Believe it or not, candidate Barack Obama was not talking about Texas when he was taped explaining the whole red-zip-codes God, guns and gays puzzle to the elite audience at a San Francisco fundraiser back in 2008.
Think back. You may recall that he was talking about the culture of small towns and working-class people in Pennsylvania and across the heartland Midwest.
Now what was the guts of that infamous quote?
... It's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them. ...
Wow. Times sure have changed.
It's good to see that all of those cultural warfare issues have faded into the background, far from the headlines. Especially in places like Texas.
Oh wait. There is this rather epic headline at The Washington Post right now:
‘Straight into the paper shredder:’ Texans the first to decry Obama’s schools directive about transgender bathrooms
OK, journalists, make that God, guns, gays and gender (as in clinging to biologically based concepts of gender).
Now, this latest lighting strike of executive privilege had not come down from on high when we record this week's Crossroads podcast (click here to tune that in). But we did talk about the great and very unique state of Texas and that recent attempt at The New York Times to explain Texas to the rest of America.
That whole "What's shaking' down in Texas?" question still seems rather relevant, at the moment. You think?
Some GetReligion readers may even have heard that some folks in the Lone Star State are even talking about trying to go back to the future, by which they mean returning Texas to its previous stature as the Republic of Texas. That's the original Texas national flag up at the top of this post.
Believe it or not, that topic is on the docket right now as the Texas GOP gathers to chew over recent events in American life, as noted in this recent Houston Chronicle report:
Delegates at state convention for the Republican Party of Texas will have a chance to vote on Texas secession, after a platform item calling for independence passed a special committee on Wednesday morning. It is not expected to pass, but represents a substantial achievement for proponents of a Lone Star nation.
The Houston Chronicle previously reported that activists with the Texas Nationalist Movement, a secessionist organization, had helped pass independence resolutions in at least 22 county or district conventions in March. Those resolutions went to a 31-member platform committee, which decides what will be put up for discussion at the state convention, which begins Thursday.
Tanya Robertson, a GOP official with the State Republican Executive committee who has advocated a secession vote before, said the item passed the committee "overwhelmingly" early Wednesday.
Keep your eyes on that today and this weekend.
But back to the wider issue raised in that first-person New York Times analysis by Houston-based reporter Manny Fernandez that ran under this double-decker headline:
What Makes Texas Texas
People in this rapidly changing state believe their way of life is under attack, and they are making a kind of last stand by simply being Texan.
In my post the other day, I focused on this quote from Fernandez:
I was born and raised in Central California, and I moved to Houston from Brooklyn in June 2011 to cover Texas for The New York Times. I live here with my wife, my 7-year-old son and my 3-year-old daughter, who keeps a pair of pink cowboy boots outside on the porch or inside by the front door. I have covered stories in the South, the Midwest and other parts of the country. People in those places identified with their political party, their job, their cause, their sexual orientation, their city, their race. Almost no one identified with their state the way Texans do.
Who are these people, these Texans?
I thought there was a pretty important force in Texas life that was missing from that summary:
Look at that list of life-shaping forces: That would be "political party," "job," "cause," "sexual orientation," "city," "race" and "state." OK, Texans, can I get a witness? What is missing from that list?
"Religion," of course. Maybe that's what the Times guy means when he says "cause"?
During the podcast, I opened up a bit about my love-hate relationship with the Lone Star state, probing the roots of that quip in my online biographical materials about me being a "prodigal Texan." There are parts of me that are very Texan, to this day. At the same time I have never bowed down to the whole mythology of Texas. I understand it, but I don't share it.
I mean, I recently moved back to the mountains of East Tennessee. It is my strong conviction that if Davy Crockett died at the Alamo, rather than return to these lovely hills that were his home, then he must have been drunk. But that's my take. Say that in most corners of Texas and you'll get an earful from the faithful, and I understand that.
Then again, I also have diplomas hanging on my wall that contain the seal of Baylor University, which to this day proclaims, "Pro Ecclesia," "Pro Texana" and "Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas." I don't expect that language to change, anytime soon.
But here is the main point that podcast host Todd Wilken and I discussed this week, and it's bigger than Texas (and that is saying something).
If lots of Texans are talking about how their "way of life" is under attack right now, and trust me that plenty of them are, then there is no way to discuss that hot topic without dealing with the power of religious faith in the lives of millions of folks in that state.
Yes, Texas is a complex place and lots of folks inside the state's borders are not church-on-Sunday kinds of folks. I said that in my original post.
... I know that there are lots of pick-up truck Texans who don't frequent church pews very much. There are also plenty of Texans who are members of a flock, but that fact doesn't shape their lives all that much. And then there are Texans -- millions of them -- whose views on life, family, good and evil starts with their faith.
How can anyone live in Texas more than a week and not get that? You have to come to grips with the churches as well as the saloons, Times people.
Is this only true in Texas? Of course not.
It's true in Utah, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Kansas and lots of other obvious places. And other zip codes, as well. I've started hanging out quite a bit in New York City lately -- roughly two months a year, when my teaching gigs are added up. Right now, New York City is packed with interesting stories linked to the power of religious faith. Go spend some time with Korean Presbyterians, Latino Pentecostal, yuppie Mormons, Orthodox Jews, private-school African Americans and lots of other folks. Click right here and cruise around.
Why can't the Times see the role of faith in the Texas "way of life"?
That's an important issue. But how the role that faith, skepticism and secularism play in the push-pull arguments over those so-called New York values? Is religion part of the story in New York, New York?