Times team laughs at all those bitter Texans

Since I grew up in a solidly Baylor family, I have always understood why the university’s seal contains the following crucial words in Latin: Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana.

That is, of course, for the church, for Texas.

A church historian friend of mine once laughed out loud when he saw those words on the front of an old Baylor sweatshirt that was wearing. He thought, of course, that this referred to some kind of over-the-top Baylor pride in the state of Texas.

Nope, the seal simply states the fact that Baylor was chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas.

The university’s web site explains both parts of that equation, but the key part is the text that tries to describe the higher loyalty involved in that slogan:

Pro Ecclesia. Baylor is founded on the belief that God’s nature is made known through both revealed and discovered truth. Thus, the University derives its understanding of God, humanity and nature from many sources: the person and work of Jesus Christ, the biblical record, and Christian history and tradition, as well as scholarly and artistic endeavors. In its service to the Church, Baylor’s pursuit of knowledge is strengthened by the conviction that truth has its ultimate source in God and by a Baptist heritage that champions religious liberty and freedom of conscience.

I bring this up for a simple reason: I imagine that if a Baylor grad walked into the newsroom of The New York Times these days, that whole “For the Church, For Texas” thing would also be pretty funny. I say that after reading the laugh-to-keep-from-crying piece that the Gray Lady ran the other day under the headline, “With Stickers, a Petition and Even a Middle Name, Secession Fever Hits Texas.”

It must be very hard for people outside of Texas to understand that there is more to that whole TexasSecede.com thing than the reelection of President Barack Obama.

Now, I realize that it’s hard to know just how seriously to take this story.

Nevertheless, it’s crucial for the Times team to realize that there is more to that growing sense of red-zip code rebellion than, well, a bizarre sense of Texas nationalism, gun fever and a few other issues that are punch-lines in the elite blue cities (including, yes, in Austin). Here is the key passage, the kind of token summary of the facts in the middle of all the strangeness:

A petition calling for secession that was filed by a Texas man on a White House Web site has received tens of thousands of signatures, and the Obama administration must now issue a response. And Larry Scott Kilgore, a perennial Republican candidate from Arlington, a Dallas suburb, announced that he was running for governor in 2014 and would legally change his name to Larry Secede Kilgore, with Secede in capital letters. As his Web page, secedekilgore.com, puts it: “Secession! All other issues can be dealt with later.”

In Texas, talk of secession in recent years has steadily shifted to the center from the fringe right. It has emerged as an echo of the state Republican leadership’s anti-Washington, pro-Texas-sovereignty mantra on a variety of issues, including health care and environmental regulations. For some Texans, the renewed interest in the subject serves simply as comic relief after a crushing election defeat. …

The official in East Texas, Peter Morrison, the treasurer of the Hardin County Republican Party, said in a statement that he had received overwhelming support from conservative Texans and overwhelming opposition from liberals outside the state in response to his comments in his newsletter. He said that it may take time for “people to appreciate that the fundamental cultural differences between Texas and other parts of the United States may be best addressed by an amicable divorce, a peaceful separation.”

So, if this issue is slowly creeping from the right fringe — the edge that is the primary focus of this blue-ink report — toward the middle, what are the issues that are driving that movement? What, in other words, are the primary “cultural differences” that many — not all, but many — die-hard Texans are convinced separate their state from some other parts of the United States?

The story cites “health care” as one of those issues. Did anyone one linked with the Times follow up on that?

Let me stress, once again, that I am very much a prodigal Texan who has chosen to spend most of his life in blue zip codes (think Maryland, Charlotte, Baltimore, West Palm Beach). However, I have a hunch that this whole angry Texas thing has just as much to do with issues of religion as it has to do with “environmental regulations.” Did anyone ask any questions about, oh, religious liberty and free speech issues?

A totally secular story on this issue strikes me as most strange. Bizarre, even. Might some of these bitter Texans even be mad enough to, what was that Obama phrase, try to cling to their old-fashioned beliefs about God and guns?

Here’s hoping that the Times team elects to talk to some folks closer to the middle next time.

IMAGE: Early flag of the Republic of Texas.

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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.

  • Darren Blair

    As another Texan?

    Texas natives (that is, those who spent a number of their formative years in the state) tend to be reasonably well-versed in the fact that Texas was its own nation at one point. This fact, coupled with the unique historical circumstances behind this fact *and* the nature of Texas’ rise to prominence have left a lot of us with a “world apart” mentality. Throw in the fact that Texas tends to be overwhelmingly religious and old-fashioned conservative, and the disconnect between us and liberal havens like NYC and DC is rather apparent.

    To be honest, I’d love to see a Times reporter – or another reporter from a big-name media outlet – actually shadow students for a week at a Texas public school and/or read through a Texas history book so that they can understand just where we’re all coming from.

