Who’s calling who a “traditional evangelical”?

OK, I tried hard on my latest Pat Robertson post to keep things short, so I had better jump in here online (I am still in Chicago during some lectures) and address one or two concerns of readers who could see some of the holes created by my brevity.

How about Thomas Oden, Luke Timothy Johnson, Al Mohler, Mark D. Roberts, John Piper, Mark Noll, John Stott, R.C. Sproul, Paul Zahl, Alister Begg, John MacArthur, just for starters?
Posted by VaAnglican at 7:33 am on September 18, 2005pats

Fine list, with lots of good names. I was not trying, with my collection over at Poynter, to create any kind of definitive resource list. Instead, I was trying to suggest a range of options in terms of groups, gender, culture, skills, etc.

When reporters and broadcast producers research stories, one of the goals is supposed to be to find people who bring specific skills or fresh insights to the topic at hand. You see this a lot in niche-cable-news land on the left. You get serious or funny activists, you get young brilliant academics, you get behind-the-scenes powers who are not yet public names and so forth and so on. On the right you often get — Pat Robertson or another elderly white alpha male. I was trying to suggest that journalists could, with some digging, discover a range of traditional Christians of various pews who are experts on many different kinds of topics. Some are even pithy.

I also wonder if the other reason the Evangelical elite is afraid of criticizing Robertson is that it was Robertson who mobilized the first wave of religious conservatives to become involved in elective politics. The Robertson presidential campaign was a watershed among religiuos conservatives, and the elites owe his a debt.
Posted by Michael at 9:59 am on September 18, 2005

Yes, Robertson’s Don Quixote campaign was a major event for some evangelicals.

But even then, there was major opposition to Robertson among evangelicals, and some of the most telling criticism (even news coverage) of his campaign came from other evangelicals. I am thinking, in particular, of the trailblazing work by columnist Michael McManus digging into Robertson’s fundraising techniques. For a flashback on that issue, click here.

Why do VaAnglican and Terry’s lists of “representative Evangelicals” include non-Protestants, protestants who do and do not think “Fundamentalist” is a bad word, protestant mainliners, and reformed protestants who do not really regard themselves as evangelicals? . . .
Posted by +G.J. at 12:32 pm on September 18, 2005

I never said anything about “traditional evangelicals,” did I? Where did I use that phrase?

This is the essence of my complaint in the original piece. Robertson does represent a certain shrinking niche of the wider charismatic Protestant world. He has his niche. But year after year, he is held up as a major voice in the wider world of cultural conservatism and for Christians in general. He is propped up as a spokesman for many, many people who have never claimed him.

Thus, I said that my Poynter list offered a collection of interesting people who might serve as quotable sources for journalists looking for feedback from “traditional Christians” — not “evangelicals” or any narrower term. I also said that journalists needed fresh lists for the Christian left, Judaism and many other groups. It’s a tough and complex news beat, folks.

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Why journalists love Pat Robertson

Earlier this week, our friends over at the ethics and diversity office at Poynter.org published a column that I wrote pleading for journalists to drop the Rev. Pat Robertson from their list of “usual suspects” that they call to speak for the world of conservative Christians and other moral traditionalists. I thought the headline was pushy, but appropriate: “Excommunicating Pat Robertson.

Here’s the key idea I asked journalists who read that site to ponder. If another hurricane heads toward New Orleans, and you were one of the dozens of viewers who turned on MSNBC (OK, I wasn’t that snarky) and saw Pat Robertson’s face, would you be happy or sad? Would you be (a) happy or (b) sad because you knew that he was going to say something off the wall about why God was about to pour out his wrath once again on such a sinful city? patrobertson 01

If you answered (a), then I would bet the moon and the stars that you are someone who doesn’t think highly of Christian conservatives and their beliefs. If you answered (b), you are probably one of those Christians.

