Supreme Court

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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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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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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When a sermon goes viral: Pastor finds himself in middle of social media storm over Kavanaugh

When a sermon goes viral: Pastor finds himself in middle of social media storm over Kavanaugh

I don’t believe I’ve ever met the Rev. Bob Long, even though my time as religion editor for The Oklahoman overlapped with his tenure as pastor of a large United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City.

But I know his voice.

For years, I’ve heard Long on the radio, often while driving to work. Long is a mini-celebrity here in Oklahoma, known for inspirational radio messages that include cheerful music and a quick life lesson from the pastor.

“That’s something to think about,” he concludes each 60-second segment. “I’m Bob Long with St. Luke’s Methodist Church.”

This week, Long has gained notoriety for a different reason — for a sermon in which he put the face of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on his church’s big screens.

As The Oklahoman’s Carla Hinton (who succeeded me as religion editor in 2002) reported on Wednesday’s front page, a social media storm erupted with a tweet from a churchgoer who was not pleased with Long’s choice of optics.

The church posted both written and video messages from Long apologizing for the hurt feelings his sermon caused.

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Deacon Greg 'CBS' Kandra vents: USA Today sports said WHAT about Brett Kavanaugh?!?

Deacon Greg 'CBS' Kandra vents: USA Today sports said WHAT about Brett Kavanaugh?!?

I truly appreciate people who have the ability to show restraint in today’s crazy, heated world of social media.

Take, for example Deacon Greg Kandra, a former CBS News writer with 26 years, two Emmys and two Peabody Awards to his credit. He is now a permanent deacon in the Catholic Church, assigned to Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, a 3,000-member parish in Forest Hills, a Queens neighborhood on the north end of New York City.

Kandra has a blog called “The Deacon’s Bench” and it’s a great site to bookmark, if you want insights into everything from good preaching to trends in pew-level Catholic life.

At the same time, he has been known to offer commentary on news coverage of church events and trends. His credentials speak for themselves. Frankly, I wish he wrote about news issues — television news, in particular — more often.

Kandra showed as much restraint as possible in a recent post that ran with this dry, biting headline: “Great moments in journalism: USA TODAY’s botched column on Kavanaugh.

What happened? Kandra quotes several summaries of this train wreck, including this material from The Daily Caller:

A Friday USA Today article stating that Judge Brett Kavanaugh “should stay off basketball courts for now when kids are around” was re-edited the next day and the original tweet to the piece was deleted.

“The U.S. Senate may yet confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, but he should stay off basketball courts for now when kids are around,” USA Today sports reporter Erik Brady wrote in the piece which has since been changed to an opinion column.

“A previous tweet contained a statement that has since been edited out of a sports column,” tweeted USA Today on Saturday. “That tweet has been deleted. The updated opinion column and editor’s clarification are here.”

The result was what Kandra called a “shouting match on social media.” So much for the deacon’s quiet weekend.

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Friday Five: End of the World, Kavanaugh-Ford, virgins, young evangelicals, Hispanic Catholics, Jesus Lyft

Friday Five: End of the World, Kavanaugh-Ford, virgins, young evangelicals, Hispanic Catholics, Jesus Lyft

I don’t know. That music video just seemed appropriate this week.

Really, I try not to let headlines dictate my mood. I’m a Christian, and I truly believe that my hope is built on Jesus and his righteousness. But Thursday was tough.

Not only was there the all-day Kavanaugh-Ford hearing that epitomized just how divided our nation has become, but in my home state of Oklahoma, a hedge fund bought The Oklahoman, our state’s largest newspaper and my former employer.

Poynter.org described this depressing, cold-hearted scene:

Employees reported being alerted via email yesterday to a mandatory meeting at 10 a.m. Thursday. They sat through a 35-minute presentation about the sale and upcoming changes before being informed of the layoffs.

Publisher Chris Reen addressed the staffers and said those who'd been laid off had just been notified via email, and their firings were effective immediately.

The entire room then checked their phones, as the meeting disintegrated.

My first inclination was to cancel my subscription in protest. However, that would hurt the remaining journalists, so I won’t.

So with all of that in the background, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

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Kavanaugh agonistes: Only Fox News covered faith factor in this high-stakes drama

Kavanaugh agonistes: Only Fox News covered faith factor in this high-stakes drama

If you had any free time yesterday, I hope you were watching the political theater of the year with the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing of Brett Kavanaugh v. Christine Blasey Ford.

In the midst of all the riveting moments — and there were a bunch — in the back-to-back hearings, religion played a small role. Near the very end, Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy posed the penultimate question:

“Do you believe in God?” Kennedy asked the nominee.

“I do.”

“I’m going to give you a last opportunity right here in front of God and country,” said Kennedy, who then asked if three allegations were true. Kavanaugh answered no to each one.

“Do you swear to God?” Kennedy asked.

“I swear to God.” This was a Methodist from the South quizzing a conservative Ivy League Catholic. Those are very different backgrounds for two men who understand that Kavanaugh wasn’t simply on trial before a human court (even though folks at the hearing kept on saying it was not an actual trial).

But it was. And what Kennedy was doing during this exchange was saying that Kavanaugh was also standing before a much higher court than the U.S. Senate. And it was to that heavenly court he would ultimately answer were he lying about his past.

Yet, as I scanned innumerable comments on Facebook Thursday evening, I saw some folks who were triggered by Kavanaugh invoking his faith as part of his defense. There were several references if you knew where to look, starting with at the beginning of his opening statement (from a New York Times transcript), he referred to “sowing the wind” and how the country will “reap the whirlwinds.” That’s taken from a verse in Hosea 8:7: "They that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind."

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Kavanaugh-Ford: Trump's Supreme Court nominee references Catholic faith in dramatic hearing

Kavanaugh-Ford: Trump's Supreme Court nominee references Catholic faith in dramatic hearing

It’s a big, big news day.

But sorry, Associated Press: As dramatic as it is, today’s Kavanaugh-Ford testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee does not rise to the level of the John F. Kennedy assassination, the Challenger explosion or 9/11. Not even close.

As my friend John Dobbs put it on Twitter, “Are you insane?”"

Seriously, whoever is tweeting to AP’s 12.9 million followers might want to tone down the historical comparisons. Today’s hearing, it seems to me, is more comparable to past live TV news dramas, such as the Thomas-Hill experience of 1991 — only on steroids in the social media era.

That said, I’ll confess that I’ve been glued to the live feed on my computer all day, so much so that I’m rushing to type this post during a 15-minute break this afternoon.

Since this is GetReligion, we need a religion angle: Enter the uber-talented Emma Green of The Atlantic with a nuanced piece published Wednesday on why Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, “is a test for the conservative legal movement.”

Green’s lede:

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