Home is not where the school is

home schoolA recent California appellate court ruling raises major questions about whether parents have the right to educate their children. While the ruling will be appealed, parents who homeschool their children are reacting to their uncertain future.

Seema Mehta and Mitchell Landsberg of the Los Angeles Times wrote up the reaction to the ruling, which states that parents without teaching credentials must not educate their children at home:

The California Department of Education currently allows home schooling as long as parents file paperwork with the state establishing themselves as small private schools, hire credentialed tutors or enroll their children in independent study programs run by charter or private schools or public school districts while still teaching at home.

California does little to enforce those provisions and insists it is the local school districts’ responsibility. In addition, state education officials say some parents home school their children without the knowledge of any entity.

Home schoolers and government officials have largely accepted this murky arrangement.

“This works so well, I don’t see any reason to change it,” said J. Michael Smith, president of the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Assn.

While the ruling affects all homeschoolers, the article manages to quote only those practitioners who are conservative and Christian. I come from a huge homeschooling state — Colorado — where all sorts of people homeschool (libertarians, conservatives, liberals, religious, secular, etc.) and it never ceases to amaze me how uniform the group is presented by the mainstream media.

Further, the homeschoolers quoted in the article are not those whose kids are winning all the spelling bees or just generally excelling in their studies but, rather, those who are trying to hide from secularism in public schools. Even among people who homeschool for religious reasons, this isn’t exactly representative.

The article isn’t all bad, and it gets some good information out there, but it just lacks any sense of the debate swirling around homeschooling regulations. Let’s look at a few of the pro-regulation comments from the article:

“Parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children,” wrote Justice H. Walter Croskey in a Feb. 28 opinion signed by the two other members of the district court. “Parents who fail to [comply with school enrollment laws] may be subject to a criminal complaint against them, found guilty of an infraction, and subject to imposition of fines or an order to complete a parent education and counseling program.” . . .

Teachers union officials will also be closely monitoring the appeal. A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said he agrees with the ruling.

“What’s best for a child is to be taught by a credentialed teacher,” he said.

Even though I’m the daughter of a stellar public school teacher, I can’t be alone in thinking that last line deserves a worthy retort. How many of the world’s worst teachers have been credentialed by governing bodies? If credentials are all that matters, why do so many students in public schools fare so poorly? And yet the only response given in the article is some homeschooling bogeyfather in Sacramento saying he’s worried about his kids being indoctrinated with teachings about evolution and same-sex marriage.

There are so many interesting angles to this discussion but none of the debate is really found in the article. Parents don’t have a constitutional right to homeschool their children? What are the pros and cons of government schools? What are the pros and cons of homeschools? Does the state have an interest in indoctrinating values against the interest of Christian parents? Does the state have an interest in indoctrinating values against the interest of Muslim parents? What rights do children have in these affairs?

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Blessed are the question askers

BlochSermonMountI came across two stories within moments of each other yesterday. Both, ostensibly, deal with the same Barack Obama town hall event in Ohio. And that’s where the similarities end. Here’s the first paragraph (of three paragraphs!) from the Associated Press:

Democrat Barack Obama says he’s tired of questions about his religion. The Democratic presidential candidate told a town hall meeting Sunday in Nelsonvile, Ohio, in the state’s rural southeast, that he is a devout Christian who prays to Jesus every night. He told audience members they would feel right at home at his church in Chicago.

That, plus two additional sentences, was the entire story. The other story is from the Baptist Press, which is one of the more thorough denominational press outlets out there. I’ll give you just the first paragraph from the piece, written by Michael Foust:

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama defended his belief in same-sex civil unions March 2 by referencing Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and then implicitly criticizing those who view Romans as a binding teaching on homosexuality.

The Baptist Press story goes on to quote Obama’s remarks and analyze them from their particular vantage point. But I couldn’t believe that was the first I heard of the remarks. A search shows that there was other coverage of the remarks, disproportionately from the gay and Christian press. But there were a few mainstream attempts.

The thing I found most interesting, however, was that these stories mentioned Obama’s remarks about the Sermon on the Mount more than they mentioned Obama’s views of Romans. And when they did mention the Sermon on the Mount, they either didn’t specify what portion of the sermon Obama thought dealt with same-sex civil unions or they speculated about Obama’s interpretation.