In other words, we have reached the point where some journalists are happy to see Robertson’s face on television screens, because every time he opens his mouth he reinforces their stereotype of a conservative Christian. And they may sincerely believe that he remains a powerful leader among American evangelicals, someone who provides an appropriate “conservative” voice during coverage of controversial events.

I ended with a list of names, and hyperlinks, to a variety of traditional Christians that I wish reporters (and especially television producers) would call instead of Robertson. Check out the list and let me know who you think I should add. I also realize that we need lists of new voices on the religious left and in other traditions. This column was about Robertson, so I went with traditional Christians.

Apparently, Heritage Foundation pundit Joe Loconte was thinking along some very similar lines about the time that I was. He wrote a column arguing that Robertson is the perfect symbol for the authority problems that religious leaders, in general, are having in public debates right now.

Like who? Where do we start?

The Catholic Church still struggles to overcome its crisis of sexually abusive priests.

Liberal Protestant churches, mimicking the secular cant of political activists, have bled themselves dry in membership and prestige.

Though growing in numbers and political influence, evangelicals are among the most feared demographic group in the country, according to a recent Pew Forum poll. Here’s one reason: An evangelical figure with Robertson’s clout talks like a hit man from the Sopranos — and what do his religious brethren do about it? Not much.

Yes, some traditional Christians dissected Robertson’s remarks, but others ducked into their ministry foxholes. Loconte notes that a faithful few continue to respond to each new blast from Virginia Beach by opening up their checkbooks and sending Robertson more cash for his niche TV work.

Another excellent question: How did Robertson’s latest remarks affect the safety of missionaries in Venezuela? But in a way, argued Loconte, this is almost beside the point. Robertson has been quoted and quoted and quoted saying this kind of stuff for 20-something years.

Yes, his words are news. But for whom does he actually speak? How should people respond when he erupts once again?

Loconte has some suggestions. Anyone who digs into this will have a news story.

. . . (Evangelical) leaders would be wise to marginalize Robertson and his media empire — publicly and decisively. They should editorialize against his excesses, refuse to appear on his television program and deny him advertising space in their magazines. Board members should threaten to resign unless he steps down from his public platform.

Is anyone doing that?

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Two fine entrées & a shot of bile

AtlanticOct05CThe October issue of The Atlantic offers another rich meal of religion references, especially in Joshua Green’s “Roy and His Rock,” an 8,200-word essay on Judge Roy Moore and his traveling granite monument of the Ten Commandments. The Atlantic‘s website limits access to the full article, but I’ll quote some favorite passages here.

Beginning with the headline, Green’s article treats the monument as having its own personality. The device works well, especially in a passage like this:

As running mates go, the Rock is ideal. It is always on message. It is an indefatigable campaigner. It boasts a national following. And it is a terrific fundraiser. Since Moore left office it has been the force behind his political life.

Typically, an image of the Rock is beamed onto a giant screen before Moore takes the stage. Most of his speeches, and even his idle conversations, obsessively return to it. He has even copyrighted the monument. Today the Rock plays a role weirdly analogous to that of a retired Kentucky Derby winner gone to stud: with Moore’s blessing, it is being cloned for a Baptist group in Atlanta.

Green depicts Moore as a man who loves a good fight, and compares him to George Wallace. One of his more effective turns is to cite a poem by Moore, which uses the sort of doggerel you’re likely to see in God & Country emails:

“And we face another war
Fought not upon some distant shore,
Nor against a foe that you can see,
But one as ruthless as can be.
It will take your life and your children too,
And say there’s nothing you can do.
It will make you think that wrong is right,
Is but a sign to stand and fight.
And though we face the wrath of Hell,
Against those gates we shall prevail.
In homes in schools across our land,
It’s time for Christians to take a stand,
And when our work on this earth is done,
And the battle is over and the victory is won,
When through all the earth His praise will ring,
And all the heavenly angels sing,
It will be enough just to see His son,
And hear him say ‘My child, well done.
‘You’ve kept my faith so strong and true,
‘I knew that I could count on you.’”

