Evangelicals and Jews: Religion & Politics report has a thoughtful profile on famous Orthodox leader

Evangelicals and Jews: Religion & Politics report has a thoughtful profile on famous Orthodox leader

Some time ago, there was an opening for a religion reporter-like person to work at something new on the Washington (DC) landscape: A John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics. It is named after the former U.S. senator from Missouri who is also an Episcopal priest.

I didn’t know any of the folks who were hired at the center, but recently I stumbled across its site and hit upon some intellectually meaty think pieces. For example, there’s a piece on newly confirmed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos by someone who appears to understand Calvinism and why DeVos probably isn’t a Calvinist at all. There’s a piece on President Donald Trump and “militant evangelical masculinity” by a Calvin College professor.

But what really interested me was another piece; this one on “How an Orthodox Rabbi became an Unlikely Ally of the Christian Right.” It begins:

We are in a third world war,” said Shlomo Riskin, slamming his fist on the table. We were sitting in a windowless room in the D.C. convention center, and Riskin, an Orthodox rabbi, was explaining how he had ended up here, at the annual summit of Christians United For Israel, giving a speech to thousands of conservative evangelicals.
Riskin kept banging on the table. “If you have eyes to see, extremist Islam has taken over Islam. And this is the third world war!”
Riskin is one of the most influential rabbis of his generation. Now an Israeli, he was born and raised in Brooklyn. As a young man, Riskin voted for Democrats. He marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., in Selma. He officiated at a young Elena Kagan’s bat mitzvah and advocated for women’s rights. Over time, he developed a reputation as a religious progressive.
In the last decade, Riskin has quietly developed another project: outreach to Christians, and especially to conservative American evangelicals. His most important partnership is with John Hagee, a Texas megachurch pastor whose organization, Christians United For Israel (CUFI), claims a membership roll larger than that of AIPAC. Like AIPAC, CUFI advocates for policies that it sees as pro-Israel and organizes activists and donors across the country.

I remember Riskin’s controversial move to the West Bank in the early 1980s when he was leading the influential Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan.

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Ghosts of Mark Sanford return: About Politico's religion-free profile of adulterer and Trump critic

Ghosts of Mark Sanford return: About Politico's religion-free profile of adulterer and Trump critic

"So much religion potential here ... and yet so many ghosts."

A faithful GetReligion reader offered that assessment of a long — LONG!Politico Magazine profile of U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-South Carolina:

After reading the piece — which focuses on Sanford's willingness to criticize President Donald Trump, the leader of his own party — here's my own, succinct response to the reader's critique: Amen!

The story, published just a few days ago, approaches 5,000 words. Roughly 4,997 of them are completely devoid of any religion content. So what else is new?

Before delving into the specifics of the Politico profile, it might be helpful to recall that holy ghosts (click here if you're not familiar with that term) have haunted the Sanford story for years.

Way back in 2009, reporters ignored the religion angle when Sanford — then South Carolina's governor and a married father of four — became embroiled in a sex scandal. Dig deep in the GetReligion archives, and you'll find posts from that year with titles such as "Sin and God's law at press conference," "Adulterers who pray together" and "Sanford's mission from God."

In 2013, when Sanford resurrected his political career and won a return to Congress, I wrote:

God figured heavily in Sanford's victory speech, with Yahoo News! noting that Sanford said he wanted to "publicly acknowledge God's role in this." (God was unavailable for comment, and I can't say I blame him.)
I am pretty certain Sanford was referring to God's alleged role in his election victory — as opposed to a role in Sanford carrying on a secret affair with an Argentine mistress, to whom he's now engaged after his divorce from the mother of his four children.

Amazingly, "God" fails to make even a cameo appearance in the Politico story. Yet the first holy ghost shows up in the first paragraph:

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God is in the faith details? The messy, complicated lives of Norma 'Jane Roe' McCorvey

God is in the faith details? The messy, complicated lives of Norma 'Jane Roe' McCorvey

If you ever talked with Norma McCorvey, you know that there was one thing that she wanted journalists to do more than anything else: To tell her story, with all of its messy and complicated details.

