There will always be an England

BlairBigBenI picked up one of the local newspapers this morning and there, across the top of page one, was a London Daily Telegraph story with a lede that the Brits have been expecting for some time now.

Prime Minister Tony Blair is to announce that he will convert to Roman Catholicism soon after his planned meeting with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican tomorrow, according to church sources and his friends.

Mr. Blair, an Anglican, may even inform the pope of his intentions and seek his approval at the audience, which he is expected to attend with his wife, Cherie, a devout Catholic, and their daughter Kathryn.

The story covers almost all of the basics.

Let’s see. There’s the historical perspective (with the Anglican-state angle thrown in there for good measure):

There has never been a Catholic prime minister in Britain, although there is no longer a formal constitutional bar. However, Mr. Blair would have been aware that to convert while at 10 Downing Street could have caused a potential conflict with his role in choosing bishops for the Church of England.

The personal, what-happens-next angle:

It is likely that Mr. Blair would begin a private course of instruction with a spiritual director and would be expected to be formally received into the Catholic Church at a special service. His audience with the pope … will be his third visit to the Vatican in four years and reflects his growing fascination with Catholicism.

And finally, the section that has to leave the reader — especially a traditional Catholic reader — wondering, “Does reporter Jonathan Petre realize just how bizarre the words he is typing sound?”

Hang on for this:

Rumors that Mr. Blair intends to convert have been circulating in Catholic circles and in Westminster for years, but have grown increasingly strong as his departure from office nears. Friends say that he studies both the Bible and the Koran daily, and much of his political philosophy has been influenced by the social teachings of the Catholic Church. He is a particular admirer of the maverick German theologian Hans Kung.

Uh, that would be the liberal Hans Kung of Germany? The one who has never been known as a supporter of traditional Catholic teachings, the kind advocated by another German theology professor — that would be Pope Benedict XVI?

Methinks there is a very important angle in this story that has been buried.

But to Petre’s credit, the elephant in the Catholic sanctuary is finally mentioned — near the end — in material from an interview with Father Timothy Russ, the Blair family’s parish priest.

Three years ago his parish priest at Chequers, the Rev. Timothy Russ, disclosed that Mr. Blair had discussed becoming a Catholic with him.

But Father Russ added that Mr. Blair, whose views on a range of issues from abortion to stem-cell research are at odds with traditional church teaching, had “some way to go” on important moral issues.

In a new book, Father Russ also reveals that Mr. Blair even discussed the possibility of becoming a Catholic deacon, a position below that of a priest, which can be held by lay people.

In 1996, Cardinal Basil Hume, the late archbishop of Westminster, wrote to him demanding that he cease taking Communion at his wife’s church in Islington, although he added it was “all right to do so in Tuscany for the holidays … as there was no Anglican church nearby.”

Mr. Blair made it clear in a response that he did not agree, asking in a letter to Cardinal Hume: “I wonder what Jesus would have made of it?”

In other words, Blair disagrees with the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings on a host of crucial issues and has, in the past, even clashed with the local cardinal on whether he needs to become a Roman Catholic in order to take part in the sacramental life of the Catholic Church? I mean, is this man an Anglican or what?

Has anyone seen a good quote or two somewhere — this story could have used one — in which Blair offers insights into why he wants to convert into (and perhaps even be ordained in) a church with which he has such profound disagreements? Just asking.

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What is an ‘evangelical Roman Catholic’?

Merry Go RoundNow this is going to be tricky. Let’s see if I can tiptoe into another post on media coverage of the Mitt Romney campaign without setting off a new tsunami of comment-board warfare about Mormonism.

That’s going to be hard, since The Washington Post‘s story on which I would like to comment ran with this headline: “Romney’s Mormonism Attracts More Scrutiny … and a Whisper Campaign.” The second half of that headline refers to a dumb move by an Iowa staffer for Sen. Sam Brownback.

Here’s the news hook, providing yet another sign that the Mormonism story is — sadly — not going to go away until Romney finds a way to satisfy the questions of many (but never all) of the evangelical leaders yanking strings connected to the GOP machine:

In an e-mail obtained by The Fix, former state representative Emma Nemecek, the southeastern Iowa field director for Brownback’s presidential campaign, asked a group of Iowa Republican leaders to help her fact-check a series of statements about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including one that says: “Theologically, the only thing Christianity and the LDS church has in common is the name of Jesus Christ, and the LDS Jesus is not the same Jesus of the Christian faith.”

