Doug Jones

Looking at past and into future: Will Democrats consider compromises on religious issues?

Looking at past and into future: Will Democrats consider compromises on religious issues?

Let's take a trip into my GetReligion folder of think-piece guilt, shall we?

In this case, I would like to point readers toward a piece at The Atlantic by Michael Wear that ran about a month ago. The headline: "Why Democrats Must Regain the Trust of Religious Voters."

We could, after the narrow Doug Jones victory in the Alabama Senate race, change that headline to something that would look like this: "Why Democrats Must Regain the Trust of Religious Voters, when Running Against Candidates Other Than Roy Moore."

As I have said several times: Imagine if the Democrats had, in Alabama, selected an African-American pro-life woman as their candidate. The cultural conservatives who either boycotted Moore or wrote in a third-party candidate would have had a valid choice on the other side the ballot. Moore would have been the walking (or horseback) dead against a culturally conservative Democrat.

There are so many journalism stories -- local, regional and national -- linked to this issue, in religion and in politics.

In a way, this is similar to this question: Would Joe Biden have defeated Donald Trump, especially if he had shown a willingness to seek compromises on religious-liberty issues and abortion? I think I know the answer to that one, too. Hillary Clinton was just about the only candidate on earth Trump could defeat, in large part because of her loyalty to the cultural, political and, yes, secular/religious left (key Pew Forum data here).

So here is Wear's overture:

Democrats ignored broad swaths of religious America in the 2016 election campaign and the nation has suffered because of it. Yet calls for a recommitment to faith outreach -- particularly to white and other conservative or moderate religious voters -- have been met in some corners of liberal punditry with a response as common as it is unwarranted. Some quarters of the Democratic party would rather maintain rhetorical and ideological purity than win with a more inclusive coalition. For the sake of the country, the party must turn back to people of faith.

But here is the crunch paragraphs in this analysis piece:

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Cracks in the evangelical monolith myth: Gray Lady looks at post-Alabama soul-searching

Cracks in the evangelical monolith myth: Gray Lady looks at post-Alabama soul-searching

After? After?!?

That was my first reaction when I read the headline on that post-election thumbsucker in The New York Times, the one that proclaimed: "After Alabama Vote, Soul-Searching Among Some Evangelicals."

Say what? I mean, anyone who has paid attention to evangelical conversations in social media -- even if all you did was follow the Most. Obvious. Evangelical. Voices. On. Twitter -- knows that debates inside American evangelicalism moved past soul-searching somewhere during the GOP primaries in 2016. Debates about the meaning of the word "evangelical" and damage to the brand's credibility have built month after month for a year or more.

But now these debates are real, because they have reached the great Gray Lady, even if this important, must-read story does make it seem like evangelicals didn't really get down to soul-searching until after (that is the word in the headline) Roy Moore lost. If you didn't read the story, you might even think that they were finally doing this soul-searching because Moore lost.

But then something hit me. Why, that headline also contained a kind of small journalistic miracle. You see, it contains the word "some."

Hallelujah! That word "some" could be read as a tiny recognition that the world of evangelical Protestantism -- even the accursed brand known as "white evangelicals" -- is not a monolith of Donald Trump-primary votin', praise chorus shoutin', Bill O'Reilly worshipin' bigots. Wait, that may be too harsh. In some media reports evangelicals are only idiots.

As you would imagine, the fallout from the Moore campaign was the main topic in this week's "Crossroads" podcast, following up on my post praising a New Yorker report (that would be "Roy Moore and the Invisible Religious Right") and Julia Duin's morning-after survey of some crucial coverage. Click here to tune that in, or go to iTunes and sign up.

So here is the opening of the Times feature:

The editor in chief of “Christianity Today” did not have to wait for the votes to be counted to publish his essay on Tuesday bemoaning what the Alabama Senate race had wrought.

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Dear reporters: Please read the New Yorker essay about evangelical realities in Alabama

Dear reporters: Please read the New Yorker essay about evangelical realities in Alabama

Now, here is a sentence that I didn't expect to write this week.

Here goes. If you really want to understand what has been going on in the hearts and minds of many evangelical voters in Alabama, then you really need to grab (digitally speaking, perhaps) a copy of The New Yorker. To be specific, you need to read a Benjamin Wallace-Wells piece with this headline: "Roy Moore and the Invisible Religious Right."

Trigger warning: If you are the kind of person whose worldview includes simplistic stereotypes of evangelical Protestants, especially white evangelicals, you may not want to read that piece.

