioners that they were rebels on a righteous path.

It opens with a quotation that left me stunned. I have read shelves full of books about “Christian rock” and have never been clubbed over the head with these words.

Try to guess the minister who had this to say in 1957, addressing whether gospel music could be wedded to rock ‘n’ roll. This Baptist pastor from the South was blunt:

Rock and gospel were “totally incompatible,” he explained: “The profound sacred and spiritual meaning of the great music of the church must never be mixed with the transitory quality of rock and roll music.” And he made it clear which he preferred. “The former serves to lift men’s souls to higher levels of reality, and therefore to God,” he wrote. “The latter so often plunges men’s minds into degrading and immoral depths.”

Who said that? That would be the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Take it away, Aretha Franklin.

It’s hard not to quote every other passage in this must-read piece, which punches all the right buttons — from the copycat “Jesus is my boyfriend” style of worship music to battles over loud drums and heavy-metal guitars. Yes, U2 is in here. Ditto for Bob Dylan.

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Gay legislator and an evangelical prof struck a compromise: Los Angeles Times explains most of it

Gay legislator and an evangelical prof struck a compromise: Los Angeles Times explains most of it

Earlier this year, a homosexual California legislator produced a bill to halt any counseling efforts to help gays to not gay, getting a fierce reaction from local Christians as to what the real effects of this bill might be. 

I reported on this in April in a blog post asking why so few media were covering it.

The bill was killed at the last minute on Aug. 31. The Los Angeles Times had the best wrap-up of the behind-the-scenes machinations. This is a very complex issue, so it's important to pay attention to which points of view make it into the story and which ones do not.

The author of a high-profile measure to curb paid “conversion therapy,” which purports to change a person’s sexual orientation, said he is shelving his bill Friday in hopes of finding consensus with religious communities that vigorously opposed the proposal.

The bill by Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell), which would have designated paid “conversion therapy” services as a fraudulent business practice under the state’s consumer protection law, easily cleared prior legislative hurdles thanks to large Democratic majorities in both chambers, as well as a handful of Republican votes.

This is a very unusual piece of legislation; in effect, a bill eliminating what it believed to be consumer fraud involved in conversion therapy literature. 

But after religious groups assailed the proposal, calling it a threat to their right to practice their faith, Low went on a listening tour to meet with clergy across the state. Low ultimately decided to pull Assembly Bill 2943 before final approval in the Assembly, he said.

“I believe we are on the side of the angels on this issue,” Low said. “Having said that, in order to get it right, why wouldn’t we want to engage in meaningful, thoughtful, transformational relationships and conversations?”

This story is a much bigger deal it appears. This law was in the can, ready to be passed. But Low pulled defeat from the jaws of victory (at least in the eyes of those backing the bill) by realizing the evangelical Christian opponents might be onto something in terms of their First Amendment rights.

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In-N-Out boycott stories offer few details about the faith that undergirds the chain

In-N-Out boycott stories offer few details about the faith that undergirds the chain

I’ve never been to an In-N-Out Burger franchise, a California icon that is to the Golden State what Chick-fil-A is to the South.

Now tmatt has written about the splash the latter made upon its New York debut and the nasty tweets by the New Yorker about the chain’s “pervasive Christian traditionalism.”

But In-N-Out is not burdened with a religious tag, to anywhere near the same degree. Still, that has not kept certain Californians from trying to boycott the place.

Why? From the Los Angeles Times:

Anthony Grigore is a Democrat. But as he waited Thursday at an In-N-Out Burger in El Segundo for his meal, Grigore made it clear party loyalty would only go so far.

Just hours earlier, the head of the California Democratic Party called for a boycott of the famed burger chain after a public filing revealed that the company had recently donated $25,000 to the state’s Republican Party.

“Eating at In-N-Out is such a standard thing to do across California,” Grigore said, dismissing the boycott idea as a bit silly.

So not even all the Democrats are falling into line. The Times concluded:

By the end of the day, Democrats were distancing themselves from the idea and Republicans were enjoying a political feast, with some making big lunch orders to show their support for the chain and posting photos on social media.

So, what is this place? There is a lot of clever writing in this article and we finally get to the religion angle midway down the story.

The eatery was founded by Harry and Esther Snyder in 1948. The company has a reputation for maintaining strong Christian beliefs and puts references to Bible verses in its packaging.

Huh?

