Church & State

Let's play 'Spot the religious test' in some big news stories -- on left and the right

Let's play 'Spot the religious test' in some big news stories -- on left and the right

I realize (trigger warning!) that the U.S. Constitution is a rather controversial subject right now, with all the talk about U.S. Senate “majority votes” and tiny little red flyover states getting to have two senators, just like blue powerhouse states on the coasts.

Still, it’s a good thing for journalists in mainstream newsrooms to know a thing or two about this document, especially when covering the religion beat. I’m not just talking about the free press and freedom of religion stuff, either.

Yet another wild story in the White House has raised an issue that, #ALAS, I think we will be seeing more of in the near future. The key issue: Candidates for public service facing “religious tests” served up by their critics.

First things first: Ladies and gentlemen, here is Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

This leads us to several relatively recent news stories that raised questions about “religious tests.”

The key question: Can journalists recognize “religious tests” when they take place on the political left and the right?

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Tensions on Religious Right? Did you notice Trump's political kill shot on Rep. Mia Love?

Tensions on Religious Right? Did you notice Trump's political kill shot on Rep. Mia Love?

If journalists really want to grasp the importance of the splits that the Donald Trump era is causing among religious conservatives, there are some logical places to look.

Obviously, they can look at the world of evangelicalism and, yes, even inside the complex world of white evangelicalism. Please start here.

Then they can narrow that down by looking at the generational and gender tensions inside the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest non-Catholic flock.

Journalists can also look at what is happening in Utah — starting with Trump’s astonishing — well, maybe not — personal shot at Rev. Mia Love, the GOP’s only black woman in the U.S. House of Representatives. Here is the top of a report from The Salt Lake Tribune:

President Donald Trump praised Republicans for expanding their majority in the Senate on Wednesday, while offering harsh criticism to GOP House members — including Utah’s Rep. Mia Love — who failed to wholeheartedly embrace his agenda.

Trump said Love had called him “all the time” asking for help freeing Utahn Josh Holt, who had been imprisoned in Venezuela. But her re-election campaign distanced itself from his administration, the president said, which led to her poor performance in Utah’s 4th Congressional District.

“Mia Love gave me no love and she lost,” Trump said. “Too bad. Sorry about that, Mia.”

Part of what is going on in that Utah vote is the increasingly important rural vs. urban divide in American life (check out the voting pattens in that district). Also, see this recent New York Times feature about some of the nuances in this particular Congressional race.

By the way, Trump served up his political kill shot on Love while votes are still being counted in Utah’s fourth district.

So, back to the Utah context. This president is even less popular in the urban Salt Lake City area than he is in the rest of deep red, Republican Utah — where politics are soaked in the conservative, but more gentle, style of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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Sen. Ben Sasse stands out politically, and religiously, in the post-election GOP

Sen. Ben Sasse stands out politically, and religiously, in the post-election GOP

When journalists have sifted through the tea leaves and the ashes left by campaign 2018, they'll doubtless be watching a singular Nebraskan, Sen. Ben Sasse, 46. He'll be the intellectual leader of Donald Trump-wary conservatives in Congress who embrace the Republicans' 1856-2015 heritage. Sasse will be up for re-election in 2020 (unless he retires).

Though a Republican or independent presidential run seems most unlikely, Sasse bids for a voice on the nation's future with his October book "Them," subtitled "Why We Hate Each Other -- and How to Heal" St. Martin's Press). Showing off his chops as a Yale Ph.D. in American history (his dissertation treated President Ronald Reagan and the "religious right"), Sasse analyzes massive disruptions in the economy and the culture that he says will continue to erode Americans' confidence and sense of shared purpose.

As a remedy, he proposes reviving old-fashioned local communities. He also wants Americans to shun destructive media and decries the partisan furies that characterize the Trump era, though the book barely mentions the president or their disagreements. He appeals for vigorous public policy debates that respect the dignity of opponents as fellow citizens. The book’s handling of religious liberty disputes is especially important.

Future media write-ups should emphasize that Sasse is also the most interesting evangelical Protestant in Congress. He previewed “Them” in a 2017 commencement address when The Guy’s daughter graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (for the good stuff, skip ahead to 9:40). Sasse also spoke that year to the Gospel Coalition and in 2016 at Westminster Seminary — California. And here’s what Sasse said on the Senate floor about #MeToo and Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

Journalists will want to peruse his religiously-pitched 2016 interview with World, a Christian newsmagazine. Secular outlets have portrayed Sasse as sort of impressive but lamentably conservative, as in Mother Jones just before the 2016 election when Sasse declined to vote for Trump, slate.com in 2017 and Vanity Fair last month.

“Them” barely mentions a theme The Guy considers essential for a Sasse interview: What’s the role for religion, especially local congregations, in the healthy restored culture Sasse yearns for?

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Here we go again: U.S. Supreme Court gains even more power in America's culture wars?

Here we go again: U.S. Supreme Court gains even more power in America's culture wars?

The day after election day is, of course, a day for political chatter. Let’s face it: In Twitter America, every day is a day for political chatter.

