Is faith just an act for Donald Trump?

The Trump Express is hurtling its way toward the Republican nomination with stops in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia tomorrow (Tues., March 1st). This inexplicable populist campaign built upon fear, anger, and hate is creating panic through the corridors of the G.O.P.’s leadership.

Just today (Sun., Feb. 28th) Trump would not disavow his campaign from Klu Klux Klan leader David Duke. “The Donald” is even suggesting that his IRS audits are tied to his deep Christian faith. David J. Herzig on The Washington Post’s religion blog Acts of Faith, writes, “The IRS’s official position on the reason for Trump’s audit will remain unclear, as they cannot comment on audits of individual taxpayers. But the likelihood of an audit based on his “strong Christian” belief for 12 consecutive years seems rather farfetched.” The amazing thing is that the media which is covering the campaign has not challenged Trump when he claims he is a devout Christian. Fred Imbert on writes, “‘Mr. Trump says he’s a Christian? Tell us how the biblical principles guide him,’ the Catholic University of America professor [Chad Pecknold] told CNBC’s ‘Squawk Box.’ ‘I think that’s a legitimate question no one has asked.'”

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holding a Bible. (courtesy:

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holding a Bible. (courtesy:

The embers are almost cold ash in the spat between Trump and Pope Francis, but some conservative Catholic columnists tried to compare the two public figures. Matthew Sitman on dotCommonweal writes, “Let’s be honest: the only reason to compare anyone to Donald Trump is to make that person look as bad as possible. There is nothing you can learn about Pope Francis by contemplating the antics of Trump. Juxtaposing the two is an exercise in obfuscation and deception. It would be nice, to borrow a phrase from Douthat, if [Matthew] Schmitz and [Ross] Douthat owned that.” The Republican party is unable to control this loose canon and Trump is bringing into the light of day the racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, elitist, and extreme nationalism that has been the whispered undercurrent of the G.O.P. for decades.



Trump has no boundaries

It was probably inevitable that Pope Francis would comment on the politics of fear, anger, and hate that Donald Trump supports in his candidacy for President. Rocco Palma has a complete transcription of the press conference on board the Pope’s plane as he traveled from Mexico back to the Vatican. Donald Trump’s accused Francis of being “a political man”, and the pontiff’s responded, “‘Well, thank God he said I’m political, because Aristotle defines the human person as “animal politicus” (“political animal”): at least I’m human!'” The Pope said this regarding Trump’s desire to build a wall across the U.S. – Mexico border, “‘And then, a person who thinks only of making walls, wherever they might be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel.'”  Trump responded by saying it was “disgraceful” for Pope Francis to question his Christian credentials.

Fr. James Martin wrote an opinion piece on the matter for The Washington Post. Fr. Martin supported the Pope’s analysis, “Any person who consistently speaks of excluding people, who trumpets his desire to (literally) build more walls between communities, and who manifests a desire to increase division, is not walking the Christian way.” Martin also said the pontiff has the authority to make such statements, “If anyone has the right to pronounce on such matters, it is Pope Francis.”

Barry Belvedere wrote an opinion piece for Acts of Faith The Washington Post’s religion blog. He writes that Christian belief does not dare to know the exact state of a person’s soul. He does make the point that Trump’s life is not one that seems to parallel basic Christian teaching on proper conduct and right relationship with both God and man. Belvedere writes, “Despite what they might see as a character failing in Trump, many Christians are not necessarily open to final judgments about his spiritual state. Christianity prioritizes one’s inner life to a far greater degree than outward action.” What this author misses is that Catholic teaching clearly states that outward acts (words and deeds) do provide insight into the interior state.

Trump may gain some voters in South Carolina’s primary election tomorrow (Feb. 19th), but this political strategy does not seem to one that will get him to the White House. Alana Horowitz Satlin writes on HuffPost Religion that two prominent evangelical ministers say the Pope is wrong and that Trump’s policies are in accord with biblical teaching.

The fact is that Donald Trump is a despicable human being who is using the politics of fear, anger, and hate to try and win the Republican nomination. It still remains to be seen if he will succeed. Even if he does win the nomination Trump will not win the White House. Republican nominees must get Independents and Democrats to vote for them in order to win the presidency. A moderate Republican can do this, but not someone with such outrageous and divisive policies, tactics, and rhetoric as “The Donald”

“Human civilization has entered into a period of epochal change.”

