Lex orandi, lex credendi

lex orandiU.S. News & World Report‘s Jay Tolson has an interesting piece that looks at a return to traditionalism amongst Roman Catholics, Evangelicals, Jews and Muslims. Because the article attempts to cover so much important ground, it ends up being necessarily shallow. I think journalists and editors think they are being more respectful of major religions by including so many in stories such as this one, but they end up doing every religion a disservice through superficial treatment.

Still, this is a very important topic that could and should get a lot more coverage. Not the least of which is because there are different types of tradition, as Tolson uncovers. After discussing a Washington church’s offering of Tridentine Mass, he looks at a non-denominational church in Texas that offers Holy Communion weekly:

Something curious is happening in the wide world of faith, something that defies easy explanation or quantification. More substantial than a trend but less organized than a movement, it has to do more with how people practice their religion than with what they believe, though people caught up in this change often find that their beliefs are influenced, if not subtly altered, by the changes in their practice.

Put simply, the development is a return to tradition and orthodoxy, to past practices, observances, and customary ways of worshiping. But it is not simply a return to the past — at least not in all cases. Even while drawing on deep traditional resources, many participants are creating something new within the old forms. They are engaging in what Penn State sociologist of religion Roger Finke calls “innovative returns to tradition.”

That bit about how this movement has more to do with how people practice their religion than what they believe struck me. The ancient Christian precept lex orandi, lex credendi refers to the notion that how you worship is how you believe. There is no separation between worship and belief.

Anyway, the reporter then goes on to describe the emergent church trend, writing that its practitioners pick up various liturgical practices such as communion but use a bagel for the host or recite a creed in a worship service that may include skits. Tolson also mentions that the movement toward traditionalism in Islam is harder to decipher. Are men growing beards and women covering themselves in a move to tradition or in a move toward Wahhabism?:

In all faiths, the return to tradition has different meanings for different people. To some, it is a return to reassuring authority and absolutes; it is a buttress to conservative theological, social, and even political commitments. To others, it is a means of moving beyond fundamentalist literalism, troubling authority figures, and highly politicized religious positions (say on gay marriage and contraception or abortion) while retaining a hold on spiritual truths. In short, the new traditionalism is anything but straightforward.

ClownMassI’m sure all of these things are true. But as someone who worships liturgically and grew up worshiping liturgically, it seems to me that a lot of this “movement” isn’t so much about returning as staying put. Confessional Lutherans will keep worshiping the way we do even when this “return to tradition” fad gets passed to wherever the leftover WWJD bracelets are being hidden. It’s funny to me that those of us who don’t change with the times every few years only get coverage because apparently a fad is guiding people in our direction.

But by putting such a postmodern spin on the motivations of those who worship traditionally, the reporter also manages to give a rather soulless characterization of traditional worship. He gives the impression that its adherents are into the smells and bells and whistles but unwilling to accept the whole banana. He quotes an analyst at Georgetown who wonders whether those who worship traditionally accept church doctrine on such matters as papal infallibility, contraception, or exclusively male and celibate clergy.

The quote is left unchecked, leaving the impression that the query is rhetorical.

But what if the folks worshiping traditionally also accept the church’s teaching on the other issues? The reporter also quotes, of course, the omnipresent Father Thomas Reese saying that the church should focus on preaching, music and a welcoming community (and getting in a dig about women’s ordination) rather than the Latin Mass. Why quote these folks instead of the actual parishioners and congregants who are filling the traditionalist pews? When Tolson does interview the non-experts, the story comes alive, as in this solitary case:

When Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, once an assistant rabbi at Riverdale, took over Ohev Sholom almost four years ago, the northwest Washington, D.C., synagogue had dwindled to about 15 families. Today, with some 300 families (and bearing the additional name “the National Synagogue”), it buzzes with energy and enthusiastic congregants. “Most come from nonspecific affiliations,” says Herzfeld. “They find authentic spiritual life and tradition. Some make the full, radical transformation into the Orthodox life. Some even sell their homes and move so they can walk to shul on the Sabbath.” Jill Sacks and her husband, Tom, formerly members of a Conservative synagogue who lived in Bethesda, Md., for 26 years, are one couple who moved to be closer to Ohev Sholom. They were drawn by Herzfeld’s self-deflecting but charismatic leadership, the traditionalism, the vibrant community, and the commitment to social outreach. Sacks’s former synagogue was a very egalitarian one, she says, and she read the Torah and the haftarah there. “I had that option,” Sacks says, “but I am very happy with this synagogue.”