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Monday Mix: Vatican bombshell, John McCain's faith, Bibles at Marriott, blue Texas and more

Monday Mix: Vatican bombshell, John McCain's faith, Bibles at Marriott, blue Texas and more

Talk about a busy weekend for religion news. That was a big one!

Fortunately, we've got this new feature called the Monday Mix to help you catch up on the flurry of developments. As we explained last week, we'll focus in this space on headlines and insights you might have missed from the weekend and late in the week.

We'll mention this again, too: Just because we include a headline here doesn't mean we won't offer additional analysis in a different post, particularly if it's a major story. In fact, if you read a piece linked here and have questions or concerns that we might address, please don't hesitate to comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion. The goal here is to point at important news and say, "Hey, look at this."

Three weekend reads

1. "This will be a nuclear war between the Catholic left and right." GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly offered an opening primer on the former Vatican ambassador to the United States' weekend bombshell.

Then, earlier today, a post from my colleague Julia Duin delved deeper into media coverage of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò's claim that Pope Francis covered up abuses by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and should resign.

That coverage includes the New York Times' highly skeptical front-page story this morning with the headline "Critic of Pope In Open Revolt Vs. the Vatican."

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Got those religious-liberty news blues: Nuns with charge cards buying birth control?

Got those religious-liberty news blues: Nuns with charge cards buying birth control?

So what has been going on, for the past couple of years, with the Sisters of the Poor and the federal health-care mandate requiring them, and many other religious institutions, to offer their employees health-insurance plans covering sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives?

Journalists: Does anyone believe that these regulations require elderly nuns to go to a nearby drug counter, whip out the religious order's charge card, and purchase "morning-after pills"?

Is that what Attorney General Jeff Sessions meant when, in a recent speech on the rising tide of disputes about religious liberty, he said the following (which is typical of the language he has been using)?

"We’ve seen nuns ordered to pay for contraceptives. We’ve seen U.S. Senators ask judicial and executive branch nominees about their dogma -- a clear reference to their religious beliefs -- even though the Constitution explicitly forbids a religious test for public office."

What does he mean when he says the nuns have been ordered to "pay for" contraceptives, and lots of other things that violate the doctrines at the heart of their ministry?

So many questions! Was he talking about nuns using a charge card at the pharmacy? Or was Sessions discussing a requirement that they use ministry funds to offer a health-care plan that includes these benefits, requiring them to cooperate with acts that they believe are evil?

It's the latter, of course.

So what are readers to make of the language in the overture of this recent Religion News Service story (it does not carry an analysis or column label)?

(RNS) -- Standing beneath the cast aluminum statue of Lady Justice in the Department of Justice’s Great Hall, Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a bold statement last week: “Many Americans have felt that their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack.”

He spoke of Catholic nuns being forced to buy contraceptives. (Actually, the Affordable Care Act required the nuns to cover the costs of contraceptives in their employees’ health plans.)

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When the queen dies: What, precisely, will cause England to slide into grief?

When the queen dies: What, precisely, will cause England to slide into grief?

I guess it is sort of strange to complain about a heavy emphasis on business and economics in a story published at BusinessInsider.com.

Nevertheless, I found myself wanting to know more after reading the recent feature that ran with this headline: "The death of Queen Elizabeth will be one of the most disruptive events in Britain in the past 70 years." Yes, I sense a religion ghost here.

I have read several reports about the planning that is going on behind the scenes, as British leaders brace themselves for this seismic shift in their culture. There are so many details to describe and, yes, lots of them are linked to economics and trade.

England's currency will need to change, along with all passports. God Save the Queen will, of course, return to God Save the King. Police uniforms will be tweaked. Old questions will resurface about the status of the monarchy and the British Commonwealth. The public events linked to her death will cost billions of pounds.

Check out this overture. It may even help to read it out loud, to get the reverent tone right:

Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of this Realm and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, is not going to live forever.

Since ascending to the throne in 1952, the monarch has seen 13 prime ministers serve Britain and lived through another 13 US presidents. She's now 92. At some point -- not for many years yet, we hope -- Queen Elizabeth II's reign will come to an end.

But what happens then? For at least 12 days -- between her passing, the funeral and beyond -- Britain will grind to a halt. The chaos will cost the UK economy billions in lost earnings. The stock markets and banks are likely to close. And both the funeral and the subsequent coronation will become formal national holidays, each with an estimated economic hit to gross domestic product of £1.2 billion to £6 billion($1.6 billion to $7.9 billion), to say nothing of organisational costs.

Yes, that's a lot of money and that's part of the story.

