Yin-Yang Republicans face Roe

Here’s a question for you, as you wade into the waves of press coverage of the battle for the U.S. Supreme Court and, thus, the moral and cultural dimension of American law.

If opposing abortion on demand is the stance of radical conservatives who are out of the mainstream (even if they are Democrats) and defending abortion on demand is the stance of moderates (and even of sane conservatives), then what is the stance of liberals and progressives on this complex issue?

I ask this because it is very hard to find political compromises on this kind of hot-button issue when the principalities and powers of public discourse — that would be the MSM — have already decided that the middle ground is occupied.

Stop and think about that: What is the liberal stance on abortion rights? Have you read about it in your local newspaper in the past few days? On the issue of abortion, what is the difference between a faculty-club Democrat and a country-club Republican?

I bring this up because of a Los Angeles Times story — a “news analysis” actually — by Peter Wallsten that perfectly describes the message the MSM will deliver to the Republican leadership over and over during the weeks ahead. The headline says it all: “If Ax Falls on Roe, It May Also Split GOP.”

Here’s the heart of the story:

But the prospect of progress toward overturning Roe — and the realization that President Bush could have at least two chances to make transformative appointments to the court — has exposed a disagreement between conservatives who want abortion criminalized and pragmatic Republicans concerned that shifting the issue from the courts to the ballot box would lead to massive GOP losses.

Of particular concern is the party’s fate in closely contested battlegrounds such as Ohio, Florida and Michigan, where the resurgence of the abortion issue could alienate moderate voters who have helped Republicans make gains on all levels.

“Smart strategists inside the party don’t want the status quo changed,” said Tony Fabrizio, chief pollster for the 1996 Republican presidential campaign of Bob Dole.

“This may cause Republicans like Arnold Schwarzenegger — who are strongly committed to being pro-choice — to flip or to push for a third-party movement,” he added. “If they did outlaw it, it would ultimately turn the Republican Party into a theocratic-based party rather than an ideological party, and the party would necessarily start shedding people.”

Now this is not the story where you are going to read about the high cost that Democrat leaders have paid — especially in the House of Representatives — for their decision to drive all but a handful of Democrats for Life out of the party.

But Wallsten’s point is valid. The Democratic Party knows what it believes about abortion. On this issue, there is absolute truth and the party leadership is willing to defend it. This is a black and white issue. There is no way to compromise. The press affirms the Democratic position on this issue.

It is the Republicans who are the yin-yang “What is truth?” party on the big life issues, the party that is trying to find a way to keep James Dobson and The Terminator in the same tent. And everyone knows — see this Washington Post story — that the barbarians will be firing live ammunition in this battle.

This is the game of chicken that Beltway politicos have been anticipating for five years. What would happen if Roe fell and voters were able to cast votes on abortion? I think we know the answer to that: Compromise and moderation, state by state. Basically the same thing that we see happening on gay unions.

The right would not be happy. The left would not be happy. The MSM would be very, very unhappy, because there might actually be a right, center and left to cover. Compromise would be possible.

But right now, there are only radicals and moderates and the action is all on the Republican side of the church aisle. Will George W. Bush knock down the big revival tent? Wallsten writes:

As a candidate, Bush sent plenty of signals that he agreed with that approach, even calling the two men examples of his ideal nominee. During his reelection campaign last fall, the president referred repeatedly to a “culture of life,” and he thrilled religious conservatives during a campaign debate when he described the 1857 Dred Scott decision affirming slavery as an example of a bad court opinion. Abortion foes view Roe as the Dred Scott decision of its time, and said after the debate that they saw the reference as a deliberate signal.

But Bush — aware of the need to attract votes from women and moderates — has stopped short of endorsing Roe’s reversal. Two prominent abortion rights supporters, Schwarzenegger and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, were given prime speaking roles at last summer’s Republican National Convention.