She had more than her share of regrets. She had deep sorrows and, through the years, crossed an ocean of shame. As "Jane Roe" of Roe v. Wade she was a footnote in just about every textbook used in an American History class, at any level of education. Yet, from her point of view, she was famous because of a lie at the heart of her own life.

She knew that she could not make her lies go away. But she did want journalists to allow Americans to hear her tell the story of when she lied, why she lied and how she came to regret what legal activists built with the help of her most famous lie. Thus, she told her story over and over and over, while also trying to walk the walk of a conception to natural death Catholic pro-lifer.

The key point: For McCorvey, her adult life begins with lies and ends with attempts to live out the truth. For those on the cultural left, her public life began with truth and then sank into sad confusion and religious sentiment.

Now McCorvey has died, at age 69. That means that almost every newsroom in America will offer some version of her story -- one last time. How many of the scandalous details of her complicated life will make it into print? When looking at the mainstream obits, there is one key detail to examine: How seriously did each news organization take McCorvey's conversion to Roman Catholicism?

Let's start with the Associated Press, since that feature will appear in the vast majority of American newspapers. To its credit, the AP piece puts both halves of the McCorvey journey in the lede, where they belong.

DALLAS (AP) -- Norma McCorvey, whose legal challenge under the pseudonym “Jane Roe” led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision that legalized abortion but who later became an outspoken opponent of the procedure, died Saturday. She was 69.

A few lines later there is this crucial summary of her life -- stated from McCorvey's own point of view, drawn from an autobiography.

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Your weekend think piece: Darth Bannon making earth move inside Vatican? Crux says look again

Your weekend think piece: Darth Bannon making earth move inside Vatican? Crux says look again

In another example of the Catholic-beat team at Crux offering some timely media criticism, the omnipresent John L. Allen, Jr., has produced a follow-up analysis about that the highly symbolic media storm surrounding White House mastermind Stephen "Darth" Bannon and his alleged campaign to undercut Pope Francis.

The headline: "A dose of reality about the Steve Bannon/Cardinal Burke axis."

My original piece on this controversy -- "Looking for on-the-record Vatican voices in the New York Times shocker about Darth Bannon" -- focused on journalism issues in this case, in particular the lack of actual inside-the-Vatican voices about this giant inside-the-Vatican political conspiracy. Here is the thesis statement from the Times piece, followed by a quick replay of my concerns:

Just as Mr. Bannon has connected with far-right parties threatening to topple governments throughout Western Europe, he has also made common cause with elements in the Roman Catholic Church who oppose the direction Francis is taking them. Many share Mr. Bannon’s suspicion of Pope Francis as a dangerously misguided, and probably socialist, pontiff.

I noted:

The key word is "many," as in "many" sources inside the structures of the Catholic Church. 

Later, the Times team adds, making that "many" claim once again:

For many of the pope’s ideological opponents in and around the Vatican, who are fearful of a pontiff they consider outwardly avuncular but internally a ruthless wielder of absolute political power, this angry moment in history is an opportunity to derail what they see as a disastrous papal agenda.

Obviously, Trump is a strange hero for Catholics who really sweat the details in moral theology. Now -- other than one think-tank voice with ties to Cardinal Raymond Burke -- one searches in vain for concrete sources for the information on this story, let alone "many" sources inside the halls of Vatican power. 

In his analysis essay, Allen is reacting to the waves of media commentary about the Times piece, very few of which did anything in the way of adding factual information about this alleged drama. It was enough that the Times printed what it printed. That means it's all true. Carry on!

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What’s the deal between America’s Episcopal Church and the Church of England?

What’s the deal between America’s Episcopal Church and the Church of England?

LISA ASKS:

If Henry VIII founded the Anglican Church, does that mean today’s head of the Episcopal Church is the reigning monarch of England?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

No. After the American colonies won independence, Anglican leaders in the new nation met in 1789 to form the “Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America” as a totally separate, self-governing denomination, though with shared heritage, sentiment, and liturgy with the mother church.

