Julia Duin

New Yorker riffs on Doug Pagitt counseling Democrats on how to reach out to evangelicals

New Yorker riffs on Doug Pagitt counseling Democrats on how to reach out to evangelicals

With President Donald Trump facing everything from impeachment to plummeting poll numbers, many Democrats are no doubt thinking this is their moment.

One huge gap in their 2020 strategy is how to pick off adherents to the GOP, most notably the religiously devout, who voted in huge numbers for Trump in 2016.

The New Yorker’s Eliza Griswold set out to cover an activist from the evangelical left who can speak fluent Democrat, yet at the same time offer up pointers on how to nab some of America’s evangelicals, who are one-quarter of the U.S. electorate. Candidate Barack Obama did a decent job of that in 2007.

Fellow GetReligionista Bobby Ross looked at some coverage of this effort a year ago. Since then Democrats have gotten more, not less polarized on religion. The big elephant in the room? That would be Beto O’Rourke’s promise to remove tax exemptions from houses of worship if leaders don’t embrace modernized doctrines on LGBTQ issues.

Her piece begins:

On a Tuesday afternoon this past summer, Doug Pagitt, a fifty-three-year-old pastor in a blue straw hat and glasses, stood in a conference room at the Democratic Congressional Committee’s office in Washington, D.C., laying out sandwiches. Pagitt was preparing to lead a training session for Democratic members of Congress on how to speak to evangelicals. A table was littered with blue-and-orange lapel pins reading “Vote Common Good,” the name of an organization that Pagitt launched last year to make the religious left more visible. “We want people to know that it exists, and they can join it,” he said. Last year, the group’s members spent a month traveling the country in a tour bus, campaigning for roughly forty progressive candidates on their religious message, but this was their first time speaking to politicians in Washington…

Robb Ryerse, a self-described former fundamentalist pastor and the political director of Vote Common Good, opened the meeting with a tip. “Trying to memorize John 3:16 in the car on your way to the event and then quote that is probably not the best way to connect with faith-based voters,” he said. He had seen a candidate try this trick on the way to a rally in Kansas and then struggle to remember the phrase onstage.

Here is a snapshot of a pastor from the ranks of the “emergent church” trying to help Democratic politicians succeed among voters who are active in traditional forms of religion. As tmatt has written previously, Republicans in recent years have increased their clout with religious voters and Democrats are increasingly made up of the unaffiliated “nones” a growing demographic.

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Looking for a tough group to interview? Try doing cold-call visits with the Amish

Looking for a tough group to interview? Try doing cold-call visits with the Amish

Julie Zauzmer seems to be the Washington Post’s down-in-the-trenches reporter these days who gets to slog about places like rural West Virginia, Concord, N.H. and Virginia Beach to get interesting stories outside the Beltway.

Must say I appreciate it when journalists get off the phone and go on the road. Her latest is based out of Lancaster County, Pa., where there’s an effort going to get the reclusive Amish to sign up to vote for President Donald Trump in 2020.

There’s only one problem. Amish folks aren’t hot on being interviewed. Read the beginning of the piece:

MANHEIM, Pa. — In 2016, when more than 6 million Pennsylvanians voted in the presidential election, the state’s 20 pivotal electoral votes were decided by a margin of less than 45,000 voters.

Pennsylvania is home to more than 75,000 Amish people, and most who are eligible don’t vote.

For two Republican operatives, those two numbers add up to one major opportunity — to convince the traditionally reluctant Amish to come out to the polls, where their votes might be tremendously influential…

What they came up with was a group called the Amish PAC, which hopes to keep Pennsylvania — always a vital swing state — Republican in 2020.

Amish people tend to align strongly on policy with Republicans, who share their opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. But making voters out of the Amish, who forgo television and the Internet and believe fiercely in the separation of their religious community from government intrusion, may be a steep goal.

No kidding.

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Holy baptism as photo op: Do journalists know anything about Kim Kardashian's faith?

Holy baptism as photo op: Do journalists know anything about Kim Kardashian's faith?

I don’t follow the Kardashians at all –- but you’d have to be on Mars not to notice all the photos out there about Kim Kardashian’s trip to Armenia for the baptism of her three youngest children. I wasn’t aware she was particularly devout.

