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Updated: 27 min 13 sec ago

Gorsuch and the big scare-quote religion stuff? So far, little light shed on Supreme Court pick

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

What reporters have missed about Judge Neil Gorsuch, the President’s nominee for the Supreme Court, is that the Episcopal parish he attends in downtown Boulder is headed by a female priest.

Think about that for a moment. If this man is the frightening conservative that some on the Left are already alleging him to be, there’s no way he’d be Episcopalian, much less at a woman-priested church. It will be interesting to see if the Episcopal hierarchy issues any kind of formal reaction to this nomination. Watch this space: The Episcopal News Service.

The Episcopal Church, for anyone who’s not been following religion trends in recent decades, has been careening to the theological and cultural left for years and its membership statistics show it. Thousands have left TEC and joined alternative Anglican churches.

Not so this judge. A church in bluest of blue Boulder is not going to be a conservative hideout and this article notes that Gorsuch’s parish is pretty liberal. The place is St. John's, Boulder and for you trivia experts out there, it's the same church that JonBenét Ramsey's family attended. A Google search shows there’s an Anglican church in Boulder that the Gorsuch family could be attending if they so desired.

So, the fact that the judge and his family has remained at St. John’s says something.

So far, the mainstream press has missed all that and concentrated on his court rulings on hot-button topics, the kinds of subjects often framed in scare quotes. For example, while his precise views on abortion remain a mystery, he has written extensively on euthanasia -- producing a book on the topic ("The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia").

What the New York Times ran with is typical:

While he has not written extensively on several issues of importance to many conservatives, including gun control and gay rights, Judge Gorsuch has taken strong stands in favor of religious freedom, earning him admiration from the right.He voted in favor of Hobby Lobby Stores, a family-owned company that objected to regulations under the Affordable Care Act requiring many employers to provide free contraception coverage. Similarly, he dissented from a decision not to rehear a ruling requiring the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of nuns, to comply with an aspect of the regulations.

The Washington Post had more details on the choosing of the nominee and the fact that he’s Episcopalian.

The Denver Post had the most, with this basic background story plus more background on the nominee’s personal life from the Boulder Daily Camera. But nothing about his faith. Neither did the Colorado Springs Gazette.

So it fell to Religion News Service to supply the name of the Episcopal church in downtown Boulder -- although not the part about the female priest, which tells you right away that Gorsuch is not an Antonin Scalia clone. Judge Scalia went out of his way to attend a Latin Mass at a northern Virginia parish some distance from his home and such parishes don't allow female acolytes, much less priests.

The nominee attended Georgetown Preparatory School in Bethesda while his mother, Ann Gorsuch, headed up the Environmental Protection Agency. However, that doesn’t put him in the Catholic camp any more than the presence of President Barack Obama's daughters at Sidwell Friends School made them Quakers.

Christianity Today lined up a number of religious personalities who approve of Gorsuch. Crux opined on topics showing where Gorsuch may or may not line up with Catholic doctrine. And Slate ran a bunch of pieces that concluded that Gorsuch may not be all that bad.

So I’m hoping other reporters connect the dots about the judge’s religious proclivities. His church choice just may hint at certain leanings.

One more thing. This guy is a Coloradan to the bone and he skis double-black diamond slopes. Obviously, he's a daredevil at heart. 

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Snip, snip? The symbolic clout of Sikh man nodding approval for (a) Trump or (b) Schumer

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Anyone who knows anything about America in the past half century or so knows that we live in a culture that is increasingly dominated by visual images and the emotions they produce.

Images were crucial as modern print journalism evolved. It goes without saying that images are crucial in visual storytelling in television, past and present.

Today? While words matter in social media, nothing grabs people quite like that punchy, ironic, cute, infuriating or poignant image that seems to sum up (a) whatever is happening in the real world at the moment or (b) whatever we are consuming in order to be able to ignore whatever is happening in the real world at the moment.

Thus, a former GetReligionista sent the current team an email the other day -- with the simple headline, "Hmmmm" -- containing the item at the top of this post.

What's the point? The question has been asked many times: Why do so many people get confused and think that Sikhs are Muslims? Is there something compelling about the Sikh turban (the dastaar) that makes journalists think "foreign," "exotic," maybe "Arab" and, thus, "Muslim" or someone who would be accused of being a "Muslim terrorist"?

