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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

“Doesn’t Mississippi Have More Pressing Concerns?”: Fattest, Poorest, Sickest State In America Rails Against LGBT People

A portrait of Mississippi.

It has a lower percentage of high school graduates than almost any other state. It has an unemployment rate higher than almost any other state.

Mississippi’s fourth-graders perform more poorly than any other children in the country in math. Also in reading. Its smoking rates are among the highest in the country. Along with West Virginia, it is the fattest state in the Union. It has the highest poverty rate and the lowest life expectancy.

Small wonder 24/7 Wall Street, a content provider for Yahoo!, Time and USA Today, among others, has dubbed Mississippi the “worst state to live in.”

All of which provides a certain pungent context for what happened last week as Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law a bill legalizing discrimination against LGBT people. It is dubbed the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” which is a cynical lie. The only thing it protects is those doing the discriminating.

You want to refuse to rent to a lesbian couple? You’re covered.

You want to refuse to hire a transgendered woman? Go for it.

You want to force your gay adopted son to undergo so-called conversion therapy? No problem.

You want to kick an adulterous heterosexual out of your hardware store? Yep, the law says you can even do that.

Indeed, it says that any gay, transgendered or adulterous individual whose behavior offends the “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions” of a person, for-profit business, government employee or religious organization can be refused service.

As if your sexual orientation or marital status were the business of the cashier ringing up your groceries or the barber trimming your hair.

It is worth nothing that similar laws have been propounded in other states — Georgia, Indiana, Arkansas — only to be turned back under threat of boycott by Fortune 500 companies and professional sports teams doing business there. “The worst state to live in,” was immune to that kind of pressure because it has no such teams or businesses.

You’d think that would tell them something. You’d think it would suggest to Mississippi that it has more pressing concerns than salving the hurt feelings of some putative Christian who doesn’t want to bake a cake for Lester and Steve.

But addressing those concerns would require serious thought, sustained effort, foresight, creativity and courage. It is easier just to scapegoat the gays.

So the fattest, poorest, sickest state in the Union rails against LGBT people and adulterers and never mind that if every last one of them pulled up stakes tomorrow, Mississippi would still be the fattest, poorest, sickest state in the Union.

The point is not that such bigotry would be impossible in places that are healthier or wealthier. The point is not that such places are immune to it. Rather, the point is simply this: Isn’t it interesting how reliably social division works as a distraction from things that ought to matter more?

After all, Mississippi just passed a law that 80 percent of its eighth-graders would struggle to read.

If they graduate, those young people will look for work in a state with an unemployment rate significantly higher than the national average. But if one of those kids does manage to find work at the local doughnut shop say, she will — until the law is struck down, at least — have the satisfaction of refusing service to some gay man, secure in the knowledge that the state that failed to educate her or give her a fighting chance in a complex world, now has her back.

One feels sorrier for her than for the gay man. Her life will be hemmed by the fact of living it in a state that fights the future, that teaches her to deflect and distract, not resolve and engage.

The gay man can buy doughnuts anywhere.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, April 10, 2016

April 12, 2016 Posted by | Discrimination, LGBT, Mississippi, Phil Bryant | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“America Needs To Get A Grip”: Want Less Terrorism? Start By Rejecting Trump’s Crusade

America needs to get a grip.

Since the slaughter of 14 innocents by two radicalized Muslim terrorists in San Bernardino, California, common sense has been a collateral casualty. Leading a wave of hysteria has been Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, with his harebrained ideas for denying various civil liberties to Muslims.

None of them would pass constitutional muster, thank goodness, and while his diatribes have found fertile ground among his party’s base, the Republican establishment has begun to push back against Trump.

That’s good sign, because we do have a terrorism problem that requires clear thinking and sober judgment. Our actions and policies must be grounded in accurate and detailed information. A report that received relatively little press at the time of its release in early December deserves a spotlight.

It’s far from comforting. The main message is that there is no snapshot profile to identify the jihadist on the block. That fact alone renders much of the blather we’re hearing about restrictions on this group or that beside the point.

