Welcome to How Harriet Got Religion Day

VV Exterior2Oh what a glorious day for the politicos. Can't you hear the clickity-click of fundraising consultants over at NOW and People for the American Way (SaveTheCourt.org), not to mention Concerned Women for America and Focus on the Family? You can hear the cheers on both sides of the Church-State Sanctuary aisle, can't you? Let a thousand conspiracy theories bloom. This has got to be the least boring, most GetReligion-friendly story to come down the pike since, well, Mel Gibson was on a roll. This story is everywhere today, and I don't see it going away anytime soon.

If you read the waves of MSM coverage today about Harriet "Born-Again Pro-Lifer" Miers, you can't help but hear the journalistic wheels turning. Let's spin out a few theories.

* President Bush thought he could quietly sneak through a theocrat. But he wasn't counting on honest Christian friends talking about her back in Dallas.

* Sen. Harry Reid suckered the White House into naming a less-qualified nominee and, now, he gets to shoot her down (that's a bonus).

* Bush named an under-qualified crony and and that put the conservative intellectual elites in an uproar. But now he gets to play the God card and whip up the right-wing-base bonfires -- just like Karl Rove wanted -- that would have been ignited if he had nominated a true-blue conservative legal star in the first place! Maybe she slips in now anyway and you get both (that's a bonus).

* She really is a mild-mannered sort-of Justice Souter, only one that goes mainline evangelical instead of old-line Protestant. Gotcha!

You can go on and on. I imagine that, any minute now, Ted Olsen and the gang at Christianity Today's weblog will put out Part I of what will be a 1,000-URL tsunami of news and opinion on the whole matter. So I will not even attempt to go there. (Hey, I had to write a Scripps Howard column today about the whole Catholic seminary visitation story. Cut me some slack.) But we can take a look at a few of the How Harriet Got Religion at Valley View Christian Church (pictured) stories that spread like wildfire this morning across the big front pages from coast to coast.

Where does one begin in the New York Times piece? Once again, the key source is Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan L. Hecht, the sometimes Miers suitor (sorry, bad pun) who is the connection between the nominee's legal and spiritual lives. Without Hecht, the MSM is lost on this story.

This Times story by Edward Wyatt and Simon Romero is simply jammed with stuff that will make Maureen Dowd giggle. The story is low-key and not soaked in elite condescension, but the writers do not seem to have an instinct for how faith may have touched other parts of her life -- other than abortion. But here is the money quote, for me. This has that Rove talking-points touch that Times readers will love to hate.

Some evangelical Protestants were heralding the possibility that one of their own would have a seat on the court after decades of complaining that their brand of Christianity met condescension and exclusion from the American establishment.

In an interview Tuesday on the televangelist Pat Robertson's "700 Club," Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the Christian conservative American Center for Law and Justice, said Ms. Miers would be the first evangelical Protestant on the court since the 1930's. "So this is a big opportunity for those of us who have a conviction, that share an evangelical faith in Christianity, to see someone with our positions put on the court," Mr. Sekulow said.

It is interesting to contrast the pieces in The Washington Post and The Washington Times.

Clearly, Michael Grunwald, Jo Becker and John Pomfret at the Post went straight for the political jugular. Once again, the smoking-gun source is Hecht and the symbolic-detail lead flows out of his vivid memories of a long-ago talk by Paul Brand, the author of the bestseller Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, which focuses on God and the human body.

When the lecture was over, Miers said words Hecht had never heard from her before. "I'm convinced that life begins at conception," Hecht recalled her saying. According to Hecht, now a Texas Supreme Court justice, Miers has believed ever since that abortion is "taking a life." . . .

Hecht and other confidants of Miers all pledge that if the Senate confirms her nomination to the Supreme Court, her judicial values will be guided by the law and the Constitution. But they say her personal values have been shaped by her abiding faith in Jesus, and by her membership in the massive red-brick Valley View Christian Church, where she was baptized as an adult, served on the missions committee and taught religious classes. At Valley View, pastors preach that abortion is murder, that the Bible is the literal word of God and that homosexuality is a sin -- although they also preach that God loves everybody.

Supreme Court 01As you would expect with a professional religion reporter, Julia Duin at The Washington Times has the religious facts down straight. Reading between the lines of class and church, it is also interesting to note that Miers was raised Catholic, converted into a very congregational, nondenominational brand of Protestantism (the so-called independent Christian churches) and yet her family is now attending an Episcopal parish. Anyone who speaks Episcopal lingo will find interesting zig-zag content in these facts dug up by Duin.

Miss Miers also attends several Episcopal congregations, including her family's parish, the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Dallas. When in Washington, she usually attends the 9 a.m. service across the street from the White House at St. John's Episcopal Church, which Mr. Bush frequently attends. Justice Hecht said he also occasionally accompanies her to services at Christ Episcopal Church in Alexandria.

An Arlington resident, Miss Miers has contributed to the Falls Episcopal Church in nearby Falls Church. She went there at least once in 2001, administrator Bill Deiss said. The Falls Church, a passionately evangelical congregation, is very similar to Valley View.

The Los Angeles Times really sticks to politics and gets its killer quote from a source on the cultural left (one previously tapped by The Dallas Morning News).

Lorlee Bartos, who was Miers' campaign manager in her race for the Dallas City Council in 1989, recalled that she was surprised to learn her candidate was opposed to abortion rights. "I wanted her to meet with a group of pro-choice women, and she said she wasn't pro-choice," Bartos said. "She said she had been pro-choice but had changed her view."

If you want the dry, bloodless, God-talk-thin version of the story of the day -- L.A. is for you.

Or you can try the Baltimore Sun, where the duo of Robert Little and Jonathan D. Rockoff note that Miers and Hecht have recently left Valley View to go to a more sedate, highly traditional, even less rock & roll congregation that has split off (a split within the church leadership is in there too) on its own. In addition to this Worship Wars angle, this story also includes a strong quote from a previously untapped source on the Texas Supreme Court, who says of Miers:

"She is a born-again Christian woman who brings that worldview, and I think it's impossible to ask her -- or a Jew, or a Muslim, or a nonbeliever or an atheist -- to leave all of her spiritual views aside. It's foolhardy to expect that," said Raul A. Gonzalez, a longtime acquaintance and retired Texas Supreme Court justice. "The question is whether that is a disqualifier for being on the U.S. Supreme Court, and it certainly is not."

This is a totally shocking quote, isn't it? I mean, it's so sane and logical. The folks writing the fundraising letters will need to avoid this quotation.

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