Here’s how the Baptist Press handled it:

The Sermon on the Mount is found in Matthew 5-7, the passage in Romans is found in chapter 1, verses 26-32.

The Los Angeles Times wrote:

That likely would be “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy” over “Men committed indecent acts with other men and received in themselves due penalty for their perversion.”

Cybercast News Service:

Obama’s mention of the Sermon on the Mount in justifying legal recognition of same-sex unions may have been a reference to the Golden Rule: “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” Or it may have been a reference to another famous line: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”

Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic says CNS reporter Terry Jeffrey has it right:

Having heard Obama work the Sermon on the Mount into several riffs before, I think Jeffrey, who is apt to want to misread Obama, gets it pretty much right. Obama has Matthew 7:1-6 in mind — the discourse on judgementalism –

I have an idea. Rather than speculating, how about one of these fancy reporters ask Obama which specific portion of the Sermon on the Mount he was referencing! I didn’t go to journalism school, though, so maybe I’m wrong.

As you might imagine, with so much confusion about the Sermon on the Mount — much less the portion of Romans dealing with homosexual behavior — coverage of this story hasn’t been too great. Obama called that passage obscure. What did he mean by that? In what way does he see a conflict between the two passages? Obama also talked about abortion and how his support for legal abortion does not make him less of a Christian. Entire stories could be written about just that portion of his remarks.

30obama 600 01The media love to write stories about Obama’s appeal to evangelicals but reporters didn’t bother to ask any substantive questions about how evangelicals feel about Obama’s exegesis.

The partisan and religious press did somewhat better.

The Baptist Press story quoted a theologian praising Obama for using Scripture to justify political positions but noted that it is a common evangelical belief that all Scripture is inspired by God and equally authoritative. The story also noted that Jesus does talk about marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Ambinder at The Atlantic noted that Obama was doing something that usually gets people in trouble:

Obama’s reference was casual, and in referencing scripture he’s committed the same (venial) sin that liberal religionists are always cataloguing as coming from conservatives: that they slip contextless biblical phrases into their political stump speeches and degrade the meaning of both.

If you’d like the full remarks, in context, CNS posted them here.

If Obama is going to use the Bible to justify his policy positions, we’re bound to see more coverage. Let’s hope future coverage does a better job of explaining things.

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About the bisexual-bishop story (updated)

StJohnDivineAs you might expect, I would like to make a few comments about “The Bishop’s Daughter,” the buzz-provoking piece in The New Yorker by the poet Honor Moore about the double life lived by her father, the Rt. Rev. Paul Moore Jr., the trailblazing liberal leader of the Diocese of New York from 1972-89.

However, until the magazine elects — we can only hope — to post the full article online, we can only link to a secondary form of revealed wisdom, a news report on the subject printed in the New York Times.

Conservative Anglicans will gag on the headline, “A Bishop Unveiled God’s Secrets While Keeping His Own,” but let’s set that aside for the moment. There is no question that Bishop Moore was one of the most important voices in the history of the U.S. Episcopal Church, especially as the modern patriarch of a powerful family in New York church circles and the city’s liberal establishment.

Here’s a chunk of the story containing the crucial information:

In an elegiac article in the March 3 issue of The New Yorker magazine titled “The Bishop’s Daughter,” the poet Honor Moore describes her father, Bishop Moore, who died in 2003 at 83, as alternately passionate and elusive, capable of deep “religious emotion,” yet just beyond her emotional reach. It was only after he died, she said, that she fully realized that he had had gay relationships during his two marriages, the first of which produced his nine children. …

The revelation of his hidden world comes at a time of deep tension within the Episcopal Church of the United States over the issue of homosexuality. Since the church ordained an openly gay bishop in the Diocese of New Hampshire in 2003, a dozen congregations in various parts of the country have withdrawn from the American branch of the church and aligned themselves with theologically conservative African or South American branches of the worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is a part.