The joint declaration issued by Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia after their nearly 135-minute meeting on Friday (Feb. 12th) at José Martí International Airport in Havana, Cuba includes this sentence: “Human civilization has entered into a period of epochal change.”


Pope Francis & Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia exchange a joint declaration on religious unity after their historic meeting on Feb. 12th.                                                                      (photo courtesy of: Associated Press)

The document includes calls for ending persecution of Christians in the Middle East as well as in Northern, Central, and Eastern Africa. The crisis in Ukraine, which is one of the points of conflict between the two Christian Churches, is also mentioned, along with discussions of married and family life, abortion, and euthanasia.

The Pope was quick to say that this meeting and the document are pastoral in nature, rather than political. The National Catholic Reporter’s Joshua J. McElwee writes, “Later, the pope and patriarch state bluntly that the world is in need of their combined testimony to the way of the Gospel.” Despite the long standing differences between Rome and Moscow based on theological and territorial disagreements, the two leaders felt joining their voices together at this crucial moment in human history was imperative.

Nicole Winfield writing for the Associated Press on the The Washington Post’s webpage offers this analysis of Francis’ immersing himself in world affairs, “The meeting and signing of a joint declaration was decades in the making and cemented Francis’ reputation as a risk-taking statesman who values dialogue, bridge-building and rapprochement at almost any cost.”

This reaching out by Francis has left him open to criticism by those who feel he is being used by Kirill. Carol Kuruvilla on HuffPost Religion writes, “Some experts suggest that this was an opportune moment for the Russian church in particular. It allows Kirill to demonstrate his influence ahead of a June conference that will bring together the world’s Orthodox churches. Observers inside Russia also point out that the meeting could open up a new avenue of communication for the Kremlin, at a time when Russia is becoming increasingly becoming isolated from the West because of its military actions in Syria and Ukraine.”

Conversation would seem to be a better option than distant silence. The nearly 1,000 year ice age between Eastern and Western Christianity is finally beginning to thaw. Rome has established relations with the Ecumenical Patriarch (1964) and now with the Russian Orthodox Church, which is the largest in the Orthodox Communion. The last major hurdle is to bring in the Greek Orthodox Church. With an historic meeting amongst all branches of the Orthodox Church set for this summer, might it be time for East and West to move towards the Christian unity that Christ called for in the Gospels?

This epochal change is evident throughout the world. It has been ushered in by technology and the consequential economic, social, and political movement of globalization. The Pope has continually echoed that world society cannot consider the marginalized to be necessary casualties in this march forward. He will risk criticism from all corners in his effort to remind humanity that the weakest among us have inherent dignity and value.

Help Needed: knowledgeable religion reporters

Here is why major news sources need to have a knowledgeable reporter covering the religion beat: the required breadth and depth of the story is often times not provided. In Get Religion Terry Mattingly asks, “Did you hear about the historic meeting that will occur today between the media superstar Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Orthodox Church of Moscow and All Russia? Is there up-front coverage of this in your newspaper this morning?…Have you heard about this in major media?…Now, call me naive, but I thought that this meeting would receive major coverage.”He points out that when the the mainstream press actually bothers to cover the story they are portraying the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow in Cuba today (Feb. 12th) through the lens of geopolitics. How Russia (Putin), the U.S. (Obama), and other nations are involved and affected by these developments, and in some respects are almost seen as manipulating the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church, is the storyline. There are a myriad of reasons why these two leaders within Christianity is happening, and it’s not just about secular political intrigue.

In dotCommonweal Massimo Faggioli writes that, “There are three basic lines of critique…First, there’s the political-diplomatic dimension of the meeting…Second, there’s the internal politics of the Orthodox churches…Third, there’s the ecumenical dimension of the meeting.” Faggioli gives excellent historical context on why this meeting is happening from an ecumenical and internal (Catholic & Orthodox) Church perspective.

The “Year of Mercy” is the impetus behind the Pope’s emphasis on bridging divides anywhere he can. Kevin Clarke of America writes, “In terms of other areas of global concern to the Holy See, warmer relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, and by extension presumably political leadership in Moscow, ‘might also help address two of Pope Francis’ major agenda items this year: the Syrian crisis and China.'”

