WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (January 9-15, 2012)

RELIGION

Evangelicals may face choice: electable candidate or ‘moral’ one.” By Bob Smietana, USA Today/The Tennessean. January 9, 2012. Noah was a mean drunk, Moses a murderer, King David an adulterer and then a murderer. That didn’t stop them from being biblical heroes. So evangelical voters may be willing to support a presidential candidate with a checkered past, and this presidential election, they may have to choose between a candidate who can win and a candidate who mirrors their religious ideals. They’re likely to remain some of the strongest Republican voters — a spot they’ve held at least since the Reagan era. Robert Jones, CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Public Religion Research Institute, said personal morality is a huge issue for those voters. The institute polled U.S. voters about the personal ethics of politicians during the scandal involving former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner. About two-thirds of evangelicals said they couldn’t separate a politician’s personal life from his ability to govern. “They tend to draw a straight line between fidelity and being trustworthy in public office,” Jones said. Because their faith claims that sinners can be forgiven, evangelicals also believe in giving people second chances, said David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee. If a political candidate has admitted his faults and changed his ways, then evangelicals are willing to forgive him, Fowler said. “We need to give credence to the fact that people are not perfect,” Fowler said. “Grace should be extended when there is a change in behavior.” What evangelicals want most of all is a candidate who shares their values and whom they can trust, Fowler said. They are concerned, he said, about finding the balance between the best candidate and one who can win.

Poll finds Mormons worry about acceptance but embrace differences.” By Michelle Boorstein. Washington Post. January 12, 2012. The first major independent poll of U.S. Mormons describes a conservative, devout community highly concerned about being accepted even as it embraces beliefs about gender roles, premarital sex and religious commitment that are well outside the mainstream. The Pew Forum poll, to be released Thursday, offers an unusually detailed look at an American-born religion at a time when voters are craving information about GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, a Mormon who was once a bishop in his church. Experts on American Mormonism said the poll is the most detailed outside survey of the community, which makes up slightly less than 2 percent of the U.S. population. It paints a picture of a group that is far more socially and politically conservative than the general population. Despite concerns about prejudice, Mormons also register unusually high rates of satisfaction with their own lives and communities. Some experts said the poll portrays Mormons as more uniform, observant and conservative than they are. The poll found that Mormons are more than twice as religiously committed as the general population and significantly more committed than such observant groups as black Protestants and white evangelicals. Such comments reflect a rising debate in recent years about what Mormons really believe and do and the lack of data made public thus far. Some sociologists blame church officials for not releasing more of the meticulous data they keep. Cornwall said that Mormon culture in recent decades has become more doctrinaire and that church members who don’t attend every required service or agree with every teaching might feel that they cannot fairly call themselves a “Mormon” to a pollster. Campbell said a long history of prejudice has made Mormons defensive, wary of saying anything that might appear critical.
Related story:
Mormons Uneasy in the Spotlight.New York Times. January 12, 2012.

Religious Groups Given ‘Exception’ to Work Bias Law.” By Adam Liptak. New York Times. January 11, 2012. (For this and related stories, go to Law & Public Policy).

After Losing a Lawsuit, Taking Their Appeal to God.” New York Times. January 11, 2012. (For story, go to Law & Public Policy).

Boys’ School Affiliated With Catholic Group Draws Conservatives in Washington.” By Mark Oppenheimer. New York Times. January 12, 2012. “Are your jackets on, boys?” Joe Cardenas inspects his charges in a first-period freshman humanities class, sees that they are all appropriately blazered and standing tall, bows his head and begins the morning Hail Mary: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee …” Only when they have finished the prayer do they take their jackets off. They sit and open copies of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” the 14th-century English romance. Mr. Cardenas teaches at The Heights School, a suburban Washington boys’ school affiliated with Opus Dei, the Catholic organization of which he is a member. By the standards of more famous Washington private schools, like Sidwell Friends or Georgetown Preparatory, The Heights is poor, little known and young — it was founded in 1969. But since then it has become the popular school for a small clique of Washingtonians: conservative Catholics. Although he has made being a home-schooling dad part of his identity, the Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum has sent two sons to The Heights. The school, for boys in grades 3-12, has also educated the sons of the Republican senators Mel Martinez and Chuck Hagel; the former F.B.I. director Louis J. Freeh; Maggie Gallagher, founder of the National Organization for Marriage; and Kate O’Beirne, an editor at National Review. Conservative Catholics are drawn to The Heights for its single-sex community, in which the faculty is male, and for its fidelity to Catholic teaching. More than that, parents say, they are glad to have found a community of like-minded families. Here they find a respect for church teachings that is absent even from most parish churches, where many communicants openly disagree with the pope on contraception, abortion and other topics.

