Straddling the fence

mccain speakingWe know presidential wannabe Rudy Giuliani is trying to get religion. Is Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)?

Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press, McCain was grilled by Tim Russert, who tried to establish a McCain embrace of the “religious right.” McCain did his best to say his past tiffs with right-of-center religious leaders were simply politics and he does not hold a grudge. Apparently the religious leaders don’t either. But McCain also refused to associate with the politics of those leaders, particularly Jerry Falwell’s:

MR. RUSSERT: But Senator, when you were on here in 2000, I asked you about Jerry Falwell, and this is what you said.

(Videotape, March 5, 2000):

SEN. McCAIN: Governor Bush swung far to the right and sought out the base support of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. That’s — those aren’t the ideas that I think are good for the Republican Party.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Do you think that Jerry Falwell’s ideas are now good for the Republican Party?

fence straddlingSEN. McCAIN: I believe that the Christ — quote, “Christian right,” has a major role to play in the Republican Party. One reason is, is because they’re so active, and their, and their followers are. And I believe they have a right to be a part of our party. I don’t have to agree with everything they stand for, nor do I have to agree with everything that’s on the liberal side of the Republican Party. If we have to agree on every issue, we’re not a Republican Party. I believe in open and honest debate. Was I unhappy in, in, in the year 2000 that I lost the primary and there were some attacks on me that I thought was unfair? Of course. Do I — should I get over it? Should I serve — can I serve the people of Arizona best by looking back in anger or moving forward?

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that Jerry Falwell is still an agent of intolerance?

SEN. McCAIN: No, I don’t. I think that Jerry Falwell can explain to you his views on this program when you have him on.

Seconds later, McCain excused his address at Falwell’s Liberty University graduation ceremony as no different than speaking at “the New College or Ohio State University” and said addressing a student body doesn’t mean that he agrees with their politics.

McCain is making a careful distinction, which reporters should note (the AP handled the story quite well here). He is not aligning himself with Falwell’s policies, but he is strongly courting Falwell’s support. And apparently courting the support is enough for Falwell, at least at this point. Russert’s insistence on getting McCain to admit support for outlawing gay marriage and abortion kept him from missing the big picture: that Falwell finds McCain’s politics acceptable.

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An issue of time

dlsDaylight-saving time in Indiana is a long debated issue that can destroy families, ruin relationships and divide political parties. As my good friend Daniel Bradley wrote, “frightened residents” will “take to the streets in horror, turning cars, setting fires and looking to the sky for the Four Horsemen.”

If you haven’t already figured it out, we both write in jest for the purpose of dramatization, but it is necessary to demonstrate the gravity with which so many in our home state of Indiana consider the issue.

Most Hoosiers, upon leaving the state for a time, return speaking of the wonders of the daytime-saving tweak of the clock in April, but many within the state see no use for the twice-a-year clock change. Governor Mitch Daniels’ few years away as President Bush’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget must have converted him to the idea, because he made it a key part of his political platform and at last did what many in the state consider a political miracle: convince Indiana’s elected representatives to adopt the policy.

But not all is all in the basketball state. Stormy horrors hit downtown Indianapolis on Sunday — the first day the daylight policy had been enacted. This on a day that is supposed to be the calm before the storm, the time in between the NCAA Men’s Basketball semifinal and final game of what was a disappointingly unexciting Final Four in Indianapolis.

Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson has yet to blame the time change for the storm that has the city’s downtown in gridlock — and for the sake of the city’s reputation, I desperately hope no one seriously suggests that. It would not surprise me, considering the tone of Robert King’s A1 article in Sunday’s Indianapolis Star, which describes the massive struggles religious Hoosiers will have to undergo with the time change:

Daylight-saving time’s later sunsets will test the devotion of those whose worship services follow the sun rather than the clock.

Muslims at some local mosques will change the start of their Friday worship services for the first time in more than 30 years.

Jews who strictly observe the Sabbath will get a later start than usual, cutting more deeply into their Saturday night social time.

And Christians will have to roll out of bed earlier today to get to church on time. At least one minister hopes the extra evening daylight will be given to God.