Bush told Danish television last week that although he believed abortion should be illegal except in cases of rape and incest or when a mother’s life was at risk, he understood that the nation was not ready for Roe to go away. “I’m a realist as well,” Bush said. “I mean, this is an issue that has polarized the American political society. And in order to get good policy in place that protects the life of a child, we’re going to have to change hearts.”

True, but that is another story, one with a Hollywood dateline.

On the road: Did Google get religion?

Whoa! Is it just me, or did everyone click on Google News this a.m. and find the following section available in the main page? If this change has somehow been made in the Google template, the timing could not be better.

The Rt. Rev. LeBlanc may need to cue up the Freak Out theme music again.

Religion »

Religion: God and money
U.S. News & World Report — Jun 14, 2005
You might think so. After all, the father of modern sociology, Max Weber, saw that there was a pretty powerful connection between being a good Protestant and being a good capitalist. But people have been arguing . . .

Tech Central Station
After thinking about it, justices decide to let us think about it
Chicago Daily Southtown — 53 minutes ago
By Marlene Lang. The US Constitution doesn’t name all the messy potential manifestations of “establishment of a religion,” as forbidden in the First Amendment. What we need is a tidy list of all possible situational . . .

Thou shalt not waffle
Marion Chronicle Tribune
Kentucky congressmen back amending the Constitution
Louisville Courier-Journal
Palm Beach Post — commercialappeal.com (subscription) — Roanoke Times Washington Times — all 83 related »

Believers, Save the Republic!
Washington Post — 8 hours ago
By Jon Meacham. On July 4, 1827, a leading clergyman of the day, the Presbyterian minister Ezra Stiles Ely, preached a controversial sermon in Philadelphia that was published around the country. Its title could . . .

Founding Fathers, founding faith
Orlando Sentinel
Economist — Useless-Knowledge.com – all 5 related »

Scalia’s scary America
St. Petersburg Times — 4 hours ago
By ROBYN E. BLUMNER, Times Perspective Columnist. Justice Antonin Scalia would remake our secular republic into a quasi-theocracy; and with the pending retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, we may soon . . .
Hoisting Liberals on Their Own Petard: Thank You, Justice Scalia MichNews.com
American Rhythms | The court’s delicate dance between church and . . . philly.com
all 6 related »

Etc. Etc. Etc. I don’t even know where to start on this, especially stopped along the roadside on the way to the mountains in a spot of wi-fi.

Speaking of roadside — I saw an interesting kitsch sign about 67 miles into Georga headed north on I-95 yesterday. It said: “America’s smallest church, exit right.” I thought about that and it sort of made sense. Churches on the right tend to split a lot as they fight over doctrine.

I wonder if, somewhere, there is a roadside sign that says: “America’s smallest church with an endowment, exit left.”

Back to the road. Where is the next cyber cafe in the hills?

A kitschy story as I hit the road

RoadsideCoverNow this is fun.

The Dallas Morning News has a fun book-related feature up today called “Grace Lands: Professor hits the road in search of religious kitsch, and finds true faith along the way.” The book is called Roadside Religion and it’s about a mainline Protestant attempting to dissect the strange people who live in strange lands dominated by traditional forms of faith, which means that, in many ways, it has the exact same journalistic point of view as the entire Dallas Morning News, especially its nationally known religion section.

But I digress.

The basic idea is that the world is full of very strange religious people and sometimes they make strange religious roadside attractions. What happens if a really smart person visits Ave Maria Grotto, Precious Moments Inspiration Park or Biblical Mini-Golf? So what if he interacts with the natives?

Frequent News contributor Mary A. Jacobs sums up the Presbyterian journey of Dr. Timothy K. Beal thusly:

Don’t judge this book by its cover. The kitschy postcard design may hint at snarky humor and postmodern posturing. Instead, Dr. Beal opened his heart on the open road and found hospitality on the fringes of American religious life. His fascination with roadside icons began on an earlier family trip, when he spotted a sign along Interstate 68 in Maryland: “Noah’s Ark Being Rebuilt Here.”