“ISIS in America: From Retweets to Raqqa” is the result of a six-month study by the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. It studied online chatter, arrest data and other information in the cases of the 71 people arrested since March 2014 for crimes related to support of the Islamic State, along with counter-terrorism research. Fifty-six were arrested in 2015, a record number in a single year since the 9/11 attacks.

The report asks a crucial question, in the context of students and others caught heading to Syria, intending to join the Islamic State: “How could these seemingly ordinary young American men and, in growing numbers, women, be attracted to the world’s most infamous terrorist organization?” The answer is that we don’t know, “as each individual’s radicalization has its own unique dynamics.”

Average age of those studied was 26, but they ranged in age from 15 to 47; 86 percent were male, and most were U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

Another point that might surprise those who obsessed with Islamic immigrants: Converts to the faith were 40 percent of the people arrested.

In some ways, the study proved to be a bit prophetic about San Bernardino. It noted a decrease in the numbers traveling to join the Islamic State overseas, which raises the possibility that homegrown terrorists will increasingly focus on U.S. targets.

At less than 1 percent of the total adult population, Muslims in America are at a disadvantage with respect to public perception. Many Americans literally don’t know a single one of the estimated 1.8 million adults in the U.S. who are Muslim.

Assimilation and acceptance, as opposed to isolation, the report notes, are key to blocking radicalization. That’s actually a hopeful point we can look to. Despite the caustic debates about Islam playing out in our media of late, America’s Muslims are far more integrated than their coreligionists in many European countries. That’s a huge strength — and one that should not be undermined.

About 63 percent of Muslims in the U.S. are immigrants. They are also more likely to hold a college degree than native-born citizens, and Muslim women stand out for educational attainment. They’re an asset to our nation, and it’s in everybody’s interest, in the measures we take to protect ourselves from terrorism, not to alienate them.

If American citizens are truly to follow the “if you see something, say something” mode of alertness, we need to be knowledgeable. A mentality of Muslim-equals-terrorist will not help keep us safe.

Here’s a more helpful attitude. How about taking up some of the burden? Read up on the politics and history of the regions and countries where Muslim immigrants and refugees come from, on the conflict now ravaging Syria and Iraq, on the Islamic State and how it is recruiting and how its tactics morph. And get to know more Muslims.

This is an awkward time in our history when Muslim Americans are being expected to speak out after each radical attack, to defend their faith, to denounce bloodshed.

The presumption is offensive.

God forbid if I had to answer for every horrific deed committed by any Latino, or any woman, or any Catholic, or any journalist, or any other member of a group with which I could identify.

That’s a burden that can be lifted from Muslims in America only when the rest of us gain more insight into the faith, its members and the horrific ways that the Islamic State seeks to radicalize.

 

By: Mary Sanchez, Opinion-Page Columnist for The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, December 12, 2015

December 13, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Muslims, Terrorism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“He Doesn’t Realize What He Doesn’t Know”: Ben Carson Has Weird Ideas And Makes Stuff Up. What Kind Of President Would He Be?

Ben Carson is having a very bad news day today. Politico is reporting that Carson has now admitted that a story he told in his autobiography “Gifted Hands” and again in his book “You Have a Brain” was false in one major detail. He wrote that as an excellent ROTC student in high school he met General William Westmoreland, and later, presumably because he had so impressed Westmoreland, “I was offered a full scholarship to West Point.”

After being confronted with the fact that no record exists of him applying to West Point, Carson’s campaign admitted that he made up that part of the story.

Before we proceed, I want to point out what someone should have told Carson about this a long time ago: There is no such thing as a “full scholarship” to West Point, because the young men and women who go to West Point pay no tuition, nor do they pay room and board. In any case, I’m going to argue that this particular fabrication isn’t all that important to assessing Carson’s fitness for the presidency.

The reason this is happening now is obvious: Carson is reaping the reward of his success, which is an uncomfortable trip to the campaign microscope, courtesy of both the press and his opponents. More reporters are coming to his events, the questions are getting tougher and more insistent, his past writings and statements are being carefully examined, everyone who knew him since he was a babe in arms is getting interviewed, and from where he sits the whole thing probably seems terribly unfair.

