The June 14 U.S. News & World Report includes three items that touch on God-beat concerns. Columnist Gloria Borger strives to make sense of the pew gap, but her generalizations get in the way. "Why such a fuss over churchgoers?" Borger writes. "Isn't there supposed to be a separation between church and state? Maybe so, but it's vaporizing."
The only illustrations Borger provides of this "vaporizing" are Kerry's "Faith without works is dead" speech in a St. Louis church and the Bush campaign's efforts to organize church-based meetings of its supporters. If those are examples of disappearing church-state separation, America has been a full-throttle theocracy at least since the election of President Carter.
One paragraph shows some grasp of how Democrats and Republicans have moved over several decades, but also fumbles some details:
Back in the days of FDR's New Deal and a Democratic South, the party had no religion gap. But over time, Democrats became the progressives, the nontraditionalists. They sided with the 1962 Supreme Court decision outlawing prayer in the schools. They also decided not to allow ex-Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey to speak at the 1992 Democratic convention simply because he opposed abortion. And then came Bill Clinton, who single-handedly sparked a national values debate -- as Republicans continued to run in the opposite direction. Ronald Reagan held prayer breakfasts; Bush was born-again. The GOP southern strategy wasn't just about race; it was about culture and religion. And it worked.
With the rise of Clinton, Borger's points grow muddled. Ronald Reagan was not alone or even a trailblazer in attending prayer breakfasts. The National Prayer Breakfast, that annual expression of civil religion, has been a Washington tradition since 1953. The key difference between Reagan and Clinton was in the religious company they kept. Reagan delivered his "Evil Empire" speech to the National Association of Evangelicals. Clinton preferred welcoming the leaders of mainline Protestant churches to the Oval Office. Reducing any president's public expression of faith to the GOP's Southern strategy is, I think, an overly Machiavellian interpretation. (And on a quibbling style note, even the Bush Dyslexicon, to use Mark Crispin Miller's derisive phrase, would be clear that "born again" requires no hyphen.)
Elsewhere in the issue, John Leo devotes another column to John Kerry, abortion and Catholic bishops. He illustrates that Democratic officials did not merely snub Robert Casey in 1992, but subjected him to a public shaming:
The abortion lobby made an example of Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey in 1992. Casey was a great governor, liberal on every issue of interest to Democrats except abortion. So he was pointedly banned from speaking at the 1992 convention. To rub it in, one of his most bitter opponents in Pennsylvania, a pro-abortion Republican, was given a speaking role. The liberal Village Voice was so upset by the crass treatment that it offered Casey a forum in New York. But he was drowned out by an alliance of abortion-rights supporters and free-Mumia leftists.
Leo also argues that the few bishops who have said Kerry should not receive communion have already made their point.
Finally, Paul Bedard's Washington Whispers continues its pattern of covering religion in an informative and engaged manner. Bedard reports that FaithfulAmerica is still another organization devoted to demonstrating that the Religious Right holds no corner on mixing faith and political involvement. Apparently Americans have not yet understood that message, despite its regular pronouncement by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Call to Renwal, Clergy Leadership Network, the Interfaith Alliance and People for the American Way.
"For the Christian right, the important issues are opposing abortion and gay and lesbian rights," says veteran pastor and left-wing activist William Sloane Coffin. "They don't talk about peace."
Bedard unearths this example of the peace-loving Coffin's pastoral skills:
President Bush will remember this Christian: As a Yale chaplain, he told the freshman Bush that his dad, George H.W. Bush, had just lost his Texas congressional race to "a better man," a snub the prez has never forgotten.
But give FaithfulAmerica credit for this: Its first project is to place an ad on Al Jazeera in which American religious leaders express their grief about the abuses that occurred in the Abu Ghraib prison. That's a message Americans are in no danger of repeating too often.