National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference

'Usual suspects' offer Kavanaugh reactions: Can reporters find any new religious voices?

'Usual suspects' offer Kavanaugh reactions: Can reporters find any new religious voices?

Yes, it's time (trigger warning) to take another trip into the past with a rapidly aging religion-beat scribe. That would be me.

I hope this anecdote will help readers understand my point of view on some of the coverage, so far, of how "religious leaders" are reacting to the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. Click here for GetReligionista Julia Duin's initial post on this topic.

Let me stress that, in this case, I certainly think that it's appropriate to seek out the views of religious leaders who are in public life. In recent years, big rulings on church-state cases -- most linked to the First Amendment -- have rocked American politics and culture. There's no doubt about it: This is a religion-beat story.

But how do reporters decide which "usual suspects" to round up, when flipping through their files trying to decide who to quote?

So here is my flashback to the mid-1980s, while I was working at the late Rocky Mountain News. The setting is yet another press conference in which leaders of the Colorado Council of Churches gathered to address a hot-button news topic. If I remember correctly, it had something to do with immigration.

If you look at the current membership of this Colorado group, it's pretty much the same as it was then -- with one big exception. Back then, the CCC was made up of the usual suspects, in terms of liberal Protestantism, but the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver was cooperating in many ways (although, if I remember correctly, without covenant/membership ties). Today, the CCC includes an independent body called the Ecumenical Catholic Communion, which I have never heard of before. Needless to say, this is not the Catholic archdiocese.

So at this press conference, all of the religious leaders made their statements and most talked about diversity, stressing that they represented a wide range of churches.

In the question-and-answer session, I asked what I thought was a relevant question. I asked if -- other than the Catholic archdiocese -- any of them represented flocks that had more members in the 1980s than they did in the '60s or '70s. In other words, did they represent groups with a growing presence in the state (like the Assemblies of God, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)?

One or two of the clergy laughed. The rest stared at me like I was a rebellious child.

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Concerning Hispanic evangelicals and the death penalty: Dig a little deeper, please

Concerning Hispanic evangelicals and the death penalty: Dig a little deeper, please

In my days covering the state prison system for The Oklahoman, I witnessed a handful of executions — some high profile and others not.

Given that experience, headlines concerning public support for — and opposition to — capital punishment always catch my attention.

A front-page story by the Houston Chronicle this week tackled a compelling angle: Hispanic evangelicals forming what the newspaper described as a "new front in the battle against the death penalty."

The Chronicle's lede:

For years, Samuel Rodriguez, a California Assemblies of God preacher, accepted both views as gospel truth.

But then came nagging doubts about capital punishment's effectiveness in deterring crime and a growing belief that "African-Americans and Hispanics disproportionately are on the wrong end of the injection." After a decade of soul-searching, Rodriguez reached a startling conclusion: To truly be pro-life means to support life "inside and outside the womb."

Today, Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the nation's largest Hispanic evangelical group, has become emblematic of a new wave of conservative Christians rallying opposition to the death penalty. Rodriguez fought to spare
the life of schizophrenic Texas double-killer Scott Panetti — a federal court stayed the execution — and, in a Time magazine essay, decried a botched Oklahoma execution.

In March, a second Hispanic group, the New York-based National Latino Evangelical Coalition, became the first evangelical association to call for capital punishment's end.

"The idea that the evangelical church gives rubber-stamp approval to the death penalty is no longer applicable," Rodriguez said. "More and more, Bible-believing individuals, theological conservatives, Christ's followers in America, are beginning to sway away from capital punishment."

Keep reading, and the Houston newspaper makes the case that Hispanic evangelicals "are entering a contentious debate that for decades has split American believers":

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