Offensive religious advertising

PlayStationAdReligious depictions in advertisements are nothing new. Nor are offensive advertisements. Put the two together and you have an issue for us to talk about.

Reuters has the story that must have been all over the Italian papers of a Sony ad for the PlayStation gaming system depicting a smiling young man wearing a crown of thorns twisted into the PlayStation’s geometric logo.

The international news service’s story on C-Net’s News.com lamely quotes an editor of a Catholic weekly in an attempt to sum up the controversy:

“This time they’ve gone too far,” said Antonio Sciortino, editor of Famiglia Cristiana (Christian Family), a mass-circulation Catholic weekly.

“If this had concerned Islam there would have been a really strong reaction,” Sciortino was quoted as saying in the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Say what? You want to explain that quote for us, Reuters? That quote, I believe, is an attempt to portray the controversy, but the article fails to explain exactly why the advertisements were offensive. Reuters does offer this background:

In the Bible, Jesus was forced to wear a crown of thorns by mocking Roman guards before he was crucified. In the advertisement, a young man smiles cheekily, wearing a crown whose thorns are twisted into the geometric shapes that are PlayStation’s logo.

Apparently this is not the first time someone has upset European Catholics in advertisements. An IKEA ad attempted to play off the decline of church attendance among Catholic Italians by stating that the furniture chain was open on Sundays and two ads portrayed a modified da Vinci’s Last Supper, one with a female Jesus and “glamorous disciples” and the other showing the followers of Jesus as gamblers and Judas holding his 30 pieces of silver.

I am not one to be offended easily, but I found the ads lacking in good taste. That said, I believe people should find better things to get upset over. Are the faithful in Europe making a mountain out of a molehill? Or are these adverts, as they say across the pond, something Christians — and those of other faiths — should really be concerned about? You can bet your money, as Sciortino said above, that certain radical Muslim groups would have had a few things to say about it.

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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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Through the eyes of believers

st. patrick's church The New York Times tells a story of life after Katrina in New Orleans through the eyes of the faithful, who are attempting to rebuild their lives. Leaving behind the Gray Lady’s usual snarky attitude, Jennifer Medina explores the religious lives of believers who are struggling to regain what used to be everyday routines:

Despite the sparse attendance, Mass at St. Patrick’s was among the signs that life was returning to near normality in some areas of New Orleans. Thousands of residents who had fled Hurricane Katrina began returning to the area this weekend, most of them to homes relatively unscathed.

At St. Louis Cathedral in the heart of the French Quarter, Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes offered Mass for the first time since the storm hit more than a month ago. The overflowing crowd included hundreds of local worshipers as well as police officers, members of the National Guard and dozens of other rescue workers.

“Some of us still suffer from shock, from fear, from devastation, from depression, from anger,” Archbishop Hughes said. “But that is not the last word,” he added. “We in New Orleans are a people of faith.”

The article paints an accurate picture so true to the scene that it includes the not so unexpected frustration the parishioners experienced due to the media attention the service received:

News cameras crowded around the church, annoying some of the residents who had come seeking solace. A sign that prohibited taking photographs during Mass was ignored for the day.

“I just want to hear the Word and go home,” said Larry Bastian, 38, who moved to a new apartment after his home in New Orleans East was destroyed. “I have a job here, but no family, no friends. They are all gone. So here I am, tired and lonely.”

Amid all the gloom and doom, I found this forward-looking story a change of pace from what we’ve been seeing since the Gulf Coast was devastated.

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It’s Kristol clear: the Right is mad

Shark JumpI think it is safe to say, at this point, that the nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court has created an explosion, but not where people expected. To one degree or another, cultural conservatives are either furious or they are offering some of the most interesting intellectual tap-dancing that you have ever seen. One way to tune this in is over at World magazine’s blog, where Marvin Olasky is letting people sound off.

But you can also judge the reaction by attempting — go ahead, I dare you — to get The Weekly Standard home page to load on your computer screen. Bill Kristol has written a piece so angry and blunt that the Standard‘s servers have been straining to keep up with the demand all day. Here is the link again.

Meanwhile, since it is quite short, I think I will do what Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher did at the Dallas Morning News blog and simply post the text of Kristol’s entire commentary:

I’M DISAPPOINTED, depressed and demoralized.

I’m disappointed because I expected President Bush to nominate someone with a visible and distinguished constitutionalist track record — someone like Maura Corrigan, Alice Batchelder, Edith Jones, Priscilla Owen, or Janice Rogers Brown — to say nothing of Michael Luttig, Michael McConnell, or Samuel Alito. Harriet Miers has an impressive record as a corporate attorney and Bush administration official. She has no constitutionalist credentials that I know of.

