Bernie Sanders

Associated Press hits the high points — just the high points — in story on religion of 2020 Democrats

Associated Press hits the high points — just the high points — in story on religion of 2020 Democrats

Here’s your journalistic challenge: Cover the religion of the leading Democratic presidential candidates. (Some good advice here.)

Sound easy enough?

OK, let’s up the ante a bit: Meet the above challenge — and keep your story to roughly 1,000 words.

Wait, what!?

Now, you have a pretty good idea of what it’s like to be a reporter for The Associated Press, a global news organization that reaches billions and keeps most stories between 300 and 500 words.

To merit 1,000 words in the AP universe, a subject matter must be deemed extremely important. Such is the case with the wire service’s overview this week on Democrats embracing faith in the 2020 campaign. Still, given the number of candidates, that length doesn’t leave much room to do anything but hit the basics on any of the candidates.

For those who paying close attention to the race, the anecdote at the top of AP’s report will sound familiar:

WASHINGTON (AP) — When 10 Democratic presidential candidates were pressed on immigration policy during their recent debate, Pete Buttigieg took his answer in an unexpected direction: He turned the question into a matter of faith.

Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, accused Republicans who claim to support Christian values of hypocrisy for backing policies separating children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border. The GOP, he declared, “has lost all claim to ever use religious language again.”

It was a striking moment that highlighted an evolution in the way Democrats are talking about faith in the 2020 campaign. While Republicans have been more inclined to weave faith into their rhetoric, particularly since the rise of the evangelical right in the 1980s, several current Democratic White House hopefuls are explicitly linking their views on policy to religious values. The shift signals a belief that their party’s eventual nominee has a chance to win over some religious voters who may be turned off by President Donald Trump’s abrasive rhetoric and questions about his character.

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Was it anti-Semitism to invite a Messianic pastor to pray at a GOP rally, after Pittsburgh?

Was it anti-Semitism to invite a Messianic pastor to pray at a GOP rally, after Pittsburgh?

No doubt about it, inviting a pastor from a Messianic Jewish congregation to pray at a GOP campaign event is going to be controversial — under any circumstances.

Extending that invitation in the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre was an even riskier political move, one that raises all kinds of questions about the Republican leaders who organized a Michigan campaign stop for Vice President Mike Pence.

However, the first wave of coverage and partisan commentary has left me rather confused about some crucial facts in this story.

Let’s start with key sections of the basic Associated Press report — as it appeared online at The New York Times. For starters, I would have used a neutral term in this lede, such as “pastor” or “clergyman.”

WASHINGTON — A rabbi invited to pray at a Michigan campaign stop with Vice President Mike Pence on Monday referenced "Jesus the Messiah" at the event.

Rabbi Loren Jacobs of Messianic congregation Shema Yisrael offered prayers for the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre. Messianic Jews follow Jewish law but believe that Jesus is the Messiah.

The major denominations of Judaism reject Messianic Judaism as a form of Judaism, and Jacobs' participation was condemned by Jews on social media.

A Pence aide told The Associated Press that Jacobs was invited to pray at the event in suburban Detroit's Waterford Township by GOP congressional candidate Lena Epstein and said Pence did not know who he was when he invited Jacobs back onstage to offer another a prayer for the victims, their families and the nation. As Pence stood next to him, Jacobs ended his prayer by saying, "in the name of Jesus."

"He was not invited by the VP's office to speak on behalf of the Jewish community," the aide said.

OK, let me offer some initial questions and comments.

First, I think that it’s crucial to know who invited Jacobs to offer this prayer. Several news reports have assumed, or implied, that Pence offered this invitation — as opposed to being the headliner who arrived at the last minute after locals had made all the arrangements.

At the same time, it’s crucial to know when Jacobs was invited. Was his appearance set up before or after the Pittsburgh massacre?

Rally organizers were in trouble, either way, of course.

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Time offers shockingly faith-free look at struggles Democrats are having in heartland

Time offers shockingly faith-free look at struggles Democrats are having in heartland

While President Donald Trump does that thing that he does -- shoving the poles of American public discourse further and further apart -- some journalists have quietly started focusing attention on the fact that the Democratic Party is in horrible shape at the regional and state levels.

Why is that, precisely? Inquiring journalists want to know.

Obviously, a group like Democrats for Life is going to have a different take on that question than the young activists marching under the Bernie Band banner. Never forget, in the age of Nones, that religiously unaffiliated Americans, along with the core atheist-agnostic demographic, now make up the Democratic Party's largest identifiable choir on matters of morality, religion and culture.

With that in mind, check out the headline on that Time magazine cover at the top of this post. The headline inside is less spectacular: "Divided Democratic Party Debates Its Future as 2020 Looms."

Now, if you are old enough (like, well, me) to remember the rise of the Reagan Democrats and the fall of the populist Democrats in the South, then you know that social, moral and, yes, religious issues have played a major role in that political drama.

