Gov. Mike Pence

What did God say? Mike Pence prayed and then changed his mind on needle exchanges

What did God say? Mike Pence prayed and then changed his mind on needle exchanges

What we have here is a rather complex, not-so-shallow, for the most part fair-minded New York Times news feature about (wait for it) a crucial political event in the life of Gov. Mike Pence, the evangelical Protestant running mate of Citizen Donald Trump.

Yes, faithful GetReligion readers, there are times when this story actually allows people close to Pence to talk about issues linked to religious faith and you cannot hear a snarky newsroom Greek chorus in the background. I know that you are all asking the same question: How did this miracle happen?

Actually, it's not a miracle at all because this story fits some rather familiar patterns that can be seen in work at the Gray Lady, as well as in other prestige newsrooms from time to time. What are these patterns?

(1) The story is about a complex and controversial moral and cultural issue -- in this case needle-exchange programs to stop the spread of H.I.V. among drug users -- but it is not an issue linked to the Sexual Revolution.

(2) Savvy evangelicals (Catholics, Mormons, etc.) who work in the public square know that all they have to do to improve their press coverage is to take actions that some would see as progressive and/or offensive to their core constituents in evangelical pews and pulpits.

(3) The politico in question, as part of his or her decision making process, goes to God in prayer and, lo and behold, in this case the voice of God is said to agree with the editorial-page policies of the New York Times.

So take a quick read through the feature that ran under this headline: "Mike Pence’s Response to H.I.V. Outbreak: Prayer, Then a Change of Heart." Do you see what I see?

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Prosperity gospel vs. social gospel: What religion means to Trump, Clinton & Co.

Prosperity gospel vs. social gospel: What religion means to Trump, Clinton & Co.

In back-to-back features this week, NPR delves into the faiths of the Republican and Democratic presidential tickets.

It's safe to say that these profiles — by Godbeat pro Tom Gjelten — are not definitive journalism on what Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton & Co. believe.

In fact, these reports are more like CliffsNotes study guides for those interested in a crash course on the candidates' religious backgrounds. But taken as such, these accounts are really nicely done.

On the Republican side, NPR focuses on how positive thinking and the prosperity gospel define Trump's faith outlook.

On the Democratic side, Gjelten explores how Clinton and running mate Tim Kaine are driven by their faith in a social gospel.

In each case, the author allows the candidates to describe their faith in their own words.

Trump:

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So is 'evangelical Catholic' a religious term or a political term? The honest answer: yes

So is 'evangelical Catholic' a religious term or a political term? The honest answer: yes

After all the the press attention dedicated to Donald Trump's wooing of evangelicals, it's time to get down to what really matters in American politics -- the never-ending battle over Catholics who regularly or semi-regularly visit church pews.

Yes, it helps Democrats if evangelical Protestants are not terribly excited about the GOP nominee and, thus, are more likely to vote with clenched teeth or even to stay home. This time around, Trump has strong supporters among the Religious Right old guard, but he also has strong, strong critics among solid, conservative Christian leaders (as opposed to the small, but press-friendly, world of progressive evangelicals).

But the big game is among Catholic voters. While lapsed and cultural Catholics are solidly in the Democratic Party camp, along with those in the elite "progressive Catholic" camp, the real question is what happens among millions of ordinary Sunday-morning Catholics and the much smaller number of traditional Catholics who are even more dedicated, in terms of participation in daily Mass, Confession and the church's full sacramental life. This is where the true "swing voters" are found. Does Trump have a prayer with those voters? We will see.

What does this have to do with the "evangelical Catholic" tag that has been claimed by Gov. Mike Pence, who got the VP nod from Trump? Hang on, because that connection came up during this week's "Crossroads" podcast conversation with host Todd Wilken. Click here to tune that in.

The term "evangelical Catholic" is highly controversial, for obvious reasons. In the media, this tends to be a negative term, applied either to people who were raised Catholic (see Pence) and are now evangelicals, or to Catholics who stress the church's ancient, orthodox teachings on moral and social issues on issues such as abortion, euthanasia and sex outside of marriage. Thus, these "evangelical Catholics" tend to be more popular with modern evangelicals than with the elite Catholics who often gather with journalists for cocktail parties on or near the Georgetown University campus.

