Politico paints a nuanced portrait of John Kasich's Christian faith, but not a definitive one

On a road trip across the Midwest, I'm staying at a hotel overlooking Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians.

Sadly, we're still a few weeks away from baseball's Opening Day, so that King James guy is the only game in town tonight.

Well, him and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who enjoyed his best night of the 2016 presidential race Tuesday, winning his home state.

As I checked in, this was the banner headline on the newspaper lying on the front counter:

Kasich makes good in Buckeye State

On the religion news front — that is what we do at GetReligion, right? — a Politico magazine piece on Kasich's Christian faith has been generating a lot of social media buzz the last 24 hours or so. 

Much of that buzz has been extremely positive:

Given the positive reviews, I was excited to read the Politico piece, particularly after previously critiquing ghost-filled major media reports on Kasich's faith:

After perusing Politico's story on Kasich, here's my quick take: It's definitely worth a read for anyone interested in learning more about what the Ohio governor believes and how those beliefs inform his politics.

But here's my warning: This is not a traditional, balanced piece of journalism with cited sources and a writer determined to show impartiality. Rather, this is part feature story, part op-ed starting right at the top:

The Republican nomination can sometimes seem like a contest to see which candidate is most religious. Ted Cruz touts his born-again faith, and he recalls how he “surrendered his heart to Jesus” as an 8-year-old at summer camp. Marco Rubio, who has at different times embraced Catholicism, Mormonism and evangelicalism, says his faith is the “single greatest influence in my life.” Donald Trump, by all appearances, has never attended church regularly and claims that he has never even asked God for forgiveness, but he nonetheless speaks about American Christians as though they’re a persecuted minority and has earned the widespread support of evangelicals.
There’s good reason to believe, however, that the most religiously driven candidate of all is a man who is remarkably un-theatrical about his beliefs — who even vows, “I don’t go out and try to win a vote by using God. I think that cheapens God.” That would be John Kasich.
There is no easy way to measure how deeply a person believes, of course, or to what degree a politician is driven by faith. But the Ohio governor has gone to Bible study with the same group of men every other week for the past 20 years. He has attended an Anglican church in Ohio for decades because, as he wrote in his book, Every Other Monday: Twenty Years of Life, Lunch, Faith, and Friendship, he likes receiving Communion every week, a practice uncommon in other Christian denominations. When Vice President Joe Biden’s son Beau died last year after a battle with brain cancer, Kasich quickly expressed sympathy, offering a prayer on Meet the Press: “I'm going to pray for [Joe] because he’s had a lifetime of tears. God bless you, Joe.” (Cruz, in contrast, trotted out an old joke about the vice president just days after Beau’s death.)
The irony here is not just that the most pious Republican candidate has been largely overshadowed in a campaign for which Christianity is a major calling card. As Kasich makes what could be his last big campaign push to win Ohio’s primary on Tuesday, his devout faith might actually be hurting him. The governor’s faith appears to drive his politically moderate stances on immigration, climate change and gay marriage — positions that alienate him from mainstream conservatives whose support Kasich needs to have a chance at the nomination.

My advice: Take this piece for what it is, and learn what you can about Kasich's faith. The writer does a nice job of connecting the dots concerning the governor's religion and what he has said about it.

But don't be surprised by the lack of certain elements that you might expect in a more traditional piece of journalism.

Don't look for data to back up the headline's claim that Kasich's "religion is hurting him with conservatives." ("Some" conservatives might be a more accurate assessment.)

And don't expect other campaigns and experts to get an opportunity to weigh in on Politico's proclamation that Kasich "might be the truest believer in the race."

For the purposes of this story, Kasich — not Ted Cruz or Donald Trump or even Cleveland's favorite son, LeBron James — is a one-man show who receives saintly adoration.


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