New York Times on Ginni Thomas: Let our anonymous sources label this religious nut for you

New York Times on Ginni Thomas: Let our anonymous sources label this religious nut for you

Anyone who has followed the work of religious conservatives in Washington, D.C., knows this name — Ginni Thomas.

She is, of course, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. She is also a key figure in Republican Party politics, when it comes time to draw a bright red line between ordinary GOP power brokers (think corporate interests and country clubs) and people who are religious conservatives, first, and Republicans, second.

This is not a woman who, under normal circumstances, would hang out with the kinds of people who tend to spiral around Donald Trump, especially in the decades before he needed the approval of some old-guard Religious Right folks.

The key: To some Beltway people, Ginni Thomas represents a brand of conservatism worse than the brew Trump has been trying to sell.

What does this divide look like when it ends up in the New York Times? It certainly looks like the Times has its sources — unnamed, of course — among the cultural libertarians inside this White House. Readers are clubbed over the head during the overture of an alleged news story that ran with this headline: “Trump Meets With Hard-Right Group Led by Ginni Thomas.

WASHINGTON — President Trump met last week with a delegation of hard-right activists led by Ginni Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, listening quietly as members of the group denounced transgender people and women serving in the military, according to three people with direct knowledge of the events.

For 60 minutes Mr. Trump sat, saying little but appearing taken aback, the three people said, as the group also accused White House aides of blocking Trump supporters from getting jobs in the administration.

It is unusual for the spouse of a sitting Supreme Court justice to have such a meeting with a president, and some close to Mr. Trump said it was inappropriate for Ms. Thomas to have asked to meet with the head of a different branch of government.

A vocal conservative, Ms. Thomas has long been close to what had been the Republican Party’s fringes. …

It gets worse! Later, Times congregants received this terrifying news: Thomas prayed.

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Thinking about Christians in politics: 'Usual suspects' labels just don't work, do they?

Thinking about Christians in politics: 'Usual suspects' labels just don't work, do they?

Stop and think about the following for a moment.

What political label would you stick on a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox person who believed all of his or her church’s moral and social teachings, as they are being articulated in this day and age?

Let’s list some of the crucial issues. Abortion and related “life issues” — such as euthanasia — would have to be mentioned. Many Catholics, including people frequently called “conservatives” (take me, for example), would include the death penalty in the “life issue” list. Then there would be the defense of the sacrament of marriage, as defined throughout Judeo-Christian history, and the belief that sex outside of marriage — for gays and straights — is a sin.

Now, there are other issues that are commonly linked to a “whole life” approach to the public square — such as immigration, the environment, medical care, economic justice, racial equality, etc. Traditional believers in the ancient churches may debate the fine details of some of these issues, but my point is that it is often hard to stick conventional political labels on the conclusions reached by these Christians.

So, where do you put someone who is pro-life, and favors national health care (with conscience clauses built in)? This person is pro-immigration reform and leans “left” on the environment. She is a strong defender of the First Amendment — both halves of that equation. Are we talking about a Democrat or a Republican?

After the chaos of the past couple of weeks, this is a timely and newsworthy topic for a think piece. Of course, the “lesser of two evils” debates surrounding Donald Trump also fit into this picture. Thus, I saved a recent New York Times op-ed by the Rev. Timothy Keller — founder of the Redeemer Presbyterian network of churches in New York City — for this occasion. The double-decker headline proclaims:

How Do Christians Fit Into the Two-Party System? They Don’t

The historical Christian positions on social issues don’t match up with contemporary political alignments

Here is Keller’s overture:

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Primer on Sunni terrorists includes helpful advice on the perennial labels game in news

Primer on Sunni terrorists includes helpful advice on the perennial labels game in news

For the foreseeable future, journalists will be covering Muslim zealots who terrorize innocent civilians in God’s name, fellow Muslims included, hoping that violence will force the creation of  a truly Islamic society. Their revolutionary  bloodshed spans the globe -- and spurns centuries of moderate teaching by Islamic authorities.

Journalists remain uncertain on how best to name these groups, which is among matters explored in “The Mind of the Islamic State: ISIS and the Ideology of the Caliphate” by Robert Manne, an Australian media personality and emeritus professor at La Trobe University. Though publisher Prometheus Books is known for partisan and sometimes supercilious attacks on religious faiths, The Religion Guy finds this title even-tempered, as well as brisk and valuable (though Prometheus deserves brickbats for providing no index).