  • http://www.magdalenesegg.blogspot.com Rev. Michael Church

    It seems to me that the Times is giving this story the treatment it deserves. Texas isn’t going to secede, and nobody in their right mind expects it to, so the call for secession is a toothless sort of protest — not a joke, exactly, but not serious about its nominal goal, either. While the Times could certainly have looked more deeply into the social unrest it was describing, secession per se doesn’t deserve to be taken in earnest.

    That said, of course the religious angle merits a shout-out. Religion plays an even bigger role in Texas than it does in most other states, and this does have a large effect on the rest of the country. The matter of textbooks is an easy example.

    I’m also from a solid Baylor family, BTW — faculty and alumni from the nineteenth century to the present. A hundred or so people, living and dead, all but one or two intensely religious, and covering most of the political spectrum — and I can’t imagine one of them supporting secession.

  • Jerry

    To me it’s a very great stretch, one too far, to make this post in a religion blog. Perhaps it would have been better in a blog about the psychological problems so many have today. Outside of the mention of religion in the Baylor extract, you don’t mention religion at all which is what led me to write my first sentence.

  • tmatt

    An absolutely PERFECT, archetypal Jerry comment.

    Thank you for making my point far better than I did. An article about differences between Texas and blue-zip-code America that fails to mention religion.

    Perfect.

    • sari

      Sorry, tmatt, I agree with Jerry. Though I am a transplant to Texas, I have lived all but two years of my life in the South–was born, raised and educated in Florida, lived in Georgia and Virginia. Step outside the Dade/Broward/Palm Beach megapolis and step into the world of rebel flags, beer and dry counties (I have never understood the connection), hunting and church. I am quite fluent in several dialects of southern.

      Despite this I don’t think the religion angle is as relevant as you’d like it to be in Texas. What I have seen, as a non-Texan, is a state whose people simply don’t like being told what to do because they feel they’re better than everyone else–basically exactly what you and others feel about the NYT. Nor do I see religion as a motivator for large segments of the population in red counties, since a large percentage (of younger people in particular) no longer attend church.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    In looking at the secession movement the media should pay attention to the religious angle. You see most Christians who take their Faith seriously put loyalty to God far higher than loyalty to a state that is anti-Christian–as some Christians believe America is becoming. Catholics in Poland wouldn’t burn incense to the Communist government (and many other such examples can be given) showing that rebellion against the state is not just a left-wing secular thing .
    The liberal media staunchly derides the notion that America’s ethical and historic foundation is Christian.
    But one wonders what would happen if the 80% or so of the population that claims to be Christian decided to withdraw its support from the government in power as the Poles did to the government that ruled them.
    The fact of the matter is that our governmental system relies on Christians being willing to compliantly obey judicial and other government dictates even when they trash some of the most basic values of the Christian Faith.

    • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

      The liberal media staunchly derides the notion that America’s ethical and historic foundation is Christian.

      Actually, I don’t see examples of that. I can find examples of the media noting that most of the foundational aspects of the United States derive from Enlightenment philosopy. (Indeed, the Constitution was opposed by many at the time precisely because it wasnt religious enough.)

  • The Old Bill

    If someone walked into the noisiest honky-tonk in our little Texas town on a Saturday night, grabbed the microphone and announced, “There’s been an accident on Main St. The paramedics are there. Let us offer a prayer for the victims,” every cowboy in the place would put down his drink, take off his hat and join in. The ladies, of course. In the watering holes where the Gray Lady’s ranch hands drink, what do you reckon the response would be?
    What does NY have to do with TX? Less and less. When I read the NYT, I feel its spittle in my face on every page.

    • Darren Blair

      Back over the summer, ABC aired an episode of “What Would You Do?” that sought to bash Mormons and Mormonism as part of an effort by the network to scare people away from Romney.

      One of the skits involved actors pretending to be in an abusive relationship. The set-up was that the couple would be eating out at a restaurant in a blue-collar part of Utah when something would cause the husband to flare up and explode. As per the set-up of the show, hidden cameras would see what the everyday patrons of the restaurant would do.

      Said skit *nearly* ended with the actor playing the husband being hauled out into the parking lot and beaten bloody. Only the sudden arrival of the host defused the situation and kept real violence from breaking out.

      Had the skit been shot in a blue-collar joint here in Texas, the actor wouldn’t have been anywheres near so lucky.

  • http://www.nature.com Agnikan

    What indeed has New York to do with Texas? What has the Academy to do with the Church? …

    • Hank

      Those at the extremes are often more alike to one another than to all those in the middle (picture a horseshoe spectrum, not a linear one). NY and TX are the two states in the union that most identify with their red/blue, lib/con status. They are two of the most powerful states in representation and economics. They are two of the states that whose people say, “I’m a NYer,” or “I’m a Texan,” quicker than “I’m an American.” What do they have in common? More than you’d think.

