Gay priest purge? Next trial balloon

crystal colors balloonsLike I said, we are still in the trial balloons stage on the whole issue of the rumored Vatican statement that was supposed to “purge” the priesthood of gay men. This is why I believe that it is much more important, at this point, to talk about the sure thing, which is “Instrumentum Laboris” [PDF] and the wave of examiners who will be visiting Catholic seminaries across the United States in the near future looking for doctrinal train wrecks.

This is why, in my Scripps Howard column this week, I focused on the fact that a renewed emphasis on mandatory celibacy runs throughout the questions in the 12-page Vatican document that will guide these confidential seminary investigations.

While the document — as posted on the World Wide Web — contains one or two clear references to homosexuality, there are a dozen or more direct or indirect references to mandatory celibacy and its role in the training, or “formation,” of priests.

To cite only one sequence, investigators will ask: “How does the formation integrate harmoniously the spiritual dimension with the human one, above all in the area of celibate chastity? How are the seminarians formed to celibate chastity in the areas of friendships, human relationships, human freedom and the formation of the moral conscience? In the judgment of the Visitors, does the seminary provide adequate formation that will enable the seminarians to live celibate chastity? (This question must be answered.)”

Why talk so much about celibacy? That’s simple. If you cannot (a) afford, for statistical reasons, to seriously cut the number of gay priests serving at altars and you (b) also know that it is next to impossible to strictly define what it means for someone to be gay, once actively gay, possibly gay, militantly gay or even formerly tempted to be gay, then you (c) focus harder on getting all of your priests (you too, straight guys in overwhelmingly female parishes) to do a better job of keeping their vows.

And, besides, as the always candid progressive Father Donald Cozzens wrote in the New York Daily News:

Finally, there is a dimension of hypocrisy. If and when the Vatican instruction is released and enforced, in many cases the seminary official, religious superior or diocesan bishop who informs a gay candidate for seminary admission that he is not acceptable will be gay himself.

Thus, I am not surprised to see that the omnipresent Rome insider John L. Allen Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter is now saying that the still forthcoming document on homosexuals in seminaries “will not demand an absolute ban” and will simply ask seminary leaders to make decisions on a case by case basis and be extra careful.

Allen reports that gays would be kept out of seminaries:

* If candidates have not demonstrated a capacity to live celibate lives for at least three years;

* If they are part of a “gay culture,” for example, attending gay pride rallies (a point, the official said, which applies both to professors at seminaries as well as students);

* If their homosexual orientation is sufficiently “strong, permanent and univocal” as to make an all-male environment a risk.

There’s more to the Allen report, of course, and now the Associated Press has a report out on the same topic (and with very similar sourcing). So there is another ripple of news on this hot story, but I would urge readers to, once again, treat all of this as yet another trial balloon. And what is the larger story? Perhaps this is more wood under the fire that could lead to conservative Catholics — not liberals, conservatives — starting to talk about Anglican Rites and larger Eastern Rites and other forms of Catholicism that would allow men to marry and then be ordained.

P.S. Check out this Religion News Service report by Godbeat veteran David Briggs on how the theological left views the current tensions about Catholic seminaries, gay priests, etc. Are the sources quoted arguing, essentially, that Catholicism in the American context is now another liberal oldine body?

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Olbermann goes on floozy patrol

all about eveAs Terry pointed out this morning, E.J. Dionne has written that “It is pro-administration conservatives, not those terrible liberals, who are making an issue of Miers’s evangelical faith.”

Apparently Keith Olbermann of MSNBC hasn’t received the memo from the Office of Benevolent Liberalism. On Thursday night’s Countdown, while introducing a segment with the deadpan master Mo Rocca, Olbermann depicted Miers as a femme fatale who “[converted] to evangelism” for political reasons:

When he nominated her to the vacant position on the Supreme Court of these, the United States of America, President George W. Bush told the American people — quote — “I know her heart.”