It’s always more interesting to get the perspective of ordinary people. It might also be more useful to the reader in this case than the admitted speculation about what ordinary people think about trends toward traditionalism. Why not go straight to the source?

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The inscrutable Burke

womenpriests2 02We’ve seen many stories over the years of women proclaiming that they are Roman Catholic priests. In many of these articles, reporters forget to mention that the priests are in no way recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. Tim Townsend has been a notable exception to this rule, and he had a nice follow-up story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last week.

So last month one of these ordinations by Roman Catholic Womenpriests took place in St. Louis. Since the group isn’t actually Roman Catholic, it had to find a different place for the ordinations. Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation offered to host. This caused some major ripples in the St. Louis interfaith community, which had previously enjoyed good relations between the archdiocese and the Jewish congregation. Which brings us to the most recent story:

About 150 people from St. Cronan’s Catholic Church huddled together for warmth under a huge tarp on the street next to their church Tuesday night. They prayed as the rain and wind whipped through their makeshift sanctuary.

Their church building — big, warm and dry — stood just yards away, but the St. Cronan parishioners had decided that they’d rather be cold and wet than without a woman they called their “friend and sister,” Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation.

Talve has spoken at St. Cronan’s, a parish known for its progressive social activism, during many previous prayer services during the Advent season. But this year, the pastoral leadership received a phone call from St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, asking them to revoke Talve’s invitation.

Talve infuriated Burke last month when she and her board hosted a ceremony for two Catholic women, Rose Marie Hudson and Elsie Hainz McGrath, who were being ordained into a group called Roman Catholic Womenpriests.

Townsend is such a good writer and manages to describe things so richly with a minimum of words. And this is precisely the kind of article that should be written in the ongoing story about how Archbishop Burke deals with those under his care.

I’ll just note that this story is very sympathetic toward one side in this conflict. On the one hand you have this group of noble people willing to battle hardship for their friend and sister. On the other hand you have Burke, a meanie whose opposition to Talve’s role in the November ordinations isn’t explained at all. He’s infuriated, we read. But why? Why does he think interfaith involvement with Talve — previously a common occurrence — is no longer a good idea?

Townsend attempted to get the archdiocese’s perspective and got this comment, which struck me as somewhat funny:

A spokeswoman said it would be inappropriate for the archdiocese to comment on an event that took place off church property.

And that’s certainly true. But Townsend has given the archdiocese perspective on the larger matter in previous stories. It might have been worthwhile to throw in a line. There are reasons why Burke opposes renegade ordinations, ordinations of females and participation with groups that work against the church. We should hear a bit about them. It doesn’t need to be long, but it shouldn’t be assumed readers know why Burke has decided as he has.

Townsend mentions St. Cronan’s “progressive social activism,” a good detail that probably explains some of the parish’s interfaith political work. But he also mentions that the worship service included readings from Annie Dillard and a sermon from Talve. These details signal to the reader a bit about the type of congregation St. Cronan’s is theologically.

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Give me that old-timer religion news

elderly in churchLeading off a package of religion stories in the Lansing State Journal this morning is a solid feature on the effect the growing elderly population is having on religious communities.

The story is broad and expansive, and rather than just looking at Christian churches, the reporter looked at a Hindu and Jain temple, an Islamic society and a synagogue. Here is what one of our readers had to say about the inclusion of those traditions in this religion piece:

Of particular interest is the sourcing of both local Jewish and Islamic interests written into the story without exoticism or excess fanfare. In fact, the way that the story is written, the issue of aging does exactly what it should do — unite disparate members and institutions of the local community, rather that automatically divide people between religious traditions.