Green reports that Moore shows a lasting interest in politics, including a possible run in Alabama’s next gubernatorial election. At least we can be relieved that Moore will not stake his future on writing more poetry.

In the issue’s cover story, Joshua Wolf Shenk shows how Abraham Lincoln’s lifelong struggle with depression made him into a great president.

Near the end of the essay, Shenk cites evangelical historian Mark Noll of Wheaton College:

Lincoln’s clarity came in part from his uncertainty. It is hard to overestimate just how unusual this was, and how risky and unpopular his views often were. Most religious thinkers of the time, the historian of religion Mark Noll explains, not only assumed God’s favor but assumed that they could read his will.

“How was it,” Noll asks, “that this man who never joined a church and who read only a little theology could, on occasion, give expression to profound theological interpretations of the War between the States?” Viewing Lincoln through the lens of his melancholy, we see one cogent explanation: he was always inclined to look at the full truth of a situation, assessing both what could be known and what remained in doubt. When faced with uncertainty he had the patience, endurance, and vigor to stay in that place of tension, and the courage to be alone.

Moving from the sublime to the hysterical, we have French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy reacting to publisher William Kristol of The Weekly Standard. Kristol had published an article by Matt Labash about the Clinton Presidential Center‘s grand opening, and he failed to agree with Lévy that the article was “crammed with the vilest gossip about the private life of the former president.” And suddenly we’re staring down the gaping maw of religious extremism:

I sense that Kristol is annoyed when I mention it.

I sense that he thinks a European can’t accept this mingling of politics with such trash, so he plays it down.

Don’t jump to the conclusion that I believe in it, he seems to be saying. That’s just the deal, you understand — supporting a crusade for moral values is just the price we have to pay for a foreign policy that we can defend as a whole.

Suppose it is.

Let’s agree that his annoyance isn’t feigned.

In that case the whole question lies right there, and in my mind it’s almost worse.

When you uphold one goal of a given faction, do you have to uphold all its goals?

Because you’re in agreement about Iraq, do you have to force yourself to agree with the death penalty, creationism, the Christian Coalition and its pestilential practices?

When I have dinner with someone in a restaurant, do I have to order all the courses on the menu?

It takes a special kind of ignorance to perceive Matt Labash and William Kristol as water boys for the Religious Right. Next time he’s staring at a menu, Lévy also ought to consult the wine list.

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What kind of Catholic can judge?

x33There are many people on the Religious Right who are tempted to say that the great division in this land — shown by the “pew gap” — is between unbelievers and believers.

This is way, way too simplistic. While there is evidence that a secularist political niche is gaining power, this overlooks the power of what can only be called the religious left. This can be seen, in part, by studying the omnipresent battles in major religious groups over issues linked to sex and marriage. All kinds of people, to paraphrase Maureen Dowd, are having theological battles about Woodstock.

The press needs to understand this, when considering the question of a “religious test” being used on nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court. The question is not whether nominee John Roberts is a Catholic. What the senators want to know is whether he is an Anthony Kennedy Catholic or an Antonin Scalia Catholic. Is he a John F. Kennedy Catholic or a Rick Santorum Catholic? In my opinion, they need to just come out and state this question openly and live with the consequences. Journalists like candid sources. Say what you mean and get quoted.

Politico Manuel Miranda dives straight into this in his latest daily commentary at The Wall Street Journal on the state of the hearings. This man is ticked off and, as a church-state studies guy, I am with him on this particular issue.

Take it away:

Article VI of the Constitution prohibits a religious test from being imposed on nominees to public office. . . . While questioning John Roberts on Tuesday, Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter asked: “Would you say that your views are the same as those expressed by John Kennedy when he was a candidate, and he spoke to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in September of 1960: ‘I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me.’”

Hours later, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California made it worse: “In 1960, there was much debate about President John F. Kennedy’s faith and what role Catholicism would play in his administration. At that time, he pledged to address the issues of conscience out of a focus on the national interests, not out of adherence to the dictates of one’s religion. . . . My question is: Do you?”

