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“Faith’s Mysterious Ways In The 2016 Campaign”: The Politics Of White Evangelicals Are Evolving

The 2016 election is transforming the religious landscape of American politics.

It’s hard to imagine a Democratic presidential candidate receiving a mid-campaign invitation to speak at the Vatican.

But on Friday, Bernie Sanders put out word that on April 15 he’ll attend a gathering of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. Both Sanders and Hillary Clinton, his front-running rival, have regularly praised Pope Francis.

And on the day of Sanders’s announcement, Francis released “The Joy of Love.” The groundbreaking document signaled what can fairly be called a more liberal attitude toward sexuality and the situation of divorced and remarried Catholics.

The pope didn’t change church doctrine on gay marriage but was offering another sign that he’s pushing the church away from cultural warfare and toward a focus on poverty, economic injustice, immigration and the plight of refugees.

On the Republican side, the conservative evangelical movement is divided over Donald Trump’s candidacy. Many of its leaders have denounced him in uncompromising terms they usually reserve for liberal politicians.

One of his toughest critics has been Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “Can conservatives really believe that, if elected, Trump would care about protecting the family’s place in society when his own life is — unapologetically — what conservatives used to recognize as decadent?,” Moore wrote early this year in National Review.

He added: “Trump’s willingness to ban Muslims, even temporarily, from entering the country simply because of their religious affiliation would make Jefferson spin in his grave.”

Such denunciations are good news for Ted Cruz, who began his campaign at Liberty University, an evangelical intellectual bastion, and had hoped to unify evangelical conservatives.

But in primary after primary, Trump has won a large share of self-described “born again” or evangelical voters, particularly in the South. In the Southern-inflected Super Tuesday contests in March, his showings in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama were exceptionally strong.

Evangelicals made up 77 percent of Alabama’s Republican primary electorate, and Trump carried them 43 percent to 22 percent over Cruz. Among non-evangelicals, Trump beat Cruz 41 percent to 18 percent, with roughly a third in this group casting ballots for either Marco Rubio, who has since dropped out, or John Kasich.

Even in defeat in Wisconsin on Tuesday, Trump did about as well among evangelicals (he won 34 percent of their ballots) as among non-evangelicals (36 percent).

In one sense, it is not surprising that the politics of white evangelicals are evolving. Their social issue frame and the most important institutions in their movement were created in the late 1970s and 1980s. But this year’s developments do suggest, as Elizabeth Bruenig (now of The Post) argued in the New Republic, that “the old-fashioned model of reaching evangelicals no longer appears functional.”

Robert Jones, chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute (and with whom I have collaborated), sees many evangelicals now as “nostalgia voters.” Writing in the Atlantic, he said they are animated less by “a checklist of culture war issues or an appeal to shared religious identity” and more by an anger and anxiety arising from a sense that the dominant culture is moving away from their values.

A backlash around race, which led many white Southern evangelicals toward the Republicans in the 1960s even before the rise of the religious right, also appears to be at work. It is conjoined with opposition to immigration. And evangelicals, like other Republicans, are split by class and their degree of religious engagement.

Were Cruz to secure the Republican nomination, traditional patterns of white evangelical voting might well reassert themselves.

But with Pope Francis lifting up what can be called social justice Christianity, cliches that religion lives largely on the right end of U.S. politics might finally be overturned.

This view was already flawed, given, for example, the long-standing activism of African American Christians in the politics of economic and racial equity. Clinton especially has been engaged with black churches from the outset of the campaign.

Her own deep commitment to her Methodist faith and its social demands is central to her identity. It could be the key to solving her much-discussed “authenticity” problem, because faith is a powerfully authentic part of who she is.

In the meantime, a Jewish socialist presidential candidate will head off to the Vatican to make a case about climate change and social justice quite congenial to Francis’s outlook.