The story leads off with a professor criticizing seminaries for failing to prepare their students for congregations that likely include substantial populations of elderly and retired people. Rather than simply focusing on the programming activities that some groups are working to improve, the article looks at the spiritual challenges individuals are facing and how churches are trying to address them:

“Thirty years ago, people who retired would have quickly seen themselves as aged or elderly,” said John Burow, a Delta Township Lutheran minister who teaches workshops on preparing spiritually for retirement. …

And the roles that our culture offers to seniors “are not sufficient for the 15 or 20 years of mental and physical vigor” that people now will often have left after retirement, he said.

“It’s unworthy of a spiritual being to totally wrap their retirement around their Winnebago or their golf game,” he added.

Kathy Hubbert, 67, spent a recent Saturday morning in the basement of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Lansing, pondering retirement at one of Burow’s workshops.

Hubbert, who lives in Lansing, worked as a nurse for more than 35 years. She didn’t think much about retirement until she found it upon her a year and a half ago.

“It’s hard to make that transition from a hard-working person to all of a sudden getting up late and thinking ‘What’s the purpose of today?’” she said.

The other stories, which are all shorter and more focused, deal with a variety of important issues. According to numbers from the AARP, Baby Boomers are supposed to remain seekers with tenuous ties to congregations as they age. While it is always questionable to rely on one group’s statistics, it is an important issue, and the article finds good examples to go along with the numbers.

Another short story deals with how the elderly are “vulnerable” to donation appeals. While I do not doubt that the elderly are vulnerable to donation pitches and that there are preachers who would love to take their money, it is also true that some elderly are able to give away more money.

The last two stories are particularly solid. The first discusses the effect of religion on the elderly with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, and the other discusses aging clergy.

Overall, the package is a great example of how to tackle a major issue in today’s society and pair it with the equally compelling subject of religion. If only more local weekly religion sections of American newspapers could be half this strong in terms of quality content.

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God is in the details

regrettheerror2My two favorite parts of some newspapers are the obituary and corrections sections. And Sunday’s New York Times did not disappoint:

A headline last Sunday about a Muslim man and an Orthodox Jewish woman who are partners in two Dunkin’ Donuts stores described their religions incorrectly. The two faiths worship the same God — not different ones.

Right. I don’t know about you, but I trust The New York Times‘ religious declarations above anyone else’s. I mean, really. Sure, President George W. Bush believes that Muslims and Jews worship the same God, but I sure as heck don’t. And while it’s charming to find the Times and Bush agreeing on something, that doesn’t mean they’re right. At the very least they have to understand that not everybody shares their opinion.

The original headline, in case you were wondering, was:

Worshiping Different Gods (but United on the Issue of Pork)

The correction is a blight on an otherwise great local feature about religious tolerance in action. Reporter Deborah Kolben’s description of Muslim Sam Habib and Orthodox Jew Cindy Gluck was a great way to show how Muslims and Jews peacefully coexist in neighborhoods of Brooklyn:

“I had never met a Muslim before,” Ms. Gluck said the other day, sitting with her partner in the small office at the back of the Church Avenue store, a space heavy with the aroma of baking croissants. “The first thing I wanted to know was: ‘What kind of Muslim are you?’”

Mr. Habib chimed in with a laugh: “All her friends told her that she should be careful that her crazy terrorist Arab partner doesn’t put bombs in her packages.”

Under the ground rules the pair worked out before making their partnership official, Ms. Gluck takes off Saturdays to celebrate the Sabbath, and Mr. Habib worships at the mosque every Friday. The doughnuts come from a kosher bakery in Borough Park. On Jewish holidays, Mr. Habib technically owns the entire business because Ms. Gluck is not allowed to earn money on those days.

And there is one edict they both obey. “Neither of us is allowed to enjoy the profits of the pork,” Ms. Gluck said. Any money the business makes on the sale of bacon, sausage or ham — foods that are forbidden in both their religions — is split and given away, hers to her synagogue and to Israel, his to the workers as bonuses. . . .

