Little ado about something big?

Move along, folks. Nothing to see here.

That was sort of my reaction to a Dallas Morning News story on a Southern Baptist church “making history” by adding women deacons.

Here’s the top of the Morning News story:

As old-fashioned Baptists might say, Betty Rutledge has stars in her crown for all the church volunteer work she’s done in her 63 years.

She’s played the piano, taught Sunday school, directed vacation Bible school, served as church parliamentarian, and been on personnel, music and missions committees.

“I’ve been busy,” she understated.

Rutledge’s portfolio has expanded to include being a deacon at Community North Baptist Church in McKinney — and apparently to making local history.

The story goes on to explain that, by ordaining four women deacons, Community North apparently became the first — and only — church out of 110 member congregations of the Collin Baptist Association to do so. Collin County is a fast-growing area north of Dallas that includes one of the nation’s more prominent Southern Baptist churches: Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, where former SBC president Jack Graham serves as pastor.

The Morning News frames the “local history” this way:

The distinction has come with a cost, in the form of departed members who did not support the move.

“Several families did leave the church, which grieves me greatly,” said the Rev. Bruce Austin, pastor of Community North. “On the other hand, during the process several families joined our church, knowing many of us favored the election of women deacons.”

The rest of the piece follows pretty much the same matter-of-fact tone, as if the role of women in the Southern Baptist Convention isn’t a highly explosive issue with fiery, passionate positions on both sides.

Maybe that’s by design. Maybe the idea is to report the story in less emotional terms. But if you ask me — and maybe I’m too much of a journalistic rebel-rouser — I’d prefer a bit more spark in my religion news. A bit more reality.

I mean, people don’t typically leave a church — especially in a case like this — with smiles on their faces. I’d suspect there are some angry former members out there who believe this church has chosen the wrong path. Where are their voices? Why are their perspectives not included in the story? For that matter, more context on the church itself would be helpful. Readers never learn the size of the congregation, exactly how many people left, the total number of deacons or the function of the deacon board.

I noticed on the church’s website that it cites the “Baptist Faith and Message” 1963 as its statement of faith, as opposed to the controversial 2000 version. I was surprised that the story included no specific mention of that. (Just recently, I posted on former President Jimmy Carter criticizing the SBC’s “more creed-based and anti-woman” doctrinal positions.)

To its credit, the story does provide important background on how rare women deacons are in the SBC, quoting an expert from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. The report also includes the Dallas area church’s pastor citing the “totality of Scripture” as a reason for the move. A dissenting area pastor claims his counterpart’s sermons represent a “rationale for a radical gender egalitarianism.” But there’s no elaboration on the meaning of either position. Maybe that’s just not possible in a 660-word news story that — in my opinion — deserved more space.

After reading this story, I felt like I had eaten a dry piece of toast.

I would have preferred a double-biscuit with gravy.

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Got news? Is Marco Rubio really a Catholic?

As I watched CNN’s Election Night coverage last week, my GetReligion antenna immediately shot up when I heard the first part of Florida Sen.-elect Marco Rubio’s victory speech:

Let me begin tonight by acknowledging a simple but profound truth. We are all children of a powerful and great God. Of a God who isn’t always going to end — things are not always going to end up the way you want them. His will is not always going to be yours.

But I promise you this. No matter what you face in life, he will give you the strength to go through it. I bear witness to that tonight as so many of you do in your own lives and must always be acknowledged in everything we do and everywhere we go.

As political junkies know, the Tea Party favorite with Cuban-American roots makes no secret of his faith. He’s an avowed Roman Catholic (see his religious affiliation on his Florida House profile and on this CQ Politics candidate profile on Yahoo). A Catholic Advocate profile last February featured this headline:

Marco Rubio, A Catholic Candidate Who Will Not Compromise

RenewAmerica blogger Eric Giunta writes:

Mr. Rubio has long represented himself as a practicing Catholic, both at his once-official webpage at the Florida House and personally to a good friend of mine, who met him last year at a campaign stop in Tallahassee. I also know that the Catholic clergy of Tallahassee are under the impression Rubio was, and is, one of their own.

Apparently, the only thing not Catholic about Rubio is the church that he attends.

