Peter Wehner

One thing about Lent: There are lots of stories to cover, including this valid Twitter hook

One thing about Lent: There are lots of stories to cover, including this valid Twitter hook

It’s that time again. Great Lent is here and my home fridge has gone almost completely vegan, following ancient traditions (no meat or dairy) in Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

If you live in an area with a significant Orthodox population, there might be some interesting stories linked to this. For example, when do most Orthodox children begin following a meat-free version of this fast (as much as possible) during Lent? How do things go at school, in this age in which more children are already vegetarians? I’m just thinking out loud here.

However, for most reporters, Lent means one thing — literally. Yes, it’s time for waves of stories about people giving up “one thing” for Lent. A decade or so ago, I attempted to find the roots of this “one thing” idea (I assumed Anglicanism) and, well, found out that this alleged tradition isn’t really a church tradition at all. It seems to have come out of nowhere.

I don’t know: Maybe some reporters should give up one-thing Lent stories for Lent this year? There are newsy alternatives around. For example, what are the actual Catholic fasting traditions in Lent? Does anyone know? How many Catholics follow them?

Meanwhile, a veteran freelance writer for Religion News Service just moved a thoughtful piece linking the one-thing Lent concept with another hot news hook — the acidic impact of Twitter on the lives of journalists and “public intellectuals” whose jobs require them to spend many, many hours swimming in those snark-invested waters. The headline: “Pundits repent of Twitter sins, apply faith to social media.” Here’s the overture:

On March 5, Fat Tuesday, Paul Begala, a consultant for CNN and veteran D.C. insider who has spoken publicly about his Catholic faith, made a public act of contrition, tweeting:

“I love Twitter, but I fear it’s making me more superficial, snarky, and judgmental – flaws I already have in abundance,” Begala announced. “So I’m giving up Twitter for Lent. I want to apologize in advance to my neighbors for shouting out the window in rage for the next 40 days.”

Then he signed off.

Begala wasn’t the first to admit his Twitter sins.

Now, I should mention the byline on this piece — Elizabeth Evans. Longtime GetReligion readers may ask if this is the Rev. Elizabeth Eisenstadt-Evans, the former GetReligionista.

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One more time: What explains enthusiasm among many evangelicals for Trump?

 One more time: What explains enthusiasm among many evangelicals for Trump?

On Super Tuesday, Donald Trump easily swept the four states with the heaviest majorities of Protestants who consider themselves “evangelicals” -- Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas and Georgia.  

So the campaign’s major religious puzzle -- likely to be pondered come 2020 and 2024 -- continues to be how to explain Trump’s appeal to Bible Belters.

Yes, Trump brags that he’s either a “strong Christian,” “good Christian” or “great Christian.” Many GOP voters don’t buy it. And they don’t care. Pew Research Center polling in January showed only 44 percent of Republicans and Republican “leaners” see Trump as either “very” or “somewhat” religious, while 24 percent said “not too” religious and 23 percent “not at all.”

That’s far below the “very” or “somewhat religious” image of Marco Rubio (at 70 percent) who’d be the party’s first Catholic nominee, Baptist Ted Cruz (76 percent) and Seventh-day Adventist Dr. Ben Carson (80 percent). Anglican John Kasich was not listed.

An anti-Trump evangelical who worked in the Bush 43 White House, Peter Wehner, posed the question in a harsh New York Times piece: “Mr. Trump’s character is antithetical to many of the qualities evangelicals should prize in a political leader.” Their backing for “a moral degenerate” is “inexplicable” and will do “incalculable damage to their witness.” Many such words are being tossed about in religious, journalistic, and political circles.

Observers who hate Christians, or evangelicals, or social conservatives, or political conservatives, or Republicans, have a ready answer: The GOP and especially its religious ranks are chock full of creeps, fools, and racists.

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Big picture: How can religious traditionalists shift strategies in cultural conflicts?

 Big picture: How can religious traditionalists shift strategies in cultural conflicts?

Big picture, it would be hard to over-state the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage upon believers who uphold longstanding religious tradition. The resulting soul-searching is a theme worth careful journalistic treatment going forward.

One fruitful avenue would be seeking reactions from prime sources to three future options proposed by a package of articles in the current issue of Christianity Today, the influential evangelical monthly.

The cover offers a degree of optimism: “Have No Fear: How to Flourish in a Time of Cultural Weakness.”

That’s the tone of the lead article by two authors better known for politics than religion, Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Both were speechwriters and then top policy advisors in the George W. Bush White House. Armed with a foundation grant, they interviewed many evangelical writers, academicians and non-profit leaders, with varied reactions, then drew their own conclusions.

Gerson and Wehner scan history, noting how rarely authentic Christians have exercised full political power. Key quote: “When Christians find themselves on the losing side of Supreme Court decisions, it isn’t cause for despair. Nor does it preclude them from doing extraordinary things.”

Realistically, they say, believers must simply adjust to a world of same-sex marriage. Any bids to reverse this culture shift “will be spectacularly unsuccessful.” But “this does not mean they have to endorse gay marriage.” Traditionalists must remain vigilant in protecting “vital religious liberty,” which is a mark of the healthy society.

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