I’m depressed. Roberts for O’Connor was an unambiguous improvement. Roberts for Rehnquist was an appropriate replacement. But moving Roberts over to the Rehnquist seat meant everything rode on this nomination — and that the president had to be ready to fight on constitutional grounds for a strong nominee. Apparently, he wasn’t. It is very hard to avoid the conclusion that President Bush flinched from a fight on constitutional philosophy. Miers is undoubtedly a decent and competent person. But her selection will unavoidably be judged as reflecting a combination of cronyism and capitulation on the part of the president.

I’m demoralized. What does this say about the next three years of the Bush administration — leaving aside for a moment the future of the Court? Surely this is a pick from weakness. Is the administration more broadly so weak? What are the prospects for a strong Bush second term? What are the prospects for holding solid GOP majorities in Congress in 2006 if conservatives are demoralized? And what elected officials will step forward to begin to lay the groundwork for conservative leadership after Bush?

There is that big “C” word again and it is not “conservative.” It’s cronyism. People on the right are asking if this is the final sign that President George W. Bush has jumped the shark. Here is a key question: What do the cultural conservatives think that Bush should do, not what he has made this announcement? Hold lots of secret private meetings to describe this stealth candidate? Roll her born-again credentials out in a public display? What happens now?

Over on the other side of the aisle, you can read the official Bush v. Choice blog at NARAL, which should keep the links coming on the left. It is interesting that Sen. Harry Reid is sounding content, if not quietly happy. Ah, but does he know about the nominee’s church? I wish I could tell you more about Valley View Christian Church, but its servers are now getting pounded so hard that the home page will not load on either of my work computers.

But when I can get back in there, I will let you know what I have found. I also hope that my partners weigh in here on what they are seeing in the foreign press and in the websites for the magazines. It is going to be a wild 24 hours.

P.S. On the earlier Exodus item — Ex-Gay Watch says Miers worked for the mainline post-prison ministry, not the ministry for those struggling to change their sexual behavior. Andrew Sullivan is breathing easier, sort of, as he reads the rage over at RedState.org and elsewhere. (Oh, hi Andrew!)

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Attention Andrew Sullivan

exodusWell now, this might create some sparks.

In introducing Harriet Miers, President Bush noted:

Harriet has also earned a reputation for her deep compassion and abiding sense of duty. In Texas, she made it her mission to support better legal representation for the poor and under-served. As president of the Dallas Bar, she called on her fellow lawyers to volunteer and staff free neighborhood clinics. She led by example. She put in long hours of pro bono work. Harriet Miers has given generously of her time and talent by serving as a leader with more than a dozen community groups and charities, including the Young Women’s Christian Association, Child Care Dallas, Goodwill Industries, Exodus Ministries, Meals on Wheels and the Legal Aid Society.

The question that many people — on the lifestyle left and right — will want answered is this one: Is it this Exodus or this Exodus Ministries in Dallas?

I predict it is the latter. The former option — a ministry to those seeking a way out of homosexual behavior — would not go over very well with GOP folks out at the country club.

BTW, for a Dallas Morning News profile, click here. You will notice that readers learn absolutely nothing that would interest anyone at Focus on the Family or NARAL Pro-Choice America. Frankly, there isn’t much there that would interest anyone who lives in Dallas.

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Hear those cheers? Me neither

bomb dudAWell, everyone in town is reading tea leaves and watching for sparks. Over on the Religious Right, that sound you hear is everyone grinding their teeth and trying, trying not to say out loud: Harriet Miers is single? Isn’t Justice David Souter single? She is highly dedicated to her mother? Wasn’t Souter said to be highly dedicated to his mother? Still, some mainstream evangelicals are holding the fort — like Chuck Colson. Ditto for Jay Sekulow and Co.

So many conservatives are not happy. You can follow many of the reactions today on the right over at National Review Online’s Bench Memos blog. David Frum is ticked. We are beginning to hear more and more conservatives using a very nasty word — crony. This is now coming from the right as often as from the left.

Some say she is very soft and will float with the Beltway tide to the left. Some say she is pro-life and others have doubts. So Miers is a very conservative Catholic? Says who? She donated money to U.S. Sen. Al Gore? Huh?

Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan says:

Think of her as a very capable indentured servant of the Bush family. She’ll do what they want. She’ll be a very, very tough nut to crack in the hearings. And I have no idea about her judicial philosophy. But I imagine that’s the point. When I described her as a flunky last July, a source close to Bush told me: “Don’t mess with Harriet.” I think they’ve found someone whose personal loyalty to Bush exceeds even Gonzales’. And in some ways, I see this very personal, very crony appointment to be a response to being told he couldn’t pick his main man, Alberto. Harriet is his main woman. I reserve judgment on her fitness to serve on the court.