How insulting. How offensive. How invidiously ignorant to question someone like Judge Roberts with such apparent presumption and disdain for the religion he practices. The JFK question is not just the camel’s nose of religious intolerance; it is the whole smelly camel.

Later on in the essay, Miranda quotes all kinds of people expressing outrage. Well, that isn’t quite right. He quotes all kinds of people who are — if you dig deep — critics or outright opponents of abortion on demand who are upset about this new form of modernist Catholic religious test. So the Jews that he quotes are not just Jews. They are traditional Jews. They are red-pew Jews and, thus, they are now finding themselves on the other side of the Woodstock gap.

Admit it. Isn’t this what leaps into mind when you read the following?

Representing more than 1,000 synagogues, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations wrote this letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee a few days earlier: “As a community of religious believers committed to full engagement with modern American society, we are deeply troubled by those who have implied that a person of faith cannot serve in a high level government post that may raise issues at odds with his or her personal beliefs.”

Many people are immediately going to think: “Well, that’s the Orthodox. They probably even voted for George W. Bush.” And that’s right. If President Bush nominated a female Orthodox Jew to the U.S. Supreme Court, the very first question she would be asked would be — one way or another — about her views on abortion rights. People would be asking not if she is religious but if she she the right kind of religious person.

It’s the age we live in.

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Gotta love that Post blog

It’s rather hard to get through the working day with a live video feed on your computer screen showing the U.S. Senate hearings on John Roberts. But I think The Washington Post‘s blog is amazing. Then, of course, there is National Review Online’s Bench Memos blog. What other blogs are readers following right now? This is all just another sign of an evolving technology and its changing role in our lives. Is anyone vblogging yet?

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Religion news in 70-point type

image 37495There is an old saying in the world of mass media theory (especially if you hang around the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) that “technology shapes content.” This is certainly true in the world of newspapers. Ask any layout specialist or headline writer who has ever tried to make the move from a broadsheet newspaper to one that uses a tabloid format.

So I could not help but notice the splashy main headline on today’s edition of the express, which is the free mini-tabloid The Washington Post publishes these days for commuters and/or people with thin wallets or short attention spans. In gigantic letters, someone on the express copy desk had summed up an ocean of ink dedicated to the U.S. Senate hearings on the chief justice nominee with this simple statement: “ROBERTS & ROE.”

Our nation’s political life does seem to have all boiled down to that, if you read the major papers or turn on the cable news shows.

The MSM bottom line (click here for a quick Howie Kurtz summary) seems to be that Roe is a lock-solid decision and that overturning it is unthinkable, which rather raises the question of why, after all these years, people still have to worry about it in 70-something point headline type.

Perhaps that rather large headline means something else. Perhaps the nation is rather divided on the issue. Perhaps journalists really do realize, deep down, that about 20 percent of the population — 10 percent on each extreme — truly has its mind made up and the great muddled middle is lost in a storm of emotions and the vague wordings of agenda-driven pollsters. And perhaps there is more to this than politics.

Thus, I also thought that it was interesting that my morning email version of the Post including the following assignment in its topical index:

RELIGION

Roberts Avoids Specifics on Abortion Issue

John G. Roberts Jr. testified yesterday that he believes that the Constitution protects the right to privacy, the legal underpinning of the nation’s landmark abortion law, but he refused to say whether he would vote to uphold Roe v. Wade if he is confirmed as chief justice of the United States.

(By Amy Goldstein and Charles Babington, The Washington Post)

Religion does, of course, show up over and over in the story, and not just in the drumbeat paragraphs about abortion rights. I thought it was interesting that the senators flashed back to the old Bob Jones University case about God and interracial dating. Thus, the Post reports that:

One of the few issues on which Roberts dissented yesterday from Reagan-era policy involved the case of Bob Jones University, in which that administration unsuccessfully argued that the fundamentalist school qualified for federal tax breaks under a law passed by Congress despite its ban on interracial dating. In a 1983 memo, Roberts wrote that the administration “did not feel Congress had given the IRS the authority” to remove the school’s tax-exempt status. Yesterday, he told senators he did not believe the Reagan administration had taken “the correct position” on Bob Jones.