First of all, there is a clear error in that phrase that says “a dozen congregations in various parts of the country” have withdrawn to align with conservative branches of the Anglican Communion. It is possible that a key word dropped out, or was clipped by an editor. That word would be “several,” as in “several dozen congregations.” At the very least, there are multiple opinions about what the exit number would be (watch here for reactions at the TitusOneNine weblog).

Now, I realize that once a national church starts splintering, it is hard to keep track of which congregations are headed in which direction and this is certainly true in the complex Anglican diaspora that is unfolding here in North America. Some parishes are leaving and entering the Anglican Mission in America, but not all of them are retaining their old names. There are new missions that are made up of members of old parishes. But is it accurate to say that this is a parish that has left its diocese? People will argue about that.

Then there are the parishes that are forming ties to the traditionalist Anglicans in the Global South, the most obvious example of which is the emerging network linked to Nigeria called CANA — the Convocation of Anglicans in North America. Then there is the American Anglican Council, another network of churches that includes many that are fighting to stay in the Episcopal Church and others that are fighting to get out. Is that a fair way to word it? It’s complex.

In other words, in partial defense of the Times, it’s hard to come up with a definitive list of churches that have made it all the say out the exit door.

But a dozen? That is way low — bizarre even. To read a conservative analysis of this question, see this post by Father Kendall Harmon at TitusOneNine. Of course he is a partisan. But the numbers are so far off that they are hard to ignore. It would seen that the number is at least 100-plus and, as I mentioned before, that does not include the AMIA numbers or missions that began as pieces of Episcopal parishes. And what about the pending departure of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin?

So it’s hard to count all of these apples and oranges. But it is not hard to discover that there are more than a dozen.

BishopMooreAnother issue that interests me in this Moore story, as it did in the fall of the Rev. Ted Haggard, is the degree to which this bishop will now be identified as “gay.” As I have asked before, to what degree was this married man — father of nine children — gay? Why isn’t his daughter’s book evidence that he was “bisexual”?

I realize that the Times report clearly states that the bishop “had had gay relationships during his two marriages.” So a bisexual man had gay relationships. Is the word “gay” being used in this reference in a different way than when “lesbigay” activists discuss the legal status of gays, lesbians and bisexuals?

Finally, there is the way that the piece ends, which strikes me as a bit strange:

Howard Hadley, 62, a member of the church choir who considered himself a friend of the late bishop’s, said it came as no surprise to him to learn that Bishop Moore had been involved in gay relationships.

“It was the times he lived in. That’s the sad fact. But there was never any doubt in my mind about him,” said Mr. Hadley. “People who say they didn’t know? Well, you know, people see what they want to see.”

The writer of “The Bishop’s Daughter” might say that, in some cases at least, people see what they are invited to see.

Is that the end, or was an attributed quote cut off? Who is speaking, in this sentence? When I was in journalism school and learning the ropes in mainstream newsrooms, I was told to avoid speculation in hard news reports.

Then again, perhaps this story is a work of analysis or opinion. Could be.

UPDATE: Hey, the New Yorker link is up. Read it all, as the master Anglican elf would say.

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Snark in the city (WPost correction?)

KingsCollegeJesusIf you heard that the ultra-hip Washington Post Style section was going to do a feature story about a conservative Christian college located in the heart of Manhattan — in the Empire State Building, for heaven’s sake — you would assume that certain issues would come up and be used in a rather snarky manner.

And you would be right. There’s the whole fresh-faced innocents in the big city theme, mixed with a note of biblical literalism. There are remarks about proselytizing and creationism. And, of course, the whole thing is framed in a “Sex in the City” template that is most amusing.

By all means, read it for yourself. You will find few surprises.

But there was one passage that shocked me, in the section describing how the King’s College provides housing. Here is the passage, in context:

All of the King’s students are assigned to “houses” with names like Thatcher, Reagan and Churchill. Throughout the year, they compete — in scavenger hunts, in basketball games, in a race for the highest GPA, in good works.

An academic year at the King’s costs $29,000, though nearly all the students get some form of financial aid or scholarships from a variety of private donors and foundations. The fee includes housing, which the King’s rents in two high-rise buildings, one for men, another a few blocks away for women, both on Sixth Avenue near the Empire State Building. Each apartment is a one-bedroom for four people; the bedroom has two sets of bunk beds. Dating is permitted. There are no rules against sex, but it’s quietly discouraged, by students as well as faculty.