“There was this big reddish brown steel girder structure next to the highway, languishing in a field,” he said. “We wondered, ‘Who would do something like this? And why?’”

By the time the Beals got home to Shaker Heights, Ohio, he’d hatched a plan. The family would take off on a pilgrimage to discover how many other Ark-like attractions there were out there. He found a warm welcome, so to speak, at Cross Garden in Prattville, Ala., an 11-acre park whose wooden crosses and junked appliances are adorned with messages including, “NO ICE WATER IN HELL! FIRE HOT!” and “YOU WILL DIE” and “IN HELL FROM SEX SEX.”

The final quote from Beal captures the whole “everybody has a story in the postmodern world” approach of this bookish trip into the fringes of normal America. Enjoy.

“I went into this as a scholar, and my scholarly tools maybe were a means of steeling myself against being too vulnerable to these ‘strange’ strangers,” he said. “These people welcomed a visitor whom they didn’t know and shared their stories and their deeply felt experiences. I found that disarming.

“We tend to think about faith in terms of belief. I started to think of faith as being about relationship and hospitality — opening oneself up to the other, to the stranger who drives up in a motor home and wants to know what’s going on. It’s about opening oneself to another and being vulnerable.”

With that, I am out the door to the winding mountain roads of North Carolina, where there are more Baptist churches than there are, well, almost anything else other than trees and highway signs. If I find any strange forms of religion, I will try to get to the only local cyber cafe to send out some word.

Meanwhile, everybody pitch in and send Master Jeremy and the Rt. Rev. LeBlanc lots of input on the unfolding Supreme Court drama. We are especially interested, of course, in MSM coverage of the religious left and the Religious Right. Wonder why the latter is upper case and the former is not?

Bye now.

Lots of ranch, very little church

nuclearexplosion3Lots and lots of old-fashioned, independent, pragmatic, go-your-own-way ranch values.

Very little time in a church pew.

No, I am not trying to describe the late Ronald Reagan, although that side of his life might be a good subject to talk about at the moment. It was Reagan, after all, who really hit it off with the Western lady who has, many argue, been running the United States of America for several decades.

We’re talking about Sandra Day O’Connor, of course, and the faith-based earthquake that rocked Washington, D.C., today. Read your share of the breaking news coverage — paying special attention to which social and political groups are sweating the most — and tell me if you can find a more relevant paragraph than the following, taken from a July 4, 2004, Washington Post story by reporter Charles Lane. The story ran with the headline “Courting O’Connor: Why the chief justice isn’t the Chief Justice.”

The ranch O’Connor grew up on was not the kind of place where people took high-minded stands on matters of politics or economics, it seems.

Nor was religious doctrine a major element of the Day family’s life. “It certainly was not as big a feature as it was in many other families,” Alan Day recalled in an interview. Nominal Episcopalians, the Days would sometimes attend the closer Methodist church on the rare occasions when they had time to make the three-hour round trip. In her book, O’Connor described asking D.A. why they did not attend church, and whether he believed in God. D.A.’s answer: “It is an amazing, complex, but orderly universe. And we are only specks in it. There is surely something — a God if you will — who created all of this. And we don’t have to go to church to appreciate it. It is all around us. This is our church.”

Once again, folks, as you tear into the coverage in the days ahead you are going to have to remember that there are many different kinds of conservatives and the press gets along better with some of them than others. Remember that left-right discussion the other day? We are about to hear moral conservatives called “radical conservatives,” even if they are Democrats, and Libertarian conservatives are going to be called “moderates,” even if they are total wingnuts on everything else. There will be no “liberals” anywhere, although there will be religious “progressives” all over the place.

The split inside the soul of the Republican Party is about to be wedged wide open.

The folks at Religion News Service are on the case already. Look for legions of reporters chasing this angle in the days ahead. Here is the crunch section:

The recent Senate fight over lower-level judicial nominees only reinforced how much conservatives want to see an end to “activist judges” whom they accuse of making law, not interpreting it. In many ways, the courts — and especially the Supreme Court — have become ground zero for every issue on the conservatives’ agenda.