This is interesting to me, since I was involved in graduate seminars in Church-State Studies during the years that led up to that decision. At the time, all kinds of church-state experts — left and right — were worried about the Bob Jones case, in part thinking that bad cases make for bad law. It is possible that the Reagan team was thinking what the church-state people were thinking — that it is dangerous to give the government the power to single out and punish a religious group for its doctrines, even if those doctrines are wacko and-or vile. Religious liberty is built by protecting the rights of a lot of people with whom you might not want to share a vacation or even eternity.

Anyway, it does seem that the religion-abortion link is going to continue through the likely outcome of the Roberts hearings, which is a confirmation divided along party lines. The Post also wants to make sure that we know that they know who thinks they won in the first round of this verbal test.

Outside the hearing room, Roberts’s handling of the abortion issue appeared to frustrate abortion rights proponents, while pleasing antiabortion groups. In front of the Capitol, about a dozen Planned Parenthood Protesters wore shirts emblazoned with the words “Answer the Question.” Kate Michelman, the former president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said, “I don’t think we have any clarity yet on his views about Roe and privacy as it relates to reproductive freedom as a fundamental right.”

Jay Sekulow of the conservative American Center for Law and Justice said Roberts’s description of when courts should be willing to rethink precedents “left the door open” to the possibility he might vote to overturn Roe. “As someone who takes a pro-life position, I was extremely pleased with the answers he gave,” he said.

Ah, the usual suspects.

UPDATE: You can, of course, turn to Amy Welborn and the Open Book crowd for mucho commentary on Roberts and his “JFK moment” in the hearings.

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Who was left behind? And why?

052404novakmichaelPlease consider this a short follow-up post after my recent “Watching Katrina with Sen. Moynihan” effort. You may recall that this raised some questions about the moral, cultural and even religious issues looming in the background of the failed evacuation of New Orleans.

A key question: To what degree is this tragedy rooted in questions linked to family life and, in particular, the lack of fathers in most impoverished homes? I suggested that, at some point, these questions would begin to influence discussions of the future of New Orleans, or at least the city core in Orleans Parish.

Soon thereafter, David Brooks wrote about this issue in The New York Times:

In those cultural zones, many people dropped out of high school, so it seemed normal to drop out of high school. Many teenage girls had babies, so it seemed normal to become a teenage mother. It was hard for men to get stable jobs, so it was not abnormal for them to commit crimes and hop from one relationship to another. Many people lacked marketable social skills, so it was hard for young people to learn these skills from parents, neighbors and peers.

If we just put up new buildings and allow the same people to move back into their old neighborhoods, then urban New Orleans will become just as rundown and dysfunctional as before.

Meanwhile, the conservative Catholic scholar Michael Novak — winner of the 1994 Templeton Prize for progress in religion — wrote an essay at National Review Online that dug into the 2000 census data for New Orleans.

It is sobering reading, but I urge those who are interested in the future of the Crescent City to take the plunge. Sadly, Novak (pictured) concludes that New Orleans is the “prototypical, old-time welfare-state city.” Who would be left stranded? Sadly, that was easy to predict:

In 2000, there were only 25,000 two-parent families in New Orleans with children under 18. By contrast, there were more than 26,000 female householders with children under 18, and no husband present. In other words, slightly more mothers all alone with children than married-couple mothers. In addition, there were more than 18,000 householders who were more than 65 years old and living alone. Of these, most would normally be female.