What may have seemed more than a little creepy then now makes perfect sense. Our number one story on the Countdown tonight, Harriet Miers is a man killer. Yes, behind that seemingly bland exterior beats a rather potent heart, apparently, one capable of besting the competition, not only professionally, but also personally, Ms. Miers ultimately getting the nod here for the top spot here, despite [previous] speculation that it might go to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Priscilla Owen.

Poor Judge Owen. It’s not the first time she’s been one-upped by Harriet. It seems she once dated Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht. Along comes Harriet Miers. Before you know it, reports the blog Wonkette, Miers and Hecht were dating. She’s converting to evangelism. And a quarter of a century later, he’s making the rounds defending her nomination, Judge Hecht telling the . . . “Legal Times” that Miers is — quote — “very kind. She always remembers everyone’s birthday. She’ll be finding a present for somebody in the middle of the night.”

Before his next commentary on Miers’ faith and love life, perhaps Olbermann should consult The Associated Press Stylebook to grasp the difference between evangelical and evangelism. Then he can sound like he may know his subject matter while implying that Miers is an eyebrow-batting opportunist.

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Did Dobson take the red pill?

images 1OK, now I can relax a bit. The omnipresent Ted Olsen & Co. at the Christianity Today weblog have put up the official list of all — surely this is all of them — URLs linked to the HHGR case.

Of particular interest (I plan to post on this later in the day) is the collection of links covering the current state of the heart and mind of Karl Rove’s main man — James Dobson. Scroll down and note the link to the actual radio broadcast in which Dobson takes the red pill.

Enjoy, folks. After all, people on both sides of the sanctuary aisle are still buzzing about the following Dobson quotes in The New York Times regarding the Harriet Miers nomination.

Explaining his reasons for supporting her and praying for guidance, Dr. Dobson cited her religious faith and said he knew her conservative evangelical church. “I know the person who brought her to the Lord,” he said. “I have talked at length to people that know her and have known her for a long time.”

Dr. Dobson acknowledged conversations with Karl Rove, the president’s top political adviser, about the selection but declined to disclose their contents. “You will have to trust me on this one,” he said, adding that if he was wrong, “the blood of those babies” — aborted fetuses — “will be on my hands to some degree.”

Now, I am an Eastern Orthodox Christian and a pro-life Democrat. Please remember that.images 01 But I think it’s time to ask Dobson a variation on the question I asked him a decade ago in a Religion Newswriters Association press conference out in Wheaton of the West. I asked if Bill Clinton had become his own personal Vietnam, pulling him out of the ministry to which he was called (while the Baby Boomers had their childen in their homes) and into partisan politics in much the same manner as the war did for the mainline Protestant left in the 1960s (when members of the GI Generation were still heavily involved in building families). Dobson said he would sacrifice his ministry if it would help him defeat Clinton on the issue of abortion.

The assumption? That Dobson could do more through politics to advance the pro-life cause than he could through working with mothers, fathers and their children. My conviction (and, yes, you can see this in my newspaper columns) is that we live in an age in which culture matters more than politics. I believe that what happens in homes and, yes, movie theaters and malls does as much or more to shape the reality of daily American life than what happens in voting booths. Does Dobson think he can vote in the Kingdom?

Just asking. I think that, on the religious left, E.J. Dionne is asking some very similar questions. Check him out. But here are the money quotes:

The use of Miers’s religion as a magnet for conservative support is not just the work of a few religious voices. It’s part of the administration’s strategy. . . . Let’s be clear: It is pro-administration conservatives, not those terrible liberals, who are making an issue of Miers’s evangelical faith. Liberals are not opposing Miers because she is an evangelical. Conservatives are telling their friends to support Miers because she is an evangelical.

And many conservatives are now opposing her, not because she is an evangelical, but because they simply do not believe she is a worthy candidate for such an important position in American life and culture.

It’s a fascinating moment in GetReligion land. Friends and neighbors, this is why we are here. We are watching the MSM wrestle with a some big questions that are worth wrestling with. Let us know what you think and let the newsrooms — local and national — know what you think, too.

