The risk of supporting privilege

A right, unequally available, is not a right, but is, instead, a privilege.  And a government, whether a city council, a legislature, or a Congress, which perpetuates the furtherance of the latter rather than strengthens the opportunities embodied in the former acts against the foundation on which this nation is built.

By action or by inaction, a government which advocates privilege ignores the constitutional mandate to seek, on behalf of all of the people, a more perfect Union, to strive for justice and domestic tranquility, to promote the general welfare, and to secure the blessings of liberty for all—and replaces that mandate with a policy that favors the few who can afford to exercise a granted privilege.

If, as our founders proclaimed in separate expressions, all citizens are equal under the law, the concept of privilege violates that standard of legal equality.

These standards, here laid forth by one untrained in the law, have been argued in local, state, and national venues from the beginning of our country.  They have been argued recently in one Jefferson City courtroom and likely will be argued in another one.

The issue is large amounts of money in political campaigns.  The blatant use of it to buy candidates and laws is obvious. Missouri is the only state that gives those with a lot of money an ability far beyond the ability of the average citizen to influence public policy. The refusal by the legislature to even consider trying to let all citizens participate in the election process equally has become intolerable to those who have turned to the initiative process to replace the state-sanctioned privilege afforded the wealthy few with a plan to revitalize a right in which all can participate.

We are not saying the proposal that has withstood its first legal challenge is the best answer.  But it is an inevitable result when those elected to serve on behalf of all Missourians lack the will to strengthen rights and therefore defend privilege, often for their own benefit.

More than three-hundred thousand Missourians signed a petition to reinstate campaign contribution limits in Missouri and keep political action committees from hiding the sources of the money they spend, supposedly independently of candidates.  County clerks who looked at the names and signatures on those petitions have found enough valid ones to put the issue on the November ballot.

Opponents are challenging the constitutionality of the proposal.  Supporters are saying there is no constitutional question until the proposal becomes law.  Opponents say the proposal violates equal protection standards of the constitution because it denies certain entities from taking part in the financing of campaigns.  Proponents can point to the last paragraph of the proposition that says courts can find part of the matter unconstitutional without endangering the validity of the remaining parts.

One of the arguments is that campaign finance restrictions limit freedom of speech by those who wish to express it through large campaign donations. But a freedom, unequally protected, is not a freedom.  It is a privilege, a position of superiority, a violation of equality under the law. When freedom of speech is accorded greater weight to those with the ability to buy it, it is not a freedom.  It is, in fact, a form of oppression.

At least, that is how this citizen continues to observe it, any legal rulings to the contrary notwithstanding.

The lawyer whose clients are challenging the proposed amendment to the state constitution, Chuck Hatfield, does not disagree that the present campaign system is out of hand—in fact he was a key figure nine years ago in a case that re-imposed campaign limits before the legislature EIGHT years ago eliminated them.  But he thinks this proposal is flawed and should not have a chance to be enacted.

And therein lies the problem with initiative petitions that result from frustration with legislative inaction.  The criticism from legislative circles used to be that initiative petitions are dangerous because they do not go through the rigorous wordsmithing that bills go through in the legislative process.  And they are especially dangerous if they take the form of constitutional amendments.  There might be some truth in that contention if one assumes that the legislative process works.

But when the legislature refuses to act, in fact when it seems to protect the status quo through rigid inaction, the penalty for that failure to act can be an initiative petition that raises its own constitutional questions.  When government supports privilege instead of defending rights, it cannot be surprised that the people act.

And if, in the end, the people’s action is flawed, it is not the fault of the people.  It is the fault of those who have chosen to sanction inequality for their own benefit.  And it becomes the responsibility of voters—if only they will exercise it—to reverse that course not only through the initiative process but also through replacing those who support privilege for the few rather than rights available equally to all.


Betty Sims died the other day.  I liked her.  A lot.  She was a Republican woman state senator when Democrats and men dominated the Missouri Senate.  But they didn’t dominate her.

Betty Sims was a Senator.  Not just in title but in spirit.  She and Roseanne Bentley of Springfield were two of the first three women to serve together in the Senate, joining Irene Treppler in 1995.  “It was like, this is a big boy’s playpen and what are we doing here?  It didn’t take us long to figure it out,” she said in an oral history interview for the State Historical Society of Missouri three years ago, also noting “Rosanne and I were the first women to serve on the Appropriations Committee. If we were told once, I can’t tell you…’Are you still talking about children? What do you mean, it’s a woman’s issue?’ They just didn’t get the picture.”

(It’s really worth reading at

She, Roseanne, and Irene would not be trifled with.  Senate President Pro Tem Jim Mathewson, a Democrat, took them into his office one day and explained how they could control the floor debate—and when a women’s health bill written entirely by the male members came up, they did. “I did not go to the senate as an advocate for women. I say that, I’m not a big women’s libber. I’m a people libber,” she told interviewer Blanche Touhill, a member of the society’s board of trustees. That’s not to say she wasn’t an advocate for women.  Far from it.  The business, still practiced in the legislature, of men writing proposed laws affecting women’s health, was a red flag to Betty Sims.