“She’s Jewish and I’m Muslim,” Mr. Habib said. “That doesn’t stop us from creating a business.”

Habib says it well. Without getting into the debate of whether Jews and Muslims worship the same God, reporters need to understand that it’s possible for people who believe in different gods to be friends, family, neighbors and business partners. The essential element of tolerance is, in fact, disagreement. There is no need to deny those differences, particularly the ones about truth claims. It is precisely because Muslims and Jews believe so differently that this story was published — even if a silly correction tries to mitigate that.

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WABAC: How to cover a priestess story

wayback400The Divine Mrs. M.Z. Hemingway has, through the ages, written more than her share of posts on this blog about the women who are holding ordination rites and then proclaiming that they are now Roman Catholic priests.

So, this time around, I thought I would take a shot at one of these stories. However, I was slow at the switch and young master Daniel jumped in front of me with some comments focusing on new coverage of a controversial ordination service in St. Louis.

This is going to be strange. But I want to jump in the WABAC machine and take a look at an earlier news feature that Tim Townsend of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote about the controversy that led up to the actual ordination service.

If you want to know how to cover a story rooted in an obvious clash between liberal and traditional groups, this is the way to do it. Welcome to “How to cover a priestess story 101.” The tensions are there, of course, between the local Roman Catholic leadership and their friends in the Jewish community. But that is not the real issue. Townsend makes sure that everyone knows who is who and who is not who.

Rose Marie Hudson and Elsie Hainz McGrath want to be Roman Catholic priests. Their ordinations will not be recognized by the church, which does not ordain women as priests.

St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke has reacted strongly, and Jewish leaders are questioning the synagogue’s decision to host the ceremony.

The president of the Interfaith Partnership of Metropolitan St. Louis, who is Jewish, said the decision by Central Reform Congregation may have been a mistake.

Now that wasn’t all that hard, was it? A woman cannot be ordained a priest in a global Communion — built on a clear chain of authority — that does not ordain women to the priesthood. It’s kind of like this: The folks at Apple cannot hold a meeting and elect Steve Jobs as the new CEO of Microsoft (not that he would want the job).

Masthead RCWP 700However, Townsend’s reporting includes the kinds of details that let us know this fight isn’t between the Catholic establishment and the local Jewish community. No, this is a fight inside the local Catholic community — as is the case all across America. This was a case of some active local Catholics deciding that enough was enough. They were going to act on the convictions they had been expressing in other channels for a long time.

Thus, we read:

Hudson, 67, is a grandmother of 11 from Festus who retired three years ago after 40 years as a teacher, the last 21 in the St. Louis public school system. McGrath, 69, of St. Louis, has eight great-grandchildren and recently retired after a dozen years as an editor at a Catholic publishing house. Before that, she was a campus minister at St. Louis University.

After their ordination Sunday, Hudson and McGrath say that they will co-pastor a faith community and that they will celebrate Mass each Saturday at the First Unitarian Church of St. Louis in the Central West End.

I was left with one or two questions. Before she moved to the public schools, was Hudson a teacher in Catholic schools? That detail would have provided one more piece in the puzzle. Also, what was the name of the Catholic publishing house at which McGrath was an editor?

Meanwhile, the key details on the Womenpriests group have not changed. We are still looking for the names of the Catholic bishops who are supposed to have ordained the first women back at the head of this chain reaction. Catholicism — like Eastern Orthodoxy — has a two-step test for ordination, requiring right orders and right doctrine. Something tells me that Rome would have questions about the right doctrine of any bishop who ordained women to the priesthood.

The two women will be ordained as priests of an organization called Roman Catholic Womenpriests, which, in its constitution, defines itself as “an international initiative within the Roman Catholic Church.”

The group was founded in 2002, when seven women were ordained aboard a boat on the Danube River in Germany. All of them were later excommunicated. The organization says other women have since been ordained by male Roman Catholic bishops, including Patricia Fresen, a former Dominican nun and Roman Catholic Womenpriests bishop, who will ordain Hudson and McGrath.