This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to see a few religion ghosts in all of this media fog — hints at the religion/politics stories that will soon return to the headlines. Let me start with a few observations, as a Bible Belt guy who just spent his second straight national election night in New York City.

* I didn’t think that it would be possible for the U.S. Supreme Court to play a larger and more divisive role in American political life than it has post-Roe v. Wade. I was wrong. Do you see big, important compromises coming out of the new U.S. House and Senate?

* Maybe you have doubts about the importance of SCOTUS in politics right now. If so, take a look at the U.S. Senate races in which Democrats sought reelection in culturally “red” states. Ask those Democrats about the heat surrounding Supreme Court slots.

* So right now, leaders of the religious left are praying BIG TIME for the health of 85-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and, to a lesser degree, 80-year-old Justice Stephen Breyer. After two battles with cancer, activists inside the Beltway watch Ginsburg’s every move for signs of trouble. What will conservative religious leaders pray for?

* If Ginsburg or Breyer exit, one way or the other, what will be the central issues that will surround hearings for the next nominee? Do we really need to ask that? It will be abortion and religious liberty — again.

* If the next nominee is Judge Amy Coney Barrett (a likely choice with GOP gains in the U.S. Senate), does anyone doubt that her Catholic faith (“The dogma lives loudly in you”) will be at the heart of the media warfare that results?

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Was it anti-Semitism to invite a Messianic pastor to pray at a GOP rally, after Pittsburgh?

Was it anti-Semitism to invite a Messianic pastor to pray at a GOP rally, after Pittsburgh?

No doubt about it, inviting a pastor from a Messianic Jewish congregation to pray at a GOP campaign event is going to be controversial — under any circumstances.

Extending that invitation in the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre was an even riskier political move, one that raises all kinds of questions about the Republican leaders who organized a Michigan campaign stop for Vice President Mike Pence.

However, the first wave of coverage and partisan commentary has left me rather confused about some crucial facts in this story.

Let’s start with key sections of the basic Associated Press report — as it appeared online at The New York Times. For starters, I would have used a neutral term in this lede, such as “pastor” or “clergyman.”

WASHINGTON — A rabbi invited to pray at a Michigan campaign stop with Vice President Mike Pence on Monday referenced "Jesus the Messiah" at the event.

Rabbi Loren Jacobs of Messianic congregation Shema Yisrael offered prayers for the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre. Messianic Jews follow Jewish law but believe that Jesus is the Messiah.

The major denominations of Judaism reject Messianic Judaism as a form of Judaism, and Jacobs' participation was condemned by Jews on social media.

A Pence aide told The Associated Press that Jacobs was invited to pray at the event in suburban Detroit's Waterford Township by GOP congressional candidate Lena Epstein and said Pence did not know who he was when he invited Jacobs back onstage to offer another a prayer for the victims, their families and the nation. As Pence stood next to him, Jacobs ended his prayer by saying, "in the name of Jesus."

"He was not invited by the VP's office to speak on behalf of the Jewish community," the aide said.

OK, let me offer some initial questions and comments.

First, I think that it’s crucial to know who invited Jacobs to offer this prayer. Several news reports have assumed, or implied, that Pence offered this invitation — as opposed to being the headliner who arrived at the last minute after locals had made all the arrangements.

At the same time, it’s crucial to know when Jacobs was invited. Was his appearance set up before or after the Pittsburgh massacre?

Rally organizers were in trouble, either way, of course.

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Democrats after The Kiss: Did new left let enough 'blue dogs' run in 2018 midterms?

Democrats after The Kiss: Did new left let enough 'blue dogs' run in 2018 midterms?

So what does the famous Al and Tipper Gore snog-deluxe at the 2000 Democratic National Convention have to do with the upcoming midterm elections in 2018? And what does that question have to do with the Big Bang question that is always lurking in American politics, which is control of the U.S. Supreme Court?

Be patient with me here, because I can see the connections in my mind (and in my own political experience over recent decades). But I’m not sure if I can get them to make sense in 600 words or so. But that’s what I need to do, since these questions are connected to the content of this week’s “Crossroads” podcast. Click here to tune that in.

So let’s start with The Kiss.

Long ago, young Al Gore was one of the heroes of conservative Democrats everywhere — as in “blue dog” Democrats that lean left on populist economic issues and lean right on matters of morality and culture. In other words, Gore was a pro-life Southern Baptist guy when he was in the U.S. House of Representatives and an almost-pro-life guy when he first hit the U.S. Senate.

That made him the kind of Democrat that could get elected over and over in a culturally conservative state — think Bible Belt — like Tennessee. That was good for Democrats. Hold that thought.

But when Gore took his ambitions to the national level, the realities of Democratic Party life made him float over to the liberal side of things on issues such as abortion and the illiberal side of things on issues like religious liberty (I say that as on old-fashioned First Amendment liberal).

In terms of image, however, he made a great New Democrat partner for President Bill Clinton, who once flirted — in politics, that is — with conservative moral stances on a host of issues.