Leaders of the Christian right say now is when they expect a return on their investment in re-electing President Bush to a second term. They vowed to hold him to his promise to nominate someone in the mold of conservative Justices Clarence Thomas or Antonin Scalia. “We have full confidence that he will carry out that pledge,” said James Dobson, founder of Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Focus on the Family, who left no hint of wiggle room.

In fact, many conservatives said they were happy to see O’Connor go, pointing to her critical vote in Supreme Court majorities that upheld abortion, decriminalized gay sex and ruled on numerous church-state issues.

What a great time for me to go on vacation up in the North Carolina mountains, where I don’t even have a telephone line! Have fun, friends and neighbors. This is a big one. Is the word “Armageddon” too strong? Watch on the cable-news shouting matches tonight and see how long it takes for that word to surface.

Did Bono swim the Tiber?

Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard — who is not famous because of his sources in the world of rock ‘n’ roll — recently (a) broke a big story without knowing it or (b) made the kind of picky mistake that U2 fans get hot and bothered about. I am wondering if anyone else out there spotted this and can tell me whether the reference is accurate or not.

So what is the story?

Bono grew up in Dublin with a Protestant mother and a Catholic father, which is a big thing if one is Irish. U2 grew out of friendships in a Protestant high school. Very early on, several members of the band became active Christians in the context of a charismatic house church (check out October), a very free and non-starched form of free-church Protestantism.

It is hard to stick a label on Bono’s faith these days, but he is usually assumed to be a member of the progressive evangelical camp. I know that the band remains close (he joins them on tour from time to time) with the evangelical Anglican who was the chaplain at their high school.

Nevertheless, Barnes made this reference in a recent story titled “Pro Bono: The president and the singer make common cause on Africa” that jumped out at me:

Bush has twice invited Bono to the Oval Office to discuss Africa. The first meeting, in 2002, was joined by several White House aides and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the Catholic leader in Washington. Bono is a Catholic.

Now that’s a major story and I have not seen a reference anywhere else.

Yes, that rosary that you see around Bono’s neck came from Pope John Paul II and the singer is as comfortable quoting Catholic sources as evangelical. That’s the rosary that, when the pope died, Bono hung over his microphone stand under a solo spotlight as a quiet tribute.

Still, has anyone out there heard of Bono actually swimming the Tiber?

What James hath wrought in the Times

I have been watching for several days to see what kind of online reaction screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi might offer to the long-awaited piece in The New York Times about the state of covert right-wing operations in Hollywood. Alas, Barbara appears to be away from her computer keyboard for a few days. Must be talking strategy with Vatican operatives.

As noted in the comments section on the previous chapter in this saga, reporter James Ulmer’s “On the Right Side of the Theater Aisle” came out over the weekend.

The story confirms several shocking facts.

(1) There are quite a few people on the right (as on the left) who want to make agenda-driven documentaries that club people over the head. What this has to do with mainstream entertainment is not explained in the article. Thus, it is best to ignore all of the references in Ulmer’s piece to people who want to make documentaries.

(2) Many people of faith are convinced that Hollywood doesn’t understand them. Most are upset about this.

(3) There are cultural conservatives/people of faith in the film industry who want to learn how to do a better job of working in mainstream Hollywood on its own terms, producing products that millions of people want to buy (as opposed to lots of family movies featuring babies). These people are even, for example, willing to work with Disney to do so. These religious believers think it is time to stop whining and learn how to do a better job of telling good stories.

That’s it folks. So, here is what ended up in print about Nicolosi and her Act One army, including that “Catholic activist” thing and its link to a meeting in California — organized by the Wilberforce Forum and some other culturally conservative movie lovers in Washington, D.C. — to discuss issues of faith and entertainment.

