Ken Woodward, et al: History behind Democrats losing some key faith ties that bind

Ken Woodward, et al: History behind Democrats losing some key faith ties that bind

It's for a deep, deep dive into my GetReligion folder of guilt, that cyber stash of items that I really planned to write about pronto, but then things (oh, like the post-election mainstream news media meltdown) got in the way.

I remembered this particular item because of my recent posts about NBC News and Politico coverage of challenges facing the Democratic Party, which has gone off a cliff in terms of its fortunes at the level of state legislatures (and governors' mansions) in the American heartland (and other places, too). Of course, Democrats are in trouble in Washington, D.C., as well -- but after some truly agonizing close losses.

To sum up those posts: Both NBC News and The Politico totally ignored the role of religious, moral and cultural issues in the current predicament facing the modern Democrats. That "pew gap"? Never heard of it.

But there are people who are thinking about that issue, such as Emma Green at The Atlantic. Scores of faithful readers let us know about the recent piece there that ran with this headline: "Democrats Have a Religion Problem." It's an interview with conservative evangelical Michael Wear, who served as former director of Barack Obama’s 2012 faith-outreach efforts.

For example: What does Wear think of the modern party's attempts to deal with pro-life Democrats, such as himself? Green states the question this way: "How would you characterize Democrats’ willingness to engage with the moral question of abortion, and why is it that way?"

Wear: There were a lot of things that were surprising about Hillary’s answer [to a question about abortion] in the third debate. She didn’t advance moral reservations she had in the past about abortion. She also made the exact kind of positive moral argument for abortion that women’s groups -- who have been calling on people to tell their abortion stories -- had been demanding.
The Democratic Party used to welcome people who didn’t support abortion into the party. We are now so far from that, it’s insane.

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Are Bible classes in public schools constitutional? The answer is complicated

Are Bible classes in public schools constitutional? The answer is complicated

I don't have a real problem with The Associated Press' coverage of a religion-related federal lawsuit filed against a West Virginia school district.

I mean, it's a threadbare account — roughly 400 words — but that's typical of AP news these days. At least this one makes an attempt to present both sides. 

However, the story does — IMHO — raise more questions than it answers. I'll elaborate below.

First, though, here's the lede:

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — A kindergartner's mother sued her public school system in West Virginia, saying a 75-year practice of putting kids in Bible classes violates the U.S. and state constitutions.
The woman, identified as "Jane Doe" in the federal lawsuit backed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said her child will be forced either to take these weekly classes at her Mercer County elementary school or face ostracism as one of the few children who don't.
"This program advances and endorses one religion, improperly entangles public schools in religious affairs, and violates the personal consciences of nonreligious and non-Christian parents and students," the suit said.
The school district said the courses are voluntary electives.

GetReligion readers are, of course, familiar with the agenda of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. It's no surprise at all that the organization has an issue with teaching the Bible in public schools.

But does that make the courses unconstitutional? Not necessarily.

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As it turns out, hijabs were the most obvious religion issue in Women's March

As it turns out, hijabs were the most obvious religion issue in Women's March

By now we’ve all heard about the Women’s March on Saturday that caused millions of pink-clad people to take to the streets around the world, even in Antarctica. (Even more impressive were the 2,000 people marching in -50º weather in Fairbanks. Now that’s dedication).

But where did faith fit in? Before the event, Religion News Service had a columnist assemble “a Christian packing list” for the march. Jewish Telegraphic Agency did a walk-up describing where two Jewish groups will organize and meet. 

On the day of the March, RNS had two people survey the religious women to be found on the mall, all of them with the religious left. Buzzfeed followed pro-life women and documented the less-than-enthusiastic reception they got. (I wrote about the controversy surrounding them last week.)

The lone mention about religion from the actual speakers at the Washington March was documented by New York Magazine, which broadcast a quote from Janelle Monae (in the above video) who plays mathematician Mary Jackson in the movie “Hidden Figures.”

Janelle Monáe started her speech at the Women’s March on Washington today with a history lesson. “I wanna remind you that it was woman that gave you Dr. Martin Luther King Jr,” she said. “It was woman that gave you Malcolm X. And according to the Bible, it was a woman that gave you Jesus.”

But the big religion topic that most media missed had to do with how one of the major symbols for the event was a woman swathed in an American flag wrapped to look like a hijab.

This intriguing column in the New York Times dealt with the March disintegrating into “a grab-bag of competing victimhood narratives and individualist identities jostling for most-oppressed status.” The writer wondered why Muslim women were one of the oppressed classes named in the “Guiding Vision and Definition Principles of the March” when Jewish and Latino women weren’t mentioned at all. Her explanation:

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Dr. Dawn Eden Goldstein has landed in her new theology gig -- in England

Dr. Dawn Eden Goldstein has landed in her new theology gig -- in England

At last, we have an official update on the status of former GetReligionista Dawn Eden -- by which we mean the former rock music journalist and headline writer superstar turned Catholic theologian Dawn Eden Goldstein.