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Please ask this basic question: Does Mike Pence sit in an evangelical pew or a Catholic pew?

Please ask this basic question: Does Mike Pence sit in an evangelical pew or a Catholic pew?

So the "evangelical Catholic" thing is making a comeback, with Donald Trump's decision to make Gov. Mike Pence his running mate in the White House race.

Before we dig into the roots of this a bit, let me note that the Washington Post "Acts of Faith" feature in the middle of the current discussion ("What it means that Mike Pence called himself an ‘evangelical Catholic’ ") is clearly labeled as "analysis." Thus, veteran reporter Michelle Boorstein has more room to maneuver.

Normally, your GetReligionistas steer away from writing about analysis features, unless we point readers to them as "think pieces" linked to discussions on the Godbeat. In this case, I think it's important to discuss the "evangelical Catholic" term again, because it may surface again in campaign coverage of Pence.

The key, of course, is that "evangelical Catholic" is primarily a political term. However, Boorstein starts her analysis with an attempt to pin down this man's actual religious history, in terms of his faith experiences. Here is a sample of that:

One of the more publicly shared accounts of Pence’s transition from a Catholic youth minister who wanted to be a priest to an evangelical megachurch member came in 1994. That’s when he told the Indianapolis Business Journal about an intense period of religious searching that he underwent in college. “I made a commitment to Christ,” Pence said, speaking of the late 1970s. “I’m a born-again, evangelical Catholic.”

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Whatchamacallit: Media struggle to describe religious freedom laws in Indiana, Arkansas

Whatchamacallit: Media struggle to describe religious freedom laws in Indiana, Arkansas

According to something called the Global Language Monitor, there are 1,025,109.8 words in the English language. (I don't see any specifics on the almost-a-word that is not a full word, but presumably, it's missing 20 percent of its letters.)

Not so fast, says Oxford Dictionaries' website, which suggests there's "no single sensible answer" to the question because "it's so hard to decide what actually counts as a word":

The Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries. Over half of these words are nouns, about a quarter adjectives, and about a seventh verbs; the rest is made up of exclamations, conjunctions, prepositions, suffixes, etc. And these figures don't take account of entries with senses for different word classes (such as noun and adjective).

With all those word choices, you might think that finding just the right one to use in any given situation wouldn't be too difficult (right, Mark Twain?).

Yet major news organizations have struggled with how to describe those much-discussed Religious Freedom Restoration Act measures in Indiana and Arkansas — background here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here if you somehow missed our previous posts on this topic.

Early in the Indiana fight, the catchphrase "controversial religious freedom bill" prevailed — as we pointed out, questioning whether the adjective "controversial" slanted coverage toward opponents. We also pointed that the Associated Press Stylebook — "the journalist's bible" — recommends avoiding that term.

Throughout the flurry of news coverage, the newspaper at the heart of Hoosier headlines — the Indianapolis Star — has insisted on putting scare quotes around "religious freedom."

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It's a bird. It's a plane. It's a front-page editorial in The Indianapolis Star. No, really ...

It's a bird. It's a plane. It's a front-page editorial in The Indianapolis Star. No, really ...

"Journalism!" said the email I received last night with an image of today's Indianapolis Star front page.

The sender — an advocate of the religious freedom law passed in Indiana last week — was not making a compliment.

Obviously, the Star's editors have had enough of the national debate over the measure enacted in their state.

Heaven knows my Twitter feed has been filled with debate and links on the subject — on all sides.

Here at GetReligion, our mission is clear: We critique mainstream media coverage of religion. We praise strong journalism. We point out holes, bias and, yes, holy ghosts in less-than-perfect stories.

We don't, as a general rule, review editorials. And I'm not going to take sides on the content of the Star's editorial.

But the front-page placement certainly raises questions that reflect on the Star's overall journalism: Foremost among them, can a newspaper take such a "bold" stand — as the Twitter user above described it — and still produce fair, impartial news stories?

 

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