In today’s American politics, religion is working in mysterious ways.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 11, 2016

April 12, 2016 Posted by | Evangelicals, Faith, Pope Francis | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Conservative Electorate’s Massive Meltdown”: ‘Browning Of America’ Is Tearing The GOP Apart

Before Pope Francis spoke a single word at the Mexican border, Donald Trump had — quite predictably — denounced the pontiff’s message. The real estate mogul and former reality-TV star has built his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination on an ugly nativism, so the moment was tailor-made for him.

The counter-messaging only escalated after the pontiff told reporters that anyone who wants to build a border wall, as Trump has infamously proposed, “is not Christian.” That prompted a retort from Trump, of course: “For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful,” he said.
(If the pontiff’s remarks were recorded correctly, he didn’t say Trump isn’t “a” Christian. In other words, he didn’t question the faith to which Trump ascribes; rather, the pope described Trump’s behavior as failing to follow Christian principles.)

Trump-isms notwithstanding, Pope Francis couldn’t have picked a better moment for his message of compassion toward migrants. This presidential campaign season has revealed some unseemly passions roiling in the American electorate — especially on the right; those resentments needed the criticism of an authority figure outside elective politics. Who better than the pope?
Concluding his swing through Mexico with a pointed stop at the border city of Juarez, Pope Francis bemoaned the global “human tragedy” that forces people to risk death to try to gain sanctuary in safer places. He called migrants “the brothers and sisters of those expelled by poverty and violence, by drug trafficking and criminal organizations.”

Not that the pope’s call for charity is likely to have an immediate calming affect. In this country, the conservative electorate is in the midst of a massive meltdown over the nation’s changing demographics. Make no mistake about it: Stagnant wages and economic uncertainty have fueled the fires of outrage, but the flames were lit by a deep-seated resentment over a slow-moving but obvious cultural shift as white Americans slide toward losing their majority status.

The election of President Barack Obama is among the more striking signs of that shift, but there are others: Among the wealthiest and most influential pop culture figures are two black women known only by their first names, Oprah and Beyonce. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hands out the Oscars, has been hit by protests over its lack of diversity. Interracial couples, and their kids, are routinely featured in television commercials for common household products.

But the “browning of America,” as some social scientists have called it, has not been propelled by growing numbers of native-born blacks, but rather by increasing numbers of immigrants from Asia, Africa and the rest of the Americas. Of those, Latinos constitute the largest and most visible group. That helps to explain why immigration has occupied a central place in this presidential campaign — and why it threatens to tear apart the Republican Party.

Its leaders have spent decades pandering to the fears of those white Americans who are least comfortable with changes in the social and cultural hierarchy. Instead of displaying a leadership that might have eased the anxiety of white conservatives, GOP candidates broadened the old “Southern strategy” to disparage not only native-born black Americans but also immigrants of color.

Now, those GOP voters are displaying a xenophobia that has pushed the party even further to the right — and which threatens to alienate voters of color for decades to come. Even as Republican strategists tear their hair out over the hateful tone emanating from the campaign trail, the candidates, with a couple of exceptions, keep up their harsh rhetoric. While The Donald has displayed the most outrageous bigotry, including a call to bar all Muslims from entry, his rivals have tried not to be out-Trumped. Sen. Marco Rubio, for example, has disavowed a plan, one he once endorsed, to grant legal status to undocumented workers.

President Obama and the Democratic contenders, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, have pushed back against the biases oozing from the GOP hustings, but they have no credibility with ultraconservative voters. Perhaps there are still a few of them who will be swayed by the loving and generous message of Pope Francis.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, February 20, 2016

February 23, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Donald Trump, Pope Francis | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Vatican To Trump”: It’s Not ‘Personal,’ It’s Religion

The Vatican on Friday tried to tamp down a firestorm ignited by Pope Francis’ comments assailing Donald Trump’s views on U.S. immigration as “not Christian”, assuring the Republican presidential front-runner that it was not a personal attack or attempt to influence the U.S. campaign.

Francis told reporters during a conversation on his flight home from Mexico on Thursday, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”

Trump has said if elected president, he would build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border to keep immigrants from illegally entering the United States.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told Vatican Radio the pope’s comments, in response to a reporter’s question on Trump, were an affirmation of his longstanding belief that migrants should be helped and not shut out. He said the pope believed people “should build bridges, not walls”.