The last time we checked in, Dawn had just received her doctorate in sacred theology -- magna cum laude -- from the University of St. Mary on the Lake (Mundelein Seminary). This caught the attention of The Chicago Tribune, since it was the first time in the university's history that a woman had earned a canonical (i.e. pontifically licensed) doctorate in theology.

We've known for some time now that Dr. Dawn had some kind of academic post pending, teaching in an official Catholic seminary, but couldn't talk about it since it was outside the United States and there were work-permit issues, etc.

Recently, Goldstein offered a long update, via her weblog. Here's the top

The Doctor is in ... England!
"I am currently awaiting confirmation of a job offer -- prayers, please!" Until now, that plea, posted on The Dawn Patrol last April, was the last bit of news I shared on my blog concerning my plans upon becoming the first woman to receive a canonical doctorate in sacred theology from the University of St. Mary of the Lake.
Today it is my joy to write of answered prayers. Since October, I have been a resident lecturer in theology at St. Mary's College, Oscott, which is the seminary of the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England. It is the largest seminary in the English-speaking world outside the United States (not counting the U.S.-operated North American College in Rome).

Although Oscott has long had women on staff and recently awarded the title of Professor to Church History lecturer and Director of Studies Dr. Judith Champ, my hiring marks the first time that the seminary has ever had a female theologian in residence.

Who is she teaching? That's a really interesting wrinkle in this story:

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Are faith, morality and culture issues haunting modern Democrats? (Round II)

Are faith, morality and culture issues haunting modern Democrats? (Round II)

There are two ways to think about the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), which focuses on the religion "ghosts" in some recent coverage of the modern Democratic Party's fortunes at the state and national levels.

First of all, there are some basic facts that I think all journalists can see.

The Democrats are way, way, way down when to comes to controlling state legislatures. The same thing is true when it comes to electing governors.

At the same time, the Republicans now control the U.S. House, Senate and the White House. But let it be noted that (a) there have been many close, close contests there and (b) Democrats easily control the states and cities that shape American public discourse, in terms of entertainment, higher education and news.

Democrats have some obvious demographic trends on their side -- with massive support among ethnic groups, the super-rich tech sector and the rapidly growing portion of the U.S. population that is young, urban, single and religiously unaffiliated.

Now, in my recent post ("NBC News on dazed Democrats left in lurch: Decline rooted in race, alone, or 'culture'?") I dug into a long, long feature that basically said the Democrats are having problems with working-class, heartland, white Americans for one reason and one reason only -- the party's history of fighting racism. The story alluded to vague "cultural" issues, but never mentioned, to cite on glaring omission, the role Roe v. Wade played in the creation of the Religious Right and the rise of the (Ronald) Reagan Democrats.

"Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I worked through all of that, including the fact that -- in the early exit-poll data from Donald Trump's win -- it appears that the "pew gap" remained in effect, favoring the GOP. What is the "pew gap"? Here is a chunk of my "On Religion" column about the 2016 election results:

The so-called "God gap" (also known as the "pew gap") held steady, with religious believers who claimed weekly worship attendance backing Trump over Hillary Clinton, 56 percent to 40 percent. Voters who said they never attend religious services backed Clinton by a 31-point margin, 62 percent to 31 percent. ...
Meanwhile, white Catholics supported Trump by a 23-point margin -- 60 percent to 37 percent -- compared with Mitt Romney's 19-point victory in that crucial swing-vote niche. Hispanic Catholics supported Clinton by a 41-point margin, 67 percent to 26 percent.
Clinton also drew overwhelming support from the growing coalition of Americans who are religious liberals, unbelievers or among the so-called "nones," people with no ties to any religious tradition. In the end, nearly 70 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans voted for Clinton, compared with 26 percent for Trump.

Note the two sides of that equation.

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Offering nuts and bolts of what preacher Jeffress said about building biblical walls

Offering nuts and bolts of what preacher Jeffress said about building biblical walls

Sometimes the best way to cover an address -- or a sermon -- by a very controversial figure is to set out to accomplish one basic, but essential task.

Just. Quote. What. Was. Said. 

In this case, if there are people who will be angered by this controversial Southern Baptist preacher's words, then quoting the text accurately and at length will probably make them angry. Can I hear an "Amen"?

At the same time, quoting his words at length -- in context, with minimal editorial framing -- will probably please the preacher's supporters. Of course, there are plenty of preachers who won't be happy with what journalists write, no matter what. That's just the way things go, sometimes.

This brings us to Sarah "Yes, she used to be a GetReligionista" Pulliam Bailey's quick take in The Washington Post on the pre-inauguration sermon by the Rev. Robert Jeffress, the lightning-rod (for pretty much everyone, including many young evangelicals) leader of the First Baptist Church of Dallas.

This sermon was delivered in the small sanctuary of St. John's Episcopal Church, across from the White House. It was not a major media event and, thus, it is significant that the digital version of the Post report ends with the verbatim text of the sermon. Bravo. 

After offering a lede that stated the obvious (but didn't drown readers in venom, like CNN) -- Jeffress has a "history of inflammatory remarks about Muslims, Mormons, Catholics and gays" -- Bailey launched into a combination of direct quotes and paraphrases that let Jeffress speak for himself. The political angles were highlighted, but not pounded into the reader's head with a mallet. Thus, readers learned that Jeffress:

... compared Trump to the story of the biblical leader Nehemiah who helped rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its walls after the people of Judah had been exiled from the land of Israel.

