Michael Gerson sends message to senators (and journalists?) about faith, law, public life

Miichael Gerson is a graduate of one of America's best known evangelical liberal arts schools -- Wheaton College.

He has been a mainstream journalist, as well as a writer for Christian think tanks.

Gerson is, of course, best known for his work as a presidential speech writer for George W. Bush. He then moved into the role of the well-connected Washington, D.C., pundit, writing columns for the Washington Post op-ed page while holding various semi-academic research posts as a public intellectual at the Council for Foreign Relations and other groups.

It's safe to say that Gerson is capable of writing a column that is aimed at one specific DC crowd, while including information and themes that are relevant to other Beltway audiences.

Consider his Post piece on the "loud dogma" controversy that I have been writing about all week (click here for podcast) at GetReligion. The headline: "Senate Democrats show off their anti-religious bigotry."

We are, of course, talking about the recent U.S. Senate hearing in which Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and others, probed judicial nominee Amy Coney Barrett about the fine details of her traditional Catholic beliefs. Mainstream news coverage of this event was thin to nonexistent, but opinion writers of various stripes have had a field day. It's the new American journalism.

Here is my question: Gerson's column is about Democrats in the Senate. But there are places where one could switch his target to the mainstream press and his language would work just fine, if I believes that many journalists struggle to do news coverage of traditional forms of religious faith.

First, here is a key passage near the top of Gerson's column:

Barrett is an instructive test case of secular, liberal unease with earnest faith, particularly in its Catholic variety. She is, in the description of a letter signed by every full-time member of the Notre Dame Law School faculty, “a brilliant teacher and scholar, and a warm and generous colleague. She possesses in abundance all of the other qualities that shape extraordinary jurists: discipline, intellect, wisdom, impeccable temperament, and above all, fundamental decency and humanity.”
Barrett is also, not coincidentally, a serious Christian believer who has spoken like one in public. This was enough to make Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), a fellow Catholic, wary. “Do you consider yourself an ‘orthodox’ Catholic?” he asked Barrett, evidently on the theory that publicly acceptable religion must come in small, diluted doses.

That leads us to the passage that ends in the soundbite of the week, on this case:

It fell to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) ... to explicitly declare Barrett part of a suspect class. “Dogma and law are two different things,” Feinstein lectured. “And I think whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different. . . . When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country.” Translation: Don’t let your dogma mess with my dogma.

There are all kinds of issues here, including that little thing about the U.S. Constitution banning religious tests on those seeking public office.

But it also appears that the senators just didn't "get" Barrett's faith at all. By that I mean that they didn't understand what she had said in the past or was saying in the present.

Does that sound familiar? Read this following paragraph and think journalism instead of politics.

How about Feinstein’s ignorance of religion itself? In defending her animus, she called particular attention to Barrett’s statement that Christians should be “building the kingdom of God.” That would be the kingdom that Jesus insisted is “not of this world,” much to the confusion of 1st-century politicians. It is a description of transformed hearts, not a prescription for theocracy.
But the deeper problem is a certain type of liberal thinking that seeks to declare secular ideas the only valid basis for public engagement. A neutral public square, in this view, must be a secular public square.

Read it all.

There is much to think about here and I am convinced that Gerson was not just writing to senators. Think about it.

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