The group insists that it is Roman Catholic, but the church says it is not.

That’s stating the matter rather clearly.

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Prayer in the Indiana Statehouse

IndianaCapitol 01There’s been a surprisingly low level of news coverage on a trial judge’s ruling that “sectarian prayers” on the floor of Indiana’s House (the lower level of its General Assembly) violated the “constitutional separation of church and state.” Most recently, an appeals court tossed the case on procedural grounds, but didn’t look at the merits of the case because the plaintiffs didn’t have standing.

As the local Indianapolis blog Advance Indiana noted when the news first broke, many news organizations interpreted this to mean that there was a prayer ban in the first place. The original court ruling just barred sectarian prayers, whatever that means. Indiana’s nearly two-century tradition of opening General Assembly sessions with guest prayers didn’t go anywhere. The prayers were just limited in what they could say to the Almighty.

As later stories noted, this just means that the speech limits are gone for now, but this legal battle is far from over:

In its 2-1 opinion, the court ruled there were no expenditures directly tied to the prayers. Therefore, as taxpayers, the plaintiffs had no standing to sue.

But that doesn’t mean the legislature should resume its practice of sectarian prayers, said Ken Falk, an attorney for the ACLU of Indiana.

“The one bit of caution is that the 7th Circuit did not approve the prayer practices, and I would hope that the result of this is that the state does not go back to this practice of sectarian prayer,” Falk said. “If that would occur, there could be people who could bring litigation.”

An angle that most reporters have focused on is how the legal battle, which was originally started by a Republican leader of the House, continued when the Democrats took over the House in the 2006 elections. Part of it deals with how legislatures don’t like to be told what they can do in their part of the State House. The other part is that Democrats are pretty sensitive to the fact that many people in this state listen to their pastors before they listen to ACLU directors. Throughout this story you see references to religious freedom, free speech and their universal importance to people of all faiths.

A major aspect missing from the stories is any direct quotation from the kind of prayers that were offered. I wish I could get myself a more complete list, but Advance Indiana says that one of them was a “sing-along to a song entitled ‘Let’s Take a Walk With Jesus.’” Needless to say, non-Christian members of the House didn’t feel very comfortable with that, and this lawsuit came about as a result. That lack of context leaves readers thinking that all that was banned was the mention of Jesus at the end of the prayer.

In a rather unexpected development to non-Hoosiers, the South Bend Tribune has a story headlined with a quote by the Democratic House Speaker B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, saying that the “Christian majority justifies House prayer.” Last time I checked, you’re not supposed to start your stories with a question for the reader, but that is what Jeff Parrott does in leading off his story on the subject:

Does might make right?

It does when it comes to the issue of Statehouse prayer, House Speaker B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, said Wednesday. …

“The majority of people in this state are Christian,” Bauer said, pausing a few seconds before continuing, “but if you exclude a minority, then you have a problem.”

Bauer derided as “censorship” a November 2005 injunction, ordered by U.S. District Judge David Hamilton, against the House’s long-held tradition of preceding business with prayers that contain words such as Jesus Christ and savior.

“Censoring one particular religion is almost reverse discrimination,” Bauer said. “We’ve had the Jewish faith and even a Muslim over the years.”

In some ways the headline writers for this story cherry-picked the “majority of people” quote, but nevertheless, he said it, and if you think about it, the statement doesn’t really make much sense. Would it have been helpful to note that the civil rights aren’t there to protect the rights of the majority, but to protect the rights of the minority, however small? Maybe, but that comes close to crossing the line of a reporter injecting his views into the story.

The next development in this story is what kind of prayer will be offered in House in the next session of the General Assembly. That will make for an interesting decision by whoever is asked to make that prayer. Whatever way you cut it, prayer has become a political football in Indiana, and the Democrats are loathe to lose the conservative Democratic voters, many of them in the southern portions of the state, to Republican candidates. The ACLU has maintained that it will file suit the next time a regular participant expresses discomfort with the prayers.

The story is now in the hands of those who are called to pray.

