ERLC

If hundreds of evangelicals gather, but don't talk about Trump, do they make a sound?

If hundreds of evangelicals gather, but don't talk about Trump, do they make a sound?

See that question up there in the headline?

It's kind of a Zen question, isn't it? The reality on the ground is that hundreds of evangelicals recently met for an event called Evangelicals For Life that coincided with the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. There were major groups behind this -- the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and Focus on the Family. It wasn't minor league.

However, if you check out the videos from the conference (click here for some archives), you'll notice that most of the talk at this event focused on abortion and other life-related issues -- but primarily looked at these subjects through the lens of ministry, as opposed to partisan politics.

Oh, there was some political talk about the U.S. Supreme Court, of course. Legislative battles loomed in the background. But if you listened carefully, few people were making references to a certain New York billionaire in the White House. Some of the primary speakers were from the world of #NeverTrump #NeverHillary.

So did anything newsworthy take place at this event?

It would appear not, if you surf around in Google News looking for mainstream -- especially elite -- news coverage. That was the hook for my Universal syndicate column this past week, as well as for this week's "Crossroads" podcast session with host Todd Wilken. Click here to tune that in.

Why the lack of coverage? I mean, there were influential people there -- some Democrats as well as Republicans. We are talking about real, live, evangelical folks.

Ah, but were they REALLY evangelicals, since it appears that many of them are not part of the massive choir of Donald Trump-worshipping "evangelicals" that we read about day after day in the media? After all, 80-plus percent of American evangelicals worship the ground on which Trump struts, right?

Well, I have a theory about that, one centering on the evidence that roughly half of the white evangelicals who voted for Trump in the election really didn't want to. The way I see it, the "evangelical" tent in American life is currently divided into six different camps.

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Think tank names to know when following those red-hot courtroom battles on religion

Think tank names to know when following those red-hot courtroom battles on religion

Unlike so many towns, Salt Lake City is blessed with two dailies under separate ownership. Better yet, they’re continually sharp-eyed on the news of religion. The Salt Lake Tribune has deservedly piled up many an award, but faces strong competition from The Deseret News (owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

The News’s Kelsey Dallas came through earlier in August with a must-read survey headlined “Serving God by Suing Others: Inside the Christian Conservative Legal Movement.” Her 2,000-worder, with carefully-balanced pro and con views  (Professor Douglas Laycock’s criticisms are especially noteworthy), was quickly uppicked by Religion News Service and then via RNS by National Catholic Reporter.

Litigation by religious interest groups is hardly new, of course, but the action has gotten so red-hot that leftists put the very phrase “religious liberty” within scare quotes. Conservative religious advocates lost big on gay marriage but scored on e.g. state funding for a Lutheran school playground and on Hobby Lobby’s gain of religious exemption from the Obamacare contraception mandate.In coming weeks, reporters will be monitoring the indispensable scotusblog.com to read the briefs and learn the date for oral arguments in the Supreme Court’s big case on Masterpiece Cakeshop’s refusal in conscience to bake a gay wedding cake (docket #16-111).

Dallas drew from the new book “Defending Faith: The Politics of the Christian Conservative Legal Movement” by political scientist Daniel Bennett of John Brown University. (The publisher is University Press of Kansas, again demonstrating the value for journalists to monitor releases by collegiate book houses.)  Bennett studied 10 public interest law firms that reporters should be familiar with. The largest players by 2014 revenues:

* Alliance Defending Freedom ($48.3 million). In January, Michael Farris, noted homeschool champion and president of Patrick Henry College, succeeded founder Alan Sears as ADF president.

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Thinking about the past: CNN reporter follows his own roots into SBC's Russell Moore wars

Thinking about the past: CNN reporter follows his own roots into SBC's Russell Moore wars

Let's flash back about a month to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix. You may recall that the hot story turned out to be the mishandling of a stirring resolution on politics and race that, for America's largest Protestant flock, attempted to drive a stake into the heart of the alt-right.

In terms of the religion beat, it was interesting to watch major news operations scramble to cover the story, since -- in this age when few Godbeat reporters are granted even minimum travel budgets -- hardly anyone had boots on the ground in Arizona.

However, to the surprise of your GetReligionistas, CNN was there -- in the person of multimedia specialist Chris Moody of the network's political team.

Now, let me stress right here that I have long ties to Moody and to his family. For starters, he was one of my best students at Palm Beach Atlantic University and then in the first, very experimental semester of the Washington Journalism Center. Decades earlier, Moody's grandfather -- a legendary Southern Baptist preacher, the Rev. Jess Moody -- was a good friend of my late father.

Chris Moody headed to Phoenix while reporting a background feature on what everyone expected to be the hot story at the 2017 SBC meetings -- the battle over the future of the Rev. Russell Moore, the outspoken (and very #NeverTrump #NeverHillary) leader of the convention's Washington, D.C., office.

Apparently, Moore to more than survive in Arizona. He also played a high-profile role in the alt-right drama, contributing a 5-star soundbite on that front. That quote made it into a new Moody feature about Moore, that is now online. Moore said this, concerning the revised SBC resolution. The opening image sounds like something from a Johnny Cash song.

