Mamma mia, that’s a hot quote!

Hf3Z1ByrtmnCWell, a reporter researching Judge Samuel Alito can’t turn to a much better source than this. Here is the Associated Press report by Gina Holland that is defining the first wave of MSM coverage.

Alito, a Catholic, is opposed to abortion, his 90-year-old mother forthrightly told reporters in New Jersey. As an appeals court judge, he held that states can require women seeking abortions to notify their spouses. The Supreme Court disagreed.

Actually, I would have preferred to hear more from Alito’s mother. Luckily, another AP reporter did land an actual quotation while researching the man who — ALL TOGETHER NOW! Let me HEAR you! — would “become the fifth Catholic on the nine-member court.”

Here are the “Mamma mia!” quotes from the wire-service profile by Maryclaire Dale:

Alito’s mother, Rose, who will turn 91 in December, spent Monday fielding congratulatory telephone calls from her home in Hamilton, N.J., a Trenton suburb. “I’m so excited I can’t even express myself,” she said.

More candid that her son might wish, she said, “I think he was upset that he didn’t get there in the first shot, that Miers got it.” That was a reference to Bush’s choice of Harriet Miers, since withdrawn.

If confirmed, Alito would be the fifth Catholic on the Supreme Court. “Of course he’s against abortion,” his mother said, another comment supporters in Washington might wish she’d held back.

This is actually a nice report by Dale, with concise quotes by people on both sides of the judiciary aisle who have had experience working with this man.

Still everyone knows that we are now facing a tsunami of coverage on abortion rights. It is crucial to note — again — that we know what Alito thinks about some restrictions on abortion rights. Note the word restrictions. This is crucial because many Democrats also favor increased restrictions on abortion, even while they do not favor a complete ban on all abortions.

So once again we face that question: What is the centrist position on abortion?

If liberals back abortion on demand and conservatives favor a complete ban, what do people in the middle believe about abortion and how might America reach such a centrist position? The even tougher question: Is compromise possible under Roe?

With that in mind, Democrats who want to see the pro-life left and pro-life middle liberated once again to back Democratic candidates may want to read this recent column — “Support Choice, Not Roe” — by that noted Religious Right patriarch Richard Cohen of The Washington Post.

Dr  Strangelove  more Slim Pickens 2I realize that many of you have already seen this piece. Still, for those who have not, Cohen raised many, may eyebrows inside the Beltway way, way up high when he wrote:

The antiabortion movement has made headway. That shift in sentiment is not apparent in polls because they do not measure doubt, only position: for or against. But between one and the other, black or white, is a vast area of gray where up or down, yes or no, fades to questions about circumstance: Why, what month, etc.? Whatever the case, the very basis of the Roe v. Wade decision — the one that grounds abortion rights in the Constitution — strikes many people now as faintly ridiculous. Whatever abortion may be, it cannot simply be a matter of privacy.

Here we go (with the second piece of art offering a tribute to young master Jeremy Lott): Bombs away.

True or false: Religious Right defeated Miers?

bush jesusRegular readers of GetReligion may recall one of my tenets for MSM coverage of religion, politics and culture: The Religious Right must lose. Or stated the other way, above all else, the Religious Right must not be allowed to win.

It is easy, if you keep that in mind, to understand why the MSM seems so confused right now in the wake of the Harriet Miers nomination and all that came in its wake.

Did the Religious Right back Miers? Yes.

Did the Religious Right oppose Miers? Yes.

Did the old-guard mainstream right (including some who back abortion rights) back Miers? Yes.

Did the old-guard mainstream right (including some who back abortion rights) oppose Miers? Yes.

Now the question everyone is trying to answer, right now: When she withdrew, did the Religious Right win or lose?

Stay with me for one more question. If the Religious Right won this battle, forcing Miers to withdraw, that means that the Religious Right defeated the team of President George W. Bush and Dr. James Dobson (the living symbol of the Religious Right). Correct? Or perhaps, the Religious Right managed to defeat the evil liberal President Bush when information dug out by the MSM convinced Dobson to turn against Miers?

See how confusing this is?

With all of that in mind, you are ready to read a very confusing piece by Kevin Merida in today’s Washington Post titled “Miers, the Rebellion’s Latest Casualty: Why the Right Never Surrenders, Or Declares Victory.”