Ah, but the turban is VISUAL and it all but screams "diversity," "other world religions" and "multiculturalism."

At the moment, is the whole point -- in terms of journalism shorthand -- that a Sikh believer looks like the kind of man that the angry, fact-challenged, Islamophobic Donald Trump voter is supposed to want to (a) beat up and then (b) accuse of being a "Muslim" terrorist? 

Well, a few key facts are wrong. But, hey, the point is to make a point. Right? We can learn to handle little facts about which world religion is which later. You know, that whole "getting religion" thing is so hard to do on deadline. The Sikh guy is so much more visually compelling than an ordinary American Muslim man in a business suit.

This brings me to another early Trump-time email from a GetReligion reader who apparently had lots and lots of time to analyze mainstream television coverage of the inauguration address.

Something popped into this reader's head that is really interesting.

This is picky, so let's go slowly. Let's start with the ABC News version of the address itself. The key moment comes at the 11:30 mark, as President Trump is offering some thoughts on his view of America's place in our troubled world. The text reads like this:

We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example. We will shine for everyone to follow. We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism. ...

With the second "shine" reference, the editors cut to -- you guessed it -- a thoughtful Sikh man in the audience who appears to nod (watch the video) his approval.

Later on, this reader watched the coverage from the taxpayer-supported offerings at PBS.

In this case, the key comment comes at about the 3:40 mark, during the remarks of U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer -- offering some challenging progressive words from the opposition party.

As Schumer shares his views of what makes America great, the camera -- in this extensively edited package of reports about the day's events -- shifts away to ... what?

Well, let's be blunt here. It appears to be the same image of the Sikh man, nodding in approval, that appeared in the full ABC News coverage of the live event. Only now this human symbol of multiculturalism is nodding approval to Schumer's view of the world.

Now, it's next to impossible to freeze the two videos and get precisely the same screen shots. I took one shot at it and that was that.

Obviously, the same people were standing in roughly the same positions during the whole event. We also could be dealing with pool-camera footage that was shared in common.

But, asked the reader, is it possible that everyone in these images stood in exactly the same positions the whole time, right down to the alignment of five or six faces and heads? After all, quite a bit of time had elapsed between the early remarks of Schumer and final Trump address.

Deja vu all over again? Did the Sikh man have precisely the same expression and nod for both Trump's remarks as those of Schumer?

Ah, the bigger question is this: Does it matter that such a poignant human symbol is shown nodding approval to nationalist Trump, as opposed to the progressive Schumer?

Would PBS video editors, working after the event itself, really move the Sikh's symbolic nod from one speaker to another as a form of editorial comment?

If there are broadcast and digital editing professionals out there who can help us on this question, please leave me some comments.

As it is, I will simply say: This looks really interesting.


Categories: Main

5Q+1 interview: Why this pastor believes media misinterpreted Trump's order on refugees

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

OKLAHOMA CITY — Media coverage of President Donald Trump's executive order temporarily barring refugees from seven countries has displeased Bill Hulse, a Southern Baptist pastor in one of the reddest of the red states.

"I don’t think it was an attack on religion," said Hulse, senior pastor for the Putnam City Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. "I think he was pretty clear that this would be until we could vet who was coming in, that radical Muslim terrorists are our enemy right now."

The phrase "Muslim-majority countries" — describing Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen — has appeared in many, if not most, news reports on Trump's action. 

However, some — including the editor of the Wall Street Journal — see that terminology as "very loaded." It wrongly focuses, critics maintain, on religion instead of the potential terrorism threat posed by certain countries. Others dispute the notion that this is anything but a "Muslim ban."  


Hulse serves a conservative congregation — theologically and politically — that averages Sunday attendance of about 700. The 53-year-old pastor expresses a desire to show Christian love and compassion to immigrants and refugees. But he's concerned, too, for the nation’s security.

Despite worries about Trump’s character, many members of Hulse’s church supported the brash billionaire’s winning presidential campaign. Trump’s opposition to abortion — including promising to appoint pro-life U.S. Supreme Court justices — and support for heightened border security were among the reasons why, the pastor said.
Overall, 65.3 percent of voters in the Bible Belt state of 3.9 million cast ballots for Trump. Only Wyoming (68.2 percent) and West Virginia (67.9 percent) gave a higher proportion of votes to the Republican.