“In no way was this a personal attack, nor an indication of how to vote,” Lombardi said.

Trump, who leads Republican candidates in opinion polls, lashed out on Thursday, dismissing the pope’s remarks as “disgraceful” for questioning his faith.

“If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS (Islamic State), which as everyone knows is ISIS’ ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president,” Trump said.

Later, during a television appearance, he rowed back, calling Francis “a wonderful guy.”

EXCHANGE MAKES HEADLINES

The extraordinary exchange between the billionaire real estate developer and leader of the world’s 1.25 billion Roman Catholics, which occurred days before Saturday’s Republican nominating contest in South Carolina, was headline news around the world.

On Friday, New York’s Daily News gave it the front page. Against a backdrop of an image of Trump, a headline blared: Anti Christ! The New York Post ran a front page photo of Trump and the pope wearing boxing gloves with the headline: Trump & pope: Bible belters.

It was unclear what, if any, effect the tussle might have on the vote in South Carolina, a conservative state that is home to many evangelical Protestant Christians.

Patrick Hornbeck, chairman of the department of theology at Fordham University in New York, said on Thursday that Francis’ words were not surprising given the poverty he had just seen in Mexico.

“There is very little common ground between Pope Francis and Donald Trump,” Hornbeck said. He predicted the pope’s words on electoral politics would have little effect on any U.S. Catholics who liked Trump as a candidate.

At a CNN town hall in Columbia, South Carolina, on Thursday night, Trump said he had “a lot of respect” for Francis but that the pope had been influenced by hearing only Mexico’s side of the border issue. The pope’s statement also had been exaggerated by the media, he said.

“I think he said something much softer than it was originally reported by the media,” Trump said.

Earlier on Thursday, Thomas Groome, director of the Boston College Center on the Church in the 21st Century, said Francis’ comments were entirely in keeping with his focus on mercy.

“The pope is commissioned to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s his job,” Groome said. “So when he was asked a direct question, he gave Trump the benefit of the doubt, he said we have to be sure he said this, but if he said this, it is not Christian.”

 

By: Emily Flitter, The National Memo, February 18, 2016

February 20, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Pope Francis, Religion | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Build Bridges, Not Walls”: It Has Come To This; Donald Trump Vs. The Pope

Donald Trump is aiming ever higher on his list of political enemies. The latest: Pope Francis, who has suggested that Trump is “not Christian” — to which The Donald has responded that Francis will only wish he had been president “if and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS.”

During a phone appearance last week on the Fox Business Network, Trump first responded to the various calls by the leader of Catholic Church for compassion on behalf of Latin American immigrants.

“So I think the pope is a very political person and I think that he doesn’t understand the problems our country has,” Trump said, alleging that the successor to St. Peter was being manipulated. “And I think Mexico got him to do it because Mexico wants to keep the border just the way it is because they’re making a fortune and we’re losing.”

But this Thursday morning, ABC News, a reporter asked the Holy Father if “a good Catholic vote for this man?” as the Holy Father was on a plane back to Rome after his tour of the U.S.-Mexican border.

“Thank God he said I was a politician, because Aristotle defined the human person as ‘animal politicus.’ So at least I am a human person,” responded the esteemed Bishop of Rome. “As to whether I am a pawn — well, maybe, I don’t know. I’ll leave that up to your judgment and that of the people.”

He continued: “And then, a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the gospel. As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.”

This got Trump pretty fired up, judging from his statement Thursday afternoon:

DONALD J. TRUMP RESPONSE TO THE POPE

If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President because this would not have happened. ISIS would have been eradicated unlike what is happening now with our all talk, no action politicians.

The Mexican government and its leadership has made many disparaging remarks about me to the Pope, because they want to continue to rip off the United States, both on trade and at the border, and they understand I am totally wise to them. The Pope only heard one side of the story – he didn’t see the crime, the drug trafficking and the negative economic impact the current policies have on the United States. He doesn’t see how Mexican leadership is outsmarting President Obama and our leadership in every aspect of negotiation.