“This is new territory for us,” said East 91st Street Christian Church pastor Derek Duncan. “Obviously this hasn’t happened in forever.”

dsl2The article is religiously diverse, appropriately, and considering that the only struggle Christians suffer due to the time change is getting up an hour earlier, King probably gave them a bit too much attention, making them out to be persecuted churchgoers thanks to the time change.

Being from the great state of Indiana, I am aware that this is a huge deal for Hoosiers. As an intern in the editorial department, I wrote one of the first editorials in the Star in 2002 supporting the move toward daylight-saving time, and suffered in the reader backlash.

But Indianapolis media organizations, particularly the Star as the city’s major media outlet, must start giving their readers some perspective, particularly in this particular case. Memo to Indiana media outlets: Muslims, Jews and Christians all over the country (and in many other parts of the world) get by just fine with a time change twice a year, and it’s really not that big a deal.

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(Write your own witty headline here)

scaliagesture03302006So U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was coming out of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and a Boston Herald reporter shouted out the kind of question that you expect reporters to shout at churchgoing conservatives who sit on the world’s highest court.

The reporter asked how Scalia responds to people who question his impartiality on matters of church and state.

Of course, you could ask precisely the same question of any justice on the Supreme Court and it would be just as relevant, whether they are traditional Catholics, postmodern Catholics, left-leaning GOP Episcopalians, hyper-consistent liberal Jews or whatever. But Scalia’s faith is controversial because it clashes with the spirit of our age, from time to time.

But this was a valid question. Shouting it at the justice as he exited a cathedral was a nice touch.

A split second later, freelance photographer Peter Smith clicked the shutter and captured the exclusive Herald photograph seen with this post. It is going to be a web classic. And the wink-wink, chuckle-chuckle press coverage took an interesting turn in a story by reporter Jessica Heslam that starts like this:

A freelance photographer has been fired by the Archdiocese of Boston’s newspaper for releasing a picture of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia making a controversial gesture in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Sunday.

Peter Smith, who had freelanced for The Pilot newspaper for a decade, lost the job yesterday after the Herald ran his photo on its front page. Smith said he has no regrets about releasing it.

“I did the right thing. I did the ethical thing,” said Smith, 51, an assistant photojournalism professor at Boston University.

The interesting word in that final paragraph is “ethical.” What does this mean? Oh, and who was the photographer working for on this particular morning? Was he totally freelance or working for the Catholic newspaper?

Scalia never denied making the Italian-esque gesture, but denied that it automatically meant what the newspaper said (or implied) that it meant.

The Catholic newspaper staff did not think this was a story of national importance. Smith said it was his “ethical” duty to see it printed.

OK, it’s a funny photo. But what does it prove? What is the journalistic importance of this photo, other than the already established fact that Scalia is a lively guy who doesn’t care a whole lot what the media establishment thinks of him?

What is the principle of journalism ethics involved in this case?

Meanwhile, the Herald is having a merry old time with this story. My favorite laugh-to-keep-from-crying headline: “‘Sopranos’ stars divided on bawdy body language.”

As they would say in the cathedral: Lord have mercy.

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World goes after Ralph Reed

ReedCoverYou know you’re in trouble when you’re a conservative Christian and an unabashedly conservative Christian magazine goes after you for being linked to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. You know you’re in even deeper muck when the Washington Post points this out in an article headlined “From a Conservative, a Lack Of Compassion for Ralph Reed.”

The lame play on words in the headline withstanding, it’s a solid article that gives World magazine greater credibility, showing it is somewhat independent from the Christian, and mostly conservative, politicians it often covers:

Ralph Reed, candidate for Georgia lieutenant governor and former executive director of the Christian Coalition, has a standard line when opponents link him to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. “The Democrats, radical left, and dominant media have made numerous unfair personal attacks against Ralph,” his Web site declares.

Lately, however, it’s becoming harder for Reed to dismiss his critics as ideologically motivated. One of the toughest is Marvin Olasky, a close associate of President Bush who helped developed the administration’s faith-based initiative and the concept of “compassionate conservatism.”

Olasky, a journalism professor at the University of Texas, is editor in chief of World magazine, the mission of which “is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Since Nov. 19, World has run 10 articles and essays describing the $4 million in gambling money Abramoff paid to Reed to lobby against casinos competing with Abramoff’s clients. The articles have highlighted incriminating e-mails and other disclosures that have raised doubts about Reed’s explanations of his activities.

