Is there a religion ghost in Liz Cheney’s closet or not?

As we have watched the gossipy headlines roll past in recent days, I have found myself contemplating this question: Is it possible for anyone whose last name is “Cheney” to take a public stand that is not purely based on political considerations?

I mean, I don’t know how many country clubs there are in Wyoming, but I have always considered former Vice President Dick Cheney to be the ultimate icon of the Grand Old Party’s establishment in this era. From my perspective as a pro-life Democrat, that statement is not a compliment (dig into this 2000 piece if you want more info).

So, from the view of the family patriarch, who is the real Republican these days? U.S. Senate candidate Liz Cheney or her gay younger sister, the occasionally activist Mary? And is there a religion ghost in their nasty public spat? That’s the question I keep waiting for mainstream journalists to ask. So far, unless I have missed something, no one has worked that thread.

Dig into the following New York Times piece, for example, and then ask yourself this question: What does Liz Cheney believe and when did she start believing it? Here’s a key chunk of the media-storm drama:

The situation has deteriorated so much that the two sisters have not spoken since the summer, and the quarrel threatens to get in the way of something former Vice President Dick Cheney desperately wants — a United States Senate seat for Liz.

Things erupted … when Mary Cheney, a lesbian, and her wife were at home watching “Fox News Sunday” — their usual weekend ritual. Liz Cheney appeared on the show and said that she opposed same-sex marriage, describing it as “just an area where we disagree,” referring to her sister. Taken aback and hurt, Mary Cheney took to her Facebook page to blast back: “Liz — this isn’t just an issue on which we disagree you’re just wrong — and on the wrong side of history.”

The story does a solid job of tracking Dick Cheney through his evolution on this issue, which has certainly shown political creativity and very little doctrinal muscle. In 2011, for example, in 2011 he told Barbara Walters, “I certainly don’t have any
problem with” same-sex marriage.

Liz Cheney, however, still needs the Republican base. Thus, she has played the faith card.

Liz Cheney on Sunday declined to directly address the remarks from her sister and sister-in-law, but said in an email: “I love my sister and her family and have always tried to be compassionate towards them. I believe that is the Christian way to behave.”

So there are some basic questions that need to be asked, and answered, here.

Liz Cheney is saying that she is still trying to relate to her sister in a Christian manner. But first, is there any evidence here that Liz Cheney’s stance on marriage is linked to religious convictions? In the current Republican party, it would be impossible to escape that question.

So, what is the candidate’s religious tradition and practice?

Last time I checked, her father remained a United Methodist. Of course, the reality on the ground is that each and every member of the Cheney family — Mary and her lesbian partner included — could be United Methodists and that would not tell readers precisely where they stand on this issue. Having lived in the Rocky Mountain West, and covered United Methodist life in that region, my assumption would be that they grew up liberal or neutral on issues of moral theology. Unless, of course, there were political needs to take into consideration.

What’s the bottom line here? I think it would have helped if journalists covering this story (including at The Washington Post and The Politico) had devoted a few lines of type to the history and origins of Liz Cheney’s beliefs and public statements on religious liberty and sexuality in general.

Has her faith played any role here? If the answer is “yes,” that’s a key part of the story in this day and age. If the answer appears to be “no,” then that’s even more interesting.

Ghost or no ghost?
I’d like to know.

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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.

  • Parableman

    Dick Cheney says in his book that they rarely went to church on Sundays. He didn’t raise his kids to be particularly religious.

    • tmatt

      So, we still don’t know if Liz’s stance is based on any personal conviction unique to her, compared to the rest of the family.

  • http://www.andrewhidas.com/ Andrew Hidas

    Terry, it is appropriately unpresumptuous and journalistic of you to ask this question, but not being bound by any such strictures, I am free to slap my knees and roar with laughter at the idea that Liz’s stance in this matter is driven by deeply held moral convictions, unless we consider “unbridled political ambition that compels you to throw your own sister under the bus” to be a “deeply held moral conviction.” And considering this is the Cheney family, perhaps it is…