      (Lived in both states)

  • tmatt

    AGNIKAN:
    And what does your comment have to do with my post? With journalism content?

  • FW Ken

    The reality of politics and religion in Texas is much more complicated and interesting than the Times article. But I’m with Jerry and Sari on this one. There is an interesting story that could be told about secession, which would involve the non-stereotypical elements in Texas. This is clearly not that story. How could they do the interesting religious angles, when they can’t get the wider political picture? What if they had asked the mayor of Houston, an open lesbian, how she feels about succession.

  • sari

    After more consideration, I’d say that the NYT could have approached this from a religion angle, but not the one you suggested, tmatt. Rather, they should have examined the attributes of “Being Texan”, a phenomenon unique to a large segment of Texas’ population and adhered to with ferocious religiosity.

  • tmatt

    sari:
    Sorry, we simply disagree. I do not think it’s possible to discuss cultural differences between Texas and blue-zip-code America without discussing religion. Period.

  • Mark S

    I don’t think this had any reference to religion, but I remember the results of a poll the New York Times reported a while back. It said that 40% of Texans were in favor of the secession of Texas, while 88% of New Yorkers are in favor of the secession of Texas.

    • Kristen inDallas

      I’ve never seen any such poll, myself. But I did find it interesting that if you look at the actual signatures on the petition about 1 in 4 were from people outside the state, plenty from NJ, NY, CA, among other states which *may be simpathetic signatures. Who knows? I’d bet there are enough people signing that petition as non-residents to meet the 25k threshold for a petition along the lines of “yes, get rid of Texas please.” And had they looked into that component, I’m pretty positve there would be a religious angle. The gun-toting, bible-thumping meme of Texas, as seen by the rest of the world, and rejections of such by the “enlightened.”

  • tmatt

    A poll “reported a while back….”
    Unless this is a joke, please give us a URL for that info.

  • Becky

    Rather, they should have examined the attributes of “Being Texan”, a phenomenon unique to a large segment of Texas’ population and adhered to with ferocious religiosity.

    It would be nice if there could be some self-examination by the NYT of the attributes of “Being a New Yorker”, a phenomenon unique to a large segment of New York City’s population and adhered to with ferocious… religiosity? Like, soft drinks are sinful. Dunno. Christians have teachings about gluttony etc. New Yorkers, on the other hand, are just being “enlightened.”

    I’m left thinking about two tweets from Virginia Postrel recently,

    1. Californians invent new superstitions daily and many have real-world implications for behavior, e.g., diet, vaccines… My point is simply to remind people that superstitions come in many forms, some of them “enlightened.”

    2. At least fundamentalist Christians believe a few crazy things you can keep straight, and most of them are of merely theoretical interest.

  • Carrie Wehmeyer

    “It has emerged as an echo of the state Republican leadership’s anti-Washington, pro-Texas-sovereignty mantra on a variety of issues, including health care and environmental regulations. ”

    I hate to break it to the esteemed journalists at the New York Times, but the Constitution espouses the same beliefs. It would be nice to see journalists interview all stripes of Texans for articles written about our state, rather than a few caricatures of who they assume we are. There are many of us who quietly go about our daily lives, fulfilling our obligations to work, family, and God who would like to see a lot less interference from Washington in our quotidian activities. We aren’t comfortable with a Nanny Bloomberg type telling us what we can and can’t put in our mouths or any such interference from government entities. Perhaps the Grey Lady should do a comparison piece, focusing on the differences between their policies and ours, without bias one way or the other. Let the reader decide, based on facts. Answer the questions who, what, when, where and why without judgement.

  • sari

    “It would be nice if there could be some self-examination by the NYT of the attributes of “Being a New Yorker”, a phenomenon unique to a large segment of New York City’s population and adhered to with ferocious… religiosity? Like, soft drinks are sinful. Dunno. Christians have teachings about gluttony etc. New Yorkers, on the other hand, are just being “enlightened.””

    Exactly!! Regional culture binds populations, even when more specific aspects, like religion, vary. Still, while it’s incorrect to conflate flexibility with enlightenment for obvious reasons, I don’t think we should expect the media to promote rigidity of thought as a virtue, either. Also, I don’t see a big difference between Texas natives on either side of the fence; the specifics vary, but the basic worldview is the same. With media blurring cultural boundaries (many younger Texans have no accent whatsoever, even those from small towns), it would be interesting for the media to document how Texan culture and worldview changes.

  • sk

    Did anyone notice the FAQ on the Texas secede website is linked to democracy is not freedom website which states the USA is a republic, not a democracy constitutionally and should therefore not function like one. A link between the two could be investigated especially since the method of the petition (i.e. collecting signatures of a significant majority) is democratic.


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