Clearly, if a staffer wants to fact-check statements about Mormon doctrine he or she should ask Mormon leaders in Iowa and experts in the Romney campaign. The staffer can also seek information from mainstream religious bodies — check seminaries and missions offices — that have serious, informed, hopefully respectable debates with mainstream Mormon leaders.

But what is a campaign staffer doing getting involved in that kind of issue in the first place?

However, most of this is — sadly — another trip on the same political and journalistic merry-go-round.

What caught my eye in this story by reporters Chris Cillizza and Shailagh Murray was the following linguistic innovation, which I sure hope is not a sign of things to come:

… Brownback has publicly taken on Romney over the abortion issue — insisting that Romney’s conversion to an anti-abortion-rights position is more political positioning than personal evolution. (Both men spoke to the National Right to Life Convention in Kansas City, Mo., late last week.)

But Romney’s faith has not been a topic of contention for Brownback — a former Methodist who has become an evangelical Roman Catholic — until now.

Say what?

What, pray tell, is an “evangelical Roman Catholic”? I assume that this is not the same thing as a Roman Catholic evangelist, a combination of words that makes sense.

And, while we are at it, shouldn’t the story have said that Brownback is a former United Methodist? Last time I checked, that was a mainline Protestant denomination that contained millions of evangelical Christians, but certainly would not, as a whole, be called “evangelical” by most outsiders.

I realize that the word “evangelical” is very hard to define, and this is a topic that comes up here at GetReligion from time to time. Click here for a helpful essay on this topic at Wheaton College’s Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals, a place where you will find evangelicals who know plenty about their own history.

I also realize that Time earned jeers from the GetReligionistas and many others when the editors included Father Richard John Neuhaus, a Roman Catholic priest, and Rick Santorum, a Catholic layman who was in the U.S. Senate at that time, in their list of the 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America. It seemed that they were political evangelicals, whatever that means.

So here we go again. Perhaps this is an issue that will have to be settled by the committee that governs The Associated Press Stylebook. It’s bad enough that “fundamentalist” has become a meaningless word that gets tossed around by journalists who do not know what they are talking about. Now we have people writing about “evangelical Roman Catholics”?

The last thing we need is yet another journalistic merry-go-round on the religion beat. So let me ask this again: What in the world is an “evangelical Roman Catholic”?

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Open and unafraid

JinAtOrdinationIn his first piece for The Atlantic, Adam Minter has written an in-depth and sympathetic profile of Aloysius Jin Luxian, bishop of Shanghai, who was approved by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association but not appointed by the Vatican. Minter begins the piece with an extended description of Jin’s return, after years of imprisonment, to the cathedral where he had been ordained:

On a June day in 1982, Father Aloysius Jin Luxian, a 66-year-old Jesuit just released from prison, walked into Shanghai’s St. Ignatius Cathedral for the first time in 27 years. In his youth, the building had been one of the great churches in East Asia, celebrated for its delicate Gothic arches and colorful stained glass. Now the color was gone, replaced by clear glass and harsh sunlight that bleached the cracked columns and tiled floor. The steeples, once among the tallest in Shanghai, were missing, as was the altar beneath which he’d been ordained, in 1945. Jin had spent nearly three decades under house arrest, in reeducation camps, and in prison, so he had few illusions about the Chinese Communist Party’s attitude toward religion. But the damage to the church was still hard to bear. St. Ignatius, he learned, had been converted to a grain warehouse during the Cultural Revolution, and the authorities had spent three days burning most of the diocese’s Catholic books in front of the church.

Minter’s report describes the difficult choices Jin had to make in the years since his return to that cathedral, especially in striving for an enculturated Catholicism. Minter explains that struggle well in an interview with Abigail Cutler of The Atlantic Online:

I think you’d be hard pressed to find any Catholic in the world who would say they thought Mao was good for Chinese Catholicism. But on the other hand, the fact that China threw out the missionaries and allowed Chinese Catholics to assume authority over Chinese dioceses was very important and remains, to this day, a matter of pride for many Chinese. So when Jin talks about the identity crisis he felt in 1949 and in the decades that followed, he’s also talking about the tension he and his peers felt under European control — the idea that if you were a Catholic, you had to be part of the European colonial enterprise. Come 1949, I think many Chinese Catholics — especially those of Jin’s generation — desperately wanted a way to assert themselves.