The current distinction between these two bodies was dramatized when the Church of England bishops issued a new consensus report upholding “the existing doctrinal position on marriage and sexual relationships” (meaning the tradition that disallows same-sex partners) and supported it by 43-1 at a February 15 General Synod session. In separate votes, lay delegates favored the proposed “take note” motion by 58 percent but clergy delegates killed it with 52 percent opposed. (See www.churchofengland.org/media-centre/news/2017/02/result-of-the-vote-on-the-house-of-bishops-report.aspx).

By contrast, the U.S. Episcopal Church has turned solidly liberal. It endorsed consecration of the first openly gay bishop in 2003, affirmed ordination of priests living in same-sex relationships in 2009, and rewrote the definition of marriage in 2015 to authorize same-sex weddings.

Since King Henry broke from Roman Catholicism in 1534, yes, the reigning monarch has been the head of the Church of England (odd as that seems from the U.S. standpoint). Upon coronation, the king or queen becomes the church’s “supreme governor” and takes a public oath to “maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England.”

Nonetheless, modern-day monarchs are figureheads without any of the religious leverage exercised by Henry and his royal successors.

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America's most and least religious states: How could this shape Democrats’ future strategy?

America's most and least religious states: How could this shape Democrats’ future strategy?

There’s a solid local angle for every U.S. media outlet in 2016 polling that Gallup applies to ranking all 50 states in order of religiosity. Beyond collecting hometown reactions, reporters can factor in Pew Forum’s 2015 survey on religious identifications in each state’s population. Both data sets benefit from huge random samples.

Gallup counts as “very religious” the 38 percent of respondents who said they attend worship nearly every week and that religion is important to them. The “moderately religious” (30 percent) met only one of those two criteria, and the “nonreligious” (32 percent) met neither. Gallup’s “nonreligious” are similar to, but not identical with, Pew’s “nones” who lack religious identity.

Also, a rough political scenario can be developed by comparing Gallup rankings with the 2016 vote. President Trump won 23 of the 25 most religious states, the exceptions being No. 19 Virginia, whose pious Senator Tim Kaine was on the Democratic ticket, and heavily Hispanic New Mexico at No. 21. Mr. Trump romped in the eight states where half or more of respondents were “very religious” -- Mississippi, followed by Alabama, Utah, South Dakota, South Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton carried nine of the 10 most “nonreligious” states. Tops was Bernie Sanders’ Vermont (at 58 percent ), followed by Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Nevada, Alaska (the oddity with a big Trump win), Oregon, Connecticut, Hawaii and Washington state. Next on the nonreligious scale were closely fought New Hampshire, then the two states that accounted for Clinton’s popular vote margin, New York and California (each with 40 percent nonreligious).

Where and how might the troubled Democrats improve their prospects?

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New Pew study: Are Americans feeling warm and fuzzy when they think about religious believers?

New Pew study: Are Americans feeling warm and fuzzy when they think about religious believers?

When you stop and think about religion, politics and the tone of American public life over the past year or two, are the words "warm" and "fuzzy" the first things that come to mind?

Probably not.

Let's make that question more specific, which is what host Todd Wilken and I did in this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in). When you think about the tone of American debates about issues linked to religious faith -- think LGBTQ rights and religious liberty clashes, or the refugee crisis and terrorism threats linked to the Islamic State -- do you have warm, fuzzy, cheerful feelings about what has been going on and the future?

Probably not. 

Well, in that context you can understand why a blast of new numbers from the Pew Research Center made a few headlines this past week. Click here to see the previous GetReligion post on this topic, including links to the study and some of the coverage.

Once again, the content of that study was summarized in this rather warm and fuzzy double-decker headline at the Pew website:

Americans Express Increasingly Warm Feelings Toward Religious Groups
Jews, Catholics continue to receive warmest ratings, atheists and Muslims move from cool to neutral

The lede at The New York Times took that basic idea and, of course, framed it -- logically enough -- in the context of the bitter 2016 race for the White House.

