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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That U.S. Senate race in Bible Belt Tennessee: What matters more, Trump or cultural issues?

That U.S. Senate race in Bible Belt Tennessee: What matters more, Trump or cultural issues?

Let’s see. What was going on in America before public discourse went totally bonkers, once again?

Oh, right. The mid-term elections are coming up, with Democrats hoping to win enough seats in the U.S. Senate to put Mike Pence in the White House.

To the shock of just about everyone here in the three cultures of Tennessee (think Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville), this Bible Belt state has a real, live U.S. Senate race on its hands in 2018. This is what happens when Democrats are willing to nominate an old-guard politico who has a track record as an economic centrist, back in the days before religious, moral and cultural issues took complete control of American politics.

On top of that, megastar Taylor Swift has even jumped into the fight, with a blunt endorsement of an old, white guy, saying he is the best way to defend Tennesseans from a female candidate’s conservative beliefs about gender and sexuality.

In other words, it’s absolutely impossible to talk about the Tennessee U.S. Senate race without talking about religion and culture.

So, how did The Washington Post political desk do in its recent feature — “In deep-red Tennessee, Republicans are anxious about the U.S. Senate race“ — on this topic? Here is the overture, with the lede set right here in my back yard:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Jeanie Brakebill voted for President Trump. But when a conservative canvasser showed up at the 63-year-old’s door here recently, she confided that she had grown tired of Trump’s confrontational brand of politics and was leaning toward voting Democratic in the upcoming midterm election.

“I would vote for Bredesen, to help out Tennessee — even if it means giving Democrats the majority in the Senate,” said Brakebill, referring to Democratic Senate candidate Phil Bredesen.

The sentiments expressed by Brakebill and voters like her have raised fresh worries for Republicans in this deep red state, which overwhelmingly supported Trump in 2016 but where voters remain divided just weeks before a midterm election that could determine which party controls the Senate.

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Monday Mix: Get out the (faith) vote, clergy sex ramifications, Booker preaches, Catholic SCOTUS

Monday Mix: Get out the (faith) vote, clergy sex ramifications, Booker preaches, Catholic SCOTUS

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 believe in Jesus Christ AND I believe in liberal progressive values." NPR’s Jerome Socolovsky reports on faith groups working to get out the vote for the midterm elections.

The story features a progressive seminary whose leaders feel “called in the Trump era to motivate young voters.” No surprise, we’re talking about the Episcopalians.

In the heart of the Virginia Theological Seminary campus, a pub named after the year the flagship Episcopal seminary was established — 1823 — recently hosted a get-out-the-vote event.

The seminary registrar, Rachel Holm, was in the pub, driving home the importance of these midterms elections to the mostly 20- and 30-somethings in the crowd, and livening it up with a game of election trivia.

"So, what are the three topics millennial voters care about most when voting?" she asked.

"Themselves, themselves, themselves!' one of them shouted, as the others erupted in laughter.

Then, joking aside, Holm told them to make sure they understood the requirements for registering to vote in Virginia.

2. "Our people still do believe in God. But they don't believe in us." Wall Street Journal religion writer Ian Lovett tackles the response of parishioners to the ongoing Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal.

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Searing story on kidnapped Laotian child brides is religion free -- but look at the photos

Searing story on kidnapped Laotian child brides is religion free -- but look at the photos

In the current issue of Travel and Leisure, there’s a two-page piece about a luxury hotel in Luang Prabang, the old Laotian (until 1545) royal capital and one-time center of Buddhist learning. Today it’s Laos’ loveliest tourist destination and one of the prettiest spots in southeast Asia, located at the intersection of two rivers, with crumbling French architecture to add to the romance of the place.

What the travel piece doesn’t say is that this city, among with much of Laos, is rife with the cruel custom of bride-kidnapping. And so I was surprised to see an article about the darker side of Luang Prabang and places close to it on TheLily.com, a site about women curated by the Washington Post.

There, freelancer Corinne Redfern and photographer Francesco Brembati have combed the countryside to come up with a story of how this horrible custom is widely tolerated in Laos.

The key question for this blog, of course is this: Why is there so much religion in the photos with this story, and not in the news text itself?

It was just after 4 a.m. when Pa Hua discovered that her smiley, bookish daughter, Yami, was missing – her schoolbag still spilling out onto the floor from the night before; floral bedsheets a tangled mess by the pillow where the 11-year-old’s head should have been.

