Public Religion in the News Digest, November 1, 2019

Why Democratic candidates need to talk about religion better and more often.

Frank Bruni opinion piece. As a friend pointed out to me, over 20 years ago George Lakoff said the Democrats had a problem using moral and religious categories (and her point was that Marianne Williamson’s approach—using the language of spirituality rather than religion per se—is a better fit with the times, can be heard by a broader swath of the increasingly de-congregated public).

And here is a view that opposes Bruni’s take. Dems talking religion will not sway voters.

Why? Because Dems’ moral claims that accompany their religious views will continue to conflict with white evangelical Christians’ moral universe.

Muslim girl wearing a hijab disqualified from cross country race

Based on what Attorney General Barr has said about religious liberty being the primary liberty (see here), one would think the Department of Justice would be completely on the side of the runner. We’ll see.

ICE and threatened fines for immigrants in sanctuaries

The Trump administration was threatening fines of up to $500,000 for undocumented immigrants being housed in sanctuary churches. In all but one case, the administration has now withdrawn that threat.

And here is another story where a religious liberty defense was denied by the judge

Anti-nuke protestors convicted

“The defendants, who said they were following the command of the biblical prophet Isaiah to ‘beat swords into plowshares,’ were denied the right to present the defense of necessity, which allows one to commit a crime in order to avoid a greater harm. They were also denied the right to discuss the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which ‘ensures that interests in religious freedom are protected.’ Thus, they were limited to their own testimony about their subjective motivations for their acts.”

Ross Douthat opinion column that the decline of Christianity in the U.S. is overstated.

Douthat offers three counters to the case regarding the how rapid the decline is: the decline is predominantly of lukewarm/cultural Christians rather than true believers; millennials might not opt out permanently; decline is more of a Catholic than a Protestant problem. I think he is right on the first, but I don’t affirm the second two reasons. True, religious trends in the U.S. are cyclical rather than linear. But Millennials are starting out less religious than previous cohorts when those cohorts were Millennial-age. And it is not only the formerly mainline Protestant denominations that have experienced convulsive changes related to numerical decline. Southern Baptist Convention membership and baptisms have declined for a decade.

Michael Gerson likening White Evangelicals to a Drunk and Exposed Noah in the Tent

“Rather than shaping President Trump’s agenda in Christian ways, they have been reshaped into the image of Trump himself.” Gerson has been critical of his president and his most unshakeable supporters, but perhaps no more so than in the references he uses in this piece. Gerson says that, since 99% of white evangelical Republicans oppose impeaching the president, that puts Gerson in a tiny minority.

Jonathan Rausch on what makes partisanship today different from what it was a few decades ago.

I’m quoting him extensively because I think he is on to something really important. A book-length treatment on the triumph of political identities and feeling over critical thinking is Lilliana Mason’s Uncivil Agreement.

“What if, to some significant extent, the increase in partisanship is not really about anything? To put the point in a less metaphysical way, what if tribalism as such, not ideological disagreement, is behind much or even most of the rise of polarization? What if emotional identification with a partisan team is driving ideology, more than the other way around? To understand and assess this peculiar proposition, we need to expand our toolkit beyond classical political science and into social and cognitive psychology.”  “It increasingly appears that students of polarization 10 or 15 years ago were barking up the wrong tree. We were looking for changes in ideology when changes in feelings are more important.”

“The founders were well aware of the dangers of populism, demagoguery, and faction. They built a constitutional order designed to force compromise and impede sociopathic behavior. But the institutions they put in place to act as gatekeepers (the Electoral College, the appointed Senate) became obsolete, and the successor gatekeepers (political bosses, smoke-filled rooms, big media) came to seem undemocratic and lost their grip. Today, the road to power for a sociopath or demagogue is comparatively unobstructed. As a result, the fail-safes designed to protect the system when the settings go out of alignment have themselves begun to fail.”

Voting for Trump in Amish Country?

In Pennsylvania, the electoral college votes were decided by a margin of 45,000 voters, and the state has some 75,000 potential Amish voters, most of whom don’t vote. Could they become a voting bloc? If so, for which candidate? Turns out: most Amish who are registered voters vote Republican. Does the phrase “Amish PAC” seem like a joke The Onion proposed? Nope, no joke.

Hispanic Evangelical Swing Vote?

We cannot assume that voters will vote on issues rather than with an identity group. With the identity group, voters may be voting not for issues or candidates but against the enemy. Latinx voters, except for Cuban-Americans, have largely voted for Democrats. But Latinx evangelicals represent a particular kind of intersectionality that makes predictions based on assumed political identities more difficult.

Joe Biden was denied communion at a Catholic Church

As is the case with many Catholic lawmakers, Biden says he is personally opposed to abortion but believes laws should be broad enough to allow for positions grounded in other moral warrants. That stance is not good enough for some of the “fencers of the table.” Question: should the beliefs or actions about social matters, or one’s political party, ever disqualify a person from receiving communion? If you disagree with President Trump on, say, how persons at the U.S. southern border are being described and treated, and the President attended a service in your congregation, should he be served?

God told President Trump to withdraw troops from Syria to hasten the End Times?

A great example of implicit bias at work. The pastor starts with a premise that God put President Trump in office. She (the pastor) could not understand why the president ordered the withdrawal of troops from Syria. In the Bible she found her answer that allowed her to maintain rather than challenge her original premise.

Should a sitting governor speak about his personal faith at a church event?

This is an older story (early September). The citation link about is to the Freedom from Religion Foundation website, which provides their rationale for answering “no” to the question posed above. I think the FFRF opinion was right to criticize the governor’s inauguration speech, because of its legislative implications that might favor one religious group over others, but wrong to tell an elected official that they should keep their faith completely in their pockets.