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As I lay dying

holdinghandsLast week religion reporter David Crumm was featured in our 5Q+1 series. He said that aging is the most important religion story the mainstream media just do not get. Gary Stern of The Journal News had a fantastic story that Crumm may want to check out. He followed a local hospice worker as she attended to the spiritual needs of the dying. Here’s how it begins:

Anyone can have faith when their body is strong and their loved ones are full of life.

Mary Wasacz attends to the faith of those whose bodies are failing or whose loved ones are slipping away.

She holds the hands of the dying as they prepare to meet their maker. She prays with the survivors as their parents or siblings cross to the other side.

“This is the final journey,” she says. “It is just as important as any stage of life. I don’t have any answers, but I have my faith. I look around the world and know there must be a God. It’s a leap of faith to try to help people through it.”

Wasacz was motivated to become a spiritual care coordinator 30 years ago after her third child, Cathy Ann, was born with a fatal condition. She and her husband brought their little girl home from the hospital to die, the first such parents at that hospital to do so. After surviving that heartbreaking tragedy, they started a support group for parents who lost infants. She was already a psychiatric nurse and decided to make bereavement her specialty.

Stern spent two years on the story, accompanying Wasacz as she visited a few patients, some who are devout Christians and some who are irreligious. Wasacz herself is a devout Roman Catholic and a eucharistic minister. Stern describes a visit to the home of Mary Barrett. Wasacz had helped Barrett’s father, Charles, but he had died several months earlier. Now she was taking care of Barrett’s mother, Marjorie, who had suffered a stroke and has congestive heart failure.

“I went to Catholic school and the nuns would say ‘Pray for the grace of a happy death,’” [Mary Barrett] said. “I used to wonder what they meant. Now I know.”

Charles and Marjorie were married for 63 years and lived alone in Yonkers until two years before Charles’ death at 91.

As Wasacz gave Communion to Marjorie, Mary Barrett talked about the importance of faith to her parents and to herself.

“For people who don’t have faith, it must be very sad,” she said. “My parents always had a strong faith. My father was very resigned to whatever was going to be and wasn’t scared. My mother can’t wait for Mary to come and pray with her. I don’t get to church as much as I would like, but I say prayers. We believe in eternal life.”

At 93, Marjorie Barrett continues to fight on and receive Communion.

hospiceThat was one of several mentions of sacraments — a topic that most reporters only notice when politicians are involved. When my grandmother died from pancreatic cancer, our family chose palliative care to help relieve her pain as she died. I think Stern’s story does a great job of showing how families use hospice programs and palliative care. Early in the story he introduces readers to Nannie Seward, a dying 96-year-old. At the end of the story, he revisits the patient:

Early this year, Wasacz got to do something unusual: visit a patient who had recovered to the point where she could leave the hospice rolls.

Nannie Seward, who was turning 98, was fighting off her thyroid cancer. She had gotten through some other health scares, too, and was now eating well and feeling strong.

“She eats almost everything in sight,” said her daughter, Mary Wallace, a nurse. “She gets up in the morning and loves to have bacon and eggs.”

Seward was happy as could be to hug and greet Wasacz, a friend full of hope and faith like her own.

“God is so much in your life,” Wasacz said, holding Seward’s hand.

“Oh yes,” Seward said. “Couldn’t do nothing without him. I feel sorry for people who don’t know God.”

Seward sat proud in a straightback chair, a Bible and bowl of candy bars on the coffee table in front of her.

“You were dying and you were ready to go,” Wasacz said. “You were ready for the Lord.”

“I’m not afraid of dying,” Seward said. “Anytime he’s ready for me, I got to go. I’m looking forward to a better place. I got to go.”

There are numerous stories enterprising religion reporters could cover about end-of-life issues. I keep thinking we might see more coverage of a story about a California effort to help people commit suicide:

Physician-assisted suicide advocates — unable to pass legislation and short on cash to push a statewide ballot initiative — will announce today the creation of a consultation service to offer information to the terminally ill and even provide volunteers for those who would like someone to be present when committing suicide.