Minter tells a complicated story that eventually includes the Vatican’s recognition of Jin as a bishop. The high quality of Minter’s coverage is perhaps best explained in how he answers when Cutler asks whether he has a particular interest in reporting on religion:

I find it to be an interesting topic. My specific interest in Catholicism in China comes from my seeing it as the perfect laboratory through which to examine how Chinese civilization interacts with Western civilization. I think there’s probably no institution that epitomizes the West more perfectly than the Catholic Church. Certainly, it’s the oldest Western institution. The role it’s played in China — as far back as the sixteenth century — and the role it continues to play today is just fascinating to me. In addition to that, I find religion interesting in its own right; I also like talking to religious people — especially religious leaders — because they tend to be thoughtful people.

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Online confession, round two

ConfessionIt’s a sad thing when you hit middle age and your mind starts to go.

I recently wrote the other GetReligionistas (should we have a kind of Grateful Dead-ish shirt saying that at CafePress?) asking if we had done a post yet about MSM coverage of the whole online confession trend. You know, the ongoing stream of stories like this column by Nancy McLaughlin in the Greensboro (N.C.) News-Record:

He hasn’t paid taxes in 20 years, he tells

“I keep moving and switching jobs to make it hard for the IRS to catch up with me,” the writer, who claims to be 38 and from Florida, taps into the keyboard. “I want to fix this but every time I think about it the anxiety grips me so that it causes convulsions.”

… Such anonymous soul-sharing, once reserved for the other side of a dark confessional booth, now unfolds daily in cyberspace. Visitors are encouraged to browse the Web sites — even to comment on the misdeeds of complete strangers.

Some people of faith say they think cyberspace confession provides a needed outlet. Others scoff at the trend, saying it trivializes a long-held spiritual tradition.

Personally, I think it would be hard to think up something more “Protestant” than online confession. By that, I mean that most free-church Protestant flocks have every right to adapt to modern times in any way that they feel is consistent with their private or collective interpretations of Scripture (on the right) or evolving Scripture plus The New York Times‘ editorial pages (on the left).

And then there is the question of the fading practice of sacramental confesssion in the Church of Rome (I have never seen any statistics on confession in Eastern Orthodoxy), while evangelical Protestants are trying to come up with their own small-t traditions, whether they are online or in small groups or in the giant, massive, enormous world of pastoral counseling.

Hot story tip for reporters: Check out the ratio of counseling majors to M.Divs on the evangelical seminary campus nearest you. Are pastoral counselors the true priests of American Protestantism these days?

Anyway, I thought of all of this when I received an email this morning pointing me toward a very fine essay on this topic at First Things. Here is a sample:

So where, how, and when does forgiveness come into play, if at all? In what ways are these online confession sites or Oprah shows similar to what you might get from a traditional church’s means of confession? Does the confessing individual forgive himself? Does the community forgive? Where’s the absolution?

American society has placed confession and absolution on two wholly separate tracks. In the church, there is no separation: We confess that we are poor, miserable sinners who have failed to do good and have broken the Commandments. And God absolves us, forgives our sins on account of Jesus’ sacrifice in our place.

… The culture views confession as psychologically therapeutic. By contrast, the “therapy” that the Church seeks to offer is the healing of the soul. That cannot happen with one’s computer. If the thousands of confessions dealing with online pornography and adulterous email relationships are any indication, penitents might want to forgo online confession and simply get away from the computer altogether.

And the author of this essay? One Mollie Ziegler Hemingway.

Turns out, we have looked at this before. Check out the Divine Mrs. MZ’s piece and let us know if you have seen any interesting variations on this theme in media near you. It ought to hit broadcast news pretty soon.

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A bodyguard during the liturgy?

ayasofya sultanahmetHome again, home again.

I am back at my desk in Washington, D.C., but my mind is still in Istanbul (and, as you would expect, my confused body does not know exactly where it is).