But it isn’t. Not only is it just what every seriously contending candidate gets, when it comes to Ben Carson we almost have no choice but to focus on his life story and the colorful things he says and believes. So even before the West Point story, coverage of Carson was already consumed with questions about whether he stabbed a guy when he was 14, his theory about the pyramids, and his wildly inaccurate beliefs about things like Medicare fraud.

I’m a longtime critic of the personality coverage that takes up so much of the campaign, not because we don’t want to know who the “real” person is behind the persona of a presidential candidate, but because we in the media so often ask the wrong questions when we take on this task. The problem is that the moment we set out on this voyage of discovery, we forget the whole point of the exercise, which is to get the best understanding we can of what this person would be like if they were to become president.

For instance, let’s take the stabbing story. Carson wrote in his autobiography that before he found God as a teenager he was an angry and violent teen, as evidenced by the fact that he once tried to stab someone, whom he now says was a relative. CNN did a story interviewing a number of people who knew him as a youth, and they say that he wasn’t the hellion he describes, but was actually a perfectly nice kid. Carson is angrily denying the allegation that he was not in fact a danger to those around him.

It should be noted that among the evangelical Christians who form the base of Carson’s support, redemption narratives are extremely powerful — the lower down you were the better, before God raised you up. The depth of the hole you had to climb out of is yet more evidence of God’s power. But the question about this is, who cares? Let’s imagine the worst, that Carson made this whole thing up. What exactly would that tell us about what sort of president he might be? The answer is, basically nothing.

Don’t tell me, “It matters because it speaks to his honesty.” Honesty does matter, but the way you figure out whether a president will be honest about the things he does as president is to see what he’s saying about the things he’d do as president. When he was a candidate, we learned that Bill Clinton had affairs and covered them up, and what did that teach us? That as president, he’d have an affair and cover it up — not that he’d lie about other things. George W. Bush presented himself as brimming with personal integrity, all while telling one lie after another about his record in Texas and the policies he was proposing (while the press was poring over his opponent’s every word with Talmudic care to see if they could catch him in a misstatement). Lo and behold, as president he was faithful to his wife, but deceived the country about all kinds of important policy matters.

So yes, it now appears that Carson embellished his life story a bit to make his autobiography a more compelling read. Saying that he’s hardly the first prominent figure to have done that is not to forgive him, but there are more important things to consider.

Now stay with me while I argue that Ben Carson’s views on the provenance of the pyramids actually do matter. Carson maintains that unlike “all the archeologists” who say that the pyramids were built by the pharaohs to be their tombs, he believes that the biblical figure Joseph built the pyramids to store grain. There is precisely zero evidence for this belief.

This is hardly the only matter about which Carson says all the scientists are wrong. He thinks that the theory of evolution was born when Satan encouraged Charles Darwin to devise it; all the copious evidence for evolution is meaningless. Carson also says that he once stumped a “well-known physicist” by asking him how the organization of the solar system could be compatible with the second law of thermodynamics, which states that systems tend to move toward entropy. Carson is either lying about this or wildly misinterpreted the conversation he had, because there’s no contradiction between the two, and there isn’t a physicist on earth who would tell you that the solar system proves that God’s hand was at work. But people who learn only a tiny bit about certain scientific ideas often become convinced that they’ve happened upon a striking new revelation that all the so-called experts have never considered before.

So what does this have to do with what Carson might be like as president? When George W. Bush said he was “the decider,” he was describing accurately a large part of the job. Every day, the president’s aides bring him decisions he has to make, decisions that are often complex and uncertain. He has to weigh different kinds of evidence and make predictions about the future. People who know more than him about a particular topic — the economics of the labor market, the internal politics of Iran, the health effects of power-plant emissions — will offer him their advice based on their expertise, and he’ll have to integrate their perspective with other considerations that might come into play in a particular policy decision.