In the aftermath of Rubio’s election, UK Telegraph religion journalist Damian Thompson created a stir, particularly among Catholic blog sites, by questioning Rubio’s religious affiliation (first here and then here). In his first post, Thompson complained:

I assumed until this morning that Marco Rubio, the pro-life new senator-elect from Florida, was a Catholic. That’s because I kept reading in articles that he was “a conservative Roman Catholic.” Then I came across this curious article from Politics Daily which (without apparently realising that it is doing so) reveals that he has abandoned the faith of his Cuban parents:

Here are the pertinent parts of that Politics Daily item from just before the election:

What is Marco Rubio’s religion?

Rubio is a Roman Catholic.

Where does Marco Rubio worship?

Though he is Catholic, Rubio belongs to the Christ Fellowship nondenominational Church in West Kendall, Fla., where he has attended for the last six years.

As Thompson noted, Rubio has not hidden the fact that he attends Christ Fellowship Church. The St. Petersburg Times reported in May that Rubio gave $66,000 to charity between 2000 and 2008, much of it going to Christ Fellowship Church. A profile of Rubio by the evangelical World magazine reported in August:

Rubio turned to faith and family when trying to determine whether he wanted to run for the right reasons. “For those who have the Christian faith and are in politics, there is a constant struggle between a desire to do what is right and how that sometimes may not coincide with what is popular,” said Rubio, a Roman Catholic whose family has spent the last six years attending a Miami-area nondenominational church, Christ Fellowship. “I hope that, more often than not, I make the right choice.”

Now about that non-denominational church. Sometimes, non-denominational means that a church is not affiliated with a denomination. Sometimes, though, non-denominational means that we live in a world where denominational labels turn off potential congregants.

In the case of Christ Fellowship, the West Kendall church’s beliefs page includes this note at the top:

Christ Fellowship is aligned doctrinally and cooperatively in missions locally, nationally, and globally with the Southern Baptist Convention.

As you may be aware, the Southern Baptist Convention is a rather prominent denomination. (A bit off topic, but I remember writing about Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas, a non-Baptist SBC church, during my time with The Associated Press in Dallas.)

Back to Rubio, a key question seems to be: Is Florida’s Roman Catholic senator-elect really a Southern Baptist? A related question: Does this matter? One Catholic blogger said he liked a commenter who suggested:

“Get back to me when he claims to be a Christian but is actually a Muslim.”

In other Catholic circles, though, there is a clamoring for more details on Rubio’s faith and what he believes (click here and here for two examples). As Giunta put it:

Still, one’s religious affiliation does matter; voters have a right to know what informs the ideology and worldview of their elected leaders, and to take religious affiliation into account when determining who to give their vote to. There’s also a question of honesty.

What are mainstream media reports saying about the brouhaha over Rubio’s religious affiliation? So far, as best I can tell, nothing. Hmmmmm, it certainly sounds like news to me. If I’ve missed any relevant news reports, by all means, please share the links in the comments section.

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Religion beat is boring, huh?

Don’t you just love the religion beat? I have never understood the complaint that religion news is boring territory. It seems like every time I turn around this beat serves of some new and fascinating twist, often with either joyful or distressing overtones.

Do you remember the whole Y2K media apocalypse? I was living in Maryland at the time and was surprised to find out that, up in Amish territory, there were communities with Y2K committees. Why would the Amish need Y2K committees? Well, what would happen to the sale of handmade quilts if Gentile stores that cooperated with the Amish had computer crashes that affected their charge-card systems?

Life is complex, even for the Amish.

So this brings us to the following story offered by The Atlantic. Here’s the top of the Rebecca Greenfield post, under the headline, “Would the Amish Use This Hand-Cranked Laptop?

The non-profit One Laptop Per Child has engineered laptops for the world’s computerless masses. Given that billions of people don’t have electricity, OLPC has designed laptops that can operate off-the-grid, perfect for Rwandan cities, aboriginal Canadian settlements — and Amish colonies.

The Amish live in a constellation of agrarian spots in the northern United States and they’re famous for their opposition to some modern technologies, specifically high-voltage electricity. But like many religious close-knit religious communities, they tend to pick and choose which specific products to adopt. If the Amish could have the computer without the electricity, would they use them?

The answer, basically, is yes.

Now is the issue the computer with the crank or whether it is used to put Amish believers “on the grid” of the modern world?