Betty had a wonderful smile, an exuberance about her, a directness, a charm, and an enthusiasm for being a Senator for all the people. But when she was serious, she was very, VERY serious and she never backed down in a confrontation with a senior male senator. She wasn’t afraid to take on any colleague, Democrat or Republican when the issue was right. She didn’t always win.  But she won on some important issues—requiring insurance companies to provide coverage for reconstructive breast surgery, combatting child abuse, as well as care for those with mental health issues including Alzheimer’s disease.

Betty Sims is an example of the tragedy of term limits.  Her voters were denied the right to send her back for more terms—and they surely would have—and Missourians were denied the presence of a person of her quality in that important place.  She was barred from running again in 2002.  She railed against term limits in that 2013 interview:

I hate them. Term limits, to me, have been the undoing of a lot of that demeanor, if you will. I think what’s happening now, first of all, everybody said it will be an opportunity for the bureaucrats to get in there and the lobbyists and every time I go to a meeting…and I do sit on several state boards right now…the lobbyists are there and there’s no question but, equally, what I’m finding is, getting candidates, it’s not the same…not just not the same quality but people can say, ‘Well, I can give you eight years,’ and they come with very vested self interest. I mean, what’s been going on in the House is absolutely ridiculous and I don’t think it’s a whole lot better in the senate. So, much as I have been very critical of the number of vetoes that the governor put on, in certain instances I think he has to do that because there’s some hair-brained stuff going on down there right now.”

And she didn’t mince words about the relationship between Jay Nixon, the most veto-overridden governor in Missouri history, and today’s legislature:

I have never seen the relationships between a governor and a legislature at such a pitiful situation. I mean, I can remember when John Ashcroft was governor, Republican, both houses were Democrat but they got things done. They talked civilly to each other and we worked together for the betterment of the people. I don’t see that happening right now. I just see chaos going around and that really bothers me.

She remained, as she was as a member of the senate, hard to argue with.  Because she was right.

Here’s another example of her character.  She had to drop out of her first campaign for the senate because she didn’t live in the district in which she was running.  She sent back the money from donors.  She told Blanche Touhill, “People said, ‘Well, you’re the dumbest person I’ve ever known.’ Okay, so then the next opportunity came for the right election. I ran again and I had one letter written…and this is true…which was kind of fun. But anyway, the first letter written by my treasurer and we raised $64,000 in the first letter and we did it because people said, ‘Nobody ever gave us our money back. Obviously she’s the right person.’ So we were… fundraising never was a problem.”

God! She was such an interesting person to watch and to talk to.

I don’t know how many time in the dozen years after she left the Senate that I sat at the press table and wished she was still there.

Half-guilty, fully hypocritical

Your correspondent has a good friend, the Reverend John Bennett, who speaks and prays with a soft but strong voice, a man stooped by age but standing straight and tall in his passion for social justice.

John has been convicted of trespassing in the public gallery of the Missouri Senate.  He’s one of the Medicaid 23, as they are called, the ministers and private citizens who interrupted a filibuster on May 6, 2014 with songs, slogans and prayers urging senators to forget about playing politics with Medicaid expansion and instead think of 300,000 Missourians living on much less than senators are paid who would gain healthcare coverage under that part of Obamacare.

That’s John, wearing his minister’s stole, on the front row with the group in front of the Cole County Courthouse before their trial.

missouri faith voices

He said at the time of the demonstration, “Missouri lawmakers need a wake-up call. This is not about politics—this is about human life.  Until they do their job and pass Medicaid expansion, 700 Missourians will die each year and hundreds of thousands will live with untreated illness and in financial fear. This is a moral issue.”

Your correspondent was at the Senate press table that day.  Posted video of John and the other demonstrators with the story on the Missourinet web page. We understand the video was played during the trial. The Senate did not seem surprised when John and the-more than 23 others confronted them from the gallery.  Ron Richard, then the Majority Floor Leader, immediately moved for adjournment, interrupting Senator Jamilah Nasheed’s filibuster.  A few members stuck around for a while but the rest decided they didn’t need to hear what some people of faith had to say on behalf of folks without enough money to influence lawmakers.  Prosecutor Mark Richardson tried to portray Nasheed as a victim of the protest.  She strongly dismisses that thought.  She says Richardson never talked to her.  She was never asked to testify.

Senator Richard is now the President pro Tem, the leader of the chamber.

Capitol police, who earlier had been briefed by leaders of the demonstration, asked them to leave.  And most of them did.  But the Medicaid 23, as they had promised the police, stayed until officers tapped them individually on the shoulder and asked them to depart.  And when that happened, each of them peacefully left the chamber.  John was one of the last four to go.

Prosecutor Richardson charged the 23 with trespassing and with obstructing the business of the Senate.  One of the 23 was unable to attend the trial and could be tried separately later.  We’ll see if Richardson has the courage to put him on trial by himself. After all, he has to be as guilty as the rest, doesn’t he?

The case could have been dropped at any time by Richard and the Senate but Richardson spent more than two years on their behalf zealously pursuing his case and the righteous Senate leadership didn’t stop him. From the accounts we have read, his closing arguments displayed some ignorance one would not have expected from someone who had spent two years preparing.  In the end, a jury said they were guilty of trespassing.  But they were not guilty of obstructing the Senate.  An appeal of the conviction is likely.

To add a degree of fairness here—just one degree—there is an issue of public safety involved, and Richardson raised it.  If the Senate had dropped these charges, would it be giving tacit approval for other groups to think it’s permissible to do what the Medicaid 23 and their supporters did?  Would the Senate be inviting disorder in its galleries if it did not pursue this case? We weren’t in the jury room but that might have been the telling point leading to the trespassing conviction.