“This resolution has a number on it. It’s Resolution Number 10. The white supremacy it opposes also has a number on it. It’s 666,” [Moore] said, referring to the biblical number representing the devil.

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Shut out by President Trump: The Wall Street Journal details the woes of Russell Moore

Shut out by President Trump: The Wall Street Journal details the woes of Russell Moore

It’s mid-June and time for the annual Southern Baptist Convention meeting, this year in sweltering Phoenix.

During the years I worked for the Houston Chronicle, attending this confab was a two-reporter affair, with space on A1 all but guaranteed. The Chronicle’s religion section had the reputation of providing incisive coverage, so we prepped for it for weeks, scoping out all the various factions.

Press coverage of the SBC in recent years is not what it was in the turbulent ‘80s, the years of the conservative takeover (or take back) of the denomination -- an era in which I saw the most delicious displays of religious politics. Unlike other denominations that pretend they’re too good for this sort of thing, the Southern Baptists took great pleasure in wheeling and dealing.

But far fewer reporters today are following the ins and outs of the SBC, which is why it was a nice change to see this Wall Street Journal piece on the Rev. Russell Moore, whose opposition to Donald Trump has cost him dearly.

WASHINGTON -- When President Donald Trump signed an executive order on religious liberty last month, he was surrounded in the White House Rose Garden by religious figures -- Catholics, orthodox Jews, Sikhs and a host of evangelical Christians.
One prominent evangelical was conspicuously missing: Russell Moore, the public face and chief lobbyist of the Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest Protestant denomination.
Mr. Moore’s absence was a sign of the rift between him and the new administration, and hinted at a rupture within the Southern Baptist Convention itself that is challenging Mr. Moore’s leadership and potentially pushing the powerful, conservative institution off the political course he set.

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Ideal doctoral dissertation for the Trump Epoch: Washington's religious lobbyists

Ideal doctoral dissertation for the Trump Epoch: Washington's religious lobbyists

Last May 9, Donald Trump tweeted (yes, at 3:05 a.m.) that the Rev. Dr. Russell Moore is “truly a terrible representative of evangelicals,” not to mention “a nasty guy with no heart!”

As beat specialists know, Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, had issued numerous sharp moral denunciations of Trump during the campaign.

Nonetheless, Moore has now found one deed of President Trump worth praise. The Baptist was first out of the box in religious maneuvering over Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination, within hours rallying 52 evangelical Protestant leaders to endorse the Episcopalian. The 52 declared that the “Senate should work diligently to confirm his appointment without obstruction.” Good luck with that.

By coincidence, the day of the Gorsuch announcement patheos.com blogger Jacob Lupfer lauded the ERLC’s effectiveness as the socio-political voice of America’s biggest Protestant denomination. Lupfer said the experts consider this “highly professional” shop to be “definitively the premier conservative evangelical public-policy organization,” which outpaces “just about any other faith group involved in politics.”

Lupfer admits he is “an unlikely person” to say such things, considering his own  disagreements with the Baptists' views.

But here is an alert for scribes: In April he completes a Georgetown University political science dissertation about religious lobbies in Washington, D.C. This study should provide journalists good grist for an article, with a book sure to follow, and Lupfer will remain a quotable source throughout the Trump Epoch.

Moore issued a Christmastime semi-apology if anyone thought he scorned  Christians who voted for Trump, explaining: “There’s a massive difference between someone who enthusiastically excused immorality, and someone who felt conflicted, weighed the options based on biblical convictions, and voted their conscience.” He's also come under fire from some Southern Baptists because his agency supports religious freedom for Muslims seeking to build new mosques. 

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Crux think piece: Just try to pin a political label on the agony loyal Catholics are feeling

Crux think piece: Just try to pin a political label on the agony loyal Catholics are feeling

Please consider this post a quick follow-up on this morning's blog item about a Washington Post story on the pain and confusion that is setting in for many doctrinally conservative Evangelical Protestants facing the choice of voting for Hillary Rodham Clinton or Citizen Donald Trump.

This is a religion story, of course. The more seriously one takes centuries of church teachings on moral theology and life issues -- the whole spectrum of issues from abortion to the dignity of every human person (including immigrants) -- the more painful this White House race gets.

So how do you think conservative members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are feeling right about now? How long can they remain all but silent?

With that in mind, let me point readers toward a think piece that ran over at Crux, under this headline: "Trump v. Clinton matchup has Catholic leaders scrambling." The key to this story is that it shows, once again, how hard it is (#DUH) to pin conventional political labels on the teachings of the Catholic Church (and my own Orthodox Church, for that matter).

Readers get to hear people from rather different political perspectives say some remarkably compatible things, in terms of doctrine. That's a compliment.

So, let's try pin-the-label on the quote, shall we? Which quote is from the Catholic left, which is from the Catholic right and which one is actually from a Protestant who is frequently involved in dialogues with Catholic leaders?

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