Sex, however, is a topic that Manhattan has a way of bringing up, regardless of your views on the matter.

By the way, that line about the houses requires a bit of unfolding. That three-person list sounds rather nakedly political, doesn’t it? As it turns out, there are nine houses and the whole list (names selected by students a few years ago) is a bit more complex, consisting of Elizabeth I, Sojourner Truth, Winston Churchill, C. S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Clara Barton and Susan B. Anthony. That’s a conservative list, but much more culturally nuanced than the Post‘s crude edit.

But, I digress. What stuck me the most was the statement that King’s College has “no rules against sex,” which is a strange fact — if true — about such a conservative institution. I mean, even moderate Christian colleges have some codes of discipline linked to sexual morality.

So I checked up on that and, while doing that research, decided to do a Scripps Howard column about King’s College. I have been interested in this college for years, especially during its 2005 showdown with the state Board of Regents over accreditation.

sleepless empire heart smTruth be told, the college does not have “rules” about sex. It has an honor code, but that honor code is linked to a system of discipline for students — including standards for sexual behavior. You can read about that online (click for the .pdf) in the student handbook. There is a very conservative statement of Christian doctrine about sexuality, noting, in part, that the college:

“… promotes a lifestyle … that precludes premarital and extramarital intercourse, homosexual practice and other forms of sexual behavior incompatible with biblical admonitions.”

So I think that the Post might want to consider printing a correction. Don’t you?

If you are interested in seeing my column about the college, then click here. To make a long story short, I do think it is interesting that evangelicals are trying to build a college in mid-town Manhattan. Why? Here is how my column begins:

Any list of great cities in the ancient Mediterranean World would have to include Rome, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Antioch and Corinth, or some other crucial crossroads near what would become Constantinople.

Thus, these cities became the five patriarchal sees of Christianity in the first millennium.

“From day one, there was a commitment to the dominant cities and regions of that time,” said J. Stanley Oakes, chancellor of King’s College in New York City. “That’s where the early church flourished. That’s where the early church did its work. … People who care about nations and culture and economics have to care about what happens in great cities.”

Yet any study of American Protestantism in the early 21st century would focus on Colorado Springs, Colo., Grand Rapids, Mich., Wheaton, Ill., Orlando, Fla., and, perhaps, Dallas. It would not include New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, Houston, Washington, D.C., or the other great cities that shape this culture.

Oakes thinks that’s tragic, which is why he has dedicated a decade — backed by Campus Crusade For Christ’s vast network — to building an evangelical college in the Empire State Building. The leaders of King’s College are convinced that if their students can make it there, they can make it anywhere.

Like I said, this is an interesting subject — if you are actually interested in Christian higher education.

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We have a vested interest in facts

vestments 01Last week I wrote about the noticeable lack of coverage of a recent Presbyterian Church (USA) ruling on issues surrounding homosexuality. The denomination has a few hundred thousand more members than The Episcopal Church but gets far less coverage. I asked why. Readers provided a number of interesting answers.

Readers suggested that Episcopal Church types are better organized and better at getting publicity. Others noted the “Byzantine bureaucracy and semantics” of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Others said it came down to how much better Episcopalians photograph.

Reuters religion editor Tom Heneghan wrote:

Good question. I can’t speak for U.S. newspapers, but the key factor for us at Reuters is that the Anglican crisis is an international story concerning a church that is teetering on the brink of schism. That makes a “gay issue” in the TEC more newsworthy than one in another church with much less impact abroad.

PCUSA minister Irenaeus wrote:

It’s easier and more interesting to report on persons than committees. Our ecclesiology makes this less interesting: we don’t have anyone with the stature of a bishop, and interviewing and quoting committee members ain’t all that fascinating. That said, I do wonder what the coverage would be like when and if the denomination breaks apart, given the significant role Presbyterians have played in US history.

Bill wrote:

Because we Presbyterians are boring.