Let's start with this passage, which comes right after a discussion of a campaign letter that falsely claimed to contain an up-to-date list of pastors backing Roy Moore. This is long, but essential: 

A few days ago, I started calling around Alabama, trying to track down the rest of the pastors who had been listed on Kayla Moore’s letter. Some of them were easy to find, but others were elusive. I tried William Green, at the Fresh Anointing House of Worship, in Montgomery. A receptionist told me that she had never heard of Green. I tried Steve Sanders, at the Victory Baptist Church, in Millbrook. The current pastor told me that Sanders retired two years ago. I did not reach Earl Wise, also of Millbrook, but the Boston Globe did, and, though he still emphatically supported Moore, he had also left the pastoral life and was working as a real-estate agent.
Once you got beyond the ghosts and the real-estate agents, what was most notable about the pastors on Moore’s list was their obscurity. I found a list of the pastors of the thirty-six largest churches in Alabama, assembled this summer by the Web site of the Birmingham News; no pastor on that list appeared on Moore’s. I called leaders within the deeply conservative Southern Baptist Church -- the largest denomination in Alabama and, for decades, the core of the religious right -- and was told that not a single affiliated Southern Baptist pastor in the state was openly allied with Moore. The churches that appeared on Moore’s list tended to be tiny and situated in small towns, and some of the pastors on it held subsidiary roles within their churches.

Yes, I saw the word "openly." However, after reading the article this is how I would summarize the different kinds of evangelicals who were involved in this Alabama train wreck. Friends and neighbors, we are not talking about a monolith.

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Religious left in Alabama: Washington Post settles for analysis of Doug Jones' faith

Religious left in Alabama: Washington Post settles for analysis of Doug Jones' faith

Let's talk about the religion of the U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama.

No, not that candidate.

I'm referring to Doug Jones, the Democrat facing the much-discussed Republican -- Roy Moore -- in Tuesday's election.

The Washington Post's Acts of Faith has an article with an intriguing headline noting that "Roy Moore isn't the only Christian running for Senate in Alabama." The article offers specific details on Jones' faith up high, rather like a news article.

But this is not a news article, even though this is certainly a topic that deserves solid, hard-news coverage. This article is clearly labeled "analysis." A key passage:

Jones belongs to Canterbury United Methodist Church, a 4,000-member congregation in Birmingham’s suburbs. Over the past 33 years, he has been an active participant in Sunday school, even teaching occasionally, and has driven the church bus to bring older members to services.
“It’s fair to say Doug has been a very active Christian,” according to former Birmingham-Southern College president Neal Berte, who first met Jones when he was working at the University of Alabama in the 1970s and attends church with him. “He is a principled leader, but … not in the sense of, ‘You either believe the way I do or there’s no room for you.’”
Through his campaign staff, Jones declined an interview. His spokesman, Sebastian Kitchen, said in a statement: “As a person of deep faith, Doug believes in Christ’s call to minister to all people -- regardless of their background, race, or religion. Unfortunately, Roy Moore instead uses religion to divide people, instead of trying to join together to make progress.”
In an article in the Birmingham News, Jones spoke openly about how his faith commitments drive his professional commitments of justice, fairness and respect.
“I go to church. I’m a Christian. I have as many people of faith that have been reaching out to me about this campaign,” he said. “They want someone who cares about all people, not just a select few. That’s what I think the teachings of religion are, is the caring about the least of these, the caring about all people, and making sure there’s a fairness to everything.”

Good stuff. I'm definitely interested in Jones' faith. Anyone following the Alabama U.S. Senate race should be.

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Alabama 101: New York Times (sort of) gets that Roy Moore is TOAST if facing pro-life centrist

Alabama 101: New York Times (sort of) gets that Roy Moore is TOAST if facing pro-life centrist

As people say down here in the Bible Belt: "Bless their hearts."

In this case, we are talking about folks on the national desk at The New York Times, who set out to explain why there is a chance that former Judge Roy Moore will still win a ticket to the U.S. Senate in Alabama, in his race with liberal Democrat Doug Jones. The headline: "Alabama’s Disdain for Democrats Looms Over Its Senate Race."

The bad news is that, if you just scan the headline, you'd think that the unfolding train wreck in Alabama is all about party politics and that's that. Any religion angles to this soap opera? What do you think?

The good news is that, about 800 or so words into this piece, the Times team starts digging into some complex and interesting information about why so many Alabama voters -- people who really, really don't want to vote for Moore -- may end up voting for him anyway or writing in a third option. Fact is, it's kind of like a bad flashback of the 2016 presidential race.

What's going on? Way, way into this report there is this:

John D. Saxon, an Alabama lawyer and a decades-long stalwart of Democratic politics, said he had recently been out Christmas shopping when a man he did not know approached him in a parking lot. The man had a message for Mr. Jones.
“You tell him if he’ll change his position on abortion, I can get him all the Republican votes he’s going to need,” the man said, according to Mr. Saxon.

A few lines later there is this second piece of the combination punch, care of Jared Arsement, who worked with pro-life Democrat John Bel Edwards, who was elected governor in deep-red Louisiana:

“If Roy Moore wins,” he said, “it will only be because of Doug Jones’s stance on abortion.”

Or, as I put things the other day on Twitter:

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