Christian Reformed Church

Reporting Betsy DeVos: Journalists can't seem to get a handle on details of her faith

Reporting Betsy DeVos: Journalists can't seem to get a handle on details of her faith

Betsy DeVos, who President Donald Trump has nominated to be education secretary, will be voted on Tuesday by a Senate committee. She has never been a household word in America and neither have her Calvinist roots, which have been tripping journalists up ever since she was nominated. 

Can this woman, who’s been an advocate of private Christian education and who’s never attended public school (nor have her children), be the new education secretary? A lot of people think not, including 700 students and alumni at Calvin College, her alma mater, according to this Washington Post piece. Others point out that former President Barack Obama never attended public school, either. 

In 2013, Philanthropy Roundtable interviewed her about school reform in a piece that didn’t mention Calvinism or her faith at all. But once she was nominated, everyone was suddenly intensely curious about her beliefs.

Is it true that she wants America’s schools to build “God’s kingdom,” as alleged in a Mother Jones piece? Or is the general media hyperventilating about DeVos’s 15-year-old comments, as our own Bobby Ross asked in December regarding a piece in Politico? 

Politico has circled back to write more on DeVos and even claims some expertise on the nominee as evidenced by the presence of one of its reporters on this talk show. But they've got some major blind spots as to any decent qualities this woman might have. Even the New York Times is saying that she's been sympathetic to gay marriage all along -- a factoid that Politico completely missed.

So, let’s turn to this lengthy profile which has the headline “How Betsy DeVos used God and Amway to take over Michigan politics.”

On election night 2006, Dick DeVos, the bronzed, starched 51-year-old scion of Michigan’s wealthiest family, paced to a lectern in the dim ballroom of the Sheraton Hotel in Lansing to deliver the speech that every candidate dreads.
The Michigan gubernatorial race that year had been a dogfight of personal attacks between DeVos, the Republican nominee, and Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm. Gloomy, bleached-out b-roll of shuttered factories in anti-Granholm ads made the governor’s sunny economic promise that “You’re gonna be blown away” sound less like an aspiration than a threat. Anti-DeVos ads cut closer to the bone, with one depicting a cartoon DeVos cheering a freighter hauling Michigan jobs to China. It was an unsubtle reference to DeVos’ time as president of Amway, the direct-sales behemoth his family co-founded and co-owns, when he eliminated jobs in Michigan while expanding dramatically in Asia. DeVos ended up personally spending $35 million on the race—the most expensive campaign in Michigan history—and when the votes came in, lost by a crushing 14 points.

Then it zeroes in on the wife.

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Twitter-verse fact checking: The New Yorker learns that Calvinism can be tricky stuff

Twitter-verse fact checking: The New Yorker learns that Calvinism can be tricky stuff

Here's some advice for journalists venturing into religion-beat terrain: Be careful when you get into church-history arguments with Calvinists, because you may be predestined to fall into error.

What we are talking about here is the profile of Betsy DeVos that ran the other day in The New Yorker. DeVos, for those following Citizen Donald Trump and his evolving cabinet, has been proposed as the next Secretary of Education.

The Big Idea in this piece (the stuff of politics, of course) is that she is a crucial figure in the world of big, scary GOP money that is on the wrong side of history. This is captured perfectly in the overture:

After choosing for his cabinet a series of political outsiders who are loyal to him personally, Donald Trump has broken with this pattern to name Betsy DeVos his Secretary of Education. DeVos, whose father-in-law is a co-founder of Amway, the multilevel marketing empire, comes from the very heart of the small circle of conservative billionaires who have long funded the Republican Party.
Trump’s choice of DeVos delivers on his campaign promise to increase the role of charter schools, which she has long championed.

Lots and lots of GOP money lingo follows. What will interest GetReligion readers comes later, when New Yorker veteran Jane Mayer ventures into the building blocks of the DeVos worldview, as well as her bank account. The result is a fascinating thread in the Twitter-verse that explores what some would call "post-truth" issues in the world of digital fact checking.

Here is the crucial material in the feature, as it currently reads on the magazine's website:

DeVos is a religious conservative who has pushed for years to breach the wall between church and state on education, among other issues.*

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Sound of the last trump: Where does this leave the Christian #NeverTrumpers?

Sound of the last trump: Where does this leave the Christian #NeverTrumpers?

With Donald Trump now set to be the GOP nominee thanks to Indiana, there’s a good piece waiting on the extinct “NeverTrump” movement's Christian wing, which spurns him over attitudes toward ethnic and religious minorities, personal life, vulgarity, and other matters.

There have been four basic strategies among those who believe Trump violates Christian moral standards. (1) Suffer in silence. (2) Speak out individually, hoping to influence others. (3) Organize a group declaration. (4) Seize this chance to bash Republicans and conservatives.