P.S. Check this out. An army of Los Angeles Times reporters. About 3,300 words of text. An explosion of travel money (maybe) and bureau time (for certain). Number of new insights or critical pieces of information? Zero?

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Celibacy talks on the Roman table

capt pl10210061028 vatican bishop meeting pl102Here is a level-headed news tip from Andrew Sullivan and, surprise, surprise, it’s about the Roman Catholic Church.

Based on conversartions I’ve had in the past month or so with some Catholic leaders and writers (no names, please), I think he is on to something. I can hint at what I am thinking by saying that I am still trying to follow up on this column. Anyway, here is the Sullivan item:

Thursday, October 06, 2005

IN ROME: There’s a new news black-out on the latest synod in Rome. Some may well interpret this as yet another sign of Benedict’s authoritarian nature. They may be right. But the scope of the subjects discussed — “a purported shortage of priests, proposals to let priests marry, and whether communion should be offered to certain divorced Catholics and denied to politicians who support abortion rights” — strikes me as something that John Paul II would never have even allowed to be on the table. Some sources tell me that Benedict has not shut the door completely to a married priesthood. Personally, I think it is critical to the survival of the Western church at least. It already exists if the priest is a convert from Anglicanism, and if I were a newpaper editor, I would assign a reporter to write a feature on today’s married Catholic priests. Most people don’t even realize they exist. Who knows what might happen? But if the option for clerical marriage emerges under Benedict, you read it here first. I for one would not be surprised.

Sullivan is spinning off of a punchy, newsy Washington Post report from Rome by Daniel Williams. All kinds of issues are being discussed and the issue of Communion rights for pro-abortion-rights politicians is not even the hottest item on the menu.

By the way, I would add that, in the first paragraph quoted below, Williams should have mentioned that the Eastern Rite churches have married priests, as do all the churches of Eastern Orthodoxy. This is the more ancient tradition for the priesthood — married priests, celibate monks as bishops.

Like Sullivan said, something is going on when a reporter can write the following:

A representative from an Eastern Rite church, one of the bodies in the traditionally Orthodox Christian region of the world that recognize Vatican authority, suggested that Catholic rules requiring celibacy among priests had no theological grounds.

Bishop Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines said the synod had to squarely confront a priest shortage so as to provide congregations with proper services.

The National Council of Priests of Australia, which claims to represent half the country’s clergy, offered a letter to the synod saying the priesthood could attract more recruits if the church allowed priests to marry and opened a debate on letting women be ordained.

Venice Archbishop Angelo Scola, who functions as a kind of master of ceremonies at the synod, noted that some delegates had “put forward the request to ordain married faithful of proven faith and virtue,” a special category made up of older, married and religiously grounded Catholic men known as viri probati.

As you would expect, the usual suspects (the photo is from Amy Welborn’s site) have all kinds of news and commentary about the synod. Kudos to the Post for running a major report on the debates there, in the midst of a big news day back in the U.S.

Speaking of which: What is The New York Times doing using an Associated Press report for its coverage of this story? Did I miss a staff byline somewhere in the past 24 hours or so?

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Flack in black? Church Lady?

church ladyPeggy Noonan, who knows a thing or two about Oval Office strategy talks, weighs in on the issue of How Harriet Got Religion and just nails it.

Again and again, I will raise the question: Did someone play the Jesus card on purpose in an emotional attempt to rally the base and create flaming headlines that bury the crony angle? Who knows?

However, one thing is certain. We will know that the HHGR angle has legs, of course, when it hits Comedy Central and the Letterman Top 10 list. Come to think of it, maybe I need to check on that.

So here is Noonan (with a nod to the entertainment culture):

Barring a withdrawal of her nomination, it’s going to come down to Harriet Meirs’s ability to argue her own case before the Senate Judiciary Committee. If the American people decide she seems like a good person — sympathetic, wise, even-keeled, knowledgeable — she’ll be in; and if not, not. . . .