But she has named her kids Saint, Chicago and Psalm. All were baptized at the Etchmiadzin Cathedral in Vagharshapat. There are Armenian churches in this country (such as this one in Evanston, Ill.), so I’m not sure why she felt the need to fly back to the old country, other than to bring attention to the Armenian genocide (by the Turks) a century ago.

This being the Kardashians, much of it was on camera and the mother’s Instagram post of being “baptized along with my babies” the event got 5 million likes. Even though she’d previously had an older daughter, North West, previously baptized in Jerusalem, was Kardashian herself ever baptized? And by whom? No one seems to know.

Here’s what CBN said:

Socialite and business mogul Kim Kardashian West visited her family's homeland of Armenia to get baptized with her children at what scholars say is one of the oldest churches in the world.

"So blessed to have been baptized along with my babies at Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, Armenia's main cathedral which is sometimes referred to as the Vatican of the Armenian Apostolic Church. This church was built in 303 AD," West wrote in an Instagram post.

West is pictured lighting candles in the cathedral, an orthodox tradition that symbolizes Jesus being the light of the world.

I’m curious if the Kardashians had to jump through hoops to get their kids baptized like most people have to do. This article notes that most believers have to apply months ahead of time, have their baptisms approved by a religious council and other requirements.

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Kurdish evangelicals: Amidst the current war, here's one angle the media isn't getting

Kurdish evangelicals: Amidst the current war, here's one angle the media isn't getting

Thanks to President Donald Trump’s stunning decision last week to allow the Turks to overrun northern Syria, my Facebook page is starting to fill up with photos of Kurdish “martyrs” and tearful notes in Arabic. The most prominent is Hevrin Khalaf, a female politician somewhere in her 30s, her dark hair pulled back, a half-smile on her face, framed by the dark, expressive eyebrows I’ve seen on so many Kurds.

The Turks blocked her car, pulled her out and executed Khalaf and her driver. I’ve attached a photo of her to this post. Reports indicate that Khalaf was raped and then stoned to death.

Things are changing pretty quickly on the ground. As of Sunday night, here’s what the New York Times said was going on, namely that the Kurds asked the Syrian government (with the Russians) to intervene.

Some of the biggest protesters of Trump’s decision have been evangelical Christian leaders, who are telling Trump that he’s basically sanctioned genocide of an entire people, while threatening the safety of other religious minorities in that region, including Christians in churches ancient and modern. I wrote about this possibility in August.

Trump had held off on allowing Turkey access to the region before but every time he gets on the phone with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he is bewitched into granting whatever Erdogan wants. Sadly, in his three years in office, Trump has basically given away every valuable American asset to everyone from the Chinese to the Turks, while avoiding any insistence that these nations toe the line on religious freedom.

Anyway, there is one huge point that reporters are missing when it comes to explaining why evangelical Christians care so deeply about northern Iraq. It goes way beyond the historic Assyrian Christian communities being allowed to function there.

Which is: The Kurds are the most open people group in the Middle East to Christianity and a number of these now-former Muslims are newly minted evangelicals.

Christianity Today is closest to pointing out this truth.

Christian voices are also keen to preserve the unique peace achieved between Kurds, Arabs, and Christians. Since 2014 a social charter has ensured democratic governance, women’s rights, and freedom of worship.

The town of Kobani, on the Turkish border, hosts a Brethren church composed of converts from Islam. Around 20 families worship there, and the church’s pastor, Zani Bakr, arrived last year from Afrin, displaced by an earlier Turkish incursion.

There were a bunch of news stories back in February about this new church.

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What do Tulsi Gabbard, Stehekin and the Science of Identity Foundation have in common?

What do Tulsi Gabbard, Stehekin and the Science of Identity Foundation have in common?

Stehekin is a unique and lovely spot in central Washington state that’s very hard to get to, as it can only be reached by foot, boat or plane. It’s at the end of the lovely 55-mile-long Lake Chelan and about 95 people live there year-round.

So how does this isolated spot become a religion story involving Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu to be elected to Congress and one in a crowded field of Democrats vying for president?

I can’t say I’ve ever heard of Civil Beat, a website in Honolulu, but they came up with a pretty interesting story on this lady and went so far as to send a reporter to Washington state to try to track the story down. It begins:

STEHEKIN, Wash. — Deep in the Washington state wilderness, a highly paid political consultant is raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars from U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s presidential campaign.