An early example of option No. 2 was the efforts by the Rev. Russell Moore, the social-issues spokesman for the nation’s largest Protestant body, the Southern Baptist Convention. He moved to the forefront Sept. 17, excoriating the billionaire as “decadent and deviant” in a sharp New York Times op-ed.

In a recent piece at Slate.com, Ruth Graham (no relation to Billy’s evangelical clan) ran down the anti-Trump fulminations by Moore, seminary President Albert Mohler and other Southern Baptists. She noted that Moore peeved some pastors (on that see the Religion Guy’s Feb. 9 Memo). In the clergy name-dropping, she noted, Trump can cite enthusiasm from Jerry Falwell Jr. and Robert Jeffress. However, World magazine’s latest survey among 81 “evangelical leaders and influencers” found 76 percent favored Ted Cruz vs. 5.1 percent for Trump.

Two examples of option No. 3: Early last December several colleagues at the Presbyterian Church (USA) seminary in Georgia decided to write “An Appeal to Christians in the United States.” Endorsers, largely Protestant, included former Fuller Theological Seminary President Richard Mouw, President Jul Medenblik of Calvin Theological Seminary and retired United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon. This text avoided mention of Trump, the obvious target, as it assailed unnamed politicians who “exploit fear and pride,” “slander our neighbors and blaspheme against the one God of all peoples” and demonize “the refugee and immigrant.” Posted by the Journal for Preachers quarterly, the petition drew thousands of online endorsers by word of mouth, but the public splash didn’t occur until April and an ad in Christianity Today.

Too little, too late.

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For reporters’ datebook: A busy nine weeks on LGBT issues for U.S. Protestants

For reporters’ datebook: A busy nine weeks on LGBT issues for U.S. Protestants

With Easter celebrations behind them, four U.S. Protestant denominations are about to plunge into a 9-week swirl of big decision-making on their unceasing and anguishing gay dispute. The actions will come less than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage.

In the Reformed Church in America, 21 days of continent-wide fasting and prayers for wisdom will culminate in an April 15-18 “Special Council on Human Sexuality” in Chicago. The 74 delegates are assigned to devise “a constitutional pathway forward” that can manage the deep division over sexuality, for proposal to the General Synod June 9-14 in Palos Heights, Illinois. Though relatively small, the RCA is one of the oldest U.S. denominations, dating to 1628 in New Amsterdam (today’s New York City). 

Next up is the May 10-20 General Conference of the large United Methodist Church in Portland, Oregon. The UMC has debated the question without letup since 1972, always upholding the belief that “the practice of homosexuality” is “incompatible with Christian teaching,” while liberals regularly defy the required discipline of clergy living in homosexual relationships or who conduct ceremonies for same-sex couples.

An unusual aspect of the situation is that though the U.S. flock has declined dramatically to 7.2 million, the UMC includes overseas churches, mostly in Africa and mostly conservative, that now boast 5.2 million members. Legislation on the table includes a bid from the “Connectional Table,” an official coordination body, to replace the strict UMC-wide policy with local option.

The split is demonstrated by two pending cases.

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Rolling Stone searches for theological cornerstone in X-Files and, alas, drops the ball

Rolling Stone searches for theological cornerstone in X-Files and, alas, drops the ball

I was never addicted to the X-Files back in its classic era, but I was almost always aware of what was going on in the series because of updates from my Milligan College students -- especially in my "Exegete the Culture" senior seminar on faith and mass media.

Religious issues kept showing up in the show's believer-doubter format, with plots built on a never-ending search for the supernatural. One semester, a bright youth-ministry major wrote a brilliant paper -- the curricula for a weekend retreat for high-schoolers -- based on three X-Files episodes that focused on prayer, healing and life after death. The show was asking lots of interesting questions, which had to be coming from somewhere.

So I wasn't surprised that the recent Rolling Stone profile of X-Files creator Chris Carter (linked, of course, to the six-episode Fox reboot) explored some religious themes. I was also -- alas -- not surprised when a key religion fact got mangled. More on that in a minute.

But, for starters, wouldn't you like to know more about the roots of the Amazon project mentioned in this section of the story?

Though Carter doesn't admit this, his return to Hollywood (not counting a second X-Files film he wrote in 2007) must have been disappointing for the man who ruled the medium a decade earlier. A series about the Salem witch trials that he created for Showtime never made it to air. Same with an Area 51 drama he worked on for AMC. And ditto for a conspiracy thriller, Unique,which he developed at Fox.

But the toughest hit was his 2014 Amazon pilot, The After, a Sartre-meets-Dante serial drama set in the intersection of Los Angeles and Hades.

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