Ben Carson’s ideas about things like the pyramids, combined with what he has said about other more immediate topics, suggest not only that his beliefs are impervious to evidence but also an alarming lack of what we might call epistemological modesty. It isn’t what he doesn’t know that’s the problem, it’s what he doesn’t realize that he doesn’t know. He thinks that all the archeologists who have examined the pyramids just don’t know what they’re talking about, because Joseph had to put all that grain somewhere. He thinks that after reading something about the second law of thermodynamics, he knows more about the solar system than the world’s physicists do. He thinks that after hearing a Glenn Beck rant about the evils of Islam, he knows as much about a 1,400-year-old religion as any theologian and can confidently say why no Muslim who doesn’t renounce his faith could be president.

So what happens when President Carson gets what he thinks is a great idea, and a bunch of “experts” tell him it would actually be a disaster? What’s he going to do?

This is a more acute question with Carson than with any other candidate, because he has no political record we can examine to see how he might perform. The policy ideas he has put forward range between the impossibly vague and the utterly outlandish. Even more so than Donald Trump, who has at least managed a large organization, Carson offers only himself — his heart, his spirit, his soul — as the reason why America should elect him president. In assessing him we have no choice but to look at the man, because there’s nothing else. Some parts of his personal story are irrelevant to that assessment, but some parts aren’t. And it’s those that should really give us pause.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, November 6, 2015

November 8, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Evangelicals, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Obvious Remedy”: Why Kentucky’s Kim Davis Won’t Find A Different Job

One of the oddities of the Kim Davis story in Kentucky is the obvious remedy. The Kentucky clerk has a job in which she’s supposed to issue marriage licenses, but Davis doesn’t want to issue licenses to couples she deems morally inadequate. So why doesn’t Davis find some other job in which her responsibilities won’t conflict with her religious views?

Indeed, given her public notoriety, if she asked far-right leaders for a paid position somewhere, Davis probably wouldn’t have much trouble landing another gig – one which her conscience would be comfortable with.

Last night, the clerk explained her perspective.

Kentucky clerk Kim Davis on Wednesday night explained to Fox News’ Megyn Kelly why she has still refused to resign despite numerous failed attempts to receive an accommodation for her religious beliefs.

 “If I resign I lose my voice,” Davis said. “Why should I have to quit a job that I love, that I’m good at?”

I imagine that was a rhetorical question, but the answer isn’t exactly complicated. If you have a job that requires you to do things you consider morally objectionable, you have a choice: meet your professional obligations anyway or find a different job. Davis’ argument is that she should continue to be paid to perform duties she refuses to do – to the point that she’s comfortable defying court rulings, her oath of office, and court orders.

As for Davis’ belief that she’ll lose her “voice” if she gets a different job, I have no idea what that means. She can continue to speak her mind on whatever topics she chooses, whether she’s a county clerk or something else entirely. Davis need not receive taxpayer money in order to have a “voice.”

Meanwhile, in the courts, the Kentucky clerk continues to strike out. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported this morning:

U.S. District Judge David Bunning refused to grant Davis an emergency stay that she requested for the preliminary injunction he issued last month, ordering her to resume issuing marriage licenses. […]

At a hearing Sept. 3 in Ashland, where Bunning sent Davis to jail for five days for contempt of court, the judge expanded his mandate to include all eligible couples in Rowan County, rather than just the couples who sued Davis…. In a five-page order Wednesday, Bunning denied the stay motion that Davis subsequently filed with him. The judge said he had no intention of letting Davis grant marriage licenses to eligible couples who are plaintiffs in the case while denying licenses to others.

Note, the ACLU filed a motion with Judge Bunning this week, accusing Davis of defying a court order from two weeks ago. He did not address that motion yesterday.

As for last night’s interview, Fox’s Megyn Kelly asked Davis, “You’re prepared to go back to jail if that’s what it takes?” The clerk replied, “Whatever the cost.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 24, 2015

September 24, 2015 Posted by | Elected Officials, Kim Davis, Marriage Equality | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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