For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful. I am proud to be a Christian and as President I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened, unlike what is happening now, with our current President. No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith. They are using the Pope as a pawn and they should be ashamed of themselves for doing so, especially when so many lives are involved and when illegal immigration is so rampant.

Donald J. Trump

Next up: Donald Trump will allege that Pope Francis has a birth certificate in Argentina — and it’s got a different name written on it!

Update:: Trump has now read the statement aloud, at a rally in South Carolina

 

By: Eric Kleefeld, The National Memo, February 18, 2016

February 19, 2016 Posted by | Christians, Donald Trump, Pope Francis | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Hokey Cultural Crisis”: Merry Christmas; Right-Wingers, The Red Pope, And Jesus

Aah, ’tis the season for family, friends, eggnog, chipmunks singing Christmas carols — and all-out, no-mercy, blow-’em-all-to-hell war.

Not war like in Afghanistan. No, no — this is the far right’s God-awful “War on Christmas.” In this season of Peace on Earth, a delusional faction of rightists has cooked up a hokey “cultural crisis” to rally their own followers by fomenting hatred of … well, of whom? “Blasphemous-liberal-Democrat-atheist-humanists,” they shout!

The infidels are not accused of lobbing actual bombs in this “war,” but Words of Mass Destruction. Specifically, wail the purists, unholy left-wingers go around saying “happy holidays,” rather than “merry Christmas,” as Jesus taught us to say. Or was it Constantine the Great in the fourth century who came up with that?

Never mind, the rightists’ point is that diabolical lefties (i.e., Marxists) are out to ban Christmas entirely. Heroic defender of the faith Sarah Palin has even written a thin book about this devious plot, revealing that “happy holidays” is merely “the tip of the spear in a larger battle to … make true religious freedom a thing of America’s past.”

Luckily, note the Merry Christmas crusaders, there are such bright lights as Indiana State Sen. Jim Smith. Smith hopes to join Texas, Alabama, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee in the “Merry Christmas Club” — in pushing state laws to allow Christian icons and ceremonies into our schools. Then there’s U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn from Colorado. He and 35 of his fellow Republican congress critters have proposed a House resolution to protect Christmas. “A crèche in every public space,” is their cry, “a cross on every city hall.” To hell with Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the winter solstice, etc.: This is war!

Actually, no, this is hokum, flimflammery, hoodoo, camel dung. It’s also insulting that they would attempt to try to generate a major social conflict over the fiction that the phrase “happy holidays” constitutes religious discrimination, whine that they are a repressed minority and equate it with war. First: Jews, Muslims, and others don’t get to brand public spaces as their religious property. Second: Nearly three-fourths of Americans are Christian, so drop the put-upon martyr pose. And third: War really is hell, with blood, lifelong trauma and death, so stop pretending you’re in one.

But rationality doesn’t seem to be included in the liturgy of their political church. Indeed, some of its acolytes have added a twist on Christmas that would make Jesus weep. Indeed, they have launched a war against Jesus! How twisted is that? They say no one should mess with the word “Christmas,” yet they’re messing with the guy Christmas is supposed to be about.

OK, technically they’re not going directly at Jesus but rather at a key part of his message and, in particular, a key messenger of Christianity: Pope Francis! They’ve decided that the Pope is a “Marxist,” pointing out that Francis speaks often about “the structural causes of poverty,” the “idolatry of money,” and the “new tyranny” of unfettered capitalism. Obviously, say the Pontiff’s pious critics, that’s commie talk.

The clincher for them was when Francis wrote an exhortation in which he asked in outrage: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” See, cried the carpers, that’s proof that Francis is the Red Pope!

But wait, that was a very good question he asked, one ripe with the moral wrath that Jesus himself frequently showed toward the callous rich and their “love of money.” In fact, the Pope’s words ring with the deep ethics you find in Jesus’ sermon on the mount and in his admonitions to serve the poor. Was he a commie, too?

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, December 23, 2015

December 25, 2015 Posted by | Christmas, Jesus, Pope Francis, War on Christmas | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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