Evangelicals Hope South Carolina or Florida Winnows Republican Field.” By Erik Eckholm. New York Times. January 12, 2012. Conservative Christian leaders have scaled back their goals for a meeting to be held in Texas on Friday and Saturday, acknowledging that they are unlikely to agree on a single alternative candidate to Mitt Romney until after the South Carolina primary on Jan. 21, if then. Scores of politically influential evangelicals plan to attend the meeting, but the original dream of coalescing around one candidate of the religious right — Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum or Rick Perry — is unrealistic for now, several leaders said in interviews this week. If one of those candidates surges in South Carolina, or in the Florida primary on Jan. 31, pressure will grow on the others to step back, the leaders said.“Any talk of winnowing out the field is premature until after South Carolina,” said Richard Land, the president of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. “The best thing that can happen for social conservatives is for one candidate to get a very clear mandate from South Carolina voters. If that happens, you might be able to get a consensus that makes a difference.” Mr. Land, heeding the request of the meeting’s conveners, said he would “neither confirm nor deny” his plans to attend. The meeting, billed as a private discussion, has drawn intense national attention as Mr. Romney tries to sew up the Republican nomination. He is opposed by many evangelicals who question the depth of his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage and his fidelity to fiscal conservatism. The gathering of religious leaders and their spouses is to convene Friday afternoon at the ranch of Paul and Nancy Pressler, west of Houston, and is scheduled to end on Saturday afternoon. Mr. Pressler, a retired judge, has long been active in evangelical causes and helped engineer the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention from the late 1970s into the 1990s. Lending their names to the Texas invitation were several well-known figures including James C. Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family; Donald E. Wildmon, the founder of the American Family Association; and Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council.
Related stories:
Evangelical Leaders Struggle To Crown A Candidate.” Morning Edition/National Public Radio. January 13, 2012.
Hope Dims for an Evangelical Pick.” Wall Street Journal. January 14, 2012.
Evangelicals, Seeking Unity, Back Santorum for Nomination.” New York Times. January 14, 2012.
Santorum Strikes A Chord With Evangelicals.” Weekend Edition Sunday/National Public Radio. January 15, 2012.

Religion, Ignored.” By Scott Jaschik. insidehighered.com. January 13, 2012. Will the evangelical vote in the Republican primaries unite around Rick Santorum? To what extent will Mitt Romney be hurt by many voters’ anti-Mormon attitudes? These are among the issues related to religion that are all over the political commentary in newspapers and blogs these days. But if the people writing these articles turn for guidance to the discipline of political science, they won’t find much, according to an analysis just published in the journal PS: Political Science & Politics. (Abstract available here.) The author is Steven Kettell, associate professor of politics and international studies at the University of Warwick. (Most of the journals analyzed are American-based, although some are British.) Secular scholars (outside of, say, religious studies) have long been criticized for ignoring the role religion plays in people’s lives. But in recent years some fields — such as history — have been paying more attention to issues of religion than they have in the past. But the study published in PS, which examined the last 10 years of publishing in leading political science journals, found that the discipline has been consistent over the decade in its failure to produce research related to religion. Of the 20 leading journals in political science (as measured by “impact factors”), only 1.34 percent of the articles published could be said to have religion as a primary topic, the analysis found.

The Theological Differences Behind Evangelical Unease With Romney.” By Laurie Goodstein. New York Times. January 14, 2012. The Rev. R. Philip Roberts, the president of a Southern Baptist seminary in Kansas City, Mo., is an evangelist with a particular goal: countering Mormon beliefs. Mr. Roberts has traveled throughout the United States, and to some countries abroad, preaching that Mormonism is heretical to Christianity. His message is a theological one, but theology is about to land squarely in the middle of the Republican presidential primary campaign. As the Republican voting moves South, with primaries in South Carolina on Saturday and in Florida on Jan. 31, the religion of Mitt Romney, the front-runner, may be an inescapable issue in many voters’ minds. In South Carolina, where about 60 percent of Republican voters are evangelical Christians, Mr. Romney, a devout Mormon and a former bishop in the church, faces an electorate that has been exposed over the years to preachers like Mr. Roberts who teach that the Mormon faith is apostasy. Many evangelicals have numerous reasons, other than religion, for objecting to Mr. Romney. But to understand just how hard it is for some to coalesce around his candidacy, it is important to understand the gravity of their theological qualms.

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