Yes, economic issues were crucial and they still are in the Rust Belt and elsewhere in the American heartland. However, there is a reason that wits on the left started referring to "flyover" country as "Jesusland."

However, read this Time think piece and see if the political desk there has any clue that the stark divisions in American life are based on cultural issues, as well as radical changes in the nation's economy. I mean, wasn't that the whole logic of the book "What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America," that GOP strategists were using moral, cultural and religious issues to distract Middle America from its true economic interests?

Here is the Time overture:

Like virtually all Democrats, Tim Ryan is no fan of Donald Trump. But as he speeds through his northeastern Ohio district in a silver Chevy Suburban, the eight-term Congressman sounds almost as frustrated with his own party.

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Bracing for the next news story: Was Bernie Sanders actually pushing 'secular humanism'?

Bracing for the next news story: Was Bernie Sanders actually pushing 'secular humanism'?

Does anyone remember the days, a decade or two ago, when the official boogeyman of religious conservatism was a cultural tsunami called "secular humanism"?

I sure do. That nasty label was being pinned on people all over the place.

The only problem was, when I went out to do my religion-beat reporting work, I never seemed to run into many people whose personal beliefs actually fit under the dictionary definition of "secular," which looks something like this:

secular (adjective)
1. of or relating to worldly things or to things that are not regarded as religious, spiritual, or sacred; temporal: secular interests.
2. not pertaining to or connected with religion (opposed to sacred ): secular music.

I hardly ever met culture warriors who didn't have religious beliefs of some kind. Oh, there were some atheists and agnostics in these dramas. But what what I kept running into were packs of evolving, progressive, liberal religious believers who rejected the beliefs of traditional religious believers, almost always on issues linked to sexuality and salvation.

Yes, there were also some "spiritual but not religious" folks, but when you talked to them you discovered that they would be perfectly happy in a Unitarian folding chair or an Episcopal pew -- if they wanted to get out of bed on Sunday mornings. And if you probe those Pew Research Center "Nones" numbers, you'll discover that most religiously unaffiliated people are rather spiritual, on their own "Sheilaism" terms. You can toss the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism trend in there, too.

Variations on all of these themes popped up this week when Todd Wilken and recorded the new "Crossroads"podcast (click here to tune that in). We discussed my new "On Religion" column about the recent U.S. Senate hearing showdown between Sen. Bernie Sanders and Russell Vought, the White House nominee to serve as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

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Hey NPR, did Democratic House members 'think' of their GOP colleagues? Or did they 'pray' for them?

Hey NPR, did Democratic House members 'think' of their GOP colleagues? Or did they 'pray' for them?

In early media coverage of today's attack on Republican lawmakers at a congressional baseball practice, a tweeted picture of Democrats praying for their GOP colleagues went viral. And rightly so.

"This is beautiful and good," one writer commented.

I have to agree.

But in an email to GetReligion, a reader quibbled with how one leading news organization — NPR — chose to characterize the heartwarming scene.

From NPR's story:

Members of the Democratic Party's team were practicing elsewhere Wednesday morning; after the attack, they tweeted a photo of themselves taking a moment to think of their colleagues.

Can you spot the word that sparked the reader's concern? Let's hear from him:

The coverage from NPR includes the tweet itself but uses an unusual description in the reporting text to describe the photo. ... Know of any other time where "think" gets substituted for "pray" in reporting? Would the substitution have been used had the roles been reversed?

Good question. It does strike me as strange wording.

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New York Times offers solid Religious Left update, with skewed headline that's LOL territory

New York Times offers solid Religious Left update, with skewed headline that's LOL territory

Every now and then, newspapers need to go out of their way to correct errors found in headlines, but not in stories.

This would, for example, help news consumers understand that headlines -- 99.9 percent of the time -- are written by copy-desk editors who do not consult with the professionals who actually reported, wrote and edited the story in question.

My first full-time job in journalism was working as a copy editor -- laying out news pages, doing final edits and, yes, writing headlines. It's hard work and you rarely have time to visit the newsroom for debates with reporters about the wording of headlines.

Anyway, one of the big religion-beat stories of the weekend ran at The New York Times with this double-decker headline: 

Religious Liberals Sat Out of Politics for 40 Years. Now They Want in the Game.
Faith leaders whose politics fall to the left of center are getting more involved in politics to fight against President Trump’s policies

That top line is simply wrong. Anyone who has worked the religion beat in recent decades knows that it is wrong -- wrong as in factually wrong.

Read carefully, and note that the headline does not accurately state the primary thesis by religion-beat veteran Laurie Goodstein in this summary material up top:

Across the country, religious leaders whose politics fall to the left of center, and who used to shun the political arena, are getting involved -- and even recruiting political candidates -- to fight back against President Trump’s policies on immigration, health care, poverty and the environment.
Some are calling the holy ruckus a “religious resistance.” Others, mindful that periodic attempts at a resurgence on the religious left have all failed, point to an even loftier ambition than taking on the current White House: After 40 years in which the Christian right has dominated the influence of organized religion on American politics -- souring some people on religion altogether, studies show -- left-leaning faith leaders are hungry to break the right’s grip on setting the nation’s moral agenda.