This piece gets one thing right. Yes, there are people who are conservatives first and Republicans second. But it seems that Merida waved a white flag when it came time to understanding the role that faith and moral issues have played in the modern “conservative movement” (as if there is only one). He also seems to have no idea that there are some moral and cultural conservatives who are not Republicans at all. They are independents or conservative (often Catholic, Hispanic or African-American) Democrats.

It’s all so confusing, which is why Merida tells us:

Democrats certainly have their noisy scrums — the left is either angry at the center for acting like Republicans or the center is blaming the left for election debacles. But the Republican right seems to have a special, disciplined vigilance when it comes to internal warfare. Where else can you find the ironic spectacle of a House speaker being shown the guillotine by the very crew of conservative revolutionaries he created? That was Newt Gingrich’s fate in 1998, forced to resign after leading Republicans to the first House majority in four decades.

After reneging on his read-my-lips pledge of “no new taxes,” then-President George H.W. Bush found himself hissed and hounded by conservatives and ultimately undermined as he went on to lose his 1992 reelection bid. Even the beloved Ronald Reagan got smacked from time to time by his brethren on the right. An all-star lineup of conservatives went after him over his dealings with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and his support of a treaty to eliminate intermediate-range nuclear missiles. Howard Phillips, chairman of the Conservative Caucus, went so far as to call the Gipper a “useful idiot for Soviet propaganda.” Three decades later, phoning in from the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival, Phillips said: “My loyalty is not to any political personality or any political party.”

BushFaithLG

My friends, there is a ghost in there — a great big one.

So I will ask one more question, a question that we may or may not know the answer to in a day or so when the tricky President Bush selects another nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. The question is: Is President Bush a cultural conservative or not?

This is a question I have been asking since 2000, when I wrote the following paragraphs. They come from an essay that I wrote in the middle of election day, before the real craziness began. I wrote this for Salon, but the editors turned it down. I guess it was the wrong kind of diversity.

The essay ended up running (wait for it) in World magazine. I guess Marvin Olasky was more open-minded. The headline was “A sad Democrat votes.”

Let me be candid. I didn’t vote for George W. Bush because I am convinced that he is genuinely pro-life. I have no idea whether he will, in fact, spend any of his precious political poker chips, when push comes to shove, to try to stop abortions or to help the women who are ensnared in crisis pregnancies in a society that mainly wishes they would go away.

I also think Mr. Bush and Dick Cheney are going to march to a basically libertarian drum when it comes to other cultural issues. I think they will be in the middle of the road, watching the polling data, when it comes to sexuality. They aren’t going to stomp on gays and lesbians, even though there will be howls from the Lifestyle Left if any efforts are made to withhold the government’s blessings from active support of their causes in the arts, education, and law. I think the Religious Right can prepare to be disappointed, along with the Lifestyle Left.

And I think Mr. Bush’s court appointees will be much like his picks in Texas — country-club conservatives who come out of the mainstream of American law schools. They’ll probably split 50-50 on the divisive moral issues, just like the folks selected by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

So is Bush a cultural conservative or a company man from the country club? Can the MSM admit that this is the ghost haunting the headlines?

More on Rice’s return to Rome

AnneRice smI cannot tell you how many times I have had readers ask me why so many religion-news stories seem to turn on the issue of homosexuality.

Actually, the issue at the heart of all this is broader — the moral status of sex outside of marriage and the sexual revolution in general. Behind that looms a mountain range of towering issues linked to ancient Christian doctrines, traditions and biblical authority. But it’s the fights over gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered that are getting the headlines right now. That’s what is making news.

For example, consider this update on the Rt. Rev. Doug LeBlanc’s recent post about the religious revival in the life of the controversial Anne “Interview With the Vampire” Rice. Her new book is titled Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt and it is the first installment in a series on the life of Jesus.

Rice made news with her testimony that she has returned to the Roman Catholic faith. However, you just knew that sexuality questions had to be in there somewhere.

This is not surprising, since her writings have always been popular in the gay community. It is also not surprising that sexuality shows up in a lengthy report in The New York Times. Reporter Laura Millier is writing a feature story about Rice’s new home in California, yet we still get to learn:

In 1998 Ms. Rice rejoined the Roman Catholic Church for the first time since suffering a “total breakdown of faith” at age 18. “That was in 1960, before Vatican II, and I was a very strictly brought-up Catholic,” she explained. “I lost my faith because what I had been taught was so wrong.” An overwhelming desire to “return to the banquet table” and assurances from a priest in New Orleans that she didn’t have to resolve all her differences with the church (most notably over the issue of homosexuality) led to the reconciliation.