Too complicated, too many contradictions, and as one pointed out too little clarity. It would takes weeks of reading just to get the broad outlines of the story.

I’m one — I should know.

But some of these problems don’t keep the mainstream media from reporting on The Episcopal Church! Jonathan Petre, the Telegraph (UK)’s religion correspondent, filed this breathless report over the weekend:

The Archbishop of Canterbury is backing secret plans to create a “parallel” Church for American conservatives to avert fresh splits over homosexuality.

Dr Rowan Williams has held confidential talks with senior American bishops and theologians who oppose the pro-gay policies of their liberal leaders. . . .

Dr Williams is desperate to minimise further damage in the run up to the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference this summer which could be boycotted by more than a fifth of the world’s bishops. . . .

According to insiders, Dr Williams has given his blessing to the plans to create an enclave for up to 20 conservative American bishops that would insulate them from their liberal colleagues.

The story has no named sources. Which might have something to do with the allegation that it’s not true. It is true that some bishops approached Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori with a proposal. They believe that five Anglican Primates could oversee some of the parishes that are in conflict with recent changes taking place in The Episcopal Church. But, as David Virtue wrote that reports of the meeting weren’t up to snuff:

. . . nor did the Archbishop of Canterbury back a secret plan to create a “parallel” Church for American conservatives to avert fresh splits over homosexuality as the London Telegraph screamed in a headline. Furthermore, Dr. Rowan Williams did not hold confidential talks with senior American bishops and theologians who oppose the pro-gay policies of their liberal leaders.

Central Florida Bishop John W. Howe said the purpose of the visit was to permit freedom of conscience for traditionalist parishes and dioceses who want to stay in The Episcopal Church and conform to its Constitution and Canons. “This is a step forward, albeit a small one,” he said.

Even if Anglican worship and conflict are more exciting to cover than Presbyterian versions of the same, it doesn’t excuse getting the facts wrong.

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Presbyterians don’t get any respect

rodney dangerfieldLast week the highest court of the Presbyterian Church (USA) ruled on a pretty contentious issue. I thought I’d wait a few days until more coverage of the ruling appeared in the mainstream press. But other than a few reports from veteran local religious reporters, I haven’t seen much of anything. Apparently a church ruling on homosexuality is only interesting to the media when it happens in The Episcopal Church.

A bit of background may be in order. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has been engaged in debates over homosexuality, most notably over Amendment B — a church law that says unmarried clergy must remain chaste. Some presbyteries have ignored the law.

Peter Smith, the Louisville Courier-Journal‘s ace religion reporter, always covers Presbyterian Church (USA) goings on as the denomination is headquartered there. Here was his story from last week:

Presbyterians may disagree with their church’s ban on ordaining noncelibate gays and lesbians, but they must follow the rules, according to the Louisville-based denomination’s highest court.

The decisive ruling means that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will allow no exceptions to the ban, ending the expectations of some that a controversial policy adopted in 2006 would allow regional governing bodies flexibility in enforcing the tenet on homosexuality.

The constitution gives “freedom of conscience” to disagree with church law, which restricts ordination to singles living in “chastity” or those living in “fidelity” in a heterosexual marriage, the court ruled.

But the constitution “does not permit disobedience to those behavioral standards,” according to the court, known as the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission.

Smith spoke with groups that applauded the decision and others that said they would once again try to repeal the ban on unchaste clergy. Smith does a great job of concisely explaining the background to the case and how it changes things:

The court made its ruling on a 2006 policy change that many had promoted as a compromise in the long battle over homosexuality in the 2.3 million-member denomination.

The denomination’s legislative General Assembly that year adopted a policy that tapped into a historic Presbyterian tradition allowing candidates for ordination to declare a “scruple,” or reservation, about a point in the Presbyterian constitution.

A church or presbytery considering the candidate for ordination would then have the option of ordaining the person if it decided the “scruple” didn’t involve an essential tenet of the faith.

The policy got its first test cases last month when presbyteries in California and Minnesota gave approvals to openly gay candidates for ministry.

But appeals in those cases had barely gotten under way when the denomination’s top court issued its ruling this week in a separate set of cases. Those cases involved presbyteries and congregations that declared — without any candidates in mind — that they would never ordain an openly gay candidate under any circumstances.

