Define ‘evangelical,’ again and again

weyrich 704633I made it to Prague just fine, with no help from the construction war zone that is called Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport. You don’t want to know about it. OK, let’s just say that airport terminals designed to be linked by trains do not work well when there are no trains.

So I am exhausted, but I still was awake enough to get ticked off reading a short political story in the new issue of Newsweek. It’s about Fred Thompson and his much celebrated gaffes coming out of the White House gate late in the game.

As you would imagine, this involves whether he has or has not bonded with a key GOP voter group. It’s right there in Holly Bailey’s lede:

For months, social conservatives have viewed Fred Thompson as a Reaganesque savior in a dreary field of GOP presidential hopefuls. But the former Tennessee senator’s early days on the campaign trail have left some prominent evangelicals underwhelmed. “I’m personally not that impressed,” says Paul Weyrich, a veteran strategist who cofounded the Moral Majority.

One sticking point: Thompson’s stance on a same-sex marriage ban. On the trail, he has declined to endorse a constitutional amendment blocking gay marriage, instead backing a broader amendment that would bar states from imposing their laws on other states. “The [marriage ban] approach has been tried in Congress, but can’t even get a majority,” Thompson told the Christian Broadcasting Network.

That’s not good enough for some on the right, and it has cost Thompson, at least for now, endorsements from members of the Arlington Group, an influential coalition of the nation’s top conservative leaders. “It’s a deal breaker,” Weyrich told Newsweek.

See the problem in this little story? Yes, it is an old problem that we have talked about here before, which is the evolution of the word “evangelical” into a strictly political term with almost no religious content whatsoever.

Now, it’s true that Weyrich was the cofounder of the Moral Majority. But does this automatically mean that he is an evangelical Protestant?

So here is your one question mini-test. OK, GetReligion class: Paul Weyrich is an ordained clergyperson in what church?

(a) The Nation of Islam

(b) The United Church of Christ

(c) The Catholic Church (Eastern Rite)

(d) The Anglican Church of Nigeria

(e) The Southern Baptist Convention

And the answer is …

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Mattk

    That’s very funny.

  • James

    Sure is.

  • HTB

    Answer: One of the Eastern Catholic Churches. But, as ordinations go, being a protodeacon doesn’t necessarily mean much in terms of either theological training or your daily responsibilities. I have the impression that it’s more like being ordained an “elder” at certain independent churches — a sort of super-duper confirmation that’s available to most dedicated members.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Terry, I recommend that you abstain from Newsweek when you are traveling internationally. Read something like Us Magazine instead. Great taste, less annoying.

  • Chris Jones


    I’m not a Catholic (Eastern-rite or otherwise) but if you are suggesting that a deacon in the Catholic Church is not a “real” cleric like a priest or bishop then you are mistaken.

    A deacon, unlike a priest, does not serve as the pastor of a parish, nor does he celebrate the Divine Liturgy or Mass. But in the Eastern Churches (Catholic and Orthodox), the deacon plays a prominent role in all of the liturgical services. In those parishes where both a deacon and a priest serve, the deacon’s part of the service is actually more visible (and audible) to the people than that of the priest. (In parishes where there is no deacon, the priest performs the deacon’s part in addition to his own; a layman cannot fill the deacon’s role.)

  • Julia

    I applaud the article’s designation of “the Melkite Greek rite of the Roman Catholic Church”. If the press and others insist on using “Roman” Catholic, then preceding it by the particular rite in communion with the Bishop of Rome (Pope) instead of limiting it to Latin Rite Catholics is the way to go.

    Permanent Deacons in the Latin Rite are more than elders. They go through training and are ordained. They preside at weddings, administer the Last Rites, read the Gospel and give a homily at Mass and other things which assist the pastor. They cannot hear confessions or preside at Mass. They can be married. On the other hand, transitional deacons are one step away from being ordained as priests and cannot be married.

    Here is the answer to the question about deacons in the Melkite Rite:

    Role of the Deacon: “I would like to know the difference between the priest and the deacon can the deacon give a blessing to the people of the church and can he perform marriages and funeral masses. Or does he just assist the priest during the mass by doing the ritualistic part of the mass and proclaim the gospel to the people…”

    Bishop John’s Answer:

    Christ acts in the Liturgy and Sacraments of the Church. In them, He acts through all the people. We all share in His priesthood through Baptism – the royal priesthood of the faithful. But He has also left a special gift to the Church of an ordained priesthood. The fullness of that priesthood is found in the Bishop, who is head of the local Church and makes God’s Fatherhood present. But, since the Bishop cannot be present at all times in all the parishes of his church, his priesthood is extended and partially shared by two groups of men: one is the presbyterate (priests). The priests lead the worship in local parishes, standing in for the bishop. They share the bishop’s priesthood, but not to its fullest. The other group of his helpers is the diaconate (deacons). Deacons are also ordained by the bishop and share in his priesthood, but not as fully as the priests. Each group helps the bishop and extends his presence and ministry to the local community, each in his own way.

    Now, to get to your particular questions. From the tone of what you asked, I gather that you are more familiar with the role of deacons in the Latin Rite, rather than the Eastern Churches. There are differences in what the deacon can do. In the Latin Rite, deacons can do weddings and funerals on their own – but not in the Eastern Churches. In the Latin Rite, there are several blessings which a deacon can do – but not usually in the Eastern Churches. In general, in the East, the deacon invites the people to pray – he directs their prayers by announcing intentions for prayer. The people respond by singing “Lord, have mercy” or “Grant this, O Lord”. He also sings the Gospel and assists at Communion by handling the chalice. The deacon normally assists the bishop or priest – they give him a blessing before each thing he is to do – he does not usually do any service on his own.