It’s the kind of money usually spent on national name-brand political operatives with bustling offices and large staffs based in Washington, D.C., or New York.

But few people in the business have ever heard of Kris Robinson, the owner of Northwest Digital, a web design and internet marketing firm working for Gabbard’s campaign. His company address is a P.O. box here in Stehekin, a remote village in the Northern Cascades mountains that’s famous for its isolation.

After explaining how truly out-of-the-way this place is,

Yet in the first six months of 2019, federal campaign finance records show Gabbard paid Robinson and his company more than $259,000…Robinson is one of her top vendors.

Then the religion angle pops up.

Like her, he has ties to an obscure religious sect called the Science of Identity Foundation that’s based in Kailua and run by a reclusive guru whose devotees have displayed political ambitions. …

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Whistleblower priests and seminarians are finally talking to reporters, but suffering major consequences

Whistleblower priests and seminarians are finally talking to reporters, but suffering major consequences

Back in the days when I was digging around after rumors about former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s rumored sexual predations, I’d run into priests and laity who told me about all of the dark secrets that they knew. But they didn’t want to go public because, for the priests, it was a career-ender to spill the church’s dirty secrets.

Most, like Robert Hoatson, a New Jersey priest, were simply pushed out. Only now is he being vindicated.

But some even told me they were afraid of being killed. One former employee for the Archdiocese of Washington said that if she told me everything she knew, she’d end up at the bottom of the Potomac attached to some concrete blocks.

She insisted that she wasn’t joking.

Back in 2004, I wrote in the Washington Times of the fate of whistleblower Father James Haley, who went public with some really nasty goings-on in the Diocese of Arlington, Va. Haley was kicked out of the diocese and to this day lives in ecclesiastical exile. No other bishop would touch him. I wrote about him and another whistleblower, Father Joseph Clark in 2008. Clark, who was forced into retirement, gave me this haunting quote:

"The political reality is that Rome doesn't like to go against its bishops. If there is some question as to the virtue of your bishops, the whole house crumbles. The local 7-Eleven clerk has gotten more protection than I receive. Justice in the church is supposed to supersede that in the civil quarter, but that didn't happen."

So I was glad to see how the Washington Post recently ran this story about whistleblower seminarians and how — despite all the recent headlines about corruption among U.S. bishops — they are often forced out the door.

As the GetReligion team has stressed for several years now, everything begins with this word — seminary.

The text from Stephen Parisi’s fellow seminarian was ominous: Watch your back.

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Where was the press? The new $23 million Falls Church Anglican sanctuary gets zero coverage

Where was the press? The new $23 million Falls Church Anglican sanctuary gets zero coverage

Near the end of 2006, I was working on one of my biggest stories of the year: The mass exodus of 11 Episcopal churches from the Diocese of Virginia, the nation’s largest Episcopal diocese.

It was a huge story and it wasn’t completely certain that on that sunny, cold Sunday if all the theologically conservative churches in northern Virginia would decide to leave en mass.

They did and this created headlines for weeks after that. The largest church that left was The Falls Church Episcopal (TFCE), a large complex worth about $24.7 million with its new-ish sanctuary, a historic chapel and cemetery on 5.5 acres right in the middle of the city named after it (and only a few blocks from where I lived). Built in 1734, its vestry included George Washington, who was elected in 1763.

Members voted 1,228 to 127 to leave, which doesn’t reflect the fact that some 2,000 people regularly attended there.

Fast forward five years and it turns out the courts didn’t look too kindly on the 11 churches taking some $40 million worth of property with them. All of that had to be returned to the Episcopal Church, including money in their bank accounts.

The conservatives, now part of the Anglican Church of North America, were officially out on the street.

As for the Falls Church, as former GetReligionista Mollie Hemingway reported in 2012, the Episcopalians who moved back into that facility (see second photo) included 178 members with an average Sunday attendance of 74, which was 4% of what the Anglicans were bringing through the door. How this group was going to pay the mortgage and other bills — roughly $800,000 a year — was never brought up by anyone reporting on them at the time.

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'Planned Parenthood's secret weapon' profile in WPost magazine needs a counterpoint

'Planned Parenthood's secret weapon' profile in WPost magazine needs a counterpoint

I’ve written 15 stories for either the Washington Post Magazine or the newspaper’s Style section, most of which have been lengthy features highlighting an interesting individual. I know a little bit of what goes into choosing a topic for such prominent placement.