What if the computer was simply used to help the Amish run their own businesses? On their own, in their separate flesh-and-blood networks? Thus, the story notes:

The flyer’s creator knew his audience. Unlike ads for the new Apple product of the moment, this downplays the computer’s tech touting it as “just a workhorse for your business.” It would provide “unequaled safety” because it had “no modem, no phone port or Internet connection, no outside programs, no sound, no pictures, no games or gimmicks.”

As new technologies emerge, the Amish weigh their utility against their danger.

The key word is “safety.” The safety of what? The community of believers, of course. That raises serious issues, some of which will hit close to home for anyone with young children who at times seem to be hardwired into, well, the modern world. Oh wait, there are cell towers and wifi hot spots.

Like I said, the Godbeat keeps serving up twists. Enjoy.

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‘Faith-filled’ Carter has his say

I understand.

No, really, I do.

Reporters love to share former President Jimmy Carter’s stories and opinions. As the nation’s 86-year-old grandfather-in-chief tours the nation promoting his latest book, “White House Diary,” he’s generating a fair amount of ink. No surprise there.

A telephone interview by Carter with the Salt Lake Tribune resulted in a story with a strong religion angle. From a GetReligion perspective, that’s terrific.

But here’s the problem: The headline makes it clear immediately that this will be more of a puff piece than a meaty news story:

Religion, politics getting too cozy, warns a faith-filled Carter

Any idea where this story might be headed?

OK, I won’t keep you in suspense. Here’s the top of the report:

For a man who evangelized foreign leaders and taught Sunday school while U.S. president, Jimmy Carter has some strong words for what he sees as an “excessive melding of religion and politics.”

And it began, he said, with the denomination he called home for more than seven decades: the Southern Baptist Convention.

“It’s now metastasized to other religions, where an actual affiliation between the denomination and the more conservative elements of the Republican Party is almost official,” Carter said during a phone interview while he was in Salt Lake City this week promoting his new book, White House Diary.

“There are pastors openly calling for members to vote a certain way,” the 86-year-old ex-president said. “That’s a serious breakdown in the principle of separation of church and state.”

Now, if there are any curmudgeonly old editors out there, they probably noticed at least two groups that might deserve a chance to respond to the lovable old president. Those groups would be, of course, the Southern Baptist Convention and the Republican Party.

Alas, there are apparently no such editors at the Tribune. Or at Religion News Service, which picked up the story and distributed it nationally. Now, RNS prides itself on being “the only secular news and photo service devoted to unbiased coverage of religion and ethics — exclusively.”

Back in March, a compelling RNS profile of Carter at his church in Plains, Ga., impressed me as the kind of personality feature that didn’t require traditional he said/she said treatment.

But in this case, RNS went so far as to pitch the story this way on its Tuesday blog roundup of religion news (you might recall that Tuesday was, um, Election Day):

Former President Jimmy Carter criticized Republicans’ and Southern Baptists’“excessive melding of religion and politics.”

Does Journalism 101 no longer apply? Do those criticized — or expert sources sympathetic to their position — no longer deserve a chance to respond? Or are the rules different when the one doing the criticizing is a “faith-filled” former president?

To be fair, the 400-word RNS version of the story appeared on its daily digest of shorter news items, so maybe space was an issue. Still, basic journalistic principles should take precedence over word counts.

Keep reading, and the story gives background on how Carter left the Southern Baptist Convention to escape its “conservative politics and new doctrinal statements that are, in Carter’s view, more creed-based and anti-woman.” Again, no need for a response from anyone who might disagree, right?

I’m trying to understand. Really, I am.

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Don’t ask, don’t tell, deja vu

“It’s like deja vu all over again,” Yogi Berra said, or something to that effect.

For some reason, I thought of that quote as I read an excellent Associated Press story on the potential impact on military chaplains of repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

The byline on the story is Tom Breen — a North Carolina-based AP newsman whose religion reporting has drawn past praise from your GetReligionistas.

Here’s the top of Breen’s story, which included contributions other AP writers:

Dozens of retired military chaplains say that serving both God and the U.S. armed forces will become impossible for chaplains whose faiths consider homosexuality a sin if the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is thrown out.

If a chaplain preaches against homosexuality, he could conceivably be disciplined as a bigot under the military’s nondiscrimination policy, the retired chaplains say. The Pentagon, however, says chaplains’ religious beliefs and their need to express them will be respected.