So the administration can turn this around. Or rather Ms. Meirs can. In her favor: America has never met her, she’ll get to make a first impression. Working against her: But they’ll already be skeptical. By the time of the hearings she’ll have been painted as Church Lady. There’s a great old American tradition of not really liking Church Lady.

P.S. Yes, I saw the Dallas Morning News take on the HHGR story, but after I had written the overflight story on the major papers. It has the usual material from the omnipresent Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht. Reporter Sam Hodges also notes that Miers may have grown up Catholic or it might have been Protestant. Who knows?

But he also jumps down I-35 to Baylor University for some “are they evangelicals or not” information from the place where I got my master of arts degree in church-state studies. The people down there take words like this seriously, which is good, in an era when mainstream journalists start talking about, well, Catholics who “vote evangelical.”

By the way, Texas readers will certainly note the presence of the explosive word “infallible” in this story — which is the one-word land mine that blew up the Southern Baptist Convention 25 years ago. There are a few Southern Baptist newspaper readers in Texas and lots of them vote. For which party? Both, actually.

Here is Hodges.

These churches describe themselves as evangelical.

“That’ll tell you a lot theologically,” said Barry Hankins, an associate professor of history and church-state studies at Baylor University. “It’ll tell you they affirm the authority of Scripture and they affirm a conversion experience followed by baptism.”

Indeed, the “What We Believe” section of Valley View’s Web site (www.vvcc.org) speaks of the Bible as “the only infallible, inspired, authoritative Word of God.” Dr. Hankins said Christian churches such as Valley View have tended to be less politically active than many evangelical churches. Justice Hecht agreed that that had been the case at Valley View.

“They are concerned, but the thought in the past has always been that the emphasis of the church should be on its primary mission” — conversion and ministering to believers. That said, they have had pro-life literature in the church building and pro-life speakers over the years,” he said.

What does this tell us about Miers? Who knows?

But if Saturday Night Live calls in Dana Carvey to morph Ms. Miers into the Church Lady, then — amazingly enough — her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court is probably toast. It’s America.

Am I joking? Who knows?

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Welcome to How Harriet Got Religion Day

VV Exterior2Oh what a glorious day for the politicos. Can’t you hear the clickity-click of fundraising consultants over at NOW and People for the American Way (SaveTheCourt.org), not to mention Concerned Women for America and Focus on the Family? You can hear the cheers on both sides of the Church-State Sanctuary aisle, can’t you?

Let a thousand conspiracy theories bloom. This has got to be the least boring, most GetReligion-friendly story to come down the pike since, well, Mel Gibson was on a roll. This story is everywhere today, and I don’t see it going away anytime soon.

If you read the waves of MSM coverage today about Harriet “Born-Again Pro-Lifer” Miers, you can’t help but hear the journalistic wheels turning. Let’s spin out a few theories.

* President Bush thought he could quietly sneak through a theocrat. But he wasn’t counting on honest Christian friends talking about her back in Dallas.

* Sen. Harry Reid suckered the White House into naming a less-qualified nominee and, now, he gets to shoot her down (that’s a bonus).

* Bush named an under-qualified crony and and that put the conservative intellectual elites in an uproar. But now he gets to play the God card and whip up the right-wing-base bonfires — just like Karl Rove wanted — that would have been ignited if he had nominated a true-blue conservative legal star in the first place! Maybe she slips in now anyway and you get both (that’s a bonus).

* She really is a mild-mannered sort-of Justice Souter, only one that goes mainline evangelical instead of old-line Protestant. Gotcha!

You can go on and on. I imagine that, any minute now, Ted Olsen and the gang at Christianity Today‘s weblog will put out Part I of what will be a 1,000-URL tsunami of news and opinion on the whole matter. So I will not even attempt to go there. (Hey, I had to write a Scripps Howard column today about the whole Catholic seminary visitation story. Cut me some slack.) But we can take a look at a few of the How Harriet Got Religion at Valley View Christian Church (pictured) stories that spread like wildfire this morning across the big front pages from coast to coast.