Prosecutor Richardson told the jury there are other places to hold protests at the Capitol, and it is true that protests are not uncommon in the rotunda or on the south front steps.  It is also true that lawmakers can and do easily ignore them.  Yes, people can testify in committees, and they have.  But when citizens start to feel their lawmakers are stone deaf, some kind of civil disobedience might seem the only alternative.

The jury, perhaps sensing that recommending jail time for these folks and only adding to the list of national embarrassments that Missouri seems to generate too often, has recommended the judge fine them.  Judge Dan Green is deciding how much.

There’s a greater and broader issue that is outside the courtroom.  It is inside the Senate.  And it is this:

What does this prosecution say about a Senate that has spent so much of its time passing a Religious Freedom Restoration bill that lets people use their religion to exclude others from associating with them as a matter of public policy—but prosecutes those who are PRACTICING their religious freedom (among other constitutional rights) to call on the legislature to include people in a matter of public policy?  The Senate seems to prefer as friends those supporting a religion of exclusion while considering those supporting a religion of inclusion as criminals.

It might be good for legislators who meet weekly for Bible Study to become acquainted with Jesus’ words from the Gospel of Matthew because He speaks of them in Chapter 23:

“Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. [14]

15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. 22 And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.

23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

Had Jesus spoken this truth to power from the gallery of the Missouri Senate on May 6, 2014, He would stand today with the Medicaid 22 as a convicted trespasser.

(Photo from Missouri Faith Voices)

The Politics of Nostalgia

Robert P. Jones, the former Missouri State University psychology professor who now heads the Public Religious Research Institute, looks at many of the issues that (in your observer’s view) divert the attentions of lawmakers away from solving infrastructure, education, and social problems by trying to preserve the diminishing influence of their religion in his book, The End of White Christian America.

The PRRI has identified attitudinal splits that point to an ongoing diminution in the influence of WCA that for most of this nation’s history was “the prominent cultural force.”  The survey has found 53% of Americans think our culture has gone downhill since the 1950s.  But Jones says there is a “stark cleavage” by race and religion.  Seventy-two percent of evangelicals believe in the cultural slippage.  Fifty-eight percent of mainline white Protestants and white Catholics agree.

However, fifty-nine percent of Hispanic Catholics think our culture has improved. And sixty-three percent of the growing numbers of Americans with no religious affiliation and fifty-five percent of African-American Protestants agree with them.

Jones says the latter groups will more future influence in the shaping of our country than mainline and evangelical Christians.  “For the first time in more than five decades, an appeal to a sentimental version of midcentury heartland America is not a winning political strategy,” he writes, taking a long-term view—but not a VERY long one.  He says that political movements still clinging to the “sentimental” view of midcentury America—including the Tea Party—are engaging in “the politics of nostalgia.”

Jones thinks today’s religion/politics blend began with the Republican Southern Strategy that appealed in sixties to southern Democrats upset with their party’s support of civil rights initiatives.  He recalls Richard Nixon in 1968 made a deal with Senator Strom Thurmond to stall various civil rights efforts and although the plan was short-circuited by Watergate, the alliance caught fire when former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter became president in 1976 and many southerners hoped this born-again southern Christian Baptist Democrat would favor their agenda. But they were disappointed when he did not.  Jones thinks this disappointment on which conservative religious leaders such as Jerry Fallwell capitalized turned a Republican political strategy into a White Christian Strategy in which Republicans saw an advantage to be had.  He says the White Christian Strategy was important in putting Ronald Reagan in the White House and Reagan supported it.

He says that strategy weakened in the first decade of the present century but has found new life in the Tea Party movement.  He points to a PRRI survey that shows the Tea Party is more closely aligned with the Christian Right than it is with the Libertarians, as some of its leaders claim.  In fact, a 2013 survey showed 61% of Libertarians did not consider themselves part of the Tea Party movement and 52% of Tea Party members said they were “part of the Religious Right or Christian conservative movement.”

Jones also notes 55% of Tea Party members agree this country is a Christian nation while only 39% of the general population holds that view.  He calls the Tea Party “a late-stage expression of a White Christian America that is passing from the scene.”

He also points to research showing that seventy-three percent of the electorate in 1992, when Bill Clinton was elected, was white and Christian.  That group comprised only fifty-seven percent of the electorate twenty years later and is expected to be down two more points this year and drop to fifty-two percent in 2020. At this rate, he forecasts, 2024 will be the first election in national history in which white Christians do not cast the majority of votes.   That’s bad news for Republicans who (the surveys in the book indicate) rely on voting coalitions that are eighty percent white Christians.  By contrast, only thirty-seven percent of the voters who re-elected President Obama four years ago were white Christians.

In short, he infers, the Republican coalition faces a dim future.  One factor that he has identified facing Republicans is the religiously unaffiliated population—young people who, according to an evangelical poll, have pulled away from “present day Christianity” because they see much of it as being anti-gay, judgmental, and hypocritical.  And they’re pretty firm in those opinions.  Eighty-five to ninety-one percent feel that way.