Well now, I wonder — when these books reach the adult life of Jesus — what we will learn about his relationship with Mary Magdalene? I would not be surprised in Rice’s series turns out to be a major event on the Christian left.

The return of St. Mad Max

chichenSo Mel Gibson’s next movie is in the Mayan language, but the title (Apocalypto) is the Greek word for “a new beginning.”

It’s about the rise and fall of civilizations, and it would seem that Gibson may be able to have the Maya empire fall before the Catholic missionaries and Spanish conquistadors arrive on the scene. But who knows? Rare is the movie that can make Alpha Males scratch their heads in Hollywood, Colorado Springs and (probably) Rome.

We do know that it’s going to be bloody and the creator of The Passion of the Christ may turn the movie into some kind of parable about the modern world.

As you would expect, the Los Angeles Times had a reporter at the Veracruz, Mexico, press conference in which a bearded Gibson tried to explain his latest renegade, self-funded project. Reporter Reed Johnson made an admirable attempt to stay away from speculation on how this new film will be marketed to born-again Christians and pre-Vatican II Roman Catholics who love warfare and rituals that involve lots of knives.

But there is a hint at the end of his newsy report about the debates that may pop up in the future.

… (While) violence may be an unavoidable ingredient in a story about a civilization in conflict, so too is a quest for understanding, he indicated. Immersing himself in the Maya world, after the Judeo-Christian worldview of “The Passion,” has been “kind of this anthropological journey.”

“It’s amazing, it’s fascinating, and it makes your brain work overtime. In fact, you meet yourself coming and going. I mean, there are some questions that you simply can’t answer. But that doesn’t stop the search.”

Stay tuned. We have not heard from Frank Rich yet.

Help Jeremy find pop hypocrites

frank02I’m on the road in Kansas City. Can you imagine a national journalism conference with no WiFi? Frustrating.

Anyway, I did manage to notice (hat tip to Amy Welborn, yet again) that young master Jeremy Lott has issued a public call for help as he researches the mass-media angles of his upcoming book on the virtues of hypocrisy. His appeal does not have a strong news hook, unless some link this to Karl Rove, but I think GetReligion readers will find it fun anyway.

Dive in! Help out this young journalist! He writes:

… (This) is one of my rare requests for advice. The fourth chapter of my book will wrestle with hypocrisy in Hollywood. I’m looking for two kinds of information:

1) Quotes by celebs condemning hypocrites or hypocrisy. If you send these in, please identify the source of the quotation.

2) Famous hypocrites in film. Obvious candidates include Captain Renault in Casablanca, Robert Duvall in The Apostle, and Steve Martin in Leap of Faith.

Have at it folks. My e-mail address is JEREMYAL123 — AT — YAHOO — DOT — COM.

OK, I’ll take the challenge. Let’s assume that by “Hollywood” Jeremy means either television or film. If that is the case, I would argue that the most famous and, in some ways, influential hypocrite in the pop-culture era of the Baby Boomers would have to be Maj. Frank Burns of M*A*S*H.

All the key elements are there — a stupid white male conservative who thinks of himself as a puritan while shagging a nearby blonde hypocrite who is later liberated to become a brilliant feminist by the brilliant sensitive liberals (whether faithfully married or gleefully unmarried).

I think Frank Burns, in many ways, was just as powerful a figure as Archie Bunker.

The challenge in this thread is going to be nominating people who are not carbon copies of the old Elmer Gantry template. Jump in, readers. At the very least, let’s come up with a dozen or so five-star pop-culture hypocrites. Let’s go for superstars and not sink into Jim and Tammy Bakker territory.

Yes, Newsweek missed the Church Ladies

NewsweekOprahFor the past week or so, something kept bothering me about the Newsweek cover story titled “How Women Lead.”

I mean, I survived reading the thing (it is soooooo neo-People magazine) and I even marked it up a bit. Then I tossed it on my desk and it has been there ever since, staring at me. If you want to see the basic, non-ghostly holes poked in it, I suggest that you turn to Myrna Blyth’s “Girly Gobbledygook” column at National Review Online.