Sen. Bill Frist has a stunningly strange lead on his comments (see this and many other reactions at The Washington Post‘s court blog), suggesting as some have said that Miers is what some say she is — a person the Democrats had pledged not to slime. Or perhaps it is that she is not on the list of women or minorities the Democrats had promised to slime or something like that. Can’t you feel the enthusiasm in this Frist sentence?

This morning, after a bipartisan and inclusive consultation process, President Bush nominated Harriet Miers as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Much more to come, I am sure. Meanwhile, watch this space.

UPDATED: Once again, the blogs are the place to be today. Over at the influential conservative magazine World, editor Marvin “compassionate conservative” Olasky is running a series of short pieces on Miers that includes some interesting original reporting hours out in front of the MSM pack.

Three cheers for this new information. His readers are very divided. You should give it a look. It also seems that she was raised Roman Catholic (can’t find a clear affirmation on that), and Olasky says she now is part of the Valley View Christian Church. If you study the site, this appears to be an independent Christian congregation from the center or right of the Independent Christian Churches. I know that crowd pretty well, since I taught for six years at Milligan College. This crowd can be anything from left of center Protestant to mainstream evangelical. It is very non-creedal and it strictly avoids stands on social issues, unless the all-powerful local congregation chooses to do otherwise.

A key source for Olasky’s info is Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht, who has served as an elder in this church. It seems that he, like Miers, never married and they have dated in the past. Yes, friends, expect questions at the hearings about all of this — somehow.

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Can the MSM handle abortion compromise?

Mushroom10 1As we prepare to get into our bunkers before the next nomination for the U.S. Supreme Court, I urge you to jump back into last week’s waves of coverage and read a fine Los Angeles Times piece by David G. Savage about the roots of all this controversy, which is, of course, about abortion, abortion and abortion.

The Savage piece was titled “Roe Ruling: More Than Its Author Intended.” The big idea of this story is that, as a new justice on the court, Harry A. Blackmun’s goal was to produce a ruling that would allow compromise on the subject of abortion.

Note — his goal was to allow compromise, through what he claimed would be a reform of laws affecting this issue. But this was not what he would produce. Thus, Roe v. Wade would turn into a story with a completely different ending. Here is Savage:

It is the story of a rookie justice, unsure of himself and his abilities, who set out to write a narrow ruling that would reform abortion laws, not repeal them. It is also the story of a sometimes rudderless court led by Chief Justice Warren Burger. On the day the ruling was announced, Burger said, “Plainly, the court today rejects any claim that the Constitution requires abortion on demand.”

Blackmun proposed to issue a news release to accompany the decision, issued Jan. 22, 1973. “I fear what the headlines may be,” he wrote in a memo. His statement, never issued, emphasized that the court was not giving women “an absolute right to abortion,” nor was it saying that the “Constitution compels abortion on demand.”

In reality, the court did just that.

Instead, Roe became a legal earthquake that, in addition to warping both major political parties, effectively vetoed any attempts by any legislature anywhere to produce any political compromise that would forbid any abortions. Today, the small percentage of Americans who want abortion on demand claim that even a ban on late third-trimester abortions would be a complete loss of the rights protected by Roe.

So this raises a question, one that I have raised before here at GetReligion. Will Roe have to fall in order for a bipartisan coalition to produce compromise legislation on abortion that would actually represent the viewpoints of most Americans? Let me repeat what I have written before, because the MSM will determine how this is debated:

If opposing abortion on demand is the stance of radical conservatives who are out of the mainstream (even if they are Democrats) and defending abortion on demand is the stance of moderates (and even of sane conservatives), then what is the stance of liberals and progressives on this complex issue?

I ask this because it is very hard to find political compromises on this kind of hot-button issue when the principalities and powers of public discourse — that would be the MSM — have already decided that the middle ground is occupied.

Savage’s piece is a rare example of mainstream journalism that actually gets the facts right on this.

Roe made compromise impossible. What the majority of Americans want is compromise. Thus, Roe must fall in order for compromise to take place. Roe must fall for the moderate center to get its muddled and inconsistent way. That’s America.

Will the left be happy about that? Will the right be happy about that? Savage has the numbers straight.

Today, as in the early 1970s, the American public appears to have decidedly mixed views on abortion. In a Gallup poll in May, for instance, only 23% of those surveyed said abortion should be “legal under any circumstances,” the rule set by Roe vs. Wade. Only 22% said abortion should be “illegal in all circumstances,” the rule that could take effect in many states if the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

The largest group — 53% — said abortion should be “legal only under certain circumstances.”

Think about those numbers as the nuclear explosions begin (let a thousand fundraising letters bloom) next week inside the Beltway.

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