Clergy would be ineligible to serve as chaplains if their churches withdraw their endorsements, as some have threatened to do if “don’t ask, don’t tell” ends. Critics of allowing openly gay troops fear that clergy will leave the service or be forced to find other jobs in the military that don’t involve their faiths.

“The bottom line is religious freedom,” said retired Army Brig. Gen. Douglas Lee, one of 65 former chaplains who signed a letter urging President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to keep “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

That’s a newsy, straightforward approach to an important topic. It’s a meaty, 1,300-word report. And it’s an angle that, as our own tmatt lamented a week ago, had failed to draw much mainstream media attention.

The head GetReligion guru asked last week:

This is a story, right?

Indeed, the AP answered a few days later.

Not only that, but the AP pursued almost precisely the same angle that tmatt tackled in a recent Scripps Howard News Service column that began like this:

The setting: The office of a priest who serves as a military chaplain.

The time: This hypothetical encounter occurs soon after the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that forbids gays, lesbians and bisexuals to openly serve in America’s armed forces.

The scene: An officer requests counseling about tensions with her same-sex partner as they prepare for marriage. The priest says this would be inappropriate, since his church teaches that sex outside of marriage is sin and that the sacrament of marriage is reserved for unions of a man and a woman.

The priest offers to refer her to a chaplain at another base who represents a church that performs same-sex rites. The officer accepts, but is less than pleased at the inconvenience.

What happens next? That question is driving the tense church-state debates that continue behind the scenes of the political drama that surrounds “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“If the government normalizes homosexual behavior in the armed forces, many (if not most) chaplains will confront a profoundly difficult moral choice: whether they are to obey God or to obey men,” stated a September letter from 60-plus retired chaplains to President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

What’s that old saying (and I don’t think Yogi Berra is the source of this one) about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery?

Consider yourself flattered, tmatt. Source by source, it’s almost the same story.

The key question (and there’s no real way to answer it): When was this AP story written? How long has it been on some editor’s cyber shelf?

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Don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t cover

At this point, it appears that Democrats who are fighting to survive in red zip codes are going to make it to Election Day without a clear resolution of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” standoff. That’s the last thing they needed — a final wave of ads talking about a hot-button cultural issue.

Meanwhile, supporters of repeal are not happy, for obvious reasons. Yet many Democrats who understand the politics of the situation in the tightly contested states probably realize that they have dodged a bullet.

To say that military people are tense — on both sides of the issue — is an understatement. In particular, no one knows how many officers from more culturally and religious conservative parts of America will choose to leave the armed forces, rather than live with the policies that will flow out of DADT (whatever the precise nature of those policies). No one knows how this would affect recruiting in red zip codes.

I, of course, remain interested in how this will change one of the most controversial groups of professionals in the ranks of the military — the chaplains.

On the theological left, chaplains say there will be no change — unless so-called “fundamentalists” choose to flee, which means that the changes will be good.

Religious traditionalists in several different camps — Protestant, Jewish, Orthodox, Catholic — are predicting that troubled times are ahead, with some of these ministers differing on just how big the explosion will be. How many chaplains will be affected? Here’s a hint, coming from the left:

In American Fascists, author Chris Hedges warns of the growing power of fundamentalist Christian evangelicals in the US military, noting that the Christian Right sees the military as a key target. …

Some may challenge Hedges’ estimate that “radical Christians” hold half of the armed forces’ chaplaincies. A New York Times investigation in 2005 determined that the numbers of evangelical and Pentecostal chaplains in the Air Force had grown while, perhaps unsurprisingly, the number of mainline Christian and Roman Catholic chaplains had declined.

The number of liberal Protestant chaplains has been affected by several factors, including the statistical decline of those churches, the aging of their clergy, the declining number of clergy who (after Vietnam and the ’60s) want to have anything to do with the military and the rising number of second-career ministers who at the time of their ordination are too old (or too out of shape) to meet the military’s guidelines for chaplains. Thus, the number of chaplains who — doctrinally speaking — are likely to thrive in the post-DADT military is declining.

The number of Catholic priests is declining, period, to no one’s surprise. This affects one of the largest flocks in the American military and, of course, some Catholic bishops are going to openly oppose repeal, while many try to remain silent and out of the line of fire.