    . . . The Director of our Deacon Formation Program, which has been conducted every year since 1971, is The Reverend Father Paul Frechette, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Melkite Church, 256 Hamilton St., Worcester, MA 01604, (508) 752-4174.


    Here is a website with photos of deacons of the Melkite Rite participating in Mass.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    The Greek Melkite Church is one of the Eastern Catholic Churches which uses the Byzantine Rite. That Church is Catholic and in Communion with Rome, but it would not be proper to call it–or the Maronites, or Ruthenians, or Ukrainians–Roman Catholic for most Roman Catholics use the Roman or Latin Rite (there are other Roman Catholic Rites such as the Ambrosian in Milan and there is another in Spain). The Maronite Church (from Lebanon) is in the family of Catholic Churches which use the Syriac Rite which comes by way of Antioch, Syria. Interestingly most of the Christians in Iraq are members of the Chaldean (Catholic) Church and have their own Rite. There is also an Armenian (Catholic) Church which uses the Armenian Rite. This can all get confusing and I’m not sure I have it all precisely right.
    As for Latin deacons, we are authorized through our ordination to preside at weddings and funerals, to baptize, to preach, to bless, and can be assigned to administer a parish under the pastorate of a priest. We are the married clergy of the Catholic Church so it is never proper to say or imply that all Catholic clergy must take a vow of celibacy for, since Vatican II, only those who wish to be ordained priests must take a vow of celibacy.

  • Julia

    It’s not the Roman Rite – it’s the Latin Rite which includes the Roman, Ambrosian, Carmelite, Sarum etc variations of liturgy. Everybody in the Latin Rite has the same Canon Law. The folks in the East have their own particular Codes of Canon Law. But we are all united with the Bishop of Rome.

    Why not call us all “Catholics” and dispense with the “Roman” moniker? It’s an English invention to imply control by foreigners. Or else use it for everybody in communion with the Pope.

  • Canadian

    Julia, some of us Anglicans also consider ourselves catholics and refer to “Roman Catholics” for clarity.

  • shocked

    Considering Weyrich’s history, it’s not surprising that he should be considered an “evangelical” rather than an “Eastern Orthodox”. His activities in the political sphere and involvement with “right-wing” organizations are not typical of many who belong to Eastern Catholic Orthodox churches.

  • tmatt


    This is, of course, precisely what I am saying that newspapers have done — turned a religious word into a political word. You would not appreciate that if it happened to you or to a person or organization you respected.

    Words have meaning. Journalists should honor that.

  • shocked

    “This is, of course, precisely what I am saying that newspapers have done — turned a religious word into a political word. You would not appreciate that if it happened to you or to a person or organization you respected.”

    Perhaps it’s not newspapers that have done so but political organizations that have and, newspapers not being noted for in depth accuracy, simply followed the political organizations’ lead.

    I’m thinking of the word “Christian” when uttered by a politician. What does the word mean?

  • Chris Bolinger

    Michael, if the press is presenting a religious term as a political term, does it really matter why? Excusing the press because it is following the lead of a political organization and is too stupid to do otherwise is not a terribly persuasive defense of the press.

  • shocked

    First, my name isn’t “Michael”.

    Second, I’m not excusing the press. I noted that the press isn’t very good at in-depth accuracy.

    But why attack the press and only the press when political organizations misuse terms?

    If the press reports the misuse by political organizations, should it do so in quotes?

  • tmatt

    Typo on the name noted. I’ll try to get my fingers to type it right.

    Why, SHOCKED, btw?

    In direct quotes you report what people say.

    But journalists are in charge of their own stylebooks.

    But when you talk about “the evangelical vote” you are talking about people in evangelical churches.

    When you talk about the “Catholic vote” you are talking about people who are self-identified Catholics.

    If would be wrong to say that a Mormon is part of the Catholic vote, or an evangelical part of the Catholic vote, or a Catholic part of the evangelical vote.

    Weyrich is not an evangelical leader. He is a Catholic who is a political leader. I think it would also be wrong to call him a Catholic leader, since he leads no Catholic group.

  • shocked

    Actually, Weyrich is not a “Catholic” but a “Melkite”.

  • shocked

    To be more precise, “Melkite Greek Catholic”.

  • Roland

    Deacon John M. Bresnahan wrote:

    We are the married clergy of the Catholic Church so it is never proper to say or imply that all Catholic clergy must take a vow of celibacy for, since Vatican II, only those who wish to be ordained priests must take a vow of celibacy.

    It was my understanding that a deacon, if married, must take a conditional vow of celibacy – i.e., he cannot remarry if his wife dies. (That’s what I was told by a Catholic deacon in my hometown 20 years ago.)

  • John

    I know Paul Weyrich personally, and I met him in his capacity as deacon at Holy Transfiguration Melkite Church in McLean, Va. Until he got really sick, he served the liturgy every Sunday and on holy days.

    We are fully Catholic, but not fully Orthodox. If it were to come down to matters of theology alone, Paul would be 100 percent opposed to Evangelical Protestantism. Unlike the Evangelicals, Paul routinely expresses his private disdain for Christian Zionism at church, especially because our congregation is 70 percent Arab/Palestinian.

    Paul Weyrich is one of the most down-to-earth and sincere people I know.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Roland–you are right. But since women in massive numbers outlive their husbands it is virtually a non-issue. After 27 years as a deacon I can’t remember us taking a formal vow, but as you said a “conditional” agreement based on the ancient Traditions of the church. So if I outlive my wife I have no plans to seek a second wife, but would must likely seek ordination to the priesthood. This still leaves deacons as basically the married clergy of the Catholic Church.