Probing the faith of Ms. Miers

worship with hands raisedReligion test? What religion test? Right now, it seems that everyone in America -- blue zones as well as red -- is doing everything possible to probe the religious views of one Harriet Miers.

President George W. Bush is, of course, sending every faith-based signal that he can about his pal without actually speaking any of the radical words that will turn country-club Republicans into pillars of salt. And, yes, it's crucial that the Powers That Be at The New York Times recognize that the heart of this revolt is among "social conservatives." This is code language, of course, for people in pews. Meanwhile, conservative journalist Fred Barnes is offering a "calm down, church people" analysis over at The Weekly Standard, after the celebrated Bill Kristol outcry yesterday.

So has anyone out there been able to locate a video of Miers speaking in tongues or something really damning? An audiotape for NPR? Not so far.

This story resides in the home turf of The Dallas Morning News so that newspaper is working hard on the God angle, which, of course, is almost the same thing as the abortion angle (especially in places like Texas). The result is a story by Dave Levinthal and a pack of researchers that is built on the testimony of Lorlee Bartos, a former campaign operative for Miers in the 1989 race for the Dallas City Council. Let's cut to the chase:

"She is on the extreme end of the anti-choice movement," said Lorlee Bartos, who managed Ms. Miers' first and only political campaign and said they discussed abortion once during the race. . . . Ms. Bartos said Ms. Miers was supportive of abortion rights in her youth. She said Ms. Miers then underwent "a born-again, profound experience" that caused her to oppose abortion. Beyond their exchange in 1989, Ms. Bartos said she has no other insight into Ms. Miers' views on abortion.

At this point, things get a bit confusing and hard to trace. The News has a bit of a story buried in here and does not seem to know what to do with it. Come to think of it, it would help to have some facts to prove this story. While everyone is searching for pro-life or evangelism links on the home page of the Valley View Christian Church, the News says that Miers and a minister friend are involved in a new church-planting project. Really?

Ron Key, who has been Ms. Miers' pastor since the early 1980s, said his church is anti-abortion. Mr. Key, who recently left Valley View Christian Church to found a new church with Ms. Miers and others, stopped short, however, of saying that those beliefs would color her approach to the law. "The Constitution would be her major influence, I'm sure," he said.

His church? Which church is Key's church? It may seem like much ado about nothing to outsiders, but my experience -- as a reporter and as a churchman -- is that there are often interesting reasons for the birth of new churches, especially when a pastor has been at one major church for a long time and then leaves to start a new church in the same area. Does the News have any information on this? Also, starting a church is hard work. What does it mean that Ms. Miers is somehow involved in starting this new congregation? Let's hope there is a follow-up story here.

Meanwhile, my friend Jim Dahlman at Milligan College has tipped his hat toward a feature or two about Miers and the ties that bind her to the world of Independent Christian Churches. The New York Times of that non-denominational body (don't ask, it's too complicated) is called The Christian Standard and it has a quick and simple story up about Miers and Valley View and the text of another "Inside the Real West Wing" story from 2004.

It is interesting to note that, in the online update, the pastor identified with Miers is the current leader at Valley View Christian Church, and there is no word of Ron Key and the new congregation in the works. Interesting.

"Harriet is just an outstanding Christian woman," said Barry McCarty, preaching minister with Valley View Christian Church. "She is very well respected in the city of Dallas and well loved by the people in our church."

Meanwhile, that feature from 2004 offers this kind of soft-edged religious language, which is par for the course in church publications. These passages will probably sound rather different when read during a U.S. Senate hearing by a NARAL Pro-Choice leader who wants to terrify the loyal people who write checks for her organization. We can also expect to hear this soon, in a different tone of voice, on religious talk radio.

You may select the tone of your choosing when reading the next few paragraphs:

Miers is a woman of faith with strong Christian beliefs. To her, it has been "wonderful to be working for a president who is a believer and who acts on his faith." The president talks about his faith often, and it is important to him. It also is important to Miers. She brings her faith to bear on everything she does. It's not only a part of how she views issues, it also affects her willingness to serve and her desire to do well. She readily acknowledges that she can't do anything without the grace of God. . . .

Service, responsibility, duty, sacrifice, and faith are words integral to understanding Harriet Miers and her colleagues. She describes the Bush team as "an administration where faith is important. Prayers count. We all value prayers." She says that everyone can make a difference -- "by your vote, by writing, by doing something that is demonstrable, whether it's in school," or out in the community. Empowerment is real, and individual people are able to change the course of history."

That last sentence is especially true of judges who sit on the U.S. Supreme Court for a decade or two.

So does anyone out there have a URL for a photo of Miers praying with her hands in the air? Just asking.

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