Where does one begin in the New York Times piece? Once again, the key source is Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan L. Hecht, the sometimes Miers suitor (sorry, bad pun) who is the connection between the nominee’s legal and spiritual lives. Without Hecht, the MSM is lost on this story.

This Times story by Edward Wyatt and Simon Romero is simply jammed with stuff that will make Maureen Dowd giggle. The story is low-key and not soaked in elite condescension, but the writers do not seem to have an instinct for how faith may have touched other parts of her life — other than abortion. But here is the money quote, for me. This has that Rove talking-points touch that Times readers will love to hate.

Some evangelical Protestants were heralding the possibility that one of their own would have a seat on the court after decades of complaining that their brand of Christianity met condescension and exclusion from the American establishment.

In an interview Tuesday on the televangelist Pat Robertson’s “700 Club,” Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the Christian conservative American Center for Law and Justice, said Ms. Miers would be the first evangelical Protestant on the court since the 1930′s. “So this is a big opportunity for those of us who have a conviction, that share an evangelical faith in Christianity, to see someone with our positions put on the court,” Mr. Sekulow said.

It is interesting to contrast the pieces in The Washington Post and The Washington Times.

Clearly, Michael Grunwald, Jo Becker and John Pomfret at the Post went straight for the political jugular. Once again, the smoking-gun source is Hecht and the symbolic-detail lead flows out of his vivid memories of a long-ago talk by Paul Brand, the author of the bestseller Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, which focuses on God and the human body.

When the lecture was over, Miers said words Hecht had never heard from her before. “I’m convinced that life begins at conception,” Hecht recalled her saying. According to Hecht, now a Texas Supreme Court justice, Miers has believed ever since that abortion is “taking a life.” . . .

Hecht and other confidants of Miers all pledge that if the Senate confirms her nomination to the Supreme Court, her judicial values will be guided by the law and the Constitution. But they say her personal values have been shaped by her abiding faith in Jesus, and by her membership in the massive red-brick Valley View Christian Church, where she was baptized as an adult, served on the missions committee and taught religious classes. At Valley View, pastors preach that abortion is murder, that the Bible is the literal word of God and that homosexuality is a sin — although they also preach that God loves everybody.

Supreme Court 01As you would expect with a professional religion reporter, Julia Duin at The Washington Times has the religious facts down straight. Reading between the lines of class and church, it is also interesting to note that Miers was raised Catholic, converted into a very congregational, nondenominational brand of Protestantism (the so-called independent Christian churches) and yet her family is now attending an Episcopal parish. Anyone who speaks Episcopal lingo will find interesting zig-zag content in these facts dug up by Duin.

Miss Miers also attends several Episcopal congregations, including her family’s parish, the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Dallas. When in Washington, she usually attends the 9 a.m. service across the street from the White House at St. John’s Episcopal Church, which Mr. Bush frequently attends. Justice Hecht said he also occasionally accompanies her to services at Christ Episcopal Church in Alexandria.

An Arlington resident, Miss Miers has contributed to the Falls Episcopal Church in nearby Falls Church. She went there at least once in 2001, administrator Bill Deiss said. The Falls Church, a passionately evangelical congregation, is very similar to Valley View.

The Los Angeles Times really sticks to politics and gets its killer quote from a source on the cultural left (one previously tapped by The Dallas Morning News).

Lorlee Bartos, who was Miers’ campaign manager in her race for the Dallas City Council in 1989, recalled that she was surprised to learn her candidate was opposed to abortion rights. “I wanted her to meet with a group of pro-choice women, and she said she wasn’t pro-choice,” Bartos said. “She said she had been pro-choice but had changed her view.”

If you want the dry, bloodless, God-talk-thin version of the story of the day — L.A. is for you.