The case that was ruled on came from Pittsburgh. Ann Rodgers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette used local clergy to explain the two sides of the debate:

The Rev. Doug Portz, acting pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery, was pleased that the ruling upheld the intent of Pittsburgh’s resolution.

“There was concern in this and other presbyteries, in light of certain General Assembly actions, that the national standards for ordination would not be adhered to. This decision makes it clear that they are to be adhered to. For presbyteries to make super-standards is not necessary,” he said.

The Rev. Randy Bush, pastor of East Liberty Presbyterian Church, one of those who had appealed the resolution through the church court system, called the ruling inconsistent. He said it upheld his arguments that a presbytery cannot determine what is an essential of the faith, and that candidates must be examined on a case-by-case basis. But he believes it failed to apply those principles.

“They have affirmed the overall process,” he said. “Our disappointment is that they seem to be treating the sexuality questions different from the process they have just affirmed. That is a flaw, and we will look to see if the General Assembly, at its meeting in June, will address that.”

The gay press covered the issue but why wasn’t it big enough news for mainstream media? The Presbyterian Church (USA) even has a few hundred thousand more members than The Episcopal Church. I think the amount of coverage for The Episcopal Church is great — but why are news events in other denominations left relatively ignored?

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Flannery had nothing on these scribes

sfchron It is a truth too seldom acknowledged that white Bay Area journalists are exquisitely attuned to the ways of white southern Evangelicals.

After auditing courses from schools such as Ouachita Baptist College and East Texas Baptist University, they understand Southern Baptist theology far, far better than their peers. After doing years of fieldwork in places like Dallas and Virginia Beach, they deliver subtle, nuanced pieces of reportage that in no way cater to the prejudices of their readers from Berkeley and Sausalito.

Consider a recent devastating piece by Chronicle political reporter Carla Marinucci. According to Marinucci, Janet Huckabee, the wife of Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, traveled to Las Vegas to root for middlweight boxing champ Jermain Taylor.

Most reporters would think nothing of — would, in fact, secretly applaud — a white Southern Evangelical woman cheering on a black Southern man. But Marinucci pointed out that Janet Huckabee’s trip had been hypocritical, deeply hypocritical:

Janet Huckabee … attended a middleweight prize fight this past weekend in Las Vegas — where she stayed at the Hooters Casino Hotel.

That eye-opening combination — a title bout in Sin City, which celebrates gambling, drinking and all things wild, along with a hospitality chain favoring buxom waitresses in low-cut garb — could potentially shock the armies of evangelical conservative Christians who have made her husband, the former governor of Arkansas, the only remaining GOP opponent to party front-runner John McCain.

Was the story not bullet proof?

It implied, rightly of course, that according to the the Southern Baptist Convention’s position on Missions, its adherents are forbidden from ever setting foot in Las Vegas. Not even to build a church or raise a family there.

It implied, again rightly, that Southern Baptist theology quite explicitly forbids its adherents from sleeping in the room of a Hooters Casino Hotel. All sexual sin, even desiring to engage in the same, is clearly unforgivable.

Its statement that evangelical conservative Christians would be shocked by Janet Huckabee’s overnight stay betrayed a profound knowledge of modern evangelical culture. Few appreciate that American evangelicals have in no way evolved since the early 19th century.

Later in the story, Marinucci details Janet Huckabee’s disgusting indulgence in the sin, whose circumstances recalled Jimmy Swaggart’s taking of a prostitute to a hotel room:

But she said she never planned on staying at Hooters for the hot-ticket fight, which also drew such celebrities as Jack Nicholson, Michael Jordan, Eddie Murphy and Sylvester Stallone.

“I had a room at the MGM Grand,” she said, but canceled it when she believed she wouldn’t be able to make the fight. Plans changed, and “a friend had two rooms … it was the only thing, quite frankly, that was available because the fights were in town.”

Like a latter-day Flannery O’Connor, Marinucci showed that Huckabee is a deeply confused sinner seeking redemption. The effect was, quite simply, amazing.

