Trump + Gillibrand + faith: 'Why is religion only talked about when reporters profile Republicans?'

Did you happen to hear where Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was last week when President Trump posted a tweet about her that the president's critics labeled "sexually suggestive and demeaning?"

Yep, that's right: The New York Democrat was at a bipartisan Bible study.

So what are the odds that the New York Times political writers who profiled Gillibrand in Sunday's newspaper — in a lengthy A-section piece tied to the president's kerfuffle with the senator — delved into her faith?

Hint: The Times makes passing reference to the aforementioned Bible study. 

But any actual consideration of Gillibrand's faith? Not so much. (Interestingly enough, the profile does point to the senator's propensity to curse "freely in public venues.")

In case you somehow missed Trump's tweet and Gillibrand's response, here they are:

I first became aware of Gillibrand's participation in the regular Bible study when I did a Religion News Service profile of Sen. James Lankford earlier this year. I asked the Oklahoma Republican's team for the names of Democrats involved in the study. They put me in touch with Gillibrand's office.

I visited with Gillibrand about Lankford and her own faith, and a portion of that interview ended up in my story:

“He’s definitely sincere about his faith, and it’s absolutely a guidepost in his public service,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a Roman Catholic who joins a weekly bipartisan Bible study with Lankford and other senators.

For space reasons, most of our conversation did not make it into print. But I asked Gillibrand about her specific faith background. Her reply: "Yes, I still go to Catholic Church. But I also go to community churches. I also go to a local community church in Washington when I’m here over the weekends. When I’m in the state, I go to all sorts of churches: Baptist churches, community churches, different evangelical churches throughout the state. I like to worship in lots of places, I enjoy that as a senator."

Concerning Lankford's background as a former Baptist pastor, she said, "I think that faith is important to lots of members of Congress. I think that Senator Lankford is unique in that he comes from a background where he practiced his faith as a profession; he was a faith leader. So we don’t have many faith leaders in the Senate. For someone to come from a position of faith leadership and become a senator, I think is unusual."

But she added, "I think that if your goal is to dedicate yourself to helping people, your faith really informs that goal. That’s why many of us get along well and try to work well (together)."

Back to that weekend Times story that sparked this post: On Twitter, progressive writer Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons asked a highly relevant question about why journalists seem to ignore the faith of Democrats: 

Graves-Fitzsimmons' question got an amen of sorts from CBS Religion producer Liz Kineke:

If Graves-Fitzsimmons' name sounds familiar, he did the Washington Post's analysis piece last week on the faith of Sen.-elect Doug Jones, the Democrat who defeated Roy Moore in red-state Alabama.

In his opinion article, titled "Roy Moore isn't the only Christian running for Senate in Alabama" and published before voters went to the polls, Graves-Fitzsimmons contrasted Moore's Christianity with that of Gillibrand:

In starkest contrast to Moore’s brand of Christianity, his potential colleague, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), leads the fight against sexual assault. She doesn’t brandish her faith but has spoken about how going to church led her into public service.

The "has spoken" link is to a Vogue profile of Gillibrand from October in which she talked about her faith:

Our road show continues—three more counties to go—and at some point I realize that I haven’t asked Gillibrand about her faith. The question takes her back to the days she worked at a big corporate-law firm in Manhattan, feeling deeply unfulfilled. “I felt that I didn’t have a strong enough purpose. At the end of the day, every lawsuit was about money, so in my view, not for the greater good. I had grown up in Catholic school, got plenty of religious education throughout my life, but I hadn’t really homed in on it until then, until I was personally and emotionally lost, a young single woman in New York City. I started going to church and doing a lot of charitable work. And the more I realized what my faith was about, it made me really want to leave the big law firm and focus on public service. It also gave me a purpose that I hadn’t really clarified: that life is not about making money, life is not about self-aggrandizement, life is not about accruing things and power. It’s about being a good wife, a good mother, finding ways to help others who need your help. We all are called to something. I kept feeling like, This is my calling. I really have to serve others. I really have to use my intelligence, my education, my ability to be tough, to be aggressive, to speak out to take on the military or Donald Trump”—she starts to laugh—“or whomever I happen to be taking on at the moment, I have the strength to do that. And I’m not afraid. I am not afraid.”

In my post last week on Jones, I contended that the Alabama Democrat's faith deserved solid, hard-news coverage.

In the case of Gillibrand, my argument is the same.

If the Times truly wants to help readers understand what makes the potential 2020 presidential candidate tick, why not ask her what she was doing at that Bible study? Is that not an obvious question? 

"Why is religion only talked about when reporters profile Republicans?"

Why indeed?



Please respect our Commenting Policy