More on politics, sin and Louisiana’s kissing congressman

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For anyone unfamiliar with Rep. Vance McAllister, he’s a Louisiana congressman who ran on a Christian family values platform. But now he’s in trouble with some voters — and presumably his wife — after he got videotaped kissing a staff member (not a peck on the cheek, by the way).

Last week, I praised the serious, respectful nature of the New York Times’ reporting on McAllister’s predicament, his request for forgiveness and the various reactions of folks in his northeast Louisiana district.

It’s no surprise that a 1,700-word Washington Post Style section treatment of the same story contains more snark — and innuendo — on McAllister’s relationship with Melissa Anne Hixon Peacock:

The McAllisters and Peacocks were close friends. Two friends — speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation — said they thought it was unusual that McAllister seemed to openly flirt with Peacock in public, even sometimes when his wife was present.

Sorry, that’s not journalism. That’s gossip. But I digress.

Way up high, the Post portrays its piece as a story about politics and passion, God and sin, and yes, ducks (think the bearded, camouflaged Robertsons of “Duck Dynasty” fame, as the family supported McAllister’s candidacy).

Since this is GetReligion, we’ll focus on the “God and sin” part.

You have to read quite a bit about politics and passion before you get to the story’s religious content, but 1,000-plus words in, the Post presents this important background:

But, more than anything, he presented himself as a deeply religious family man.

In an ad that featured his wife and five children around a kitchen island, McAllister talked about their Sunday morning routine before going to church and urged voters to send him to Washington to “defend our Christian way of life.” In another ad, he said, “I need your prayers.”

Hey, apparently, he wasn’t lying when he said he needed prayers. But I digress. Again.

Later, there’s this:

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Is this Bible legislation legal? Quick, call and ask my pastor!

No fooling, the following lede comes not from the satire publication The Onion but from a real newspaper — the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

Legislation that would make the Holy Bible the official state book of Louisiana cleared the House Committee on Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs with a vote of 8-5 Thursday afternoon. It will now head to the full House of Representatives for consideration.

Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, originally filed a bill to declare a specific copy of the Bible, found in the Louisiana State Museum system, the official state book. But by the time he presented the proposal to the committee, he changed language  in his legislation to make the generic King James version of the Bible, a text used worldwide, the official state book.

Um, the generic King James version? Is there a non-generic King James version?

But peel back the layers, and this story just keeps getting more Onion-y:

Carmody said his intention was not to mingle religion with government functions. “This is not about establishing an official religion,” he said.

Still, Legislators became concerned that the proposal wasn’t broad enough and did not reflect the breadth of Bibles used by religious communities. In particular, some lawmakers worried that singling out the King James version of the Bible would not properly reflect the culture of Louisiana. The Catholic Church, for example, does not use the King James text.

“Let’s make this more inclusive of other Christian faiths, more than just the ones that use the King James version,” said Rep. Stephen Ortego, D-Carencro.

Read on, and see if the quote below makes your jaw drop like it did mine:

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So there: Rod Dreher goes and writes a GetReligion post

So, yes, I’ll admit that I was a bit disappointed (stage cue: slight choke in voice) to find out — while reading Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher’s usual 10,000 to 15,000 words of daily blogging output — that I was not one of the two newspaper columnists that he consistently gets to read. But, hey, I run in small- and mid-sized newspapers and I know that Rod’s a very busy guy. I mean, really, look at his blog: He must read 10 books and journals a day!

So, what really interested me was that, right in the middle of that particular post (a meditation on whether news columnists still matter during these online-commentary-saturated days), the working boy went and produced a genuine chunk of fantastic GetReligion work.

So without further ado, I hereby claim said chunk of type as a guest column.

So there.

You probably have examples in mind from your own experience of ways that current newspaper columnists could make their work more inspired, and therefore inspiring. I’d like to hear them. Whether you and I, readers, are coming from the left or the right or somewhere in between, I think we can agree that the uniformity of consensus opinion in our newspapers and on TV is a big part of the problem. And it’s not only uniformity of opinion about the left-right boundaries of our discourse. It’s a uniformity of opinion about what constitutes news.

Let’s take Fox News for example. This is supposed to be the conservative news network, but their idea of what constitutes conservatism, and news of interest to conservative viewers, is deeply Washington-centric, and deeply centered in the media class and its prejudices. In this, they’re no different from the competition; it’s just that as someone who has been part of the conservosphere for most of my adult life, it frustrates me to see how much Fox is ignoring for the sake of observing media conventions. For example, I’ve long marveled over the lack of religion and culture coverage on Fox. By religion and culture, I don’t mean the “War On Christmas” and other tabloid staples. I mean any sort of serious, sustained coverage, both in reporting and commentary, of stories emerging out of the world of religion and culture — stories that tell us, for better and for worse, something important about the world we’re in.

Here’s an example. In my little Southern town, the Methodist church is about to get a new minister — a woman pastor. She follows a woman pastor, who broke the clergy gender line at the church. My folks, who attend there, gave me the news the other night, and I mentioned to them that they will probably not live to see another male pastor at that parish. I explained to them that this is partly because of their age, but also because in mainline Protestant churches, the clergy class is becoming more and more female. Women make up about 20 percent of the clergy in mainline Protestant denominations, including Methodism — but that is fast changing. According to a 2006 New York Times report:

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Ghosts in news about those monks and their simple caskets

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So, in one level, my primary task in this post is to point GetReligion readers toward a very interesting business story in The New Orleans Times-Picayune. It is also interesting to note that this business story focuses on an important collision between big business and the free exercise of religion.

So far so good. The story gets the basics, when it comes to to both of those topics, including a nod toward the religious liberty question.

However, in this case the story left me wanting more in terms of a third angle, one directly linked to faith and even, some believers would argue, topics such as ancient traditions in worship and stewardship.

Let’s start at the beginning:

A federal appeals court ruled … that monks at St. Joseph Abbey near Covington should be allowed to sell handmade caskets from their monastery, despite opposition from Louisiana’s funeral home directors who claimed a sole right to sell caskets in the state. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s decision to strike down a state law limiting casket sales to licensed members of the funeral industry.

The decision marks a victory for the Benedictine monastery, which has struggled for several years for the right to sell simple, wooden caskets built by monks in a woodshop to fund their medical and education needs. In 2007, the State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors ordered the abbey to cease sales after a funeral home owner filed a formal complaint.

“We’re just really thankful we can continue, because it means a lot to people,” said St. Joseph Abbey’s Abbot Justin Brown on Wednesday. “Every couple of weeks or so, I get a letter or a note or a phone call from people who have had our casket for a loved one, and they all are just so grateful and appreciative. It made them feel so good that they knew these caskets were made with love and prayer.”

For me, the key is right there — what does the abbot mean when he says that these caskets are made with “love and prayer”? Might that literally and liturgically be true? Also, might there be theological, as well as economic, reasons for some consumers to choose this product? (See this earlier Nola.com story for a few other basic details, such as pricing points on both sides of this debate.)

I know that this is, first and foremost, a story about law and business. I get that. The views of the funeral-industry lobby are described clearly and it’s easy for readers to grasp the shape of the legal issues that are at stake here:

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