In his blog Whispers in the Loggia, Rocco Palmo correctly points out that the headline / lead sentence of many stories covering this story are factually incorrect, “Before anything else, as no shortage of coverage elsewhere over the last week has shown a staggering depth of ignorance, one thing apparently bears clarifying: in the historic context of today’s first-ever meeting between the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of Moscow, any mention of ‘a 1,000 year-old split’ would be enough to flunk the exam on what all this means.” Palmo explains why there is not a ‘a 1,000 year-old split’, “In essence, Christianity in modern-day Russia was barely at its inception at the time of the East-West Schism of 1054…[and] a patriarchate at Moscow wasn’t established until the late 1500s.” Oh yeah,  there are also millions of Christians suffering persecution – some say genocide – in the Middle East (Syria).

Religion is a complicated subject to cover and cover well. Even though I have a Masters in Divinity as well as a Certificate in Ecumenism, I would need to check many of facts about stories and issues outside of the U.S. Catholic Church. All too often major newspapers and broadcast outlets allow a dominant theme to overshadow a religion story, and the reporter is often times not knowledgeable enough to push back against an editor that has already predetermined the headline / lead. These knowledgeable reporters would also be able to lobby for the story to receive a more prominent place in the day’s news coverage. In a relatively short period of time I was able to access the work of people who do know and understand the depth and breadth of the religion story. Why are major news outlets not doing the same?












How well is Francis dealing with sex abuse?

We are just short of the three-year anniversary of Francis’ election as Pope, and two recent stories point toward asking the question: How is well is Francis dealing with sex abuse?

On Saturday [Feb. 6th] an outspoken member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors was announced to be taking a “leave of absence” after a vote of no-confidence by the other members of the board according to Rosie Scammell of the Religion News Service. However, Peter Sanders, a British Catholic who was abused by Jesuit priests as a teenager, says he is not leaving the panel and only Pope Francis himself can remove him. Joshua J. McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter describes how the vote unfolded, “The vote taken Saturday [Feb. 7th] was 15-0 in favor of the no confidence motion in him, said Saunders, with one commission member abstaining and another not present to take part.” Marie Collins, an Irish Catholic, is the other member of the board who personally suffered sexual abuse. Scammell reports that the panel’s appointed leader, “Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, said Saunders had been asked to consider establishing a victim survivor panel to work with the advisory body.” The reasons why the board voted to remove Sanders are: because he talked to the media too much, his constant public lobbying for individual sex abuse victims, and that he was operating in a manner contrary to the panel’s function of advising rather than advocating. Sanders has asked Cardinal O’Malley to arrange a meeting between him and the pontiff.

A former seminarian is facing a preliminary hearing on Thursday [Feb. 11th] in the U.S. District Court for Southern California on charges of two felony counts of traveling with the intent to illicit sexual conduct with a minor and aggravated sexual abuse of a child according to the complaint from the U.S. attorney’s office in San Diego. Joel A. Wright was arrested in San Diego International Airport on Jan. 29th, where he is alleged to be on his way to Tijuana, Mexico so that he could “rent or buy” an infant girl for the purposes of violent sexual assault. Wright had been a first year seminary student at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, OH studying for the Diocese of Steubenville. Liam Stack and Ashley Southall of The New York Times reports that, “Mr. Wright discussed his sexual fantasies and said he planned pay the parents of a baby so he could ‘adopt/own’ her. ‘The cheapest baby girl under 3 would be good,’ he wrote.” Wright had been under online surveillance by federal agents for at least two years. Wright attended Franciscan University of Steubenville as an undergraduate before entering the seminary.

In a related story on The Boston Globe’s Catholic-focused blog CruxJohn L. Allen Jr. explores what the Vatican is doing to educate newly appointed bishops on the full range of issues related to sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. According to Allen the only aspect that is being addressed in the “baby” bishop’s training are the canon law implications. Allen poses this question, “Why is the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, the body led by [Cardinal] O’Malley, not entrusted with making such a presentation to new bishops?” Excellent question Mr. Allen, hopefully an answer will be provided.

This is now Francis’ [Catholic] Church. He has all of his appointees in the key positions within the Roman Curia (administrative unit of the Holy See), he is appointing more and more bishops to key dioceses around the globe, and he has the support of the laity throughout the Church (for now). How he deals with sexual abuse will ultimately determine his effectiveness as a reformer of the Vatican and the universal Church. Primarily this issue is about clericalism. Cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons, seminarians, and many in laity must overcome the deep vein in Catholic culture that believes the clergy is not subject to civil (human) law.

Pope Francis’ predecessor – Benedict XVI – retired as Pope in no small part due to his ineffectiveness in dealing with sexual abuse within the Church. The situation with Mr. Sanders and the lack of adequate training for new bishops are two items that the faithful should pay close attention to during the coming weeks and months.