This readable background will help guide journalism about a complex scourge that mainstream Islam is unable to eliminate. The book covers only Sunni extremists, not the rival radicals in the faith’s minority Shi’a branch centered on  Iran. Here’s Manne’s advice on common terms and labels seen in the news.

Islamo-Fascism. This label is “quite misleading” due to fascism’s historical fusion with nationalism (Muslim radicals spurn existing nation-states and  simply divide humanity into believers vs. “infidels”), and with racism (the movement’s hatreds lie elsewhere).

Islamic Fundamentalism. Also a misnomer, this borrows a term for strict textual literalism among Protestant Christians (see the Associated Press Stylebook). Problem: Such Protestants are non-violent, and so are many of the Muslims who favor that approach to holy writ. Rather, we need to label a terroristic political faction.

Islamists. This term designates believers who seek to reshape politics in accordance with religious law (sharia). Here again, such Muslim activists do not necessarily embrace terror.

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How can journalists begin to comprehend all those labels that divide Christians?

How can journalists begin to comprehend all those labels that divide Christians?

WENDI’S QUESTION (paraphrased):

Denominational. Non-denominational. Fundamentalist. Baptist. Mormon. Methodist. Assembly of God. Etc. Etc.: How do we know what type of beliefs these are? Why or why not claim to be ‘Christian’ without anything else added? This is confusing me.


Wendi has good reason to be confused, especially about the incredibly complex situation in the United States this article will seek to unscramble. By contrast, one or two churches often denominate in European countries and there are fewer minorities. The same was once generally true in developing nations that now have an ever-increasing variety of churches.

Contrast that with the New Testament, where followers of Jesus Christ were simply “Christians” or adherents of “the way.” Jesus himself prayed to God the Father that his followers “may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that You sent me and loved them even as You loved me” (John 17:23).

On the church’s founding day, Pentecost, barriers of language and ethnicity miraculously vanished (Acts 2). The Apostle Paul taught that “there is neither Jew nor Greek” in God’s kingdom “for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28) and that Christians share “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5).

Such is the Christian ideal. But does this spiritual unity require membership within one organization, as the ancient churches -- Catholic and Orthodox -- believe (though they have many distinct subgroups)? Are separate organizations based on culture or doctrinal details appropriate?

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Good journalism? Slanted journalism? Readers disagree on story out of Cornhuskers territory

Good journalism? Slanted journalism? Readers disagree on story out of Cornhuskers territory

Your GetReligionistas don't venture into Nebraska Cornhuskers territory all that often.

However, two readers called our attention to a Lincoln Journal Star story on the Alliance Defending Freedom, the religious liberty law group. 

"This is good journalism," one reader said.

The other reader was not as impressed: "Having read the recent post discussing the lack of equal media usage of 'left-wing groups' to match the profligate use of 'right-wing groups,' I was surprised to see the Lincoln Journal Star characterize the critics in this story as 'left-wing.' Further, the criticized group in question is given surprisingly deferential treatment. You may be thinking, 'Midwest paper — of course they skew conservative,' but that would be inaccurate. Lincoln, Neb., is a university town with a well-deserved reputation for sympathy with liberal cultural and political views. But I would concur that there is a substantial enough traditional religious community that a savvy editorial staff is unlikely to indulge in unfettered Kellerism."

Me? I'm going to be contrary and disagree with both readers. More in a moment, but first, the story's opening:

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said Wednesday his attendance at a meeting last month sponsored by a controversial Christian legal advocacy group was by invitation and not paid for with state money. 
Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian nonprofit organization, has the stated goal of advocating, training and funding on the issues of religious freedom, sanctity of life, and marriage and family. It has been criticized for taking aggressive stands against gay marriage and LGBTQ rights. 
People in left-leaning organizations have said the group's endgame is to have the law and the culture reflect its religious views, including weakening the separation of church and state. 
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke at the July meeting Peterson attended, but news organizations were not allowed to attend his talk or initially get a written version of his speech. 
It was published several days later, however, on a conservative media outlet, In the speech, Sessions talked about religious freedom, saying the "inside-the-beltway crowd has no idea how much good is being done in this country everyday by our faith communities. ... But the cultural climate has become less hospitable to people of faith and to religious belief." 
Sessions said: "Under this administration, religious Americans will be treated neither as an afterthought nor as a problem to be managed."
Peterson said he was asked to serve on a panel on federalism to talk about how specific cases affect states. The panel was moderated by attorney Hugh Hewitt, a conservative and Catholic MSNBC talk show host who comments on society, politics and media bias. 