Reed clearly has not come to grips with what he has done, and it was very important for World to pursue the Reed story (articles here, here and here).

That Olasky had to explain to his readers why World is “delving into the Ralph Reed scandal” is a bit disheartening, but not surprising. Olasky, an adviser to George W. Bush before the 2000 election, has the difficult job of guiding a news magazine that covers a White House now implementing some of his ideas about compassionate conservatism.

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In God’s name

immigration marchThe current immigration debate in Washington, D.C., is chock full of religion issues that are floating just under the above-the-fold stories on the legislative processes and debates. The religious angle in immigration cuts across political boundaries and shoots directly at the center of the teaching of Jesus Christ.

I have yet to see — and maybe I’m not looking hard enough — a solid story examining the theology behind the “love your neighbor” doctrine and how it relates to the immigration debate, but some religious leaders already know where they stand and they are looking to be heard as this debate rages.

A commenter on a previous tmatt post, coincidentally named Daniel, said the pro-immigration marches across the country are an interesting example of the religious left. Daniel appropriately notes that there has been a lack of coverage of religious leaders in Washington who staged mock arrests earlier this week to demonstrate what could happen if they help illegal aliens.

This Scripps-McClatchy wire story provides a solid summary of the religious issue in the current immigration debate:

DENVER — A wide range of religious groups have been serving a critical role in recent efforts to push Congress to pass what they call humane immigration reforms.

More than 200 religious organizations, including those associated with Catholics, evangelicals, Mennonites, Muslims and Jews, have conducted letter-writing campaigns to President Bush and Congress and encouraged congregation members to attend huge pro-immigrant rallies in cities across the country.

One of the most visible organizations in the debate, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has been training clergy, parishioners and church employees on the religious principles of helping refugees and immigrants. Locally, members of the Denver Archdiocese have been conducting educational presentations on immigration reform about twice a week.

immigration logoAs the story demonstrates, the current immigration debate crosses into religious territory in many ways, including the fact that most immigrants (legal or illegal) come from Catholic backgrounds, the command to love your neighbor and the parable of the Good Samaritan, to name a few.

The political/religious bombshell of the week was Sen. Hilary Clinton’s invocation of biblical themes in her opposition to a bill passed by the House in December that would criminalize undocumented immigrants:

Surrounded by a multicultural coalition of New York immigration advocates, Clinton blasted the House bill as “mean-spirited” and said it flew in the face of Republicans’ stated support for faith and values.

“It is certainly not in keeping with my understanding of the Scriptures,” Clinton said, “because this bill would literally criminalize the Good Samaritan and probably even Jesus himself.”

Clinton did not specifically endorse any competing legislation, including a bill co-authored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and another by Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), saying she hoped the Senate Judiciary Committee would produce a compromise incorporating the best elements of all the bills and would remove the harsh penalties contained in the House measure.

Immigration2One can disagree with Clinton’s reading of Scripture and question her religious sincerity, but one cannot deny that the junior New York Senator gets the importance of religion when it comes to the country’s cultural/political mindset. And the press is eating it up. While Republicans won’t likely win many votes in 2008 by raising theological issues with Clinton, journalists should do so — because it matters.

I don’t have the expertise or the time to thoroughly parse Clinton’s statement (I’m sure you all will help me). But just as good journalists would never let a public official get away with making this bold a statement regarding policy or history, the same journalists should examine the theology behind Clinton’s statements, as they did when George W. Bush said in his 2000 presidential campaign that Jesus Christ was his favorite philosopher.

Clinton’s Methodist background is hard to miss these days, and she’s certainly not shy about letting it shine. But how will that play with evangelicals, many of whom believe that denomination represents everything that is wrong with mainline American Christianity?

On a related note, did you hear that Christians in this country feel persecuted? To read the predictably snarky view of Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, click here. Check back with us later for more on this.

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Please, reporters, cover the religious left

bouncerstvI am one of those people who generally fares better economically under Democrats, but generally votes Republican due to, yes, abortion. While I have certainly voted for Dems, even pro-choice Dems, under specific circumstances, the murder of unborn children trumps my bank account in the grand scheme of things.