Jones cites Russel Moore, the leader of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, who has suggested it is time for Christians, as Jones puts it, “to relinquish their status as defenders of a lost consensus” (on such things as gay marriage) and “rally around a more limited movement to maintain their traditional view of marriage within their own communities.”  Jones says Moore’s position is a beginning of the “religious liberty” movement that “individuals should be able to carry religious objections from their private life into their public roles as service providers, business owners, and even elected officials.”   He refers to the movement as “a desperate attempt to fight the lost war by other means.”

Jones also looks at the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, desegregation of churches and of communities, racial justice (“why is desegregation so difficult?” he asks), and other factors on which WCA is divided and trying to maintain old values in a world that is creating new ones.

So what’s the answer?   He digs into Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ On Death and Dying: What the Dying have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy, and Their Own Families, published in 1969.  She identifies the five stages of grief that people go through when facing an end: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  Jones says those stages are useful in understanding what is happening with White Christian America, both mainliners and evangelicals.  In his forty-page final chapter, he examines how both branches of WCA are dealing with those five stages.

Jones says mainline Christians are moving—although not smoothly—toward “a distinctive theological and ecclesiastical vision, driven by the need to come to terms with the death of White Christian America,” while evangelicals are divided. One branch acknowledges “their vision of a robust white evangelical world will have to be tempered” while still resisting “the full implications of its demise.”  He cites Baptist minister and professor of Christian ethics David Gushee, who appeals to evangelicals to abandon “past conspiracy theories, demagoguery, single-issue voting, partisan seductions, mudslinging, and God-and-country conflations and confusions” and to take part in a fully pluralistic society without being tempted to reach for (as Jones puts it), “domination and sectarianism, each of which is driven by nostalgia for a lost Christian America.”

Jones sees a future for Christianity in shaping the character of our country.  But he says it must recognize its past failings and its new possibilities in a world that will be shaped by today’s younger generation.

As National Catholic Reporter writer Maureen Fiedler put it last month, “Welcoming racial and religious diversity is now a political imperative as well as a religious calling.” (

After reading this book, we think we understand the trends that have led the Missouri legislature’s majority to become embroiled in some of the hot-button issues it spends too much time working on while ignoring greater issues that affect the lives of our population as a whole.  But we also realize it is unrealistic to think that this year’s elections will produce any significant change in the attitudes of our Missouri lawmakers.   Jones’ book suggests there is hope for an eventual realization that resisting the coming changes to our society out of a “nostalgia for a lost Christian America,” rather than focusing on shaping those changes in a positive and inclusive manner, might be politically profitable in the short run but sad and wasted effort in the face of inevitability.

Depending on your faith perspective, you might or might not enjoy reading this book.  But we think it will add a dimension to your understanding of where we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going, particularly in the proposed laws we’re likely to see in the legislature next year.

Robert P. Jones, The End of White Christian America, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2016.  309 pages.

This might explain some things we see

Your traveling correspondent read the obituary when he dropped in at the Between The Covers bookstore in Harbor Springs, a northwest lower Michigan community, a few days ago.  A former college professor from Springfield—a city considered one of the buckles in the Bible Belt—had written it.

“After a long life spanning nearly two hundred and forty years, White Christian America—a prominent cultural force in the nation’s history—has died.  WCA first began to exhibit troubling symptoms in the 1960s when white mainline Protestant denominations began to shrink, but showed signs of rallying with the rise of the Christian Right in the 1980s. Following the 2004 presidential election, however, it became clear that WCA’s powers were failing.  Although examiners have not been able to pinpoint the exact time of death, the best evidence suggests that WCA finally succumbed in the latter part of the first decade of the twenty-first century.  The cause of death was determined to be a combination of environmental and internal factors—complications stemming from major demographic changes in the country, along with religious disaffiliation as many of its younger members began to doubt WCA’s continued relevance in a shifting cultural environment.”

the end of WCA

There was more to it but you’ll have to get Robert P. Jones’ The End of White Christian America and read it yourself.  Jones was a psychology professor for more than a decade at Missouri State University in Springfield before becoming the CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute.  He has a Master of Divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a doctorate in religion from Emory University.  His bio note on the PRRI website says he specialized in the sociology of religion, politics and religious ethics during his doctoral work.  He does a column online for Atlantic magazine and is often heard on NPR’s Interfaith Voices news magazine program.

Readers of his book might see some explanations for some of the stuff that’s been going on in Missouri’s legislature in recent years.  In short, Jones suggests (although not specifically) such things as the personhood amendment proposal, the proposal this observer called the Wesboro Amendment during the last session, the constant efforts to make a legal medical procedure harder and harder to obtain, and other issues are efforts of a weakening White Christian America to preserve in law what it can no longer control from the pulpit.

Jones says WCA has two branches, “a more liberal mainline Protestant America headquartered in New England and the upper Midwest/Great Lakes region and a more conservative evangelical Protestant America anchored in the South and lower Midwest/Ozark Mountains region.”   But there’s more to the distinction than geography.  He sees the two branches as divided on social class and their perspectives on race relations.  “Their differences are rooted in disagreements over fundamental tenets of theology, approaches to diversity, and accommodations to the modern world and science,” he says. The divide widened in the 1920s as some Christians saw the Bible and evolution as compatible, a position that “horrified” Protestant Fundamentalists who saw the Bible as true in all regards.  He argues that the differences between Modernists and Fundamentalists created a wound that would not heal and created a “fault line” between what is now considered mainline and fundamentalist Christianity and a subsequent fight for control of “the symbolic capital of Christianity.”