I tried to deal with some of that in my Scripps Howard News Service column this week. This was a really hard one to cut down to my usual op-ed page length. I have had lots of feedback on this column, including notes from chaplains involved in this tense situation. Here’s how the column opens:

The setting: The office of a priest who serves as a military chaplain.

The time: This hypothetical encounter occurs soon after the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that forbids gays, lesbians and bisexuals to openly serve in America’s armed forces.

The scene: An officer requests counseling about tensions with her same-sex partner as they prepare for marriage. The priest says this would be inappropriate, since his church teaches that sex outside of marriage is sin and that the sacrament of marriage is reserved for unions of a man and a woman.

The priest offers to refer her to a chaplain at another base who represents a church that performs same-sex rites. The officer accepts, but is less than pleased at the inconvenience.

What happens next? That question is driving the tense church-state debates that continue behind the scenes of the political drama that surrounds “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

There are at least two strong camps in this debate. Here is what that sounds like in real life:

“If the government normalizes homosexual behavior in the armed forces, many (if not most) chaplains will confront a profoundly difficult moral choice: whether they are to obey God or to obey men,” stated a September letter from 60-plus retired chaplains to President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” they argued, will cripple the ability of many chaplains to provide counseling. “Service members seeking guidance regarding homosexual relationships will place chaplains in an untenable position. If chaplains answer such questions according to the tenets of their faith, stating that homosexual relationships are sinful and harmful, then they run the risk of career-ending accusations of insubordination and discrimination. And if chaplains simply decline to provide counseling at all on that issue, they may still face discipline for discrimination.”

These complaints are “somewhat disingenuous,” according to the Rev. John F. Gundlach, a retired Navy chaplain from the United Church of Christ, the progressive Protestant denomination into which Obama was baptized.

“These chaplains … will continue to have the same rights they’ve always had to preach, teach, counsel, marry and conduct religious matters according to the tenets of their faith. They will also continue to have the responsibility to refer servicemembers to other chaplains when their own theology or conscience will not allow them to perform the services to which a servicemember is entitled,” stressed Gundlach, writing in Stars and Stripes. “Any chaplain who can’t fulfill this expectation should find somewhere else to do ministry.”

How many may have to choose to “find somewhere else”? At this point, one has to start doing some math.

Everyone agrees that the Southern Baptist Convention has an unusually high number of chaplains, primarily because so many Southern Baptists want to do this work. Then there are about 300 Catholic chaplains — about half the number needed. Then there is a flock of evangelical/Pentecostal chaplains from a wide variety of sources, including evangelical and charismatic parishes in otherwise mainline Protestant denominations (think charismatic Anglicans, Missouri-Synod Lutherans, evangelical United Methodists, etc.).

Remember, it’s voices on the LEFT who have argued that “fundamentalists” and “radicals” make up 50 percent or more of America’s military chaplains, those active and on reserved status. And then come the Eastern Orthodox, the Catholics, the Orthodox Jews, the Muslims, etc.

And what happens if the conservatives are right and that any advocacy of traditional doctrines by chaplains is labeled “hate speech,” with offenders either being punished or simply denied the ability to advance in rank? If you read the views of theological liberals, there will be no problems after repeal, unless there are problems. No one is talking about “hate speech,” except for those who believe that conservatives are already guilty of “hate speech.” In other words:

There is no easy way out of this church-state maze.

If “don’t ask, don’t tell” is repealed, “no restrictions or limitations on the teaching of Catholic morality can be accepted,” noted Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for Military Services. While Catholic chaplains must always show compassion, they “can never condone — even silently — homosexual behavior.”

A letter from Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America to the chaplains board was even more blunt: “If our chaplains were in any way … prohibited from denouncing such behavior as sinful and self-destructive, it would create an impediment to their service in the military. If such an attitude were regarded as ‘prejudice’ or the denunciation of homosexuality as ‘hate language,’ or the like, we would be forced to pull out our chaplains from military service.”

So be it, said Gundlach. While these chaplains “worry about being discriminated against, they openly discriminate against some of the very people they are pledged to serve and serve with. If the hate speech currently uttered by some conservative chaplains and their denominations is any indication of how they will respond in the future, we can expect this discrimination to continue.”

These chaplains need to resign, he said. The armed services “will be the better for it.”