Posted by Ken at 10:14 am on March 26, 2006

I’m one of those people would generally fares better economically under Republicans, but my wife and I vote for Democrats because of social issues. … If you are concerned about poverty, the death penalty, just war, a foreign policy based on human rights, a humane immigration policy, and policies which promote toleance and diversity, we put our economic needs aside and vote for Democrats.

Posted by Daniel at 12:01 pm on March 26, 2006

Terry, given the responses and the rather tortured way you backed into religion here, I think this posting was entirely too political … and only slightly relevant to the GR mission. Just my opinion. …

Posted by Stephen A. at 8:00 pm on March 26, 2006

I have WiFi for a moment, so let me jump in here for a second to respond to a few readers’ comments about my gentle jab about media coverage of the GOP and “family” issues. Ken and Daniel nicely illustrate the sentiments I was writing about. Stephen A. says I tortured logic to turn this into a religion story.

Well, I disagree. Right now, the single strongest indicator of how people will vote in an American election is how often they attend worship services. The “pew gap” keeps coming up, even when you are looking at cultural groups in which the Democratic Party rules — such as African-American and Jewish voters. If you find a black voter or a Jewish voter who breaks ranks and votes for the GOP, you will almost always find moral and cultural issues at the heart of that decision. And you will find the “pew gap” in there, too. They will be hyperactive in their congregations.

Why does this favor the GOP? That’s simple. The growing segments of organized religion in America — the forms of religion with pews — are conservative. The religious left is very powerful, but, in its institutionalized forms, the religious left is aging and shrinking. The Unitarians are growing, a bit, I hear.

ucc ad1Nevertheless, the religious and secular left coalition (the so-called anti-fundamentalist voters) is, in all of its forms, a major story in American life right now. Once again, people must read that Tribal Relations story in The Atlantic Monthly. Read it now.

And there are parts of the oldline religious left that are kicking at the demographic chains that bind them. Take the United Church of Christ, for example. Remember the ads not that long ago accusing conservative churches of institutionalized racism? Those “God is still speaking” ads?

Well, the UCC is back for another round, this time arguing that the MSM is pro-religious right. As 365gay.com reports:

The 30-second commercial begins with a shot of an African-American mother trying to calm a crying baby. Sitting in a church pew, the mother fidgets anxiously, as she endures disapproving looks from fellow worshippers. Eventually, someone in the wings pushes an “ejector” button to rid the church of her — and her noisy baby. Into the air they go flying.

In similar fashion, a gay couple, an Arab-American, a person using a walker, among others, get “ejected.” Finally, when a homeless person wanders in and takes a seat, nervous parishioners — expecting she’ll get the boot for sure — scoot away from her.

Cheap shots? Probably. But this is a story, both the mainline decline and the forms of religion that take the place of the old mainline.

Meanwhile, I remain very pro-free speech so I think the networks should open up and let both sides speak. Come on, folks, run the UCC ads. And the ads for conservative religious groups, too. This is America.

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Sleep talking is dangerous to marriage

talaqA disturbing trend I’ve noticed among American newswires is the instinct to take a foreign newswire report, copy the news of the story and spin it as a circus or side/freakshow for Americans to laugh at those loonies. The articles often involve religion, and that’s especially disturbing because of the cultural intricacies and details that are often lost in translation.

The laws surrounding copyright are fairly clear. News and information cannot be copyrighted by anyone as long as the source is given credit. Only a headline is deemed exclusive (creative?) content. So while no laws are being broken, I believe the practice is a disservice to the public discourse.

Such is the case regarding this Reuters report on the apparent fact that a Muslim couple must split because the husband muttered the word for divorce, “talaq,” three times in his sleep. The story is, at the time of this post, fourth on CNN.com’s most popular rankings. I’m sure it’s now subject to the inane humor in American office cubicles, but also has drawn some clever headlines.

The story cites the Press Trust of India — the country’s largest news agency of 450 subscribing newspapers and others around the world — as its primary source (I was unable to find a link to the original article). There’s barely of scent of original reporting by the news agency:

The religious leaders ruled that if the couple wanted to remarry they would have to wait at least 100 days. Sohela [Ansari] would also have to spend a night with another man and be divorced by him in turn.