It was mainline Protestants, he writes, who led to progressive social change in the last half of the Twentieth Century—the establishment of the United Nations and its declaration for international human rights, and United States civil rights laws among other things.  Mainline Protestants, he writes, by mid-century were leaders in government, education, business, and cultural affairs.

But mainline Protestantism began to weaken and the Evangelical Protestants moved to become “the face of White Christian America,” becoming the “dominant cultural voice” that constituted a “Moral Majority” in the 70s “to protect a distinctly Protestant Christian” nation.”

However, the nation was changing socially, politically, and demographically, leading to the election of the nation’s first non-white president, the creation of a non-Protestant Supreme Court (six Catholics and three Jews), a Census Bureau prediction that this country would no longer be a majority white nation by 2050, and increasing numbers of people who, when asked their religious preference, replied “none.”

Jones cites sociologist Nathan Glazer suggesting White Christian America is facing a future in which it tries to preserve its social values, or a future in which it integrates into “the new American cultural landscape.”

Jones suggests some of the things we are seeing in government and in other parts of our lives is the result of the first choice when, he maintains, the second choice inevitably will have to be made if White Christian America is to be relevant in an age when the nation is no longer majority white and increased numbers of Americans are “nones.”

He cites a 2014 study by his organization, PRRI, showing the proportion of white Christians in this country was already at 47% while the number of Americans with no religious affiliation was up to 22%.  Another 24% were non-white Christians.  A closer look at the numbers shows a generational shift.  About 70% of older Americans are white Christians. But only about thirty percent of young adults (18-29) fall into that category.  The change in the social and religious structure of this country is well underway meaning, “Falling numbers and the marginalization of a once dominant racial and religious identity—one that has been central not just to white Christians themselves but to the national mythos—threatens white Christian understanding of America itself.”

Further studies show Protestants have not been in the majority in this country since 2008.  And the percentage of Catholics and those who are unaffiliated are about the same—22% each. The 2014 study showed those identifying themselves as white Protestants dropped from 51% to 32% in two decades.  Black Protestants stayed at about 10% while Hispanic Protestants increased and reached four percent.  And the decline in the white Protestant category involves both mainliners and evangelicals.  He points to the precipitous decline of the nation’s largest evangelical Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, which operates the seminary where he got his first graduate degree.  The conclusion?  “White Protestant Christians—both mainline and evangelical—are aging and quickly losing ground as a proportion of the population.”

Jones argues these declines have forced the two branches of WCA to seek alliances, often with other groups that had been unwelcome in their brotherhoods previously. The mainline has moved toward ecumenicity with African-American Protestants and Eastern Orthodox Christians, for example.  White Evangelicals have turned to conservative political movements and unofficial alliances with conservative white Catholics and some Greek Orthodox leaders on certain issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

So now we can begin to understand the roots of some of the things we are seeing in our political campaigns and in the General Assembly of Missouri.

The alliances have shifted.  Mainline White Christians were more likely to dismiss fears that John Kennedy would take orders from the Vatican if he was elected.  Jones notes that mainliners and Catholics marched together in the Civil Rights era while white evangelicals, with stronger southern roots, “stayed largely on the sidelines.”

Jones thinks Bill Clinton’s election led Republican leaders to reconsider political strategies.  White Protestant evangelicals, more closely aligned with Republicans, put aside their reluctance to work with Catholics at the same time white conservative Catholics who had seen their church becoming ethnically transformed and politically divided, moved to increase their social and political power. Republican leaders realized they could move Catholics who had been loyal Democrats since the days of FDR away from the Democratic Party by focusing on abortion, especially since the Democrats had refused to support an anti-abortion amendment.  These formerly unlikely bedfellows drafted a statement in 1994 called “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.”

Jones writes that this alliance in recent years has produced the Religious Freedom Restoration movement to allow companies to opt out of Obamacare for religious reasons, and to launch a manifesto last year against same-sex marriage.

And what has this alliance produced?  Jones says, “It helped give evangelicals an advantage in their contest to be the face of White Christian America.  And as the overall numbers of white Protestant Christians began to slip in the late 1990s, expanding the tent to include white Catholics helped perpetuate the illusion that White Christian America was still the country’s dominant religious culture.”

Illusion, says Jones, because the Catholic Church is slipping, too.  Twenty-two percent of the American population in 1990 identified itself as Catholic.  By 2014 that number was down to thirteen percent, and an even greater percentage of the population today—FIFTEEN percent—identifies itself as former Catholics.

He asserts the tide is running against the Evangelical-Catholic alliance that is such an influence in American politics, and for the purposes of our discussion here, in the Missouri legislature.

We have highlighted only the first eighty pages or so of Jones’ book to try to present a far less-detailed explanation of the roots of Missouri’s political structure than you will find if you read the book.  We think our understanding of contemporary Missouri politics and governance is much better because he has closely examined the demographic changes that are affecting our social, political, and religious lives.

But Jones does more than detail the movements that have put us where we are today.  At the end, he assesses how WCA can remain a powerful influence on American culture in an increasingly diverse country.

His book’s title speaks of “The End,” but he suggests the future of White Christian America as a social and political force will be shaped by the process we go through when facing death.  That’s a subject for another entry.  This one is long enough.