Several of you have written to ask why I was over there in the first place. I was at an Oxford Centre for Religion & Public Life conference, “Fact vs. Rumor: Journalism in the 21st Century.”

I didn’t mention this in advance because of security concerns in that remarkable, yet tense, city and land. While the Oxford Centre website is very thin at this time, eventually the texts of all of the presentations will be online — including speeches by the likes of Zeyno Baran, Hasain Haqqani, Lamin Sasseh, Nevra Necipoglu, Jung Chang, Jon Halliday, George Gilder, Paul Marshall, Michael Gerson and others. Put any of those names in Google and you’ll find interesting material. There were also regional reports on press-freedom issues around the world, similar to the Oxford Centre seminar last summer in England.

The discussion sessions were all off the record, because there were journalists in the room from every imaginable media environment around the world. But it is safe to say that there were many large issues looming in the background of all our conversations, from the Armenian genocide to the war in Iraq, from the impact of the Web on newsrooms to global tensions over, yes, the mainstream media failing to “get religion.”

We also talked quite a bit about religious freedom, a subject that is often closely linked — think First Amendment, here — to freedom of the press.

While I was in Istanbul, the GetReligionistas received a reader email pointing us toward a post at Amy Welborn’s open book weblog titled “Where’s the coverage? / Of anti-Christian violence in Iraq?” This is a good question, and Welborn’s post includes links to some recent tragedies that demonstrate that there is more to the sectarian bloodshed in Iraq than clashes between Sunnis and Shiites. Yet, I also have to admit that my GetReligion Guilt file contains links to more than a few important stories about the impact of persecution on Christians in the Middle East. In fact, Google the words “Christians fleeing Iraq” and you will find quite a bit to read.

There is no question that this is a religion story. I mean, consider this recent example:

Pope Benedict XVI and President Mary McAleese yesterday led tributes to an Irish-trained priest who was shot dead in Iraq. Fr Ragheed Ganni, 35, was killed by unidentified gunmen as he returned from celebrating Mass in his native city of Mosul on Sunday.

… He and three deacons, one of whom was his cousin, were shot dead when the gunmen stopped their car on Sunday morning.

Fr Ganni, who was a frequent visitor to Ireland, was also an engineer and a member of the Chaldean Rite, Christianity’s most ancient branch. Pope Benedict XVI yesterday sent a blessing of consolation to the families of the dead men. He hoped their “costly sacrifice” would bring about peace and reconciliation in Iraq.

Clearly, Turkey is not Iraq — as Gerson noted in a Washington Post op-ed column written during our conference. Yet, as I found during my first Istanbul visit three years ago, there are plenty of reasons to be concerned — including shocking acts of terrorism. Gerson notes:

… (Even) in Turkey, religious liberty is the most disputed and troublesome of freedoms. The secular establishment, fearful of accumulated sectarian power, has traditionally denied minority religious groups the right to own property, to provide religious education beyond high school or to train their own clergy. As a result, the Armenian and Greek Orthodox churches are slowly being asphyxiated for lack of priests — and the government has sometimes hastened the process by expropriating church property without compensation. The nationalist yellow press whips up resentment against religious minorities by repeating popular conspiracy theories: that Christian missionaries run prostitution rings or bribe Muslims into converting.

… But even as the legal environment for religion improves in Turkey, rising Islamist influence has caused sudden storms of violence. Seven weeks ago, two Turkish Christian converts and a German citizen were ritually murdered in the southern city of Malatya by killers spouting nationalist and Islamist slogans. Pastors around the country have begun hiring professional security. The Armenian patriarch is followed by a bodyguard even during his procession to the altar — an unsettling liturgy of fear.

Try to picture that last scene in your mind. Now try to forget it. Good luck.

The irony, at this point, is that the Turkish media are finally beginning to cover these kinds of stories, in large part because the tensions between legal secularism and public faith have been raised by debates over Turkey entering the European Union.

I hope that American media continue to be interested in issues of human rights and religious liberty. If you see good, or bad, examples of coverage that you want us to know about, by all means send in the URLs for us to chase. I also hope that many of the journalists who gathered in Istanbul last week will help GetReligion deal with these issues as well. This is a life and death matter.

Photo: The “Blue Mosque” (left) and Hagia Sophia.