Some right-wing radicals have objected to this impartial, balanced brand of journalism. Take Gary Bauer, for example. In response to The New York Times‘ story on John McCain, Bauer objected to perfectly valid stories about right-wing Republicans:

“Often it seems pretty clear that the real audience is Christian conservatives,” he states. “That is, left-wing newspapers will go after conservative politicians in order to undermine them with Christian conservatives.”

How wrong this “nerdy little ideologue” is. Obviously, he knows nothing of the path breaking work done on the subject by white Bay Area journalists.

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Democrats and the “values” crowd

colorspewsYour GetReligionistas do not pay much attention to the denominational press, but I still read or scan most of the coverage that comes out of those newsrooms. Every now and then you see quotes and information that you simply don’t see anywhere else. And sometimes, information from column (a) connects with information from column (b).

Take, for example, the story that came from the Baptist left the other day in the wake of the “Potomac Primary” up here in greater D.C. Associated Baptist Press reporter Robert Marus focused part of his story — drawing cheers in GetReligionLand — on the role that religion is playing in the hotter than hot Democratic race for the White House between Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton. Thus, we learn:

(Obama) won among all Maryland faith groups other than Roman Catholics and Jews. But while Clinton had won Catholics by large margins in earlier contests, she only edged her rival 48-45 percent among the state’s significant Catholic population.

Obama, meanwhile, beat Clinton decisively (61-31 percent) among Democrats who attend religious services weekly or more often. Among those who said they worship more often than weekly, his advantage was even greater: 67 percent to Clinton’s 20 percent.

Clinton still edged Obama among the most faithful Catholics, but she led by less than 10 percentage points.

So that is an interesting mixed signal. Obama seemed to be winning the “pew gap” among Democrats, with the people who attend worship the most. Yet Hillary was still taking the “most faithful Catholics.” You have to ask: How is that term being defined? What issues get tied to that word “faithful”?

Meanwhile, over on the right side of the Baptist aisle, Tom Strode of Baptist Press offered a feature focusing on public-square specialist Richard Land’s views on one of the hot news stories of the current political cycle — attempts by Democrats to increase the faith content of their campaigns in order to reach out to people in pews.

You will not be surprised where Land goes with this topic — pronto.

Talk isn’t enough on the big issue, he says.

… Land said Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are much more comfortable talking about their faith than were Al Gore and John Kerry, the Democrats’ 2000 and 2004 nominees. For now, however, the divide remains on abortion — Democrats support abortion rights in their platform, while Republicans have a pro-life plank in theirs.

“[A]s long as there is a bright-line distinction between the two parties when it comes to the issue of when an unborn citizen’s life can be ended and under what circumstances it can be ended, there’s not going to be a lot of shifting in the so-called values voters,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“Values voters” include not only evangelical Christians but traditional mainline Protestants and traditional Roman Catholics as well, Land said.

This leads to the quote that caught my attention and, frankly, I am surprised that this hasn’t shown up in mainstream coverage (at least, I have not seen it). You see, the quote involves a senator from Arizona and Dr. James Dobson and the later’s pledge to sit out the election if John McCain is the GOP nominee.

“Look, I love Dr. Dobson,” Land said. “I have great respect for Dr. Dobson. But it’s been my observation that it’s very difficult to lead conservatives where conservatives don’t want to be led. It’s like trying to herd tomcats who haven’t been neutered. They’re going to decide for themselves.”

There “would have been a significant depression of conservative evangelical voting” if Rudy Giuliani, who supports abortion and homosexual rights, had been the GOP nominee, Land said. “But John McCain has been reliably pro-life his entire congressional career — though not a spotless record, certainly a very reliable record.

“And where he’s weakest among evangelicals is on his economic views,” Land said. “If you were going to prioritize among evangelicals, their social views are first; their foreign policy views are second; and their economic views are third. They vote against their pocketbook all the time and have demonstrated that they do so.”

And there you have it — the divide between cultural conservatives and Libertarian conservatives in a nice, crunchy soundbite.

Which brings us back to the Democrats. If there is a pew gap between Obama and the Clintons (and the few numbers we have suggest that there is), then what is the content of that gap? Is it linked to any particular issues? Just asking.

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