“I’d heard nothing,” Pa, 35, says. “I don’t know how it happened. We all went to sleep and when we woke up she wasn’t there.”

In the moments of devastation that followed, the police weren’t called. Neither were the neighbors. Posters weren’t printed and taped to the street posts, and nobody tweeted a wide-eyed school photo asking potential witnesses for help. Instead Pa sat sobbing with her husband on a low wooden stool in their kitchen, and waited for the family smartphone to ring. Six hours passed, and they didn’t move.

Eventually, Pa spoke up. “We’ll have to plan the wedding,” she said.

Child marriage may have been illegal in Laos since 1991, but it’s a law that offers little protection. Over 35 percent of girls are still married before turning 18 – a statistic that rises by a third in rural regions such as the vertiginous mountain lands of Nong Khiaw, where Yami’s family runs a small, open-fronted grocery store.

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Thinking about Christians in politics: 'Usual suspects' labels just don't work, do they?

Thinking about Christians in politics: 'Usual suspects' labels just don't work, do they?

Stop and think about the following for a moment.

What political label would you stick on a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox person who believed all of his or her church’s moral and social teachings, as they are being articulated in this day and age?

Let’s list some of the crucial issues. Abortion and related “life issues” — such as euthanasia — would have to be mentioned. Many Catholics, including people frequently called “conservatives” (take me, for example), would include the death penalty in the “life issue” list. Then there would be the defense of the sacrament of marriage, as defined throughout Judeo-Christian history, and the belief that sex outside of marriage — for gays and straights — is a sin.

Now, there are other issues that are commonly linked to a “whole life” approach to the public square — such as immigration, the environment, medical care, economic justice, racial equality, etc. Traditional believers in the ancient churches may debate the fine details of some of these issues, but my point is that it is often hard to stick conventional political labels on the conclusions reached by these Christians.

So, where do you put someone who is pro-life, and favors national health care (with conscience clauses built in)? This person is pro-immigration reform and leans “left” on the environment. She is a strong defender of the First Amendment — both halves of that equation. Are we talking about a Democrat or a Republican?

After the chaos of the past couple of weeks, this is a timely and newsworthy topic for a think piece. Of course, the “lesser of two evils” debates surrounding Donald Trump also fit into this picture. Thus, I saved a recent New York Times op-ed by the Rev. Timothy Keller — founder of the Redeemer Presbyterian network of churches in New York City — for this occasion. The double-decker headline proclaims:

How Do Christians Fit Into the Two-Party System? They Don’t

The historical Christian positions on social issues don’t match up with contemporary political alignments


Here is Keller’s overture:

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Old question from world of sports: Why avoid role of faith in lives of many great athletes?

Old question from world of sports: Why avoid role of faith in lives of many great athletes?

There is nothing new (or newsworthy) about athletes, in post-game interviews, saying things like this: “Most of all, I would like to thank God for the many blessings he has given me.”

Or even this: “First, I’d like to give praise to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Many superstars say this after victories. Many say things like this after defeat. The question “Crossroads” host Todd Wilken asked, at the start of this week’s podcast (click here to tune that in), was this: Do mainstream news reporters, when then here this, roll their eyes with skepticism?

The answer, I think, is, “Yes, they do.” And for others, the response is stronger than that: It’s either cynicism or sarcasm verging on hostility.

Why? Well, in many cases these sports reporters know that some of the athletes saying this are absolute jerks or hypocrites of the highest orders. Reporters know that some — no, not all — of these Godtalk superstars are not walking their talk.

So this acidic attitude tends to seep into lots of mainstream stories about the many, many, many religious believers who are newsmakers in college and professional sports.

But words are one thing. Actions are another.

Like what? Well, as is often the case, things get really messy when superstars are living lives that are genuinely countercultural when it comes to — you got it — sex.

Can you say “Tim Tebow”? I knew that you could.

When I was young, one of my heroes was at the center of similar controversies. That was Roger “Captain America” Staubach, a happily married, family-guy Roman Catholic.

Several years ago, M.Z. “GetReligion emerita” Hemingway wrote up a very similar case surrounding NFL star Philip Rivers. Her headline at The Federalist included a wonderful new culture wars term: “Fecundophobia: The Growing Fear Of Children And Fertile Women.