But I decided pretty quick that there wasn’t much to write about, looking at “How Women Lead” from a GetReligion point of view.

Then somebody sent me a reminder about the recent Christine Rosen “Houses of Worship” essay in The Wall Street Journal. That’s the one with this punchy, even pushy headline: “Church Ladies — Women dominate America’s pews. Is that a problem?” Here is the opening of that essay:

This fall, the entering class of rabbinical students at the Jewish Theological Seminary, a Conservative institution, is 34% female. At Hebrew Union College, a Reform seminary, women are nearly half the student body. At many Protestant seminaries, women pastoral students now outnumber men, and between 1983 and 2000 the number of women who identified themselves as clergy tripled. It seems that Catholic scholar Leon Podles’s prediction of a few years ago, that “the Protestant clergy will be a characteristically female occupation, like nursing, within a generation,” may soon prove true.

Pulpits aren’t the only places that women dominate. According to a recent survey, the typical U.S. congregation is 61% female. Women are also the force behind most lay organizations and volunteer activities and make up the majority of church employees.

Bingo. Now I knew what was bugging me about that shallow Newsweek cover story. Somehow, the team that produced it forgot about the Church Ladies and the tremendous impact that women are having on modern sanctuaries.

This is a big news story. Some social critics will even say that this rise in female power is directly linked to at least three major Godbeat stories — the lack of men in pews, the decline of the liberal mainline and the rise (sort of, the stats suggest more like a plateau) of the new conservative mainstream. 0785260382

Here is what that argument sounds like, with Rosen riffing on the work of David Murrow, author of the book Why Men Hate Going to Church.

Interestingly, Mr. Murrow notes that, among the major Christian denominations, it is the mainline churches that suffer the largest gender gaps in church attendance. These churches, still pilloried by feminists for their patriarchal pretensions, have in fact become spiritual sorority houses. It is the more conservative denominations, such as the Southern Baptists, that have the most even ratios. In these more traditional churches, many of which do not have female clergy, parishioners hear less about cooperation and feel-good spirituality and more about spiritual rigor and the competition to win souls. Churches that embrace male leadership, including the Roman Catholic Church, remain the largest in the country, and the Mormon Church, which also does not have female clergy, is the fastest-growing.

(Personal note: Before people start leaving comments on this, let me confess that my family worships in an Eastern Orthodox parish, the most ancient of churches and one in which women can be saints, theologians, professors, iconographers, apologists and all kinds of things, but not priests.)

The power of religion does show up — very briefly — in the Newsweek mini-profile of Brigadier General Sheila Baxter. I had noticed this reference, with its strong faith language, but this theme had really not been woven into the piece. Baxter testifies:

The other thing that is very important is my spiritual background. I received my calling in the ministry in 1988 when I was stationed in Germany. The Lord called me through a dream. It was 2 in the morning and I jumped up out of the bed. I heard his voice clearly. The next day I talked to my pastor and he put me into a training program. I was licensed with the Church of God in Christ. When I retire, I plan to go to seminary and pursue a divinity degree.

However, note that the Church of God in Christ is a very conservative denomination, in terms of its culture and social views. It ordains women, but this is not a flock that most people would put on the left side of the sanctuary when it comes to moral issues and basic doctrine. This is not the United Church of Christ.

No, I think that the most important piece of Godtalk in the Newsweek package, the one most closely linked to the skyrocketing statistics about women in pews and mainline pulpits, can be found in the profile of the Rt. Rev. Oprah Winfrey.

Come to think of it, this paragraph is the closest thing this cover package offered to a thesis statement. Maybe there is a ghost in there after all.

And behold, Oprah said:

All the women leaders I have met led with a greater sense of intuition than men. I am almost completely intuitive. The only time I’ve made a bad business decision is when I didn’t follow my instinct. My favorite phrase is: “Let me pray on it.” Sometimes I literally do pray, but sometimes I just wait to see if I wake up and feel the same way in the morning.

And millions of Americans said: “Amen.”

Face it, the Miers nomination is …

Toast btIn a city that is already buzzing with gossip, it takes a really hot story to crank the chatter up another notch. Well, the latest Washington Post twist in the saga of Harriet Miers and God certainly did that. Here’s the bottom line in reporter Jo Becker’s fine story (which deserved much better headlines): Bush’s legal sidekick, while serving as president of the Texas Bar Association, told elite female audiences that she backed what is essentially a libertarian position on abortion.