I would question one piece of that statement. When did religious progressives (defined in terms of doctrine) ever "shun the political arena"?

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Dear political reporters: Does Sanders 'Feel the Bern' over Article 6 and religious tests?

Dear political reporters: Does Sanders 'Feel the Bern' over Article 6 and religious tests?

The relationship of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) with religion is a bit vague: Born Jewish, Religion News Service in 2015 called him "unabashedly irreligious" and said he only "culturally" identifies as Jewish these days.

As mayor of Burlington, Vermont, Sanders once defended the placement of a menorah in a public square.

I devoutly hope Sanders' relationship with the Constitution of the United States is less tenuous, particularly as it relates to the last 20 words of Article 6. This is certainly an issue in the news, right now.

...no religious Test [sic] shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Forgive the long preamble, but it's needed to set up today's other hot Donald Trump administration-related story, the question of whether or not Russell Vought will be allowed a vote by the full U.S. Senate on his nomination as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Sanders may object to Vought on other points -- deadlines didn't allow a review of the full Budget Committee hearing video -- but about 44 minutes into the recording, we find a remarkable attack on the nominee centering on an article Vought wrote about 16 months ago defending Wheaton College, his alma mater, during the controversy over then-professor Lacryia Hawkins and her views on Islam.

Writing at The Resurgent, a conservative blog, Vought declared:

Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.

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Trump returns to Liberty University, a safe zone -- it appears -- for all kinds of speakers

Trump returns to Liberty University, a safe zone -- it appears -- for all kinds of speakers

In the midst of all the latest craziness in Washington, D.C., it appears that President Donald Trump is going to return to one of his favorite safe zones.

That would be Liberty University, of course, home of uber-Trumpster Jerry Falwell, Jr.

The Donald has, of course, spoken during campus convocations at Liberty, including a rather ahead-of-its-time appearance in 2012. Now he has been asked to speak at the most symbolic campus event of all -- commencement. The key here is that this is a safe trip for Trump (hint, hint).

The Washington Post is all over this with an education-beat feature under this headline: "Excitement and caution as Liberty University awaits Trump’s commencement speech."

LYNCHBURG, Va. -- It’s exam week at Liberty University and everywhere are signs of last-minute cramming. Study groups are bunched around tables inside the student union. The Jerry Falwell Library is unusually packed. And the weekly campus worship service has been postponed to allow more time to study.
But final exams aren’t the only tests facing the outwardly placid campus this week.
Students at the nation’s largest Christian university are also preparing for the arrival of President Trump, who is to deliver the commencement address for the Class of 2017 on May 13. He will be the first incumbent president to speak at the school’s commencement since George H.W. Bush in 1990.
If Trump needed a safe space to deliver his first commencement address, he would be hard-pressed to find a more accommodating school.

Right, right. As this story noted, it's hard to imagine what kind of protests would have been staged if Trump had tried to speak at commencement at the University of Notre Dame (as opposed to walking in the footsteps of pro-abortion-rights President Barack Obama and [a] speaking there and [b] picking up an honorary doctor of laws degree).

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Hello? Hello? Mindy Finn is a Jewish vice presidential candidate, so where's the ink?

Hello? Hello? Mindy Finn is a Jewish vice presidential candidate, so where's the ink?

Evan McMullin, a third-party candidate for president based out of Utah, is a Mormon and he's chosen a very interesting vice presidential candidate: Mindy Finn, a businesswoman and tech entrepreneur living in DC. She's an interesting pick, not the least because she's conservative and Jewish.

But don't expect any decent take-outs about her faith. Even though it's been two weeks since she was announced as McMullin's running mate, there's been very little done about her and especially her beliefs. I can excuse the secular media not getting too worked up over Mindy Finn’s faith as she and her running mate are long shots at making a dent in this election. But Jewish media should be ahead of the game on this one.

Typical of the coverage-lite out there is this piece from the Forward

Independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin announced a Jewish running mate last weekend: Mindy Finn.
 
Finn is a veteran GOP strategist who runs a feminist non-profit. She and McMullin, a former CIA agent, see their independent candidacy as a conservative alternative to Donald Trump.
With their religious makeup — a Mormon and a Jew — and their outspokenness, the McMullin/Finn ticket has been gaining traction lately. Following Donald Trump’s struggles after the release of a tape on which he makes lewd comments about women, they might win Mormon-heavy Utah, where McMullin is now statistically tied with both Trump and Clinton.
Their candidacy is a long shot — they are not even on the ballot in all states — but there technically is a way how it could work. If they manage to win one state and then both Trump and Clinton fail to get the 270 electoral votes necessary to become president, the House gets to decide the election.
More realistically, Finn sees their campaign as the start of a new conservative movement. “We are a glimmer of light in what many have seen as a sea of darkness in this election,” she told Glamour.

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