This is a story, right? Over at USA Today, veteran scribe Cathy Lynn Grossman is following these trends carefully at her weblog, which I would assume means she is building connections for further coverage on dead-tree pulp.

As you would expect, editors at the conservative Baptist Press know that this is a story. Ditto for the professionals on the left side of the Baptist spectrum, at Associated Baptist Press.

But who else is covering this drama closely? Please let us know. This is a story. Period.

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Rockin’ with the Aqua Buddha

As you would imagine, the whole Rand Paul affair is a pretty big deal at the Louisville Courier-Journal. In fact, the newspaper’s lengthy profile of the candidate — paralleling a Jack Conway profile of similar length — began like this:

As a leader of the Young Conservatives of Texas in the early 1980s, Rand Paul railed against the Equal Rights Amendment and the notion of equal pay for equal work.

“Since when have any two people been equal?” he asked in a letter to the editor of Baylor University’s campus newspaper.

At the same time, Paul cavorted with a Baylor secret society known as the NoZe Brotherhood, which had been kicked off campus a few years earlier for conduct the school’s president called “lewd, crude and grossly sacrilegious.”

“We aspired to blasphemy,” said John Green, one of two alumni who confirmed Paul’s membership, “and he flourished in it.”

A few sentences later, the profile quotes the satirist Stephen Colbert on another issue linked to Paul. The profile, however, does not attempt to quote Colbert in a literal fashion — since Colbert is, duh, a satirist. When you are dealing with someone who specializes in satire, you have to take what they are saying with an ton of salt. In satire, up is down and black is often white.

Raise your hands, GetReligion readers, if you grasp the fact that Colbert is not actually a clone of Bill “Where’s my spin zone?” O’Reilly? You know that he is saying the opposite of what he means (most of the time)?

The Noze Brotherhood was and is a satirical society.

That is what the NoZe crew does. While I was at Baylor, the NoZe mocked Dan Rather, Richard Nixon, Bob Woodward, Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski (a powerful Baylor graduate, by the way) and anyone else who came within mocking range. And, of course, the NoZe mocked Southern Baptists and Baptist life in general, as I stressed in a post the other day.

Oh, and it is true that the NoZe had been kicked off campus back in the mid-to-late 1970s. Then they came back. Then they were kicked off again. Then they came back. Do you get the picture? The NoZe is in the Baylor archives. They have been on and off campus since World War I, or thereabouts.

From time to time, NoZe guys do brilliant work. One Noze friend of mine went on to become a speechwriter for the president of the United States. No, I won’t say which president, since the NoZe is a — say it together — a SECRET SOCIETY.

But most of the NoZe drippings fell way short of brilliance and often veered into rude stupidity. Welcome to college life.

It’s satire. As the old saying goes: Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.

So why are we reading stuff like this in the Washington Post (this is a Chris Cillizza blog post, not the missing version that ran in the print edition) about that campaign advertisement?

“Why was Rand Paul a member of a secret society that called the Holy Bible a ‘hoax’,” asks the ad’s narrator. “Why did Rand Paul once tie a woman up, tell her to bow down before a false idol and say his god was ‘Aqua Buddha’.”

The ad’s charges both can be traced back to Paul’s collegiate years. In the “Aqua Buddha” incident — and, no, we never thought we would write those words (at least not together) in this blog — Paul vehemently denied being involved in any kidnapping, saying only that he went along with a college prank. (The woman involved told Greg Sargent, who writes the “Plum Line” blog, that the “whole thing has been blown out of proportion.”)

The “anti-Christian” charge comes from Paul’s membership in a secret society while at Baylor University that published mocking statements regarding the Bible in newsletters.

“This is an ad about things he did,” said Conway campaign manager John Collins of the allegations in the ad. “He has failed to deny any of these charges.”

It would really help if someone talked to someone at Baylor who understands what the NoZe guys are all about. Call the Texas Collection. Call the library’s reference desk. Do some basic journalism.

Meanwhile, at the New York Times we read:

The Conway ad that helped spark the debate dustup focuses on reports that, during Mr. Paul’s time at Baylor University, he and a friend tied up a woman and told her to worship a god they called “Aqua Buddha” and that he was part of a group in college that ridiculed Christianity. (Mr. Paul has dismissed the reports.)