Ash Wednesday [Feb. 10th] begins the penitential season of Lent for Catholics around the world. This is a good time for Pope Francis, the Roman Curia, the Vatican, and bishops to reflect, reassess, and repent so that the Catholic Church will finally provide a safe environment for children.

Pope Francis opens another door

After nearly a millennia of separation the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches are one step closer to unity. Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow will meet in Cuba one week from today (Feb. 12th). The heads of the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church will meet for the first time since the Schism of 1054 A.D., which was the formal separation between the Catholic West and Orthodox East. The Vatican first made history in 1964 when Pope Paul VI met with Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey) in Jerusalem. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, & Pope Francis have all met with Athenagoras’ successors (currently Bartholomew) as Pope. The Patriarch of Constantinople is considered “first among equals”, however each individual Orthodox Church is fiercely independent and the ecclesiology is more horizontal than the vertical Catholic model of hierarchy.

There are 1.2 billion Catholics in world and 250 million Orthodox, and perhaps two-thirds of them are Russian Orthodox – which gives the Patriarch of Moscow a lot of pull within the Orthodox Communion of Churches. In an analysis column by on the Catholic-centric Crux blog by the The Boston Globe John L. Allen, Jr. writes, “Especially in light of a pan-Orthodox council scheduled for Crete in June, the first such gathering of leaders of all the Orthodox churches in 1,000 years, Moscow probably feels under pressure to reassert its relevance and leadership, and a high-profile summit with the pope is a terrific way of doing so.” Allen also points out several reasons why the Russian Orthodox Church has been distant from the Vatican as relations with other Orthodox Churches have thawed, including a Catholic presence in traditionally Orthodox lands especially in the Ukraine and Crimea. These complaints are initiated and echoed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, but the relationship between the Church and state in Russian has always been cozy – even during the Communist era. Putin visited Francis at the Vatican in June of last year, and certainly would have had to sign off on the upcoming meeting.

The reason why both Francis’ and Kirill’s spokesman said they were putting aside all theological and political disagreements is the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East and Africa. The Religion News Services‘ (RNSRosie Scammell writes the ancestral home of Christianity is being devastated, “It’s estimated that there are as few as 200,000 Christians in Iraq, remaining from a prewar population of 1.5 million.” The situation in Syria is also of great concern for all Christian leaders. Coptic Christians also face continued violence at the hands of Muslim extremists in Egypt.

This is a practical example of Francis’ pontificate. In this “Year of Mercy” the Vatican diplomatic office is reaching out to estranged governments like China along with continued work towards Christian unity with the Orthodox Churches in the East as well as the Protestant and Anglican Churches in the West. Joshua J. McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter writes, “Beyond an encounter between two Christian leaders, the February meeting also signals a significant and historic move toward wider Christian unity between the long-separated Eastern and Western churches.”

The Pope refuses to be bound by historical differences and rather sees engagement and relationship to be the path. In one word: dialogue. He is calling for a dialogue between all of humanity to address our shared interests and to better understand our differences so that we can better live in peaceful harmony with each other and with nature. Pope Francis would rather have doors open rather than closed.

Faith and the Contenders

Now that the Iowa caucuses are over it seems that there are five serious contenders in the race for the White House – three on the Republican side and two on the Democratic side. The New Hampshire primary next week might whittle the pack down more or add another to the contenders list, but the names for now are: Cruz, Trump, Rubio, Clinton, and Sanders. Religion News Service (RNS) has a series called: “5 Faith Facts,” where the faith beliefs of each of the candidates are examined.

Their beliefs and how they see them guiding their candidacy – and for one of them their presidency – is an important factor in this race. Even though those who claim no religious affiliation is growing in the United States, the vast majority of the citizens who vote on a consistent basis consider a contender’s belief to be a determining factor in their decision of who to support in both the primary and general presidential election.