If you are in Missouri politics, an observer of Missouri politics, a Christian, Catholic, Orthodox, Mormon, Muslim—whatever—we think your understanding of national and state politics can be improved by reading this book.  And, particularly, if you are a candidate or an incumbent office-holder, you might find helpful his call to abandon “The Politics of Nostalgia”—and begin building a more positive and inclusive political system—as you assess what you are and what you are doing, and shaping what you want to be.

Robert P. Jones, The End of White Christian America, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2016.   309 pages

The M8B poll

It’s time to assess the outcomes of the August primary and see if we can forecast the results in November.  First, let’s take a look at the legislature and the contests that shape up after the primary.

The Missouri Senate started the 2015-16 session with 25 Republicans and 9 Democrats.

Going into the November election, Democrats are guaranteed six seats. Republicans will have 18.    Five of the ten seats are OPEN because of term limits or resignations.  The Joseph Keaveny seat is likely to stay in the D column, meaning that before the November election, D’s will have 7 seats, R’s will have 18 with nine seats in play.

Two of the nine seats in play are held by or were held by Democrats (Sifton and Levota).  If the D’s hold on to those seats, both in the Kansas City metro area, they will be up to nine.  The Senate then will be 25-9.  If we assume Sifton will win re-election and the Democrats hang onto the vacant LeVota seat, they will need to pick up three Senate seats to end the two-thirds majority.

We are acutely conscious in saying this of one of the first rules hammered into our heads by our School of Journalism professors: “Never assume a damned thing.”  But we have to start somewhere in this discussion so we are offering a technical assumption that is not to be considered part of the public record.

Other open seats:

Senator Eric Schmitt of Glendale in St. Louis County is giving up his distinction of being one of the tallest people to ever serve in the state senate, if not THE tallest (see for a learned discussion of the matter) to run for State Treasurer.  Stephen Eagleton, a Kirkwood activist who lost to Schmitt eight years ago, has won the Democratic primary. He’s a nephew of former U. S. Senator Thomas Eagleton.  He’s opposed by state representative Andrew Koenig, who defeated fellow Rep Rick Stream in the primary. The district has been Republican.

Senator Kurt Schaefer of Columbia didn’t come close to carrying his home county against fellow Boone Countian Josh Hawley in the Attorney General’s race a few weeks ago although his 41% in the county was better than his 36% statewide.  He’s gone from the Senate because of term limits anyway.  Two state representatives will square off to see who succeeds him: Democrat Stephen Webber and Republican Caleb Rowden.  The seat was Democratic before Schaefer took it.

Term limits has robbed Warrensburg-area voters of their chance to keep popular Senator David Pearce for another term.  Lafayette County mediation lawyer ElGene Ver Dught, who lost to Pearce four years ago, is back for another try. He’ll face Republican Representative Denny Hoskins.

Other contested seats (Some senatorial districts have Libertarian candidates opposing a major party candidate but we’ll wait for a Libertarian-label candidate to be more than token opposition before we move districts in which they are the only opposition to make our list of “contested districts.”):

Senator Ryan Silvey, who comes from the northern part of the Kansas City metro area, is facing Democrat J. Ranen Bethtold who has attracted support from Joplin industrialist David Humphreys, who normally pours a lot of money into Republican campaigns. Apparently, Silvey ticked off Humphreys because he refused to support his party’s attempt to override Governor Nixon’s veto of the anti-union bill that would let people be represented by unions without paying them any dues.  Silvey has a lot of labor people in his district but Humphreys is big on right-to-work.

The seat given up by Senate President pro Tem Tom Demsey of St.  Charles when he went to work for a Sinquefield group will be a fight between Bill Eigel, a right-to-work supporter who defeated Representative Anne Zerr in the Republican primary, and Democrat Richard Orr, a right-to-work opponent who thinks Republicans are meddling with the Conservation Department.

Former Congressman Bill Burlison, who represented southeast Missouri for a dozen years, had no challengers in the Democratic primary and will face Republican incumbent Doug Libla.

Senator Wayne Wallingford, a Republican, hopes to win a second term from his Cape Girardeau-area district. He’s opposed by retired truck driver Donnie Owens who lost to Jason Crowell twelve years ago.

Could Republicans lose their super-majority in the Senate?   We asked our Magic 8 Ball and it said, “Very hazy. Try again.”   So we asked again and it said “very doubtful.”  But might Democrats gain a seat or two that at least gives them more filibuster muscle?   The Magic 8 Ball said, “No” three times.

Of course, the Magic 8 ball was answering the question in August with plenty of time to change its mind.

The House:

This year, Republicans controlled the House 116-45 with one independent.  The 117th member of the House, Don Gosen, resigned in February and has not been replaced in a special election. Republicans had a seven-vote cushion for their two-thirds majority (they need 109 for two-thirds of the membership).

All 163 seats will be elected this year.   After the August primary, only 65 seats have Republican-Democrat contests.

Going into November, Republicans are guaranteed 66 seats. Democrats are guaranteed 32.  To break the two-thirds super majority in the House, Democrats must win 23 of the 65 contested seats.  To move into the majority in the House, they would have to take fifty of the 65 contests.

The Magic 8 Ball is pretty confident the House will stay two-thirds Republican after November. We asked if Democrats will win at least one-third of the seats in the Missouri House and it responded, “My Sources say no.”  Three times.

