— David Brody (@TheBrodyFile) September 12, 2013
The invaluable McKay Coppins – that rare political reporter who understands people of faith – homes in on another aspect of the phenomenon I noted yesterday: the impact of Pope Francis on the evangelical religious right. They’re not happy:
Bryan Fischer, a senior analyst at the American Family Association and devout Christian, said he was “disappointed and alarmed at some of the things the pope said” — a sentiment shared by many of the protestant culture warriors on America’s religious right. “It raises questions in our mind because the Catholic Church has always been a faithful shoulder-to-shoulder ally to social conservatives in the fight to protect unborn human life” and the sanctity of marriage, Fischer said. “We simply have questions of whether we’ll be able to count on the Catholic Church to be comrades-in-arms to continue to fight these battles.”
Fischer is way out there, of course, a near-pathological opponent of homosexual civil equality. But Coppins finds some nervousness among more careful spokespeople like Russell Moore of the Southern Baptists and Tony Perkins. Beneath their statements you can see a clear fissure developing along the ancient Catholic-Protestant fault-line, especially as it relates to politics. Francis is blunt on that:
I say that politics is the most important of the civil activities and has its own field of action, which is not that of religion. Political institutions are secular by definition and operate in independent spheres.
That re-statement of Christianity – as opposed to Christianism – along with Francis’ reframing of evangelization – “Proselytism is nonsense” – could almost be designed to infuriate Protestant Christianists. McKay finds a large fish in a small barrel:
Away from the gaggle of reporters, Tracy Pyland, a born again Christian and Maryland mother of five who came to the conference with her husband and two youngest children, was less diplomatic when asked about the pope’s recent comments. “That’s infuriating. That man needs to read his Bible,” she said.
She hastened to add, “I don’t mean any disrespect, but that man garners a lot respect and he should earn that respect. He should not have done that… He’s not doing the job he was given, which is to represent Christ in a positive light.”
For Christianist Protestants, Francis has not cast the positive light on Christianity the way, er, Bryan Fischer and Tony Perkins and Brian Brown have. That’s not a slight disagreement with most American Catholics. It’s a chasm of difference.
Update from a reader:
I’m very glad you have singled out my fellow Mormon McKay Coppins as a very smart political reporter with lots to say concerning faith and people of faith. I’ve been a fan of his since he began to work at Buzzfeed – Ben Smith certainly knew what he was doing when he hired him from the Washington Times.
I’m sure Ben knew that Mr Coppins’ shared Mormon heritage would be a valuable asset on the Romney campaign trail, helping to explain, debunk or affirm Romney’s beliefs by someone who really knows his Mormon theology. He was also invaluable in deciphering Mormonism’s distinct (and at times quirky) culture, and that was just as important in my opinion. And his journalism seemed to stay very much in the center of the facts, he did it with a sensitivity to his own faith, as well as those of other Republicans in the race. How much of this perfect meshing of reporter and was part of the Ben Smith/Buzzfeed plan and how much of it was serendipity I don’t know, but it really was the most consistently solid reporting on the Romney campaign that I read.
I wondered how he would fair after the election without a prominent Mormon to have to explain to a still wary nation, but I shouldn’t have. He’s been excellent since then as well, and has become a standard in my rotation.
I would like to think that part of his success speaking to and about people of faith has something to do with his Mormon upbringing (hell, he’s named after Mormon prophet David O. McKay, for crying out loud) and I want to recognize that there’s a strain of Mormon youth that are very much in the same mold as McKay, one that’s willing to talk up an often criticized biography of the Prophet Joseph Smith and to encourage other Mormons to be open to receiving criticism of their faith while searching diligently for truth, serving their fellow man and embracing the real stories of Mormons of the past and the new stores of today.
The fact that he looks like Truman Capote is a bonus.