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More on that Media Matters study

god saidEvery now and then, a topic covered here at GetReligion kind of hangs around in my mind and turns into one of my weekly “On Religion” columns for the Scripps Howard News Service. That’s what happened this week.

Also, there are people who ask me to post my Scripps column here, which I resist because people can already find it online at the wire service home page — like this – if they really want to see it early. Nevertheless, this is a week when I think the column needs to be stored here, too.

Why? As anyone knows who has read GetReligion for a year or more, I am sincerely interested in seeing more coverage of what can be called the religious left. I am also interested in the growth of the segment of the American population that is either fiercely secular or, in a related trend, spiritual yet opposed to religious traditions of almost any kind. Combine that story with the rise of the religious left and you have an emerging force in American life. That’s news.

So I wrote about Media Matters’ “Left Behind” survey this week, which has been covered on this blog before. There are echoes of the earlier post in this, but lots of new material, as well. I should have added lots of hyperlinks to all of the personalities mentioned in this but, hey, it’s really late here in Istanbul and, well, that’s why God made Google.

So here goes.

When it comes to covering religion news, the mainstream American press is a vast right-wing conspiracy that consistently commits sins of omission against religious liberals.

No, wait, honest. Stop laughing.

The leaders of a liberal advocacy group called Media Matters for America recently released a study entitled “Left Behind: The Skewed Representation of Religion in Major News Media” that says journalists consistently dedicate more ink to covering conservative leaders than to those on the left side of the spectrum.

“Coverage of religion not only over represents some voices and under represents others, it does so in a way that is consistently advantageous to conservatives,” according to the study. “Religion is often depicted in the news media as a politically divisive force, with two sides roughly paralleling the broader political divide: On one side are cultural conservatives who ground their political values in religious beliefs; and on the other side are secular liberals, who have opted out of debates that center on religious-based values.”

The bottom line, according to Media Matters, is that religious conservatives were “quoted, mentioned or interviewed” 2.8 times more often than liberals. The study focused on coverage between the 2004 election — the “values voters” earthquake — and the end of 2006. It focused on coverage in major secular newspapers, the three major broadcast television networks, major cable news channels and PBS.

With a few exceptions, the study contrasted the coverage of a small circle of evangelical Protestants with the coverage of a more complex list of liberal mainline Protestants, progressive evangelicals and others.

The 10 conservatives included James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Charles Colson of Prison Fellowship, Franklin Graham of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network and the late Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority.

The 10 liberals and “progressives” included Robert Edgar of the National Council of Churches of Christ, C. Weldon Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance, Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow Coalition and Jim Wallis of Sojourners.

Were these lists fair representations of a spectrum of beliefs on either the left or the right? The conservative list does not, for example, include a representative or two drawn from the ranks of Roman Catholic clergy, Jewish rabbis or doctrinally conservative mainline Protestants. The list on the left is better, but there are glaring omissions — such as Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State or the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

It is certainly true that leaders on the religious right have drawn more than their share of news coverage during recent decades of American political life. However this raises a crucial question, which is whether religious movements should be judged by the political maneuvers of a handful of outspoken leaders. Should politics always trump doctrine?

Meanwhile, many conservative evangelicals, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox believers and others have to cringe whenever they see themselves represented in the national media by more quotes from Dobson or Robertson. Who are the leaders on the religious left who make other liberals cringe whenever they open their mouths?

So why have a few religious conservatives dominated the news, while religious liberals have been left in the shadows?

For starters, conservative groups have been growing in size and power, while liberal groups — especially mainline Protestant churches — have lost millions of members. Journalists pay special attention to groups that they believe are gaining power.

Journalists also focus on trends that they consider strange, bizarre and even disturbing. Certainly, one of the hottest news stories in the past quarter century of American life has been the rise of the religious right and its political union with the Republican Party. For many elite journalists, this story has resembled the vandals arriving to sack Rome.

One of the nation’s top religion writers heard an even more cynical theory to explain this evidence that journalists seem eager to quote conservatives more than liberals when covering religion news.

“Personally, I think there’s much truth to what the study claims,” said Gary Stern of the Journal News in Westchester, N.Y., in a weblog post. “But why? Some progressive religious leaders have told me one theory: that media people are anti-religion, so they trot out angry, self-righteous, conservative voices who make all religion look bad.”