That will be very hard to spin in Colorado Springs. Thus, Becker reports:

Activists on both sides of the abortion debate said that Miers’s speech … appears to contradict a position she took just four years earlier, when she was running for the Dallas City Council. Then, she told activists at the Texans for Life Coalition she personally believed that abortion was murder and filled out a questionnaire for an antiabortion group in which she checked a box pledging to “actively support” a constitutional amendment banning abortions except to save a woman’s life.

Former NARAL Pro-Choice America president Kate Michelman said the right to self-determination is at the heart of the case law granting a woman’s right to an abortion.

“If you take what she said at face value, you would conclude that she recognizes the right of a woman to choose an abortion as a matter of self-determination,” Michelman said. “She seems to be a woman who over time is pulled in different directions, as many of us are, as she searched for answers.”

Journalists will want to note that the website package includes links to the two key speech texts, both in PDF, here and here. I would imagine that many, many copies of these texts are being printed out in several Christian right offices today, and we can expect MSM stories tomorrow on reactions from all of the usual zip codes.

Unless, of course, somebody you know where leaks you know what about you know who.

Hat tip to Duin (two of them, in fact)

questionsBIG2One of the advantages of having a veteran reporter on the Godbeat is that they have long memories and they can spot key updates in ongoing stories. Here are two fine examples, in the recent work of Julia Duin at The Washington Times. Both of these stories are linked to one of the major U.S. religion trends of the past generation or two, the statistical implosion of what was once called mainline Protestantism.

• Remember those hot United Church of Christ ads that trumpeted this denomination’s more-inclusive-than-thou status on issues of sex, race, singleness, handicaps and who knows what all? The church on the left edge of American Protestantism is preparing another wave of ads, and Duin has a very informative interview with the Rev. Ron Buford about what is ahead in this drive to find a way to do liberal evangelism. Here is a sample:

Although evangelical Christian groups have boomed since the 1960s, mainline Protestant denominations have hemorrhaged members because of differences over women’s ordination, issues surrounding homosexuality, biblical interpretations and the importance of evangelism. After the UCC unearthed, through market research, an undercurrent of alienation among unchurched Americans toward church in general, it began playing up themes of inclusivity and acceptance.

“I consider ourselves evangelical, too,” Mr. Buford said, “but for a different market segment.”

The hook for Duin’s report is that other churches on the religious left are launching similar efforts, trying to reach beyond their aging demographics. (Our thanks to the Episcopal Diocese of Washington for granting permission to reproduce one of its ads in this post.)

• Speaking of Episcopalians, Duin (who has a degree from an evangelical Anglican seminary) latched on to a hot lead out there in cyberspace. It seems that someone connected to (or close to) the Episcopal Church leaked a key set of notes from an anti-traditionalist strategy session to someone who forwarded them to someone who carbon-copied (or blind carbon-copied) a set to the famous (or infamous) Anglican news-blogger David W. Virtue. The key question, of course, is this: Is the material real?

Duin quickly confirms that, along with the detail that plans are in fact underway to toss out as many as 16 conservative Episcopal bishops:

Informally named the “Day After” for the aftermath of the June 13-21 event, the strategy outlines a way to file canonical charges against conservative bishops, unseat them from their dioceses, have interim bishops waiting to replace them and draft lawsuits ready to file before secular courts for possession of diocesan property. The strategy was revealed in a leaked copy of minutes drafted at a Sept. 29 meeting in Dallas of a 10-member steering committee for Via Media, a network of 13 liberal independent Episcopal groups.

“It was a worst-case scenario — what people in various dioceses would need to do if their bishop and much of their diocesan leadership decided to walk away from the Episcopal Church,” said Joan Gundersen, the steering committee member who drafted the minutes. Conservatives also “have made statements to that effect,” she said.

Where in the world are the major dailies on this story? There are all kinds of explosive details in here, including Duin’s note that: “In July, about 20 liberal and conservative Episcopal bishops met secretly in Los Angeles to discuss how to divide billions in church assets in the event of a split.”

UPDATE: Doug LeBlanca participant in this Anglican story, and thus silent about it — tells me that the religious-press scoop on the Via Media story belongs to the venerable journal for Episcopalians called The Living Church. I will try to confirm that, if and when I can ever get the publication’s slow website to respond and let me read the story.


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