Taylor Swift

That U.S. Senate race in Bible Belt Tennessee: What matters more, Trump or cultural issues?

That U.S. Senate race in Bible Belt Tennessee: What matters more, Trump or cultural issues?

Let’s see. What was going on in America before public discourse went totally bonkers, once again?

Oh, right. The mid-term elections are coming up, with Democrats hoping to win enough seats in the U.S. Senate to put Mike Pence in the White House.

To the shock of just about everyone here in the three cultures of Tennessee (think Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville), this Bible Belt state has a real, live U.S. Senate race on its hands in 2018. This is what happens when Democrats are willing to nominate an old-guard politico who has a track record as an economic centrist, back in the days before religious, moral and cultural issues took complete control of American politics.

On top of that, megastar Taylor Swift has even jumped into the fight, with a blunt endorsement of an old, white guy, saying he is the best way to defend Tennesseans from a female candidate’s conservative beliefs about gender and sexuality.

In other words, it’s absolutely impossible to talk about the Tennessee U.S. Senate race without talking about religion and culture.

So, how did The Washington Post political desk do in its recent feature — “In deep-red Tennessee, Republicans are anxious about the U.S. Senate race“ — on this topic? Here is the overture, with the lede set right here in my back yard:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Jeanie Brakebill voted for President Trump. But when a conservative canvasser showed up at the 63-year-old’s door here recently, she confided that she had grown tired of Trump’s confrontational brand of politics and was leaning toward voting Democratic in the upcoming midterm election.

“I would vote for Bredesen, to help out Tennessee — even if it means giving Democrats the majority in the Senate,” said Brakebill, referring to Democratic Senate candidate Phil Bredesen.

The sentiments expressed by Brakebill and voters like her have raised fresh worries for Republicans in this deep red state, which overwhelmingly supported Trump in 2016 but where voters remain divided just weeks before a midterm election that could determine which party controls the Senate.

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Waffle House hero vs. Waffle House gunman: Lots of religion here, but no answered questions

Waffle House hero vs. Waffle House gunman: Lots of religion here, but no answered questions

As you would imagine, folks here in Tennessee are still talking about the Waffle House shootings, even though the national media -- this is the age in which we live -- have moved on to other gun-related stories.

Nevertheless, The Tennessean in Nashville produced a massive story the other day about the lives of the two almost-30 men at the heart of the story -- the hero, James Shaw, Jr., and the troubled gunman, Travis Reinking.

There is all kinds of religious material in this story, and that material was used in a way that raised all kinds of questions -- that the story didn't answer.

Believe it or not, in this case that's a compliment. Once again, we are headed into news territory defined by the theological word "theodicy."

Why does evil exist? Why do some people choose to do good, while others choose to do evil? Why does mental illness exist? Why do some people raised in Christian homes cling to that faith, when push comes to shove, while others fling the faith and lash out at others?

You'll ask all of those questions, and more, when you read this story: "One came to Waffle House to eat. One came to kill, police say. How two worlds collided."

Don't expect answers, especially not about Reinking and his family's years of struggles to understand and manage his mental illness -- which followed him like a cloud, even as his behavior in other parts of life seemed perfectly normal.

Let's start with Shaw, and church:

Nashville is Shaw's home.

He has attended Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist Church since he was an infant, the same iconic North Nashville church his mother attended as a girl.

The youngest of three Shaw children, and the only boy, he was fun-loving, quiet and respectful to adults. He became humbler as he got older.

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Journalists (and clergy) fail to note that Schlafly won a political battle, but lost larger war

Journalists (and clergy) fail to note that Schlafly won a political battle, but lost larger war

You know that feeling you get when you are trying to think of a name -- a person or an institution, perhaps -- but you just can't get it to pop into focus? The hard drive in your mind spins and spins and you can see hints at the data you're seeking, but not the real thing.

Trust me, this happens more when you pass 60 years of age.

It's even more disconcerting when this happens while you are on the air doing radio or a podcast, as I was again earlier this week chatting with "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken. (Click here to tune that in.) We were talking about the late Phyllis Schlafly and the fact that she was the rare moral and cultural conservative who won a major political -- repeat "political" -- battle in the public square. However, she lost her larger war with the most powerful principalities and powers in our land. As I wrote in my earlier post:

... She won her battle against the ERA, but lost the much larger war with Hollywood, trends in public education and the all-powerful worldview of shopping malls from coast to coast.
Of course, Schlafly's other major accomplishment in life was helping create a large space for religious and cultural conservatives inside the big tent of the modern Republican Party. In many ways, she was -- as a wealthy Catholic woman who was Phi Beta Kappa in college and later earned a law degree -- a unique rebel against the GOP Country Club establishment that found many of her causes embarrassing (and still does).
This is one place where I thought the mainstream obits missed an opportunity to probe a bit deeper. No one is surprised that the left hated this woman.

Now, I was trying to think of a young, popular, post-feminist figure in American pop culture who stands for the whole concept that being "hot," "edgy" and even "nasty" is a sign of empowerment, if not enlightenment, for girls.

In other words, I was trying to think of Taylor Swift. Since I am old, what came out -- as you'll hear in the podcast -- was a reference to Madonna. Talk about embarrassing.

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