As religious leaders across the nation debate the president’s refugee order as well as his push to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, Hulse offered insight into how he and his congregation approach the controversial issues. And he shared his concerns about media coverage. By the way, in case you missed it, GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly's post on whether the press ignored key contents of Trump's order is essential reading.

I talked to Hulse as part of a national roundup for the Washington Post. I thought I'd share a larger portion of our conversation here. I've edited the interview for length and clarity.
Q: Where would your church come down on the border and refugee questions?

A: We are a multigenerational church, which is becoming harder and harder to find. With multigenerational churches, there also are multi-responses, if I can make up a word. So I think you have a spectrum, all over the place.

I also think we have an ignorance, and let me define that word, because I get in trouble with words sometimes. We have an uninformed population. I think they get sound bites off of news, and that’s all they really do. And I don’t think we study this. I know I need to be even more studied on it. So I think you would get an uninformed response from a lot of people. Knee-jerk.

Q: What concerns do you hear members express?

There’s a concern for safety, obviously. It’s heightened and has made it a much more emotional response. For example, in the 1970s, Oklahoma City had a big influx of Vietnamese, Korean and, I think, Laotian refugees. Our church, we went and adopted many refugees. Still today, we have an international ministry. And I think that was a very safe thing, and a very Christian response, and that’s how we should respond. But that was a different time, and those factors that are in the refugee argument today are different than then. Certainly, we as a church are very refugee-oriented, but I do think there are different key factors that have to be addressed today than there were then.

Q: Do you feel an obligation as a pastor to help educate the congregation?

A: One hundred percent. Now here’s the funny thing: People get really edgy when you try to mix politics in spiritual conversation, which is strange to me. Our spirituality should impact every arena in life, but there has been a generation that believes politics’ place is outside the church. But our beliefs should impact everything in our world, and if we don’t have those conversations, I think we have an uninformed people. And so we’re looking at ways to do that more.

Q: Would your church be more united in opposing abortion and same-sex marriage than on the refugee issue?

A: Yes, and I think we’ll be pretty united on the refugee question, as well, once we frame some of the discussion and the information. The question is: How do you show compassion and at the same time secure your borders? And I think there is an overall unified response that wants to say, we don’t want to shut our borders completely, but we also don’t want to have open borders where anyone can flood in. That doesn’t seem to make sense.

I think most in our congregation would be unified in wanting to help refugees but also support vetting procedures. But when you get down to specifics and executive orders and legislation, there’s probably going to be some differing opinions about what that looks like. I know we have, in this congregation, undocumented illegals who aren’t citizens of this country but who have been here almost their whole life, and this is a real issue for them. They’re very concerned. It’s a multifaceted struggle for all congregations, I think.

Q: Would you call this a conservative church?

A: Yes, not fundamental but conservative. For the most part, Baptists believe in diversity. Some people think Baptists are very narrow, and we have been in the past, but as a congregation we are not only multigenerational, we are multiethnic. We have an international class that runs anywhere from 40 to 80 people. We’ve had a lot of other people from Ethiopia and people from other countries who have landed here and felt safe here and engaged. We would not be your stereotypical, rigid Baptists of the past that most people think of. And yet you’ll still see a lot of Caucasian, a lot of conservative mixed in.

Q: If someone voted for Trump, does that mean that person necessarily supports what he is doing now with refugees?

A: No, I don’t think so at all, because quite frankly I think his position on refugees has been misinterpreted within the media. I don’t think it was a Muslim ban. I don’t think it was an attack on religion. I think he was pretty clear that this would be until we could vet who was coming in, that radical Muslim terrorists are our enemy right now. Radical — I want to be very clear on that part — and those that come from certain areas of the world, and so unfortunately you have to vet against that.

I don’t think it was a bigoted or a racist thing, although that’s still to be seen. What’s our policy going to be? It’s under great debate. But I don’t think the people who voted for Trump, that was the single greatest issue. I think security is a big issue for sure, and I think Supreme Court justices became a big issue for believers, knowing where our politics have been leading us there.

Certainly, I think life has always been a mantel of the church, and it should be. We should be defenders of life at every point. Those are big issues. Personal life issues of Donald Trump made it very hard to be real excited about Donald Trump sometimes, when you’re hearing things he’s saying publicly, but then position-wise it came down to having to look at some of those key issues.

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