Just for the record, the 8 ball’s signs say Chris Koster will be elected Governor.

Lieutenant Governor?  “Ask me again later?” said Eight.  “Real hazy, try again,” it said when we did.  Finally it said Russ Carnahan’s outlook is “good.”

Secretary of State?  Will the name Ashcroft carry some weight that it didn’t in a state senate election two years ago?   “It is decidedly so,” said 8B.  Just to test it, we asked if Robin Smith would win office this year and it wanted to be asked later twice before finally saying, “Cannot predict now.”  So we’ve put that race in the “leaning” Ashcroft category.

B’s sources say Judy Baker will not become Treasurer.  But at the same time it is “very doubtful” that Eric Schmitt will be elected this year.  For now, we will put this one in the toss-up category.

The black ball of knowledge says the “outlook is good” that Teresa Hensley will become Attorney General.  Asked about Josh Hawley, it said his “outlook (is) not so good.”

And the biggie:  Will Jason Kander beat Roy Blunt.  The ball thought long and hard about this one.   “Really hazy, ask again,” it said.  So we did. “Concentrate and ask again,” it said.  So we thought real hard and got “Ask again later.”

A good reporter will never let the Mystery 8 Ball straddle a fence (not sure how a ball can do that anyway) so we asked again.

“Outlook good,” it said.

Are you sure?

“Outlook good,” it responded.

So Jason Kander is going to beat Senator Blunt?

“Most likely.”

And it repeated it three more times.

Oh—for the record, the “outlook is not so good” for Hillary Clinton to beat Donald Trump.  We didn’t ask if that’s the national answer or just whether the M8B is thinking only about Missouri.

So there you have it.   The poll.   Of course, you should remember that any poll is only a snapshot of conditions at the time it is taken and many thing scan change.  We have a long way to go and the M8B’s opinions might change as conditions change.

We don’t know what M8B’s margin of error is.  When we asked, it said,

“Outlook not so good.”

But it was pretty confident in its response when we asked it again.


Activist Judges

—-is a phrase for losers.

Senate leader Ron Richard is whining about “activist judges” on the Missouri Supreme Court who have ruled the Senate violated the Missouri Constitution in overriding Governor Nixon’s veto last year of a bill that makes Missouri one of the least sympathetic states in the nation for people who lose their jobs.

Richard accuses the majority judges in the 4-3 opinion of “overstepping…constitutional authority” in ruling that it was the Senate that overstepped its constitutional authority.

It is easy and all too common for losers to throw around the kind of charges against the court system that Richard throws around.  But sorting out what the constitution means is not done recklessly by the court system and a reading of the majority and minority opinions outlines that difficulty.  The 4-3 vote that takes 28 pages to explain is indicative of the struggle courts go through to determine the meaning of the law.

Implying that the outcome is the result of “activist judges” is a cheap shot easily fired and easily accepted by a general public that seldom cares, as it should, about the difficulty of establishing the specific parameters that a general law originates.  Legal opinions are hardly bodice-busting stories of passion that rivet readers to the printed page, but reading them is something more of us should do especially when the losers blame others for their faults.

Here’s what happened:

In 2015, Richard’s party that controls the legislature passed House Bill 150 that says a person who loses his or her job when the unemployment rate is low will only get thirteen weeks of unemployment benefits.  If, however, that person has the good fortune to lose his or her job when the rate is above six percent, the state will provide twenty weeks of help.  Either way, the legislature wants Missouri to be among the chintziest states when it comes to paying a paltry amount of unemployment benefits.  Governor Nixon notes our benefits rank 43rd out of all fifty states.  Even a return to twenty weeks of benefits puts Missouri a full six weeks behind the national average.

But being behind the national average is not an uncomfortable positions for Missouri’s legislators.

We have wandered.

The legislature passed the bill early enough (April 21) that it would have a chance to override a Nixon veto if there was one.  The legislature went to great effort a few years ago to enact such a system.  It wanted time to override budget vetoes and withholdings before the start of a new fiscal year on July 1.

Nixon vetoed HB150 on May 5.  The House overrode the veto on the 12th.  But the Senate frittered away the last three days of the session and didn’t take an override vote.   But during the September session that is held annually to consider overrides of bills vetoed after the regular session or vetoed too late to be overridden in the regular session, it overrode the HB150 veto.

The majority of the court has ruled that the Senate lacked the constitutional authority to override the veto in September.  The three judge-minority reads the same section of the state constitution in a different light.

This fact is unchallenged:  The court would not have been put in this position if the Senate had done its job in the closing days of the 2015 session.  Senate leaders—Richard and Majority Floor Leader Mike Kehoe–conveniently overlook that little issue in criticizing the court for doing what it has had to do.  And what it had to do is—something.

Richard also fumes that the court “tramples on the respect for a co-equal branch of government demanded by our constitution,” and he continues, “The legislature is the voice of the people of Missouri and with today’s decision the Court has substitute its own voice for theirs.”

That kind of talk is oh, so tiresome.  On one hand he speaks of a co-equal government and in the next line he suggests that the legislature should not be challenged by one of those co-equal branches.  Courts are valuable things to have when legislatures move from being the “voice of the people” to being “the voice of SOME people.”

