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Attention reporters: Joe Biden's history with Catholicism an important element to his politics

Attention reporters: Joe Biden's history with Catholicism an important element to his politics

The 2020 presidential race is in full swing. The political press and its insatiable appetite for all things Donald Trump has subsided in as much as it needs to dedicate column space and airtime to the Democrats looking to replace him.

At last count, 20 people are running in the Democratic primary. Those include long-time frontrunners like Bernie Sanders, according to various polls and based on money raised, as well as those you may never have heard of before now like John Hickenlooper.

Overall, religion and faith, as expected, has gotten little to no coverage thus far. Only Pete Buttigieg has seen crossover coverage and that’s only because he injected his Christian faith (as a shot against Vice President Mike Pence) into the conversation.

The religion of these candidates and history with the dogma of their respective faiths — what they believe, why they believe it and, in some cases, when they changed their minds — is an issue many Americans care about. Journalists in the New York and Washington, D.C. bubbles may not think so (or even be aware of it), but the rest of the country (from the Bible Belt to the Western Plains) cares.

One candidate whose faith does need examination is Joe Biden. The former vice president has been in the news a lot recently — even before he announced a 2020 bid — but the faith angle (and his history with Catholicism over the decades) has sadly been overlooked.

For starters, Biden was born and raised a Roman Catholic. Were he to win the presidency, Biden would only be the second Catholic — after John F. Kennedy — to occupy the Oval Office. That’s no longer a big a story as when JFK did it in 1960. Nonetheless, Biden’s brand of Catholicism (past and present) is worth lots of news stories and TV segments. One can't run a Biden is running in 2020 story without including his faith and how it has influenced his life and politics.

It's true that Biden winning wouldn't make the same headlines JFK did in 1960. Or can they? After all, Catholics have come a long way in this country — both in terms of political clout and in overall population — that a Biden win wouldn't do much in the way of cementing Catholicism in any way. After all, a majority of the Supreme Court now features Catholic judges. Issues like abortion (Biden was once a pro-life Democrat) and religious freedom are at the center of the culture war being waged primarily by conservative Catholics, with help from Evangelical Christians, Mormons and other Protestants.

Overall, the Biden coverage has been devoid of any faith.

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Another sigh: Washington Post leaves theology out of big Mormon story containing theology

Another sigh: Washington Post leaves theology out of big Mormon story containing theology

The other day, I posted a piece that underlined a point that I have made several times during this long and depressing season of political/religious news. That headline: "Hey, Washington Post political scribes: So religion will have zero impact in GOP civil war?"

In that post, I argued (once again) that the political desk of The Washington Post just doesn't seem to get religion -- especially when it comes the role of evangelical Protestants, Mormons, traditional Catholics and others in the #NeverTrump #NeverHillary phenomenon. That's an important point to ponder as we prepare for the GOP wars that are ahead.

Some folks (including a former student who now works at NPR) were concerned that, while I said my target was the political desk, I had not done enough to note that other Post reporters (think religion-beat specialists) had done lots of coverage on other election-year religion angles, especially developments among evangelicals.

So let's stress that by making a similar point -- looking at two Post stories focusing on developments in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Can you spot the story by a religion-beat specialist?

The first story ran under this headline: "‘Mormon and Gay’? The church’s new message is that you can be both." It focuses on the content of an official LDS website with that title -- Mormon and Gay. As you would expect, the website supports the church's teachings on marriage and sex. Thus, the bitter debates about those teachings continue. The Post notes:

You can be gay while being Mormon, the new website says -- as long as you don’t have gay sex.
“They’re loved. They’re supported. They’re part of the church,” said L. Whitney Clayton, who serves on the Presidency of the Seventy, making him one of the most powerful leaders in the Mormon Church. “We want them to feel happy and included in the kingdom of God.”

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Altar boy John Kasich's journey from future 'Pope' to presidential candidate to ... what exactly, religiously?

Altar boy John Kasich's journey from future 'Pope' to presidential candidate to ... what exactly, religiously?

In case you missed it in the fog of nonstop media coverage of Donald Trump, Ohio Gov. John Kasich remains in the Republican presidential race. 

For how much longer? Michigan voters will help answer that question today.

But for now, Kasich lingers in the GOP's "Final Four" — as he calls it.

The Washington Post has a in-depth story out this week on "The place where John Kasich went from being 'Pope' to consensus politician." Really, it's a fascinating piece and worth a read.

Yes, there are a few holy ghosts, and I'll get to those in a moment.

But let's start at the top of the story, which sets the scene nicely:

McKEES ROCKS, Pa. — As Johnny Kasich turned 17 years old, many of the strands of his sturdy, sheltered life seemed to be unraveling.
He felt bewildered as race riots tore apart Sto-Rox High School, with police and their dogs called in to keep the peace. He learned that a priest at his Catholic church, to whom he had given confession, was leaving to marry a parishioner. He faced the possibility of being drafted to serve in Vietnam. And wherever he looked, politicians seemed to be corrupt.
It all came to a head one night in January 1970, during Kasich’s senior year at Sto-Rox, as 400 students and parents met to hear complaints from blacks that they were being subjected to de facto segregation. Shortly after midnight, when a black leader demanded at least one African American teacher be hired, ugly epithets were hurled, tables overturned, and fistfights broke out.
Kasich, a scrawny kid who at that time was known for his lifelong desire to be a priest, decided he had had enough. Using speaking skills he had developed at church, he walked to the front of the school cafeteria, where the school board was trying to oust a black protester, and seized the microphone.
“This has got to stop,” Kasich said, according to the account of his friend David Cercone, now a federal judge. “We can’t be doing this, being at each other’s throats.”
This was the unlikely moment that Kasich’s childhood friends say they realized their pal Johnny was shedding his dreams of the priesthood and donning the cloak of politician. When they hear him today pleading for civility among his fellow Republican presidential candidates, friends say they recognize the words that he uttered as he came of age in this hardened city on the banks of the Ohio River.

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