I would like to briefly examine each candidate based on the RNS article about them along with an additional story from another source on each contender.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R)

Ted Cruz is the son of a born-again Southern Baptist preacher who was once a Cuban Catholic immigrant to the U.S. He has the fiery, evangelical, apocalyptic stump speech style and sees God’s favor or disapproval of the country revealed in U.S. political election results. He also sees religious liberty to be threatened on all sides from a federal bureaucracy that is intent on removing God from public life in the U.S. His brand appeals to Christians who think the good ol’ days are exactly what are needed right now. Like many evangelicals Cruz is a staunch Zionist and takes no issue with how the nation-state of Israel deals with the Palestinian minority in the West Bank and Gaza. Cruz believes political compromise – which is ingrained in the American political system – to be a betrayal of one’s beliefs and that a principled stand is more important than keeping the government operating. He is largely credited with causing the federal government shutdown from October 1st – 16th, 2013. Cruz is confrontational and abrasive, which is something that does not fit well with basic Christian teaching, but he believes he is waging a holy war for the soul of America. However, Baylor University History Professor Thomas S. Kidd takes aim at Cruz’s theology in The Washington Post’s religion blog Acts of Faith writing, “And they [evangelical leaders] might remind Cruz that the most important purposes of God’s Kingdom – the glory of God and the salvation of sinners – will never happen through electoral victories or earthly governments.”

Donald Trump (R)

Donald Trump is an atheist compared to Ted Cruz. He claims to be a Presbyterian, but many in the evangelical community have noted his sporadic church attendance over the years. He seems to stumble when making religious and scriptural references, and he certainly does not have any idea of what the traditional Christian ethos is regarding charity toward others. His lack of religious credentials probably had as much to do with his disappointing second place finish in Iowa as his lack of a grass-roots organization did. Republican primary voters – except on the coasts and in big cities – consider a candidates’ religious views and practices to be more important than anything else, and The Donald doesn’t compare to most of the other G.O.P. contenders.

Writing in the The Washington Post’s religion blog Acts of Faith, evangelical scholar Judd Birdsall, PhD, says Trump needs a conversion like that of St. Paul in order to shed his unChristian demagoguery of others, “And I hope Trump’s support base, which includes a lamentably large number of my fellow evangelicals, will have the wisdom to see that scapegoating minorities won’t ‘make America great again.'”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R)

Marco Rubio reflects the religious experience of many in Generation X and the millennials. Baptized as an infant in the Catholic Church, he was a practicing Mormon for 3 years in his youth and has regularly attended a Southern Baptist megachurch in the Miami area while also practicing the denomination of his heritage and youth – Catholicism. Some might see his current practice as politically expedient, while others might resonate with his desire to have the traditional Catholic sacraments – especially the Eucharist – combined with contemporary preaching and worshipping style of the evangelicals. He has appealed to the religious base of the party by seeing God’s providence and guiding hand in his life as a professional politician. Compared to Cruz he is more a centrist on matters of both church and state, which could serve him well if he is able to secure the nomination.

Rubio gained some much needed credibility with the religious right wing of the party when he engaged in a dialogue with an atheist who confronted many of the candidates while they were campaigning in Iowa. The Washington Post’s Daniel Silliman talked with Iowa native and atheist Justin Scott about his experience of quizzing nearly every presidential candidate about how they would protect his right not to believe in the God most of the candidates claim to hold so dear, “The very devout Christian candidates, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, took part in a dialogue. There was a genuine conversation. I seriously felt like I could sit down with Marco Rubio and ask him, ‘Hey, what about this policy? What about that policy?’ My question was provocative. I asked him if he was running for commander in chief or pastor in chief. But after it was all over, I went up to him, I shook his hand. He thanked me for my question. I thanked him for his answer. We took a selfie together.” This combination of faith informed values and respect and tolerance for others might explain Rubio’s strong third place showing in Iowa and could bode well in future primary contests.

Sec. Hillary Clinton (D)

The favorite to win both the Democratic party’s nomination and the ultimate prize – the White House – Hillary Clinton is a policy wonk who is an unashamed supporter of Planned Parenthood and women’s (reproductive) rights around the world. What many don’t know about her is that she is a devout Methodist who has had her public life shaped by that denomination’s theology. Seeing herself as an instrument of God’s will who is try to make a difference in people’s lives though the political system, Clinton also does not like touting her religious credentials at every stump speech. The base of the Democratic party is different than the Republican base, but in many states Democratic primary voters are people of faith and want to know how the contenders faith informs and influences them. Clinton is a product of her times and that includes religion, but unlike Trump her Methodist faith is lifelong and her participation in services cannot be questioned.  The evangelical, Catholic, and Mormon right wing will always see her as a “baby killer,” but she is a person of faith who has been influenced by the progressive nature of her mainline Protestant denomination. She does not have any conflicts regarding embracing homosexuals as full members of society, protecting women’s reproductive rights, and defending people’s right not to believe.

