Richard John Neuhaus

Yes, calling evangelical pastors 'priests' is a mistake: But who made that mistake?

Yes, calling evangelical pastors 'priests' is a mistake: But who made that mistake?

It's time for a quick trip into my GetReligion folder of guilt to deal with a headline on a report at NBC.com that annoyed several faithful readers.

That headline: "20 evangelical priests among those killed in Cuban plane crash."

Yes, you read that right -- "evangelical priests."

Now, that's a rather basic mistake and it's easy to point that out. However, in this case, the more interesting question is this one: Who actually made this mistake and why did they make it?

The easy answer is to say that the editor who wrote the headline got confused or just didn't care about the facts. At the very least, the headline writer passed along a mistake made by a different journalist earlier in the reporting and editing process.

Let's look for clues at the top of the report. Here is the lede:

Twenty evangelical priests are among more than 100 people killed when a plane crashed outside of Havana on Friday, according to The Associated Press.

Ah, so this was an AP mistake. Hold that thought, while we read on a bit.

“On that plane were 10 couples of pastors. 20 people. All of the Nazarene Church in the eastern region,” confirmed Maite Quesada, a member the Cuban Council of Churches.


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Those dueling New York Times editorials (one in news) on Catholics, evangelicals and U.S. politics

Those dueling New York Times editorials (one in news) on Catholics, evangelicals and U.S. politics

Anyone who has spent more than five minutes in Catholic cyberspace in recent weeks has, I am sure, dipped a toe or two into the oceans of ink poured out in commentary about the recent La Civiltà Cattolica essay that ran with the headline, "Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism: A Surprising Ecumenism."

First, note the title's trailblazing work in the field of subtle labeling in public discourse about religion.

We are not talking about mere "evangelicals" or "fundamentalists." In this case we are talking about "evangelical fundamentalism," which would be fundamentalists who preach their fundamentalism with an evangelical zeal?

Anyway, key is that the authors -- universally hailed as allies of Pope Francis -- have taken to the pages of a "Vatican-vetted publication" in an attempt to link decades of high-profile public contacts between culturally, and doctrinally, conservative Protestants and Catholics (as well as Jews, Orthodox Christians, Mormons, etc.) with the painful political chaos surrounding the rise of President Donald Trump. The goal of all those contacts in the past, it appears, was an American theocracy backed with Sharia law, only defended with quotes from the Catholic Catechism and the works of St. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

Apparently it took some time for The New York Times to ramp up a doctrinal response to all of this for circulation at the highest levels of mainstream journalism.

The result is some fascinating editorial writing, in the form of a new Times column by Catholic conservative Ross Douthat ("The Vatican’s America Problem") and, the same day, an alleged news story straight from the world of hushed, anonymous conversations in the hidden corners of Rome.

Let's keep this as short as possible, starting with the overture in the "news" piece: "A Vatican Shot Across the Bow for Hard-Line U.S. Catholics."

VATICAN CITY -- Two close associates of Pope Francis have accused American Catholic ultraconservatives of making an alliance of “hate” with evangelical Christians to back President Trump, further alienating a group already out of the Vatican’s good graces.

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Passing of sociologist Peter Berger provokes nostalgia about religion news coverage

Passing of sociologist Peter Berger provokes nostalgia about religion news coverage

Boston University’s iconoclastic sociologist Peter Berger, who died June 27 at age 88, was one of those doubly valuable stars of the religion beat, both as a provider of pertinent quotes (if you could get him on the phone) and as a thinker whose every book and article needed to be checked out for news potential.  

It was a pleasure to see the byline of Joseph Berger (no relation) on The New York Times obit. He boasts the unique distinction of winning the  top Religion Newswriters Association award three years running while with Long Island Newsday (1982, 1983, 1984) and covered the beat for the Times as well.

The combination of Berger and Berger provokes nostalgia about the past, with this for analysts of current media to ponder: What is the ongoing place for coverage of important religious scholarship and books?

Not so long ago, the better mainstream print media paid considerable attention to religious thought, with pieces often written by specialists, providing a refreshing break from the daily squabbles that tend to dominate news coverage. Today, such treatments are largely relegated to the Internet, and often presented from a sectarian viewpoint. (TV and radio news rarely did or do much.)

As the Times noted, Peter Berger got the widest notice when he twitted the “God Is Dead” fad with his 1969 book “A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural.” Ever the skeptic, Berger turned his skeptical eye toward skepticism, arguing that there’s good reason to perceive transcendent forces at work in the universe.

That contrarian claim emerged alongside Berger’s abandonment of the well-entrenched “secularization thesis” which he had long embraced.

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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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WPost discovers the bleeding obvious about liturgy today

WPost discovers the bleeding obvious about liturgy today

The Washington Post reports some progressive Christians are unsatisfied with contemporary worship and are seeking more traditional ways to do church.

The article "Americans turning to ancient music, practices to experience their faith" highlights the sense of incompleteness, of liturgical inadequacy felt by some Christians this Christmas.

It begins:

In our of-the-minute culture, Santa seems old-fashioned. But Christians are exploring far older ways of observing the holiday.

In the living room this week along with the pile of presents, there’s more likely to be a wreath or calendar marking Advent, the month leading up to Christmas that symbolizes the waiting period before Jesus’s birth. Christmas services largely dominated by contemporary music are mixing in centuries-old chants and other a cappella sounds. Holiday sermons on topics such as prayer, meditation and finding a way to observe the Sabbath are becoming more common.

These early — some use the term “ancient” — spiritual practices are an effort to bring what feels to some like greater authenticity to perhaps the most thoroughly commercialized of religious holidays, say pastors, religious music experts and other worship-watchers.

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