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Friday Five: Kavanaugh and more Kavanaugh, historic church closing, Indonesia quake, baseball

Friday Five: Kavanaugh and more Kavanaugh, historic church closing, Indonesia quake, baseball

As The Associated Press reports, the U.S. Senate voted 51-49 today to move forward with consideration of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

That means a final vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation could occur over the weekend, the AP notes.

Once again this week, the battle over the court’s future — riveted by Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault allegation against the judge — had plenty of religion angles.

Look for much more on that as we dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Speaking of Kavanaugh, Washington Post religion writer Michelle Boorstein has an interesting piece out today on how the fight over the judge is dividing his Catholic Church in D.C.

Another compelling angle from a Godbeat pro: The Atlantic’s Emma Green explores why some conservative women are angry about the treatment of Kavanaugh.

Other coverage that we’ve mentioned at GetReligion include Religion News Service’s focus on the Religious Left response to Kavanaugh and how an Oklahoma pastor’s sermon of Kavanaugh gained him not-so-positive notoriety.

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Azusa Pacific's shift on LGBTQ issues gets a round of boos from most media

Azusa Pacific's shift on LGBTQ issues gets a round of boos from most media

For the past month, we at GetReligion have been following a story at Azusa Pacific University, an evangelical institution about 25 miles east of Los Angeles at the base of the San Gabriel mountains.

A few weeks ago, the school’s administration lifted its ban on same-sex dating relationships, saying that LGBT students could be romantically involved on campus. (However, they were expected not to be having sex; a stricture that heterosexual students were also expected to observe). This caused much rejoicing among gay students and their allies and it was an unusual step for a conservative Protestant college, to say the least.

Then the school’s trustees stepped in and reversed that decision. The San Gabriel Valley Tribune, which has had the most complete coverage thus far, picks it up here:

Azusa Pacific University students linked arms and prayed for one another Monday in response to the university board’s decision to reinstate a ban on LGBTQ relationships late last week.

Two hundred students gathered in front of the Richard and Vivian Felix Event Center on Monday morning in support of LGBTQ students who may have been hurting as a result of the reinstatement of the ban. A clause banning same-sex relationships had been removed from the student code of conduct by administrators at the start of the semester but reinstated on Friday…

In time for the Aug. 27 start of the fall semester and following months of discussions between students and university leaders, Azusa Pacific had removed a section from its student conduct policy that outlawed LGBTQ relationships on campus. The altered language referenced a standing ban on pre-marital sex but dropped any mention to orientation.

When the APU student newspaper published an article on Sept. 18 about the move, the 119-year-old university received some kudos but significantly more criticism, especially from Christian media outlets and pundits.

At this point, the newspaper links to (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President) Al Mohler’s Twitter feed.

Headlines claimed the university had “caved,” “surrendered” and was “Losing ‘God First.’”

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RNS: Religious Left rallies to stop Kavanaugh. Religious Right sitting this one out?

RNS: Religious Left rallies to stop Kavanaugh. Religious Right sitting this one out?

Let’s have a short religion-beat test.

When a story is built on media contacts with the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalists, you are really with what part of the cultural and doctrinal part of the marketplace of American religion?

(Cue the think music)

I see that hand on a religion-news desk! These are outspoken churches on the Religious Left. The United Church of Christ is the elite flock that was home to President Barack Obama.

Now, would you be surprised to find out, on cultural issues, group’s such as the National Council of Churches, the National Council of Jewish Women and Muslim networks linked to the pink-hat Women’s March hail from the same basic zip code, in terms of moral, social and religious issues?

Now, what else do these groups have in common? Well, they are all, to be blunt, they are all tiny, in terms of the size of their flocks. However, they have lots of connections in the media-rich Acela Zone between Washington, D.C., and New York City. Odds are, when you see headlines that say “Religious groups” gather to protest this, that or the other, you are talking about these groups, often accompanied by progressive Catholic nuns dressed in pant suits.

What’s my point? Well, it is not that reporters should avoid covering them. GetReligion has been calling for increased coverage of the Religious Left — especially on religious issues, not just political issues — since we went online in 2004.

No, liberal believers matter. However, experienced reporters know that these groups are small and that portraying them as diverse, influential groups that represent mainline Christianity is, well, just about as fair as saying First Baptist Church, Dallas, and Liberty University are perfect voices for all of American evangelicalism.

That brings us to a very normal Religion News Service story with this headline: “After Senate clash, Kavanaugh nomination an occasion for prayer.” The overture:

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