“Activist judges” is a phrase for those who, in the end, have failed to justify their positions within the law. Their legal arguments ultimately are unable to convince four people of their correctness. In fact, the cases going before the Missouri Supreme Court often involve far more than seven men and women in Jefferson City.  By the time those four “activists” make the apparently final ruling,  other “activist” judges have evaluated an issue on the basis of law all the way back to a municipal or circuit judge, perhaps.

But the case might not have begun there.  The evaluation of the issue—under the law—might have started with a city council vote in which “activist” council members, maybe as many as two, make a policy.  Or perhaps it began with legislators passing a bill, as in this case. Perhaps the issue began with one “activist” who financed a petition effort approved by voters that gave him or her a preferential right or privilege not to be enjoyed by others who are in our system equal under the law.

In each instance, the issue has been reviewed, weighed, and decided.  Arguments and counter-arguments have shaped the issue at increasingly higher levels of scrutiny.

Perhaps it is time for judges accused of being “activist judges” to say something.  Maybe it should be something like:

Thank you for the compliment.  Thank you for recognizing the role we play in our political system.  Thank you for recognizing that we are called upon to decide—to act. We have done what you demanded that we do–to take action. The alternative to taking action is to passively accept without argument a position placed before us and we realize that is not what our justice system is about. Although we might differ among ourselves, we have acted. In a nation that places faith in the judgment of a majority, we have kept that faith. Too bad it didn’t go your way.

Judges are called upon to be activists.  Somebody has to decide.  A judge who won’t act doesn’t meet the responsibility of the title.  So it is that the cheaply-uttered epithet “activist judges” is—unfortunately for those who readily hurl it after their own failures to justify their attitudes and positions—a compliment to those who have done the job we expect them to do.

There are plenty of countries where neither citizens nor judges are allowed to be activists.  You don’t want to live there.

Missouri: nothing special

An outfit called WalletHub has been sending us news releases for about three years telling us they’ve been rating the states on various topics.

WalletHub has called itself a “personal finance social network.”  It’s owned by Evolution Finance, a company that says it can compare thousands of credit cards for best deals.   We’ve gotten its reports comparing states on various issues.

Various organizations compare states for various reasons and we’ve never yet seen a rating of the states that isn’t questioned by critics who have their own statistics that question the findings.  And it’s always good to look at the organization doing the ratings to see if there’s an agenda that is behind it (We’ve all seen the Chamber of Commerce, NRA, Right to Life and other ratings and endorsements in political campaigns).

One thing we have noticed year after year after year, survey after survey after survey is that Missouri, for all political self-praise that it lavishes on itself, seldom shows any exceptionalism.  The surveys paint Missouri as a state that either doesn’t try to excel or whose citizens and leaders don’t care enough about being in the top tier of states that they’ll commit to doing what it takes to get there.

Because WalletHub insists on being in our face every couple of weeks with new findings, we’re going to look at the picture this organization paints of Missouri.  Other surveys look at other issues.  But in years of reviewing these studies, the impression remains that Missouri talks a better game than it plays.  So here are some findings from WalletHub.

Spending: Missourians rank sixth in the country when it comes to spending money, based on ten factors. While many candidates have been bemoaning the $19-20 trillion national debt, none that we have heard voice any concerns about the total consumer debt, reported by the New York Fed in May as $12.25 trillion and rising for the last seven quarters. The increase in debt in the first quarter of the year was the largest since the beginning of the Great Recession.

Missourians apparently love to go shopping.  Making their state better in other important ways doesn’t seem as important.

Best and Worst School Systems: Missouri overall is 32nd.  We are 29th in a category called “School System Quality” and we’re 39th in School System Safety, whatever that means.  Thirteen categories are used in the “quality” rates.  Safety is based on disciplinary-incident rates per 100,000 students, bullying incident rates, and youth incarceration rates of people under 21 per 100,000. We are 41st in controlling bullying.  Missouri is the 24th best state for teachers.

But we are 34th in places for nurses to work.

And if you are a working mom, the picture is not good.  34th overall (27th in child care, 29th in professional opportunities, and 38th in work-life balance).

It therefore might be surprised to learn that Missouri is ranked ninth in women’s equality according to WalletHub (17th in workplace environment, ninth in education and 16th in political empowerment).

Missouri is 33rd in wealth, adjusted for population (36th in income rank, 35th in GDP per capita, and sixth in taxes paid per capita).

But we are the 45th most financially literate state.  Other factors smother our ranking of third in knowledge and education.

The studies say we’re the 30th among green states.  We’re 12th in environmental quality but rank 37th in eco-friendly behaviors and 33rd in climate change contributions—a reflection, perhaps, of ancoal-fired utilities produce)

These are some of the results from one of many studies that rank Missouri as a state that is often mediocre at best and poor at worst.  And apparently, Missourians and their leaders are comfortable being nothing special.

Myron Cohen, a comedian of the 50s and 60s who often was on the Ed Sullivan Show, used to tell the story of a husband who came home one day and noticed his apartment smelled of cigar smoke.  When his wife would not admitted she had taken up cigar smoking, the husband started searching the place and in the bedroom close he found a man standing in his undershorts. “What are you doing here?” the husband demanded.   And the man responded, “Everybody gotta be someplace.”

So it is with rankings.  Everybody’s gotta be someplace. 

Too bad so many surveys show Missouri doesn’t want to be someplace better.