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That word doesn’t mean what you think it means

So the Guardian ran an Associated Press story on Saturday about Pope Benedict XVI approving recognition of martyrdom for an Austrian who was beheaded by the Nazis for refusing to serve in Hitler’s army. The story ran far and wide.

But thanks to the reader who brought the headline from the Guardian to our attention:

Pope Martyrs Austrian Beheaded by Nazis

Yeah, um, Guardian folks? Here’s the definition for martyr when used as a verb:

1. To make a martyr of, especially to put to death for devotion to religious beliefs.
2. To inflict great pain on; torment.

So, uh, I don’t think that’s the word you meant to use.

This weekend I read a quote in a George Will column that seems to apply. It comes from Alistair Cooke’s Memories of the Great and the Good:

One time, years ago, the veteran Baltimore newspaperman, H.L. Mencken, was checking copy coming in from the night editor and sighing at the rising number of errors he was noticing, errors of fact but also of syntax, and even some idioms that didn’t sound quite right. He shook his head and said, as much to himself as to the editor at his side: “The older I get the more I admire and crave competence, just simple competence, in any field from adultery to zoology.”

I’m with Mencken. And I’m not sure if this is another example of how the media don’t get religion or how they don’t get vocabulary.

UPDATE: Reader Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz, who alerted me to the problem, writes in the comments:

Unfortunately, it wasn’t limited to The Guardian, Mollie. Do a Google News search under “pope martyr” and there are no less than 42 stories with that headline, even at such places as Forbes, The Miami Herald and the Times Picayune. It finally started to change with USA Today running “Pope approves martyrdom for Austrian, Japanese.” That USA Today should get something right that The Guardian should have gotten right is maybe just a bit topsy-turvy.

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Where the candidates kneel

politics get religiousIn case you were wondering, the Associated Press reports that presidential aspirants include seven Roman Catholics, three Methodists, three Baptists, one Episcopalian, one Presbyterian, one Mormon and one who is “simply” a Christian.

With religion being an increasingly frequent topic in national politics these days, I’m starting to wonder whether a candidate’s religious affiliation will join party affiliation and locality after the candidate’s name. OK, that is probably not going to be considered by the editors of The Associated Press Stylebook. Do you readers think this survey is atypical of the AP? And are reporters focusing more on candidates’ religion this year than in previous elections?

Fortunately the AP did much more with the story, and in an accompanying article it sorted through some of the issues coming up in the next election:

Lately it seems all the leading presidential candidates are discussing their religious and moral beliefs — even when they would rather not.

Indeed, seven years after George W. Bush won the presidency in part with a direct appeal to conservative religious voters — even saying during a debate that Jesus Christ was his favorite philosopher — the personal faith of candidates for the 2008 election has become a very public part of the presidential campaign.

Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama have hired strategists to focus on reaching religious voters. Obama’s campaign holds a weekly conference call with key supporters in early primary and caucus states whose role is to spread the candidate’s message to religious leaders and opinionmakers and report their concerns to the campaign.

There is so much more that could have been done with this story, and maybe AP has plans to look closer at what the candidates believe. There are certainly some compelling religion stories among these candidates beyond the frequent articles on Mitt Romney’s Mormonism and Democratic candidates’ attempts to get religion.

For example, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, a Methodist, is looking for a new church near his new house. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, is a member of St. Aloysius Catholic Church in Cleveland who attends services “not often,” according to the AP. And Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., a Catholic, attends services “when his schedule permits.”

Tommy Thompson, the former Wisconsin governor (Catholic), Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. (Catholic), and Romney are the only candidates who said they attend services weekly, regardless of their travel schedules. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., on the other hand, tries to attend Mass daily. When he’s in Kansas, he also attends Topeka Bible Church with his family. As a friend asked, how does he square that theologically?

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s answer that he is a Catholic, but his “personal relationship with God is private and between him and God,” is somewhat refreshing. But since when did Giuliani ever keep his faith to himself? Reporters shouldn’t allow candidates to get away with lame answers that are inconsistent with the candidate’s past remarks.

But that raises one of the difficult challenges of covering religious and politics. Just how much can you press on public figures on their private faith?

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