After an election year that stirred up animosity across racial and religious lines, a new survey has found that Americans are actually feeling warmer toward people in nearly every religious group -- including Muslims -- than they did three years ago.

Now think about this one more time. Go back to the questions at the top of this post. Isn't it logical to ask WHY Americans are feeling warmer and fuzzier feelings about various religious groups right now, when most of the evidence in public discourse -- certainly at the level of headlines and social media -- is suggesting the opposite?

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Back to the Washington state florist: Was Stutzman seeking right to shun all gay customers?

Back to the Washington state florist: Was Stutzman seeking right to shun all gay customers?

To no one’s huge surprise, the Washington state Supreme Court ruled against Baronelle Stutzman for refusing to provide flowers for a gay friend’s wedding. Also to no one’s surprise, she (that is, her lawyers) immediately appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which may get a new justice soon.

So what is the key question in this story for journalists striving to cover the actual arguments in the case? Once again, the small print in this story is that that Stutzman wasn’t refusing to serve gay people in all instances, like the Woolworth's lunch counter sit-ins during the Civil Rights era. Instead, she was claiming the right to refuse to provide flowers in one doctrinally defined situation -- a marriage rite.

But did mainstream news reporters make that crucial distinction?

In almost all cases the answer is "no." We’ll start with what the Seattle Times said:

A Richland florist who refused to provide flowers to a gay couple for their wedding violated anti-discrimination law, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The court ruled unanimously that Barronelle Stutzman discriminated against longtime customers Rob Ingersoll and Curt Freed when she refused to do the flowers for their 2013 wedding because of her religious opposition to same-sex marriage. Instead, Stutzman suggested several other florists in the area who would help them.
“We’re thrilled that the Washington Supreme Court has ruled in our favor. The court affirmed that we are on the right side of the law and the right side of history,” Ingersoll and Freed said in a statement.
Stutzman and her attorneys said they would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. They also held out hope that President Donald Trump would issue an executive order protecting religious freedom, which was a campaign pledge.

The article went on to rehearse the facts of the case and then quote several people (the state attorney general and the American Civil Liberties Union attorney for the gay couple) who were at a Seattle news conference. This went on for a number of paragraphs.

The Seattle Times gave two paragraphs to a press release from Stutzman’s attorneys.

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Surprise! New York Times zooms past hyper-obvious religion angle in Gorsuch-and-gay-rights story

Surprise! New York Times zooms past hyper-obvious religion angle in Gorsuch-and-gay-rights story

If the conventional analysis is to be believed, a key reason so many white evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump last November 8 was concern over who'd get the ninth seat on the Supreme Court. And, any other seats opening up over the next four (or even eight) years.

For many, if not most, of these voters, the nomination of Judge Neil M. Gorsuch of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Denver would appear to have been cause for celebration. He takes an "originalist" view of the Constitution, just like the late jurist he would replace, Justice Antonin Scalia.

My co-GetReligionista Julia Duin has written about the dearth of coverage of Judge Gorsuch's faith, but, much like a bad meal of gas-station sushi, the problem keeps coming up. And ho better to belch forward another glaring omission than The New York Times, where the top editor breezily admits "we don't get the role of religion in people's lives," and moves on to the next thing?

This time, the "we-don't-get-the-role-of-religion" thing becomes glaringly obvious.

The Times is taking a look at one of the most contentious faith-based issues of the 21st century, that of the definition of marriage and how that definition will fare with Judge Gorsuch on the high court. "Gorsuch Not Easy to Pigeonhole on Gay Rights, Friends Say," reads the headline. From the story:

Democrats and their progressive allies are marching in lock step to oppose Judge Gorsuch, whose record they find deeply troubling, and gay pundits are painting him as a homophobe. But interviews with his friends -- both gay and straight -- and legal experts across the political spectrum suggest that on gay issues, at least, he is not so easy to pigeonhole.

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