My assessment:

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Hate groups, far-right conservatives and other labels: Can we guess why journalists rely on certain terms?

Hate groups, far-right conservatives and other labels: Can we guess why journalists rely on certain terms?

Readers of a certain age no doubt recall commercials for "Libby's! Libby's! Libby's!"

Today, though, I want to talk about "Labels! Labels! Labels!"

Before I refer to the label that caught my attention while reading my morning newspapers, let's play the mirror image game made famous (and perhaps trademarked) by our own tmatt: When was the last time you saw a mainstream news report refer to, say, a gay-rights organization as a "far-left liberal group?"

Not recently?

OK, let's ask the question in reverse: When was the last time you saw an organization that stands for traditional religious beliefs characterized — in a mainstream news report — as a "far-right conservative group?"

If you, like me, subscribe to the Dallas Morning News, you don't have to go back too far. This is a sentence at the end of the Dallas paper's story today on oil and gas companies opposing Texas' proposed bathroom bill:

The bill's supporters say they want to protect the privacy of women and girls in intimate spaces. It has the support of far-right conservative groups like the Texas Pastors Council and Texas Values.

My question when reading that label: What makes those groups "far-right" conservatives? Why not simply describe them as conservative groups (assuming a label is required at all)? What does the "far-right" add?

Is the paper intentionally trying to cast the groups as extremists?

The Texas Pastor Council (I believe that's the correct name of the organization without the plural "Pastors") says on its Twitter profile that it "is the only culturally and politically active organization from a Biblically-grounded perspective." I'm not sure that's the best wording I've ever seen, but what is "far-right" about it? 

On its Twitter profile, Texas Values says it is "dedicated to preserving and advancing faith, family, and freedom in the great state of Texas." Again, I ask: What is "far-right" about that?

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Might this be the lede? Democrats allow pro-life Catholic to run (and win) in Louisiana

Might this be the lede? Democrats allow pro-life Catholic to run (and win) in Louisiana

Please raise your hand if you are getting more and more tired of political labels, especially when they are linked to issues of religion, culture and morality. Can I get a witness?

During the recent elections in that crazy alternative universe called Louisiana, Republicans struggled to pin a liberal label, of some kind, on the Democrat who was willing to be the latest sacrificial victim in the race for governor. Everyone knows that Louisiana is a deep red, culturally conservative state, so the Democrat was given little chance to win.

It helped, of course, that the heavily favored Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter did almost everything he could to self destruct. Cue up that campaign ad at the top of this post.

So the Democrat won. How did The Washington Post choose to label this unlikely victory

Completing a long-shot bid that ran counter to the conservative tide sweeping the Southern states, Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards was elected governor of Louisiana on Saturday, defeating his Republican rival, U.S. Sen. David Vitter. ...
A jubilant crowd of Edwards supporters greeted news of the Democrat’s win at the venerable Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans’s French Quarter as a brass band led an impromptu “second line” celebration through the packed ballroom.
Addressing the crowd, Edwards said, “I did not create this breeze of hope that’s blowing across our state, but I did catch it.” He reached out to supporters of his Republican opponent, pledging to be a governor “for all the people of Louisiana,” and congratulated voters for not giving in to the “deep cynicism about our politics and our future.”

So what was the key in this victory?

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Are evangelicals America's only real moral conservatives?

Are evangelicals America's only real moral conservatives?

Nearly a decade ago, the conservative Weekly Standard ran a very newsy story on its cover under this ominous double-decker headline: The coming conflict between same-sex marriage and religious liberty.

The story shocked quite a few people and, behind the scenes, I know that many journalists linked to the religion beat passed it around, in part because so much of its reporting — even in the pages of a consevative magazine — centered on the complex and at times clashing legal views inside gay-rights groups.

Catholic Charities of Boston made the announcement on March 10: It was getting out of the adoption business. “We have encountered a dilemma we cannot resolve. … The issue is adoption to same-sex couples.”

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