WPost profiles ‘evangelical Catholic’ Bobby Jindal

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I know this will shock — SHOCK! — you, but your friendly GetReligionistas don’t agree on everything.

Those of us who contribute to this journalism website have a tremendous amount of freedom to pick the stories that we critique. But frequently, editor tmatt pushes potential items our way. And in rare cases, he even proposes an angle that we might take.

That’s the case with today’s post on a recent Washington Post story profiling Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a potential 2016 GOP presidential contender:

LYNCHBURG, Va. — A dozen politically active pastors came here for a private dinner Friday night to hear a conversion story unique in the context of presidential politics: how Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal traveled from Hinduism to Protestant Christianity and, ultimately, became what he calls an “evangelical Catholic.”

Over two hours, Jindal, 42, recalled talking with a girl in high school who wanted to “save my soul,” reading the Bible in a closet so his parents would not see him and feeling a stir while watching a movie during his senior year that depicted Jesus on the cross.

“I was struck, and struck hard,” Jindal told the pastors. “This was the Son of God, and he had died for our sins.”

Jindal’s session with the Christian clergy, who lead congregations in the early presidential battleground states of Iowa and South Carolina, was part of a behind-the-scenes effort by the Louisiana governor to find a political base that could help propel him into the top tier of Republican candidates seeking to run for the White House in 2016.

The angle that tmatt suggested for a post: the lack of a liberal viewpoint in the 1,200-word report. That’s certainly a different twist for GetReligion, which often takes issue with the lack of conservative or right-leaning voices in mainstream news accounts. So I called dibs.

The only problem: After reading and reflecting on the Post story, I’m not so certain that I agree with that criticism. (Hashtag: #awkward.)

From my perspective — and as the headline itself points out — this is a story about Jindal trying to “woo (the) GOP base.” Are liberals really part of the GOP base? And more specifically, it’s about a dinner with a dozen politically active pastors from two battleground states. Are any of these pastors liberals? Based on reading the rest of the story, I doubt it.

So, it seems perfectly logical to me that all of the pastors quoted are conservative evangelicals:

The pastors who came to meet Jindal said his intimate descriptions of his experiences stood out.

“He has the convictions, and he has what it takes to communicate them,” said Brad Sherman of the Solid Rock Christian Church in Coralville, Iowa, who helped former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee in his winning 2008 campaign for delegates in Iowa.

Another Huckabee admirer, the Rev. C. Mitchell Brooks of Second Baptist Church in Belton, S.C., said that Jindal’s commitment to Christian values and his compelling story put him “on a par” with Huckabee, who was a Baptist preacher before entering politics.

The visiting pastors flew to Lynchburg over the weekend at the invitation of the American Renewal Project, a well-funded nonprofit that encourages evangelical Christians to engage in the civic arena with voter guides, get-out-the-vote drives and programs to train pastors in grass-roots activism. The group’s founder, David Lane, has built a pastor network in politically important states such as Iowa, Missouri, Ohio and South Carolina and has led trips to Israel with Paul and others seeking to make inroads with evangelical activists.

My own questions about this story are different than the one raised by tmatt.

First, the lede characterizes the event as a “private dinner,” then proceeds to provide specific quotes and details of what Jindal said. As a reader, I’d love to know how the Post reporter gathered this information. Did the journalist attend the dinner, too? Did someone record it? Did the writer rely on the memories of pastors who were there?

Second, the headline characterizes Jindal as an “evangelical Catholic,” and the story ends this way:

After the stirring moment when he saw Christ depicted on the cross during the religious movie, the Bible and his very existence suddenly seemed clearer to him, Jindal told the pastors.

Jindal did not dwell on his subsequent conversion to Catholicism just a few years later in college, where he said he immersed himself in the traditions of the church.

He touched on it briefly during the commencement address, noting in passing that “I am best described as an evangelical Catholic.” Mostly, he sought to showcase the ways in which he shares values with other Christian conservatives.

“I read the words of Jesus Christ, and I realized that they were true,” Jindal told the graduates Saturday, offering a less detailed accounting of his conversion than he had done the night before with the pastors. “I used to think that I had found God, but I believe it is more accurate to say that He found me.”

As I understand it, fellow Republican Marco Rubio also would fall under the “evangelical Catholic” heading, as did a previous GOP candidate, Sam Brownback, now governor of Kansas. A little more context on that term might have improved the story.

But a liberal voice adding commentary? I’m just not sure it’s essential — or even fits — in this particular story.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • FW Ken

    I thought the article was ok until I went back and read the headline, that he “used” his Christian conversion for political reasons. The depth of that cynicism tells a tale all is own.

    Then there is a tale to tell about a Catholic speaking at Liberty University, which I would have called a “fundamentalist”, than than “evangelical” school. It’s not Bob Jones U., but is it in the same ballpark as Wheaton?

    Finally, evangelical Catholic may be a reference to George Weigle’ s book of that name. If so, it has a somewhat more specific meaning than being a practicing Catholic. Sen. Rubio, btw, attends a Baptist church with his wife, while retaining some cultural Catholicism, or that was the last I heard, so I suspect anything evangelical about him comes from the Baptists rather than the Catholics.

    • helen

      Jindal didn’t write the headline.
      [Not to be counted as a vote for Jindal (or against him).]

    • Mark Byron

      Liberty isn’t that theologically picky about their visiting politicos; Mormon convert Glen Beck got to speak to the students earlier this year.

  • BC

    There are Lutherans who claim the “evangelical Catholic” label for Lutheranism. So I think a definition is in order. Is he claiming to be a Roman Catholic who accepts some aspects of evangelicalism? What does “evangelical Catholic” mean here?

    • helen

      I doubt he means Lutheran, although that might play a little better in Iowa than Louisiana!

  • boinkie

    Jindal lost his first try to be governor because someone posted a quote out of context about Protestants (an article on evangelization from a conservative catholic magazine), and implied he was anti Christian. Did the Post bring this up?
    And “Evangelical catholics” are from what I call the “scott Hahn” section of the church: Who can use the bible to back Catholic teachings (whereas most Catholics are taught the faith through stories, art music and family customs).


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