If you add together the 26,000 female householders with children under 18, no husband present, and the 18,000 householders more than 65 years old and living alone, that is an estimated 40,000 female-headed households. That explains the pictures we are seeing on television, which are overwhelming female, most often with young children. The chances of persons in this demographic being employed full-time, year round, and with a good income, are not high. The chances of them living in poverty, and without an automobile, are exceedingly high.

So what happened? We are only now beginning to see national-level media dig into this topic. This process will be painful, but there is no way around it.

Here is the opening of a blunt story in today’s Los Angeles Times, written by Nicholas Riccardi and James Rainey. The headline is like a brick up against the side of the head: “Save Yourself — New Orleans had a plan to warn the poor, but it sat on a shelf in L.A.”

NEW ORLEANS — After years of warnings, community leaders this summer prepared a video guide to hurricane evacuations with a stark message: Many of this city’s poor, including 134,000 without cars, could be left behind in a killer storm.

But the 30-minute DVD still has not arrived. Some 70,000 of the newly minted videos that were to be released this month remain on warehouse shelves in Los Angeles. Their warning: Save yourself, and help your neighbors if you can.

“Don’t wait for the city, don’t wait for the state, don’t wait for the Red Cross,” the Rev. Marshall Truehill warns in the public service announcement.

In the end, the family is the final safety net.

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The Russians are voting (for the GOP)

TwoLubavitchThe Wall Street Journal editorial page, which often covers news stories that the news desk does not want, had an interesting feature this week about a quiet little political trend in American Judaism.

If the “pew gap” is the term used to describe the trend in Protestant and Catholic voting booths, we may end up having to call this one the “synagogue gap.” The problem with that, of course, is that this trend only affects certain sanctuaries.

And what is that story? Here it is in a nutshell:

On November 11, 2004[,] Haaretz News reported, “approximately a quarter of American Jewish voters cast their vote for Bush this time, as opposed to 18.5 percent four years ago. Experts calculate that about 85 percent of Orthodox Jews and about 95 percent of Haredi Jews voted for him. The high birthrate in these two communities helps to explain the significant rise in Jewish votes that went to the Republicans. . . . One thing that can be said for certain: The main issues that divide Israeli society — the moral foundation of life in Israel, and how to bring peace — are also the issues at the core of the disagreement in the U.S. between the Jews who voted for Bush and the majority among them who voted for Kerry.”

Gosh. Family life. Moral issues. And then you add on Israel. This sounds very familiar.

Anyway, the WSJ piece by Tony Carnes of Christianity Today zoomed in to look at a more specific issue: the tensions between the mainstream Jewish establishment — represented by Boston’s Larry Lowenthal of the American Jewish Committee — and Jewish immigrants from Russia.

To judge by his public statements and writings, Mr. Lowenthal’s idea of a faithful Jew is someone who opposes the nomination of Judge John Roberts to the U.S. Supreme Court, supports gay rights, abortion and euthanasia, and demands a strong separation of church and state. After all, as Mr. Lowenthal concluded approvingly in a July op-ed for the Jewish Advocate, Jews are “the most liberal” and “the least religious people in America.”

Imagine his consternation when an avalanche of emails from Russian Jews began to pour in to the Web site of the Jewish Russian Telegraph, a daily blog, in response to his article. About 100 people wrote to say that Mr. Lowenthal needed to stop making “outrageous statements” on behalf of people whom he doesn’t represent. Alex Koifman, who arrived in the U.S. from Belarus in 1978, and whom Mr. Lowenthal trained for his position as a board member at the Boston AJC, criticized his old teacher for overstepping his bounds, saying: “Since when are these concerns [abortion, gay rights, and church-state separation] concerns that are specific to the Jewish community? These are the Left’s concerns.”

Whoa. There’s more to this story, and it all points to the crucial role that religious tradition and practice play in American politics right now. The Democratic Party knows all about this. Its problem is simple, in the terms of James Davison Hunter: How do you appeal to the orthodox without offending the progressives? How do you tolerate the believers you believe are intolerant?

Has the, oh, New York Times had this story? If I missed it, let me know.

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