But then Clinton turned into a whole different kind of man in the public eye. To say the least.

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Time for next wave of election ink: So it's time to look for the elusive Catholic vote -- again

Time for next wave of election ink: So it's time to look for the elusive Catholic vote -- again

Election Day is upon us. You may have noticed what a big deal the midterms are given the extensive coverage and hype from both the networks and cable news channels over the past few weeks.

While the fight for Republicans to maintain control of Congress has been framed, of course, as a referendum on President Donald Trump’s first two years in office, there is also a religion angle — specifically a Catholic one) to examine. These elections could also serve as a litmus test for
American Catholics and whether they opt to go left or right. After all, Catholicism is the country’s single largest religious denomination, and the ultimate swing vote, although you wouldn’t know it from all the aforementioned news coverage.

Overall, the data is mixed on whether Catholics as a whole backed Trump or Clinton.

But there’s the key fact. There is no one Catholic vote. That’s a myth.

It’s that elusiveness that makes Catholics and the midterms a difficult story for news organizations to tackle. In a polarized world where loud voices on Twitter get lots of attention,
black and white issues and point-of-views reign supreme. There isn’t much room for gray.

Nonetheless, moral and religious issues like abortion, religious freedom and immigration could make the Catholic vote – even if split — an important factor in the midterms. While immigration, climate change, abortion and the Brett Kavanaugh hearings have gotten lots of attention this election cycle, the religious angle — specifically looking at Catholic candidates and voters — is what has been lacking from mainstream news coverage.

Let me stress: It isn’t that coverage has been devoid of religion. In the Trump age, evangelicals are the group news organizations like to focus on because so many of them backed the
president (see this tmatt update on that).

The Catholic vote has become even harder to pin down in recent years.

Catholics have not voted as a bloc since the 1960s when John F. Kennedy became the first, and to date the only, Catholic to win the White House. In recent decades, Catholics have been evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. The key? Look for information about how often a Catholics go to Mass.

Journalists should look at the nation’s political divisions and how they are akin to what we see in the current church. Catholics are divided among conservatives (of various kinds) and liberals (of various kinds) — which means there are a lot of people in between. As always, abortion and immigration remain hot-button issues.

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Big religion ghost: Would a 'blue dog Democrat' win Tennessee's U.S. Senate race?

Big religion ghost: Would a 'blue dog Democrat' win Tennessee's U.S. Senate race?

What, pray tell, is a “blue dog Democrat” these days? If you look up the term online, you will find several variations on what characteristics define this politically endangered species.

Growing up as a Democrat in ‘70s Texas, I always heard that “blue dogs” — especially in West Texas — were progressives on economic issues and conservatives on culture. Many were “populist” Texans left over from the old New Deal coalition. Eventually, it was crucial that many “blue dogs” were Democrats who angered Planned Parenthood.

Meanwhile, we had a term for politicos who were conservative on economics and liberal on cultural and moral issues. They were “country club” Republicans.

Here is some language from the website of the current Blue Dog PAC :

The Blue Dog Coalition was created in 1995 to represent the commonsense, moderate voice of the Democratic Party, appealing to mainstream American values. The Blue Dogs are leaders in Congress who are committed to pursuing fiscally-responsible policies, ensuring a strong national defense, and transcending party lines to do what’s best for the American people.

Ah, what do the words “mainstream American values” mean in a land dominated by digital “progressives” and Donald Trump? Are there moral or religious implications there?

The term “blue dog” showed up in a recent New York Times feature about the U.S. Senate race in Tennessee, the Bible Belt state that I now call home. (Click here for a previous post on a related subject.) Here is the Times headline: “A Changing Tennessee Weighs a Moderate or Conservative for Senate.”

In Times terms, of course, this is a race between a “moderate” Democrat, that would be former governor Phil Bredesen, and the “hard-line” Republican, Rep. Marsha Blackburn. As always, the term “moderate” is a sign of editorial favor.

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Monday Mix: Church vs. football, religion in schools, scandalized bishops, His (Islamic) Holiness

Monday Mix: Church vs. football, religion in schools, scandalized bishops, His (Islamic) Holiness

Welcome to another edition of the Monday Mix, where we focus on headlines and insights you might have missed from the weekend and late in the week.

The fine print: 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. "I think we can all thank the Lord for Saturday night services and TiVo." The Tennessee Titans played the Los Angeles Chargers at 8:30 a.m. CDT Sunday in London (they lost a heartbreaker).

In advance of the odd kickoff time, religion writer Holly Meyer of The Tennessean had a timely, interesting feature on the clash between Sunday morning church and football:

While the extra-early Titans game is atypical, it is not uncommon for late Sunday morning worship services to run past the usual noon-or-later kickoffs in the 17-week regular season.

Die-hard, church-going Titans fans devise game-day routines that ensure they can watch their team and worship their God.

2. "(T)here is more student religious expression today in public schools than probably anytime in the last hundred years." For two decades, Charles Haynes has been a go-to source for journalists (including myself) reporting on the intersection of religion and public schools.

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