The couple, who live in the eastern state of West Bengal, have refused to obey the order and the issue has been referred to a local family counseling center.

India’s minority Muslim population is governed by Islamic personal laws on issues such as marriage, divorce and property inheritance.

triple talaqGreat story, until the end, when we find out that Zafarul-Islam Khan, the editor of a popular Indian Muslim newspaper, believes the ruling was bogus:

“This is a totally unnecessary controversy and the local ‘community leaders’ or whosoever has said it are totally ignorant of Islamic law,” said Zafarul-Islam Khan, an Islamic scholar and editor of The Milli Gazette, a popular Muslim newspaper.

“The law clearly says any action under compulsion or in a state of intoxication has no effect. The case of someone uttering something while asleep falls under this category and will have no impact whatsoever,” Khan told Reuters.

So according to Khan, what one does while drunk has no merit? At least under Muslim law? Why weren’t the local Islamic leaders involved in this story interviewed? How about an outside expert on Islamic law? Is there an inside local issue or scandal of which we are left unaware?

This story has spread to more than 50 news outlets, but I have yet to find one that tells much more than the Reuters report. Such is the power of the American newswires, whose stories are republished over and over again without regard for their lack of original reporting and research.

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Tmatt, in Texas, with iffy WiFi (and a GOP jab)

Bluebonnets 01In a few hours, I am headed out the door on a long trip into my home state of Texas (I am a prodigal Texan) to visit several campuses in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (see a new trend story here) on behalf of the journalism program that I lead here in Washington, D.C.

The big event during the trip is the CCCU’s global forum on Christian higher education, which may or may not draw press attention.The forum will include a visit by the Soulforce Equality Ride bus, which will almost certainly draw press attention. I hope to have another chat with the Rev. Mel White.

I will spend several days on the long and flat highways of the state so I, for one, am hoping that I have my timing right for some bluebonnets (see photo). The divine Ms. M and young master Daniel (and perhaps even the Rt. Rev. LeBlanc) will, I hope, keep things buzzing during the next week or so because my Internet access may be iffy, other than during the Dallas forum.

But before I go I wanted to draw a connection between three very different stories in three very different publications that all point, in a way, to the very same theme that comes up quite frequently at this site.

So click here for the omnipresent Democratic strategist Amy Sullivan, writing in Washington Monthy about the factors that may, sooner rather than later, cause many evangelical Protestants to bolt the Republican Party.

Then click here to skip over to the Weekly Standard website to read Allan Carlson’s sobering “Social conservatives and the GOP: Can this marriage be saved?”

JesusLand2 01Wait! Before you settle in and read those two articles, read this quotation and ask yourself this question: Who wrote the following, Carlson or Sullivan?

… (All) is not well within the existing Republican coalition. Indeed, there are other indicators that the Republican party has done relatively little to help traditional families, and may in fact be contributing to their new indentured status. Certainly at the level of net incomes, the one-earner family today is worse off than it was thirty years ago, when the GOP began to claim the pro-family banner. Specifically, the median income of married-couple families, with the wife not in the paid labor force, was $40,100 in 2002, less than it had been in 1970 ($40,785) when inflation is taken into account. In contrast, the real earnings of two-income married couple families rose by 35 percent over the same years (to nearly $73,000). Put another way, families have been able to get ahead only by becoming “nontraditional” and sending mother to work or forgoing children altogether. As the Maternalists had warned, eliminating America’s “family wage” system would drive male wages down and severely handicap the one-income home. So it has happened.

Despite the economic pressures, though, such families are not extinct. They still form core social conservative constituencies such as home schooling families and families with four or more children. But again, they have little to show from the years of the Republican alliance.

Can you guess? I point this out simply to note the ongoing political irony of our age. The middle class, for the most part, continues to vote (some would say against its economic interests) for the Republican Party — primarily because of moral and social issues. Meanwhile, a rising percentage of the rich, especially along the coasts, has been voting (against its economic interests) for the Democratic Party — primarily because of moral and social issues.

No matter what some people say, these issues are not going away. To see why, click here and read Janet Hook’s “Right Is Might for GOP’s Aspirants” in the Los Angeles Times.

My question remains the same: Will editors in top-flight newsrooms allow their religion-beat specialists to help cover this story?

They should.

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