Writing for the lay Catholic magazine Commonweal, E. J. Dionne Jr. states, “As a friend said recently, there is the Methodist-youth-group side of Hillary Clinton that people don’t pay much attention to, the moralist who was moved by Christian social justice concerns away from the conservatism of her family.” Dionne goes on to point out that she is a veteran of the presidential campaigns, and that she may struggle to win (Iowa) or lose (New Hampshire), but after those two states all of the indicators point in her direction to win the nomination and quite possibly the presidency.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D)

The oldest candidate in the entire field – Republican or Democrat – is the one that best represents a growing segment of millennials – the “nones”. These are Americans who do not self identify with any organized religion or belief system. Bernie Sanders openly says he does not personally practice or associate with any organized religion. He is what is called a “cultural Jew,” which means heritage and customs resonate with him more than regular attendance at Shabbat or acceptance of Jewish theology. Many Jews in the wake of the Holocaust have walked this path, including questioning the existence of God. However, Sanders is a huge supporter of Pope Francis and his message. Sanders is an unapologetic socialist who wants to bring in free university education, publicly funded elections, and a massive investment in the country’s deteriorated roads and bridges. His social activism is reflective of his life experiences relative to his generation, as well as embracing of the Judeo-Christian ethic of helping those who need it. He is also a strong critic of Israel and especially of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In HuffPost Religion, Carla Gardina Pestana writes that Sanders approach is unique in American political life, “So when Bernie says he has values grounded in his religious upbringing but does not practice, he places a foot in both the religious and the secular camps, and he does so in such a way as to better satisfy the voters he seeks to reach in the primary. How this position–endorsing vaguely-stated values while not practicing–might play in the general election remains to be seen, should his candidacy carry him that far.” That is the million dollar question he must answer especially after Iowa and New Hampshire are over.

Religion, or faith, is still an important aspect of a person’s character today, especially for those who aspire to be President of the United States of America. The Republican party’s base wants a candidate who will tell them that they are going to restore the good ol’ days of the 1950’s. Gay marriage, 40+ years of post Roe v. Wade, and an increase in the number of (especially young) Americans who are not religious at all is evidence to many evangelicals, conservative Catholics, and Mormons that God is not welcome in many parts of our country. A cynic might say this is all a smoke screen for what really matters – which is tax policy. The Democratic base is not as concerned with the religious beliefs and practices of the candidates, but in many states Democrats do believe in God and go to church every Sunday. This aspect of the campaign will largely fade into the background once the nominees are chosen and it becomes a mano y mano contest.

Trump and God

The official kickoff of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election season is at the Iowa caucuses on Monday (Feb. 1st) and continues the following week (Feb. 9th) with the New Hampshire Primary. The Republican front-runner – according to the polls – is Donald Trump. Trump has tapped into the deep vein of anger within the American electorate that Sarah Palin originally galvanized as the Republican Vice-Presidential nominee in 2008. Trump has engaged in the politics of fear which drives much of this anger.

Xenophobic, misogynistic, racist, elitist, and anti-intellectual are all labels which have fit Trump’s campaign strategy and style so far. The leadership of the Republican Party has been reluctant to embrace him, but if The Donald starts piling up delegates they may be stuck with him. Two states which are early on the calendar – Iowa and South Carolina – are deeply religious, especially on the Republican side, so how the candidates are viewed through the prism of faith will matter a great deal.

Evangelical Christians will be the largest segment of the Republican primary electorate in the Hawkeye and Palmetto states, and Trump has done well with these voters, but he recently came out a big loser amongst ministers when asked who they would vote for. This is one indication that education level is a factor as to whether Trump’s message resonates with an individual. Mainline Protestants are not as strong in the Trump camp, and the same can be said for Catholics – as a whole. You can pretty much figure Muslims will not vote for the candidate who has said he would detain and/or expel them in the name of security. Jewish voters are as hard as Catholics to nail down, and factors other than faith play a huge role.

“The Catholic Vote” is not something that actually exists anymore. According to Vinnie Rotondaro, in the National Catholic Reporter, a Catholic-American’s politics, income level, views on gun control, etc. all play a role in who they vote for as their Catholic faith. The U.S. bishops tried to get involved with Presidential politics during the 2004 and ’08 elections, but they backed off in ’12. Their instrument was the Catholic Voting Guide issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and it strongly laid out the moral view that any politician who supports abortion could not be voted for in good conscience. This past November at their annual meeting in Baltimore the bishops modified the existing voting guide, but some wanted a complete overhaul to reflect what Pope Francis was emphasizing. This is a much different guide and accompanying public statements by bishops than what John Kerry faced in 2004. A candidates’ abortion views are important, but so are their policies on the poor, war, the environment, etc. It must also be noted that many Catholics do not vote according to what the bishops think or say.