Let’s just say that a lot of thought goes into it.

So, I’m not complaining about the magazine featuring Planned Parenthood’s arts and entertainment director and her huge influence on how abortion is portrayed in Hollywood. What I gripe about is the absence of a similar several-thousand-word piece featuring an articulate woman on the opposite side of the issue.

Where’s the magazine piece on Abby Johnson, the heroine of the recent movie “Unplanned” and the Texas activist who left Planned Parenthood to now work against them? It’s not there.

Or Kristan Hawkins, an evangelical-turned-Catholic convert who turned Students for Life from a tiny group into an organization with 1,200 chapters in 50 states; who has four kids, two of whom have cystic fibrosis? She lives in DC’s Virginia suburbs, probably a mere hour’s drive from the Post’s downtown office.

So, let’s delve into this paean to Planned Parenthood’s “woman in Hollywood.”

It’s 10 a.m. on a Tuesday at Planned Parenthood’s New York headquarters, and I’m watching TV. Specifically, I’m watching a series of scenes clipped from movies and TV shows, all of which have two things in common: The woman beside me, Caren Spruch, had a hand in them, and each one features an abortion…

Spruch is the rare person in the abortion rights movement for whom the past few years represent a long-awaited breakthrough in addition to a series of terrifying setbacks. She’s Planned Parenthood’s woman in Hollywood — or, in official terms, its director of arts and entertainment engagement. She encourages screenwriters to tell stories about abortion and works as a script doctor for those who do (as well as those who write about any other area of Planned Parenthood’s expertise, such as birth control or sexually transmitted infections). It’s a role she slipped into sideways, but one that now seems to be increasingly welcome in Hollywood.

In the past year or two, word of Spruch’s services has started to filter through the film industry. “Nobody used to call me,” she says. “I would be watching TV and going to the movies and figuring out who I thought might be open to including these story lines. Now I have a couple of repeat clients. Now people call me.” She estimates that Planned Parenthood has advised on more than 150 movies and shows since that first effort with “Obvious Child.” Writers who have relied on her advice tell me they feel a secret kinship with one another. “We could see hints of her in all the TV shows coming out, from ‘Shrill’ to ‘Jane the Virgin,’ ” says Gillian Robespierre, writer-director of “Obvious Child.” “It’s really wonderful. She’s like Planned Parenthood’s secret weapon.”

In case you’re not familiar with “Obvious Child,” a trailer is included atop this post.

Spruch is a behind-the-scenes kind of person, so much so that I couldn’t find her listed on Planned Parenthood’s main site. Her LInkedIn profile tells nothing of her past. I’m curious what Spruch gets paid for all this work, but the article doesn’t say. There’s very little bio about the woman herself.

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In Iowa, a federal judge fines university officials for anti-religious discrimination. So where's the coverage?

In Iowa, a federal judge fines university officials for anti-religious discrimination. So where's the coverage?

I’ve been following a strange case at the University of Iowa where officials have gone after –- with a vengeance — about a dozen religious groups that have the temerity to appoint like-minded people as their leaders.

That is discrimination, the university said, before it kicked these groups off campus because some of them were not allowing sexually active gay students as their leaders. One of the groups –- Business Leaders in Christ –- sued and won.

Just this week, up came a second case: InterVarsity v. University of Iowa, after InterVarsity likewise sued for being ejected from campus after 25 years.

When I first wrote up these cases in February, I trashed the coverage in Inside Higher Education, which vilified the conservatives and exonerated the university even though the judge was telling the university it was dead wrong. Thus, I looked to see how media covered the most recent decision to get handed down and was surprised at how little there was outside state lines.

Even inside Iowa, the coverage wasn’t overwhelming. From the Iowa City Press-Citizen:

A second University of Iowa student group that promotes Christian beliefs has won a court ruling saying that UI acted unlawfully in deciding its standards for leaders' religious beliefs violated school policy.

U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose also ruled that — because UI administrators should have understood after her rulings in the previous case how to be fair to the groups — at least three university officials will be personally liable for any damages awarded to the plaintiffs.

Wait — does that mean the erring university officials must pay for all this out of their own pockets? That’s a very interesting news hook.

Apparently so, says CBN:

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