Or you can try the Baltimore Sun, where the duo of Robert Little and Jonathan D. Rockoff note that Miers and Hecht have recently left Valley View to go to a more sedate, highly traditional, even less rock & roll congregation that has split off (a split within the church leadership is in there too) on its own. In addition to this Worship Wars angle, this story also includes a strong quote from a previously untapped source on the Texas Supreme Court, who says of Miers:

“She is a born-again Christian woman who brings that worldview, and I think it’s impossible to ask her — or a Jew, or a Muslim, or a nonbeliever or an atheist — to leave all of her spiritual views aside. It’s foolhardy to expect that,” said Raul A. Gonzalez, a longtime acquaintance and retired Texas Supreme Court justice. “The question is whether that is a disqualifier for being on the U.S. Supreme Court, and it certainly is not.”

This is a totally shocking quote, isn’t it? I mean, it’s so sane and logical. The folks writing the fundraising letters will need to avoid this quotation.

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Probing the faith of Ms. Miers

worship with hands raisedReligion test? What religion test?

Right now, it seems that everyone in America — blue zones as well as red — is doing everything possible to probe the religious views of one Harriet Miers.

President George W. Bush is, of course, sending every faith-based signal that he can about his pal without actually speaking any of the radical words that will turn country-club Republicans into pillars of salt. And, yes, it’s crucial that the Powers That Be at The New York Times recognize that the heart of this revolt is among “social conservatives.” This is code language, of course, for people in pews. Meanwhile, conservative journalist Fred Barnes is offering a “calm down, church people” analysis over at The Weekly Standard, after the celebrated Bill Kristol outcry yesterday.

So has anyone out there been able to locate a video of Miers speaking in tongues or something really damning? An audiotape for NPR? Not so far.

This story resides in the home turf of The Dallas Morning News so that newspaper is working hard on the God angle, which, of course, is almost the same thing as the abortion angle (especially in places like Texas). The result is a story by Dave Levinthal and a pack of researchers that is built on the testimony of Lorlee Bartos, a former campaign operative for Miers in the 1989 race for the Dallas City Council. Let’s cut to the chase:

“She is on the extreme end of the anti-choice movement,” said Lorlee Bartos, who managed Ms. Miers’ first and only political campaign and said they discussed abortion once during the race. . . . Ms. Bartos said Ms. Miers was supportive of abortion rights in her youth. She said Ms. Miers then underwent “a born-again, profound experience” that caused her to oppose abortion. Beyond their exchange in 1989, Ms. Bartos said she has no other insight into Ms. Miers’ views on abortion.

At this point, things get a bit confusing and hard to trace. The News has a bit of a story buried in here and does not seem to know what to do with it. Come to think of it, it would help to have some facts to prove this story. While everyone is searching for pro-life or evangelism links on the home page of the Valley View Christian Church, the News says that Miers and a minister friend are involved in a new church-planting project. Really?

Ron Key, who has been Ms. Miers’ pastor since the early 1980s, said his church is anti-abortion. Mr. Key, who recently left Valley View Christian Church to found a new church with Ms. Miers and others, stopped short, however, of saying that those beliefs would color her approach to the law. “The Constitution would be her major influence, I’m sure,” he said.

His church? Which church is Key’s church? It may seem like much ado about nothing to outsiders, but my experience — as a reporter and as a churchman — is that there are often interesting reasons for the birth of new churches, especially when a pastor has been at one major church for a long time and then leaves to start a new church in the same area. Does the News have any information on this? Also, starting a church is hard work. What does it mean that Ms. Miers is somehow involved in starting this new congregation? Let’s hope there is a follow-up story here.

Meanwhile, my friend Jim Dahlman at Milligan College has tipped his hat toward a feature or two about Miers and the ties that bind her to the world of Independent Christian Churches. The New York Times of that non-denominational body (don’t ask, it’s too complicated) is called The Christian Standard and it has a quick and simple story up about Miers and Valley View and the text of another “Inside the Real West Wing” story from 2004.

It is interesting to note that, in the online update, the pastor identified with Miers is the current leader at Valley View Christian Church, and there is no word of Ron Key and the new congregation in the works. Interesting.