“Evangelicals, it’s time for a gut check on Trump” is the title of the commentary by Jacob Lupfer on the Religion News Service‘s (RNS) website. Lupfer challenges Evangelicals to not follow the lead of Rev. Jerry Falwell Jr., President of Liberty University, who recently endorsed Trump. He calls these devout Christians to examine their Bibles and consciences to see if they really can support a candidate so entrenched in the politics of fear, anger, and hate. The Tea Party and the conservative movement are largely controlled by Evangelical voters, but Lupfer also recalls the disillusionment many Christians felt within the White House of President George W. Bush. This was followed by the election and re-election of President Barack Obama in 2008 & ’12, despite massive efforts by voters of faith to defeat him. Lupfer is essentially asking Evangelicals to stand by their faith and principles and not to support a candidate who does not reflect their values.

Much of this conversation is grounded in the partisan primary elections, but it will probably evaporate during the general campaign this coming summer. Many African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanic/Latino-Americans, and other minorities who agree with the vast majority of the Republican platform have not voted for the G.O.P.’s nominee in the past two elections because of the party’s anti-immigrant/minority perception. If Trump is their choice in 2016 how can Republicans expect any support from minorities? The fact of the matter is that (angry) Caucasian-Americans cannot elect a U.S. President all by themselves.





The religion blogs I am following on my blog home page

These are the blogs which I am currently following. I will attempt to create and RSS feed so that I can see them with little to no effort.

Acts of Faith is the religion blog for The Washington Post. It is a site where individuals from the public can submit posts, which are reviewed, chosen, and then edited by the professional staff. I know that the Post has a large number of people who cover religion and this is an excellent way to bring even more voices into the conversation.

altmuslim is on the Patheos Muslim Portal. The portal began in 2001, and is, “inspired by the ‘alt.muslim’ Usenet newsgroups from the early days of the Internet, where freewheeling online discussions about the Muslim world were born.” I will be able to read about issues involving Muslims and Islam from the Muslim perspective.

altmuslimah  (“altM”)  is, “an online magazine featuring compelling commentary on gender-in-Islam from both the male and female, Muslim and non-Muslim, perspectives.” Muslim women are an intriguing part of the global population that are beginning to emerge as force that must be recognized. This site will allow me to see the world and their challenges from their first-person perspective.

America magazine blogs  is “the National Catholic review”, and one of the most widely read Catholic publications in the U.S. Their blogs are wide a varied and posted in one section. The author of each posting is clearly displayed. The Society of Jesus (Jesuits) publishes America and their priest members are contributors and editors of the magazine and blogs, but their is a strong presence of lay Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

belief is’s religion blog whose contributors come from CNN’s professional journalism staff. The blog’s mission statement says it, “covers the faith angles of the world’s biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment.” This will give me a good national and international perspective.

Busted Halo is the blog for the Catholic men’s religious community the Paulists, which I was a seminarian with from 2008-13. The names refers to the fact that, “Each of us sports a Halo that is either dented, scratched, tarnished…in some way Busted.” There are numerous blogs which focus on living as a young adult Catholic in the U.S. in contemporary times. I find this as a way to stay engaged with a segment of the Catholic population that is not always listened to.

Crux is a blog for The Boston Globe, “Covering all things Catholic.” Its staff includes some of the best journalists covering the Catholic Church in America including John A. Allen, Jr. Boston is still one of the most Catholic U.S. cities and since the sexual abuse scandal broke in 2002 in the Globe‘s pages coverage and scrutiny of the Church is a high priority for the readership.

dotCommonweal is the blog for Commonweal magazine, “founded in 1924, is the oldest independent lay Catholic journal of opinion in the United States.” The magazine is completely free of any influence from Catholic hierarchy and offers a perspective that can get lost amongst the clergy and laity that still dominate thinking and discussion within the Church.

Faith in the Numbers is the religion blog for the Public Religion Research Institute. Data is an important aspect of reporting on issue in the 21st century, and religion is no exception this rule. This blog gives me information that can help put things into perspective and occasionally challenge a public figure’s statements regarding belief and culture.