A co-host for the Santa Monica gathering was Act One, a nonpolitical group of Christian screenwriters based in Los Angeles and led by Barbara Nicolosi, a Catholic activist and former nun. Ms. Nicolosi said one of the goals of the meeting was “for Wilberforce to find some intersection of policy and story ideas” for future Hollywood content.

Ms. Nicolosi added that while religiously motivated filmmakers can “obviously find it difficult enough” working in Hollywood, “some of us think we should stop calling ourselves Christians, it’s become such a political liability here.” Building political connections hasn’t been easy, either. “The Christians in Washington just don’t trust us, because we’re part of the Great Satan called Hollywood,” she said.

Here is Nicolosi’s first somewhat sarcastic reaction to the Times piece:

If you really want the lowdown on all the top-secret, undercover, back theocratic rooms of Christian Hollywood, click HERE for your own top-secret copy of our clandestine plans and scary agenda. Our undercover secret publisher is Baker Books, and we are hiding the project on Amazon.com at rating #198,463. All the rest of you who are wondering how to facilitate the secret scary doings of the Church in Hollywood, please click above and order our book.

What we have here is a reindeer ruling

Readers who want a quick way to evaluate today’s MSM coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the Ten Commandment cases can follow these simple directions.

Go to Google News and type in the words “Ten Commandments,” followed by the word “reindeer.” This will help you find the reporters who listened carefully and realized that, in church-state studies terms, what we have here is another reindeer ruling.

And what, you ask, is that? Here is a clip from the Los Angeles Times report by David G. Savage that nails the crucial facts:

In the past, the court has struggled to decide disputes involving religious displays. Often, the outcome turned on trivial details. For example, the court in 1984 upheld a city’s display of a manger scene during the Christmas season, but only because it included reindeer and colored lights. Several years later, it struck down a more solemn depiction of Christ’s birth that sat during the Christmas season on the steps of Pittsburgh’s City Hall.

In other words, public displays of religion are acceptable. However, they must feature a number of religious items displayed in such a way as to communicate that the various faiths are of equal truth and stature.

The tension is obvious. The goal is to show that all religions are equal in the eyes of the state. The problem is that it is hard to do this without drifting into a state-funded proclamation that all religions are equal in the eyes of God. Religious toleration is not the same thing as theological toleration. The state must avoid the latter because it is, well, a theological belief that cannot be backed with tax dollars.

A few newspapers caught the reindeer angle. Many did not. Washington Post columnist George Will dug into this angle in his op-ed piece, under the headline “Thou Shalt Split Hairs.” The massive opening paragraph captures the mood felt by many church-state lawyers on both sides of this dispute:

The Supreme Court rendered two more hairsplitting, migraine-inducing decisions yesterday about when religious displays on public property do and do not violate the First Amendment protection against “establishment” of religion. In a case from Texas, where a Ten Commandments monument stands outside the state capitol, the court, splintered six ways from Sunday, said: We find no constitutional violation. The second case came from Kentucky, where the Commandments displayed in several courthouses are surrounded by historical symbols and documents — e.g., copies of the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the Star Spangled Banner — to comply with the “reindeer rule,” more about which anon. Yesterday the court recoiled from Kentucky’s displays, saying, they are unconstitutionally motivated by a “predominately religious purpose.” Not enough reindeer?

Why God made bishops

I think it is safe to say that this story represents the end of the Romanian convent-from-hell episode. Bishop Corneliu Barladeanu stepped up and did what bishops are supposed to do — protect the faith. You know things are totally out of control when the nuns start attacking a bishop, attacking as in physical assault. Here are a few more interesting details from a wire update:

The church, which is faced with a shortage of priests, had granted Corogeanu the right to work as a priest, despite the fact that he had not completed his theological studies, Barladeanu said. He added the church now planned to introduce psychological tests for men entering the monastic life. The Holy Trinity convent was built in 2001 by a lawyer and had not been sanctified by the Orthodox Church, Barladeanu added.