“Harriet is just an outstanding Christian woman,” said Barry McCarty, preaching minister with Valley View Christian Church. “She is very well respected in the city of Dallas and well loved by the people in our church.”

Meanwhile, that feature from 2004 offers this kind of soft-edged religious language, which is par for the course in church publications. These passages will probably sound rather different when read during a U.S. Senate hearing by a NARAL Pro-Choice leader who wants to terrify the loyal people who write checks for her organization. We can also expect to hear this soon, in a different tone of voice, on religious talk radio.

You may select the tone of your choosing when reading the next few paragraphs:

Miers is a woman of faith with strong Christian beliefs. To her, it has been “wonderful to be working for a president who is a believer and who acts on his faith.” The president talks about his faith often, and it is important to him. It also is important to Miers. She brings her faith to bear on everything she does. It’s not only a part of how she views issues, it also affects her willingness to serve and her desire to do well. She readily acknowledges that she can’t do anything without the grace of God. . . .

Service, responsibility, duty, sacrifice, and faith are words integral to understanding Harriet Miers and her colleagues. She describes the Bush team as “an administration where faith is important. Prayers count. We all value prayers.” She says that everyone can make a difference — “by your vote, by writing, by doing something that is demonstrable, whether it’s in school,” or out in the community. Empowerment is real, and individual people are able to change the course of history.”

That last sentence is especially true of judges who sit on the U.S. Supreme Court for a decade or two.

So does anyone out there have a URL for a photo of Miers praying with her hands in the air? Just asking.

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We are all culture-of-lifers now

BushAndMiersMelinda Henneberger’s latest online column for Newsweek is noteworthy for two primary reasons: her matter-of-fact identification with other pro-lifers, which is refreshing, and her absolutely clear belief that George W. Bush has played pro-lifers for fools.

Henneberger argues that Harriet Miers is “a staunch Bush loyalist, but not an ideologue” and that her convictions about abortion are obscure. Henneberger does not address Miers’ challenge of the American Bar Association’s pro-choice policy, or the concerned sounds already coming from pro-Roe advocacy groups.

The column is a persuasive argument that Roe v. Wade is unlikely to be reversed in the near future, but how many pro-life voters would believe that their preferred long-term future depends largely on a metanoia moment for Supreme Court justices?

Here are Henneberger’s more persuasive moments as she tries to prove Bush’s priorities:

Among pro-lifers, I have long held the minority view that Bush never had the slightest intention of packing the Supreme Court with justices who would seek to overturn the 1973 decision legalizing abortion. Karl Rove would throw himself in front of a train before he let that happen.

So where did I get my inside intel on this?

There have been several not-so-subtle signals from Bush himself. When asked, during his first campaign, whether he thought the decision should be overturned, he said the country was not ready.

At a news conference in Iowa in 2000, he was asked whether he would counsel a friend or relative who had been raped to have an abortion. He answered, “It would be up to her.”

And here are her weaker paragraphs:

All the president’s talk about a “culture of life” might even have been sincere up to a point, of course; doesn’t everybody think they’re for a culture of life?

And it certainly did the trick for him. Many people I know — most of them pro-life Catholics who oppose the war and much of the rest of Bush’s domestic agenda — felt obligated to vote for the president on this one issue.

So will social conservatives now admit they’ve been had? Probably not.

As that passage demonstrates, many journalists seem incapable of referring to a culture of life without using scare quotes on first reference — so, no, not every person believes in a culture of life. To some people, including another Newsweek columnist, it is an empty suit of a phrase that hides scary legislative plans (anything that would hinder the right to unrestricted abortion or a host of issues involving euthanasia).

It’s entirely too early for anyone to predict how Miers would rule as a justice, should the Senate consent to her nomination. As a social conservative, I agree with Henneberger that my fellow travelers are unlikely to “now admit they’ve been had” — because I am not yet convinced we’ve been had.

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