“Volunteers will neither provide nor administer the means for aid in dying,” said The Rev. John Brooke, a United Church of Christ minister from Cotati and one of the organizers of the new End of Life Consultation Service. “We will not break or defy the law.”

That story was in the San Jose Mercury News. Let us know if you see any other good, bad or ugly stories about how various church bodies treat stories about death and dying.

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Bush the universalist

bushmosqueEvery time President Bush speaks of his Christian faith, the mainstream media get all roiled up. Here’s how a 2003 story in The Christian Science Monitor began:

President Bush has never been shy about injecting his faith into the public arena — his campaign remark that Jesus Christ was his “favorite political philosopher” was an early signal. But his rising use of religious language and imagery in recent months, especially with regard to the US role in the world, has stirred concern both at home and abroad.

In this year’s State of the Union address, for example, Bush quoted an evangelical hymn that refers to the power of Christ. “‘There’s power, wonder-working power,’ in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people,” he said.

The media have written extensively, if poorly, about Bush’s faith. There was that New York Times Sunday Magazine cover story about Bush’s faith. And countless others which we’ve all read over the past decade.

And yet when President Bush celebrates other religions or otherwise expresses his universalism — which he has done repeatedly — the media barely notice. In an Oct. 4 interview with Al Arabiya, President Bush said:

Well, first of all, I believe in an almighty God, and I believe that all the world, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, prays to the same God. That’s what I believe. I believe that Islam is a great religion that preaches peace.

I don’t know if the media ignore it because it doesn’t fit with their preconceived notion of Bush as an evangelical extremist, but several days later, I have found only two stories about the interview. Mark Silva, writing for the Tribune Company’s The Swamp blog/Washington notebook (I found it in The Sun) had this:

Touting his Iftaar Dinner last night for an evening breaking of the Ramadan fast, Bush refuted any notion in this interview intended for Arab home viewing that he is out to destroy Islam.

“I want to remind your listeners that one of the first things I did after September the 11th is I went to the local mosque. And I did because I wanted to send a message that those who came to kill Americans were young terrorists, and they do not reflect the views of the vast majority of peaceful people in the Middle East.”

Jon Ward, The Washington Times‘ White House correspondent, also wrote up the remarks, which were similar to those Bush made in previous years. Here, for instance, is what he said in a 2004 interview with Charles Gibson:

CHARLES GIBSON: Do we all worship the same God, Christian and Muslim?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I think we do.

CHARLES GIBSON: Do Christians and non-Christians and Muslims go to heaven in your mind?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes, they do. We have different routes of getting there.

coexistIt’s so interesting to me that the people who support, say, a priest who believes she is both Muslim and Christian tend to oppose “evangelicals” such as President Bush. And the evangelical support for President Bush doesn’t carry over to someone like Hillary Clinton — whose profession of faith is at least as strong as Bush’s.

But perhaps part of the reason for this is how the media cover the various players.

On that note, here’s another part of that interview with Bush:

And I believe people who murder the innocent to achieve political objectives aren’t religious people, whether they be a Christian who does that — we had a person blow up our — blow up a federal building in Oklahoma City who professed to be a Christian, but that’s not a Christian act to kill innocent people.

Um, someone might want to let President Bush know that Timothy McVeigh professed no religious belief. Lou Michel, the author of a well-researched book on McVeigh (he spent countless hours interviewing the terrorist before he was executed), had this to say during a CNN chat:

Question from chat room: Does McVeigh have any spiritual-religious beliefs?

Lou Michel: McVeigh is agnostic. He doesn’t believe in God, but he won’t rule out the possibility. I asked him, “What if there is a heaven and hell?”

He said that once he crosses over the line from life to death, if there is something on the other side, he will — and this is using his military jargon — “adapt, improvise, and overcome.” Death to him is all part of the adventure.

Now some might be concerned that Bush equates terrorism done in the name of Islam with terrorism not done in the name of Christianity. Of course, near as I can tell, no mainstream media have even noticed this Bush statement.

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