presidency

Covering Rep. Gabbard’s American path to Hinduism, including some complex, tricky details

Covering Rep. Gabbard’s American path to Hinduism, including some complex, tricky details

Most clickbait is so flatly manipulative that I find it easy to resist, but there is the occasional instance when a headline like “Tulsi Gabbard Had a Very Strange Childhood” when I think, “OK, convince me.” 

Kerry Howley does a lot of convincing in her nearly 7,000-word essay, published in the recent edition of The American Prospect. My impressions of Rep. Gabbard, who represents the Second Congressional District of Hawaii, are from the headlines: She’s of Samoan heritage, she’s a Hindu and she stood against Sen. Kamala Harris’ efforts to depict a nominee’s involvement in the Knights of Columbus as a theocratic threat to the American judicial system. 

As Howley shows in her reporting, Gabbard self-identifies as Hindu although the group in which she grew up — the Science of Identity — does not claim a Hindu identity. Like many other movements that repackage Hinduism for Americans, Science of Identity offers Eastern theology (teachings from the Bhagavad Gita), a passionate leader with an exotic adopted name (Chris Butler becomes Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa) and homemade variations on the life of faith (Howley quotes an aunt of Gabbard’s who calls Butler’s group the ‘alt-right of the Hare Krishna movement’ ”).

In this respect, Gabbard is Hindu in the same way that Arlo Guthrie was Hindu when he became a disciple of Guru Ma (Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati).

Gabbard’s father led his family into the movement before she was born, and she has stayed in relationship with it throughout her life.

Gabbard moved leftward in her perspectives on abortion and same-sex couples after she volunteered for military service and worked with a medical unit north of Baghdad. As Howley describes it:

When she returned, her positions on social issues eventually fell a bit more in line with the party; she said that living in a theocracy had changed her, and she no longer believed the state should dictate the romantic or reproductive lives of its citizens.

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Inauguration week goodies: Elephants, donkeys and thought-provoking Godbeat stories

Inauguration week goodies: Elephants, donkeys and thought-provoking Godbeat stories

As I've mentioned previously, "One church's vote for Jesus" was the headline on a story I wrote a few years ago on a Washington, D.C.-area congregation that declared itself a "politics-free zone."

This was the lede:

LAUREL, Md. — People of all political persuasions are welcome at the Laurel Church of Christ.
Politics is not.
“Believe it or not, it almost destroyed this church at one time because we’re so close to Washington,” said adult Bible class teacher Stew Highberg, who retired from the Air Force and works for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“The politics of the president and the House and the Senate would creep in,” explained Highberg, a former Laurel church elder. “So we had to put a moratorium on it. You’ll get booted out of here if you start talking politics.”
He was joking about that last part. Mostly.
More than 300 people worship with this fast-growing Maryland church: Roughly three-quarters work for the federal government, the military or a government contractor or have a family member who does.
“We figure we can try to convince people they’re wrong politically, or we can try to persuade them to follow Jesus,” preaching minister Michael Ray said. “We pick Jesus.”

I was reminded of that Maryland congregation when I saw a front-page story in Tuesday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on elephants and donkeys sharing church pews.

The Pittsburgh story was written by Peter Smith, the Post-Gazette's award-winning religion reporter (and a longtime favorite of your GetReligionistas). Given the byline, I knew that I would find the piece fair, interesting and thought-provoking. But just to make sure, I went ahead and read it. 

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Theodicy in the White House race? Believers facing a choice that is more than political

Theodicy in the White House race? Believers facing a choice that is more than political

The first time someone sent me the link to this obituary from The Richmond Times-Dispatch, I was sure that it had to be a fraud, perhaps something produced by those talented tricksters at The Onion.

Ah, but the URL did, indeed, take readers to the proper news website in Richmond.

Now, when you think something is a fraud one of the first things you do is head over to Snopes.com to see if that crew had rendered a verdict. Indeed, the Snopes team is flying a "True" flag. This citizen wanted to send a message to the world.

Thus, I mentioned this instantly viral obituary during this week's "Crossroads" podcast discussing the whole "lesser of two evils" conflict that many cultural and religious conservatives are experiencing during this election year. Click here to tune that in and we'll come back to my Universal "On Religion" column on that topic.

But here is the top of the obituary in question. When host Todd Wilken and I were discussing this on the air, I just couldn't get my self to use the woman's name. Why? Well, because the first couple of people I discussed this with -- face to face -- kind of turned pale and asked if suicide was involved. The answer is "no."

NOLAND, Mary Anne Alfriend. Faced with the prospect of voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, Mary Anne Noland of Richmond chose, instead, to pass into the eternal love of God on Sunday, May 15, 2016, at the age of 68.

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No, they're not all alike: Associated Press explores evangelical divisions over Trump

No, they're not all alike: Associated Press explores evangelical divisions over Trump

We've been drowning in articles Trumpeting (sorry, it just slipped out) the relationship between evangelicals and the Republican presidential front runner. An in-depth piece by religion-beat veteran Rachel Zoll stands out in the crowded collection.

The Associated Press' veteran religion writer carefully, intelligently lays out why some theologically conservative Christians vote for Donald Trump -- and some don't. Just as importantly, she consults insiders who know evangelicals beyond the usual stereotypes.

The article just lacks one important ingredient. See if you can guess it.

For now, here is how AP maps the field:

As Trump's ascendancy forces the GOP establishment to confront how it lost touch with so many conservative voters, top evangelicals are facing their own dark night, wondering what has drawn so many Christians to a twice-divorced, profane casino magnate with a muddled record on abortion and gay marriage.
John Stemberger, a Trump critic and head of the Florida Family Policy Council, an affiliate of Focus on the Family, said many evangelicals have changed. Litmus tests that for so long defined the boundaries for morally acceptable candidates seem to have been abandoned by many Christians this year, he said, no matter how much evangelical leaders try to uphold those standards.
"Evangelicals are looking at those issues less and less. They've just become too worldly, letting anger and frustration control them, as opposed to trusting in God," Stemberger said.

Too worldly?

Yikes, them's fightin' words for evangelicals.

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Turn, turn, turn: It's time to take religious stock of the Obama Era

 Turn, turn, turn: It's time to take religious stock of the Obama Era

As journalists look back to take stock of President Obama’s legacy, religious aspects deserve some attention. The Washington Post’s “Acts of Faith” blog posted an example January 12 from  Peter Manseau, co-founder of the pleasantly skeptical KillingTheBuddha.com, who scanned America’s history of pluralism in last year’s “One Nation Under Gods.”

Pursuing his book’s theme, Manseau proposed that this president “has embraced a more inclusive approach to religion than any of his predecessors.” But in making himself “the nation’s pluralist-in-chief” Obama “seems to have had an opposite effect in much of the country.” As his presidency wanes, he “leads a nation more divided along religious lines than at any other time in recent history.”

All of Manseau’s assertions are open to debate and worth pursuing by journalists.

Biographical recap: The president’s father Barack Senior, who abandoned Barack Junior, was born Muslim in Kenya but was an atheist as an adult. (Nonetheless, under a strict interpretation of Islamic law the son is automatically a Muslim, and in certain jurisdictions would be subject to execution as an apostate for forsaking his birth religion.)

Obama Junior was raised by a freethinking mother who taught her son about various religious paths. During their years in Indonesia he attended both Muslim and Catholic schools. Later, Obama was raised by grandparents who had been sometime Unitarians.

As an adult, the president-to-be converted to the liberal wing of “mainline” Protestantism. He was baptized at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, led by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, attended regularly, was married at Trinity and had his daughters baptized there.

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