However, there are even larger issues lurking in the background that, frankly, have to do with history and national identity.

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'Church vs. Church': New York Times delves into the biblical debate over immigration in Iowa town

'Church vs. Church': New York Times delves into the biblical debate over immigration in Iowa town

"Church vs. Church in a Town Split by an Immigration Raid," said the headline on a front-page article in Wednesday's New York Times.

That certainly sounds like a religion story.

To its credit, the Times highlights the faith angle right up top and devotes a fair amount of ink to it. There's much to like about this in-depth report. But for a reason I'll explain in a moment — a reason not entirely the newspaper's fault — the piece failed to satisfy me completely.

Before I get into that, though, let's start with the strong lede:

MOUNT PLEASANT, Iowa — In the days after immigration agents raided a dusty concrete plant on the west side of town, seizing 32 men from Mexico and Central America, the Rev. Trey Hegar, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, got into an impassioned argument on his Facebook page.

“The Bible doesn’t promote helping criminals!!!!” a Trump supporter wrote.

Mr. Hegar answered with Leviticus: “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

The Trump supporter came back with the passage in the Gospel of Mark about rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and added for good measure: “Immigration laws are good and Godly! We elected our leaders and God allowed it.”

President Trump’s immigration crackdown has been promoted with biblical righteousness by senior members of his administration, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And in heartland communities where the president is popular, the crackdown is often debated — by supporters and critics alike — through the lens of Christian morality.

After offering background both on the Iowa town and the national immigration debate, the Times returns to the Bible question:

Mr. Hegar, a Texan who served four years in the Marines before attending a Presbyterian seminary, finally asked the Trump supporter he was debating on Facebook: “Which Scripture do we obey?”

He answered himself: “The one from Jesus to ‘Do unto others’ is what we choose.”

That's good stuff — the kind of excellent detail found in the best journalism.

But here's what kept me from loving this story: There was no strong voice on the other side.

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Trump-loving evangelicals at it again, showing affection for 'self-styled top U.S. pimp' — but really?

Trump-loving evangelicals at it again, showing affection for 'self-styled top U.S. pimp' — but really?

Is it clickbait?

Or is it quality journalism?

I'm talking about Reuters' viral story — surely it came across your social media feed — with the tantalizing headline "In age of Trump, evangelicals back self-styled top U.S. pimp."

Wait, all evangelicals support the pimp!? Well, maybe not all of them. But the international wire service reports as fact that "many conservative Christian voters" do:

PAHRUMP, Nev. (Reuters) — He styles himself as America’s best-known pimp, a strip-club owner who runs multiple brothels and looks set to win a seat as a Republican in the Nevada legislature with the blessing of many conservative Christian voters.

Meet Dennis Hof, whose political rise reflects fundamental changes in electoral norms that have roiled the Republican Party and upended American politics during the era of President Donald Trump.

“This really is the Trump movement,” Hof, 71, told Reuters in an interview at Moonlite BunnyRanch, his brothel near Carson City in northern Nevada that was featured on the HBO reality television series “Cathouse.”

“People will set aside for a moment their moral beliefs, their religious beliefs, to get somebody that is honest in office,” he said. “Trump is the trailblazer, he is the Christopher Columbus of honest politics.”

What evidence — besides the quotes from Hof himself — does Reuters offer that "many conservative Christian voters" back the pimp?

The news organization quotes one pastor who voted for Hof:

When news broke that Hof had won the nominating contest for a state Assembly seat on June 12, evangelical pastor Victor Fuentes said he closed his eyes and prayed.

He did not ask God to deliver Nevada and the Republican Party from Hof, the thrice-divorced author of “The Art of the Pimp” who campaigned as the “Trump of Pahrump.” Although Christian groups have long rallied against the state’s legal brothel industry, Fuentes was willing to overlook Hof’s history as a champion of the flesh trade and gave thanks for his victory.

“People want to know how an evangelical can support a self-proclaimed pimp,” Fuentes said in an interview at his home in Pahrump, an unincorporated town of 36,000 people that is the largest community in the sprawling, rural district where Hof is favored to win in November’s general election.

He said the reason was simple. “We have politicians, they might speak good words, not sleep with prostitutes, be a good neighbor. But by their decisions, they have evil in their heart. Dennis Hof is not like that.”

The pastor said he felt Hof would protect religious rights, among other things.

Besides Fuentes, Reuters names two other evangelicals — a married couple — identified as willing to overlook Hof's profession.

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