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Old story of Marvin Gorman, Jimmy Swaggart's onetime accuser, shows that faith details matter

Old story of Marvin Gorman, Jimmy Swaggart's onetime accuser, shows that faith details matter

Until just recently, you'd have to have been a rather deep-in-the-weeds religion nerd to remember Pastor Marvin Gorman, a pentecostal preacher who, like the much-more-famous Rev. Jimmy Swaggart, was once affiliated with the much more mainstream Assemblies of God. 

Gorman, 86, who passed to his rest on January 4 in New Orleans, was one of the first, in 1987, to formally accuse Swaggart of adultery, and he had the photographic evidence to support the charge.

As the New Orleans Times-Picayune captured it:

Rev. Gorman was brought down in an epic feud that sullied the Pentecostal movement three decades ago. In 1986, Swaggart, a fellow Assembly of God televangelist based in Baton Rouge, accused him of adultery. Swaggart also helped blow the whistle on Jim Bakker, an Assembly of God televangelist in Charlotte, N.C., for an extramarital affair with a church secretary.
In response, Rev. Gorman circulated photographs of Swaggart and a prostitute at an Airline Highway motel in Metairie, leading to Swaggart's downfall, and he sued Swaggart for defamation. He won a $10 million award, although the parties later settled out of court at $1.85 million.
By this time all three men's ministries were in ruins. Rev. Gorman declared bankruptcy, Bakker went to prison and Swaggart's empire collapsed.

Those of us in or around the Godbeat in those days know how tumultuous a time it was. But it was long, long ago, and the media could be forgiven for having moved on to the latest prosperity gospel preacher who's set to pray at Donald Trump's inauguration, or something else more contemporary.

I believe, however, that it's important to remember the lives and works, good or bad, of those who've labored in the vineyards of faith, and thereby hangs, I would also suggest, a journalistic tale. 

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Hysteria? CNN's one-sided obsession with Robert Jeffress goes way over the top

Hysteria? CNN's one-sided obsession with Robert Jeffress goes way over the top

Before any inauguration, media all over town are snooping about, hoping to get unusual stories that no one else is getting. I spent 16 years working in Washington, D.C., so I know the drill.

When CNN learned who was preaching the early morning pre-inauguration sermon to the Trump family, its piece on the lead preacher sounded more like Adolf Hitler himself was showing up. I am no fan of this particular Baptist preacher, but I also don't like journalistic attempts to nuke someone using every weapon in the advocacy journalism arsenal.

Just try to count the scare quotes in this one. Note that every possible alarming fact (yes, lots of them are valid) was thrown in as one more reminder that Donald Trump likes to surround himself with people not fit for polite company. Try to find any sign that the CNN team even considered seeking voices on the other side.

(CNN) A pastor with a long history of inflammatory remarks about Muslims, Mormons, Catholics and gays is scheduled to preach at a private service for President-elect Trump and his family on Friday, shortly before Trump takes the oath of office.
The pastor, the Rev. Robert Jeffress, is a Southern Baptist who vigorously campaigned for Trump during the final months of the presidential election and is a member of his evangelical advisory board. "I love this guy!" Trump has said of Jeffress. ...
Usually the Inauguration Day service draws little notice, much less controversy. But offering Jeffress such a prominent pulpit is likely to irk religious minorities, particularly Muslims, many of whom were already angered by the President-elect's stoking of suspicions about Islam during the campaign.

Earth to CNN: You do know that Trump could care less about whether he irks anyone?

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As Democratic support for Israel wanes, will American Jews abandon their political home?

As Democratic support for Israel wanes, will American Jews abandon their political home?

Buried in a new Pew Research Center poll on a broad-range of American political concerns is a finding that has the potential to radically scramble American Jewry's long association with the Democratic Party. Not surprisingly, the lightning-rod Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the root of this.

The finding? For the first time, it appears that Americans who are registered Democrats are as statistically likely to favor the Palestinians as they are Israel.

Ladies and gentleman, this is potentially big news -- assuming the polling is accurate.

Not because of the small number of Jewish voters who exist on a national scale relative to the overall number of registered American voters (Jews account for only about 2 percent of the entire American population).

But because of what this could mean for Jewish campaign contributions, Jewish political activism and Jewish voting in future presidential, congressional and other contests in New York, California, Florida and other states with large Jewish concentrations. (I'm referring here to non-Orthodox Jews; the 10 percent of so of American Jews who identify as Orthodox already largely support Republican politicians.) 

Political reporters at mainstream American news outlets, as far as I can tell, paid comparatively little initial attention to the survey finding. I suspect this is because of the avalanche of stories they've been producing on the outgoing Obama presidency and the incoming Trump administration.

Even Israeli and American Jewish outlets initially paid less attention to the Pew finding than I would have imagined, probably for the same reason cited just above.

Hey, religion reporters. Why not pick up the slack?

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