That’s that. No NoZe information. (Cue: stifled scream)

Somebody, please, get a freakin’ clue.

Wait! I see that hand! Thank you, Andrew Sullivan.

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Only the NoZe knows, you know?

All together now, let’s say the words of wisdom that I learned as a Baylor University undergraduate: No non-NoZe knows the no-nonsense, non-NoZe news that the NoZe knows.

Let me stress that I was not a member of the NoZe Brotherhood during my years at Jerusalem on the Brazos. I definitely was not cool enough and there was a good chance that my GPA was not high enough (my stab at taking Hebrew was a disaster) — or both.

But I had friends in the slightly secret society that was the NoZe and some of them were even capable of clever, non-profane humor on occasion. However, when you are a satirical society at the world’s largest Baptist university, you simply have to make fun of the sacred cows that are grazing everywhere on campus. And when young, loud and often crude college males start making fun of religion the results can get ugly.

So what happens when a NoZe brother ends up, as an adult, becoming a political gadfly who needs the votes of millions of people in church pews? Obviously, ink will be spilled after tips from those on the other side of the political asile. The Politico headline proclaimed: “Paul’s college group mocked Christians.” Here’s the top of the story:

Rand Paul’s Kentucky Senate campaign drew a round of startled media attention this summer, after GQ reported that he’d played hair-raising pranks as an undergraduate at Baylor University in the early 1980s.

Issues of the newsletter published by Paul’s secret society, the NoZe Brotherhood, during his time at Baylor reveal a more specific political problem for the Kentucky Republican: The group’s work often had a specifically anti-Christian tone, as it made fun of the Baptist college’s faith-based orientation.

Paul, the son of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, beat back charges in the Republican primary that his libertarian views put him outside the GOP mainstream. A practicing Christian, he has backed away from some of his father’s more radical views on cutting government programs and withdrawing the American military from conflicts abroad. But Paul’s Democratic rival, Jack Conway, has sought repeatedly to cast Paul as out of sync with “Kentucky values,” and the NoZe newsletter may provide more fodder.

The NoZe Brotherhood, as the group was called, was formally banned by Baylor two years before Paul arrived on the grounds of “sacrilege,” the university president said at the time. “They had ‘made fun of not only the Baptist religion, but Christianity and Christ,’ ” President Herbert Reynolds told the student newspaper, The Lariat.

I know from personal experience that the late President Reynolds had a very thin skin, but that quote is simply a riot. By the way, who is Reynolds quoting in this quote inside of a quote?

What about many of the charges leveled in this article? Please understand what Baylor alumni understand. It’s hard to take seriously anything that a NoZe says when discussing the affairs of the NoZe. But the whole point of the society was to make fun of Baylor and, especially, the top administrators. Obviously, that meant making fun of Baptist culture.

Some NoZe scribes were better at this than others. Were many of these satirical scribbles crass? You betcha.

However, Baylor knows the NoZe. Check out this detail in this laugher of a story.

The newsletters were retrieved from the Baylor University Library by Democrats opposing Paul. In response to the initial GQ report, he dismissed “National Enquirer-type stories about [Paul's] teenage years,” while Paul denied the most extreme allegation: That he’d “kidnapped” a fellow classmate, attempted to make her smoke marijuana, and then forced her to “worship” a god called the “Aqua Buddha.” The undisclosed fellow student also later told a reporter that she’d gone along with the prank.

The NoZe Brotherhood was founded in 1926, according to an account in Baylor’s magazine, a social club for smart, irreverent young men at the Baptist school whose irreverence may naturally have targeted the religious university authorities.

As for the newsletter, “In the 1970s, its format and content changed, carrying more topical and controversial, stories,” according to another Baylor Magazine account, to which a university spokeswoman referred POLITICO. That official history avoids detailing the group’s irreligious tendencies, but they were front and center in Paul’s time, and the newsletters offer the context for the strange, high-profile campaign flap. At a Christian school, the group focused explicitly and repeatedly on religious targets; the Aqua Buddha was just one jab in that direction.

Yes, they store The Rope in the Baylor library.

That does not surprise me. I am surprised that I was at Baylor from 1972-78 (including graduate school) and I do not remember the Aqua Buddha. That sounds like rather mild NoZe material, to me.

Oh well, what a flashback. I hope Paul’s enemy’s political opponents realize what a joke this is.

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