FaithWorld is the religion blog for Reuters news service. Reuters offers a global perspective and this blog is edited by veteran religion correspondent and editor Tom Heneghan.

getReligion is a blog that tries to cover the religion stories that the mainstream media does not – whether it is intentional or not. There is a conservative flavor to their writing but it is one that does not obscure the story for the sake of political ideology.

HuffPost Religion is the religion blog for the Huffington Post online news service. Although I was originally skeptical about Huffington Post in particular and online newspapers in general, there is no question that it (and they) are here to stay. In a way that is related to getReligion, this blog covers religion in a way and with a depth that many print newspapers and magazines do not.

NCR Today is the blog for the National Catholic Reporter which says, “is the only significant alternative Catholic voice that provides avenues for expression of diverse perspectives, promoting tolerance and respect for differing ideas.” Commonweal and America might argue with this statement, but independent coverage of the Catholic Church is good for the Church itself, the folks in the pews, and the country as a whole.

Religion News Service (RNS), “is a non-profit, limited liability corporation owned by the Religion Newswriters Foundation and based at the National Press Building in Washington, D.C., with a business office at the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia, Mo. RNS’s mission is to provide in-depth, non-sectarian coverage of religion, spirituality and ideas.” I would equate RNS to the Associated Press or Reuters in religion news coverage.

Ross Douthat‘s blog on The New York Times website. Douthat is a conservative – both in U.S. politics and Catholic ecclesiology/theology – who offers this perspective when he writes about Catholic issues. Douthat is also a convert to Catholicism, along with the rest of his family. He sometimes conflates politics with faith, but that is an American tendency that must be factored in when covering faith issues in this country.

the revealer is the blog for New York University’s Center for Religion and Media. I think an in depth analysis of how religion and media intersect is important for me as I try to explore belief and culture.

Whispers in the Loggia is the blog for Rocco Palmo. The focus is on the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, especially on bishops, cardinals, the curia, and the Pope. I include this blog because it is one that has grown from absolutely nothing and has vaulted Palmo into becoming a media superstar in the world of Catholic social media.

I feel these blogs will help me to have a good idea of what the national and international conversation is regarding belief and culture. I know that I will find other blogs along the way which add to my knowledge sphere, and occasionally I will find that one of these blogs to not contribute what I once thought they did.

Archbishop who resigned leaves post

Archbishop John Nienstedt is leaving a Battle Creek, MI parish after his presence caused an outcry from some in the pews and increased media scrutiny. Jean Hopfensperger of The Minneapolis Star-Tribune writes that Nienstedt resigned as the Archbishop of St. Paul last June, “after the Ramsey County attorney’s office filed civil and criminal charges claiming that the church had failed to protect children from clergy sex abuse under his watch.”

Nienstedt was helping his friend Rev. John Fleckenstein, pastor at St. Philip Catholic Church in the diocese of Kalamazoo, who is experiencing health problems. The temporary assignment – which was supposed to last for 6 months – was announced in the parish’s bulletin on Jan. 10th, and there was an immediate and sizeable outcry from parishioners at St. Philip’s and from Catholics across the region.

Brian Roewe of the National Catholic Reporter writes, “In a guest column Sunday in the [Battle Creek] Enquirer addressed to Bishop Paul Bradley of Kalamazoo, Samantha Pearle, a St. Philip parishioner and victim of sexual abuse as a child, said she was ‘infuriated’ by Bradley’s decision to allow Nienstedt into the parish.

Both Fleckenstein and Bradley said they regretted the decision to bring Nienstedt in and did not anticipate the public outcry. This is a big part of the problem within the U.S. Catholic Church as leadership continues to misunderstand the outrage and disgust that Catholic laity has towards leaders who do not deal with sexual abuse directly and justly.

I was on a pastoral internship assignment as a seminarian at St. Lawrence parish in Minneapolis during the 2012-13 academic year. This was also the home of the Campus Ministry for the University of Minnesota (main campus). I spent time talking to many people from throughout the Twin Cities and the state of Minnesota and there was a tangible sense that the environment was toxic. There was a nasty divide and feud between the younger conservatives and the older liberals within the clergy, religious, and laity. There was a sense that Nienstedt was overwhelmed by the situation and was not able to deal with cliques within the presbyterate that interfered with transparency with the Archdiocese. His auxiliary bishop Lee Piche also resigned for his role in the scandal.