N.Y. Times Magazine: 'In the Piety Primary, Democrats Win Hands Down'
It might seem a little jarring in the wake of the religion-bashing bloggers ruining the John Edwards campaign, but the February 18 New York Times Magazine actually contained an article claiming "In the piety primary, the Democrats win hands down." Writer Gary Rosen claimed Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are not hard to envision in church among the faithful, but John McCain and Rudy Giuliani would probably be "fidgeting during the hymns and checking their watches." This is not surprising New York Times content. But here's the surprising part: Rosen is the managing editor of the neoconservative journal Commentary. Here's how Rosen began:
Try a quick political thought experiment. First, form a mental picture of the Democratic front-runners for president — Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Now do the same for the leading Republican contenders — John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. Next (and this is the key step), imagine each of them in church, sitting in a pew, head bowed, or better still, at the pulpit, delivering a homily or leading the congregation in worship.
Strange, no? It’s not hard to envision Clinton and Obama among the faithful. She is a lifelong Methodist and self-described “praying person,” and he belongs to a church where some years ago he found himself (in his own words) “kneeling beneath that cross” in submission “to His will.” Both slip easily into the earnest, humble-of-the-earth mode of liberal God talk.
But McCain and Giuliani? You somehow imagine them fidgeting during the hymns and checking their watches. The senator is an Episcopalian, the former mayor a Catholic, but neither man, you have to think, would be caught dead in a Bible-study group or could possibly declare, à la George W. Bush, that his favorite philosopher is “Christ, because he changed my heart.” In the piety primary, the Democrats win hands down.
Rosen then openly displayed his hostility to the religious right (and secular left), hoping for social moderation, even if the New York Times thinks a social "moderate" is someone wholly in favor of the liberal status quo:
What a matchup between churchgoing Democrats and secular-minded Republicans may supply, though, is welcome moderation in our debates over issues like abortion, gay marriage and stem-cell research. God knows, both sides of the ideological divide have fundamentalists in need of taming.
On the right, the culprits are familiar, having become stock characters in our politics. In his unsuccessful run for the Republican nomination in 2000, McCain called them “the agents of intolerance,” singling out Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. For a taste of their views, you can visit the Web site of Concerned Women for America (C.W.A.), which bills itself as the “nation’s largest public-policy women’s organization.” Its mission is “to protect and promote biblical values among all citizens,” the Bible being “the inerrant Word of God and the final authority on faith and practice.” As for dissenters from C.W.A.’s stand on issues like the “sanctity of human life,” a handy link to Bible passages explains “why you are a sinner and deserve punishment in Hell.”
A number of observers on the right, including Jeffrey Hart of National Review, Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute and the blogger Andrew Sullivan, have performed a service lately by denouncing the G.O.P.’s pact with such authoritarian bullies.
Reader, beware. Before you join in lamenting the "authoritarian bullies" at CWA, please be aware of how Rosen misconstrued the aforementioned CWA webpage on Bible passages. It is a very conventional evangelical exposition of passages pointing to the need for all people to accept Jesus Christ as Lord. It does not reserve Hell for only those people who are "dissenters from CWA's stand on issues."
This means that you are a sinner and deserve punishment in Hell. God, however, has made a way for you to join Him in Heaven instead. Jesus died on the cross to pay for your sins. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.
Rosen has every right to find this gospel unconvincing and disagree with CWA's belief in an inerrant Bible. But he was not right to mislead New York Times consumers into thinking CWA tells everyone who disagrees with their agenda that they are Hell-bound if they step out of line.
As for Rosen's unconventional views about the Democrats and religion, his Contentions blog on the Commentary website offered more love for Barack Obama:
First, a confession: I really like Barack Obama. I like his look, his poise, his ready intelligence. His voice is a marvelous instrument, and he is unusually articulate (especially for a . . . politician). Watching him announce his candidacy on Saturday, I found myself cheering along, pleased that a black man with an exotic name was standing where Lincoln stood and eloquently invoking his example. And I’ve been impressed by the patriotic breadth of his rhetoric.
But Rosen also struck notes that the New York Times probably didn't wish to stress:
Though Obama speaks openly about the importance of his own faith and regrets the liberal tendency to chase religious believers from the public square, his views are utterly predictable on all the hot-button issues of the culture war, from abortion and gay rights to stem-cell research. Moreover, his own religiosity is hardly mainstream. The church on Chicago’s South Side to which he has long belonged—and where he had his conversion experience—is Afrocentric, with overtones of black separatism. Its principles include a “disavowal of the pursuit of ‘middleclassness’” (along with, it should be said, a commitment to the black family and work ethic).
Wouldn't that seem to suggest that maybe Obama isn't really winning the piety primary "hands down"? And wouldn't it also mean that Obama is hardly offering the promise of "welcome moderation" on social issues like abortion?
(Hat tip: Harrison Scott Key)