In Biden, the media finally have a religious president to celebrate

Have you seen the news? Joe Biden is now “perhaps the most religiously observant” president we’ve had in the past 50 years.

Nope, that’s not some opinion presented by a pro-Biden pundit on cable news or in an op-ed near you. Instead, it comes from the news section – not the opinion section – of the New York Times in a story that might as well have been written by the president’s communications team:

“There are myriad changes with the incoming Biden administration. One of the most significant: a president who has spent a lifetime steeped in Christian rituals and practices,” the Jan. 24 story reads. “Mr. Biden, perhaps the most religiously observant commander in chief in half a century, regularly attends Mass and speaks of how his Catholic faith grounds his life and his policies.”

“And with Mr. Biden, a different, more liberal Christianity is ascendant: less focused on sexual politics and more on combating poverty, climate change and racial inequality,” the piece adds.

Lots to unpack there. For starters, what exactly is liberal Christianity? That’s a contradiction within itself. Also, if Biden is the most religiously observant president in modern times, how does that square with his current support of taxpayer-funded abortions? For those “steeped in Christian rituals and practices,” protecting the unborn is kind of a big deal in the church. 

It wasn’t always this way for the 46th president, of course, who voted in 1981 in favor of a constitutional amendment to allow states to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that struck down most state restrictions on abortion. In 1994, Biden boasted that he had voted against federal funding for abortion “on no fewer than 50 occasions.”

But then things changed in 2019 after Biden announced his third run for president. After years of supporting the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for most abortions, the candidate flip-flopped (known in the media as “evolving” whenever the politician takes a more liberal position) on said support in an effort to appease the party’s left flank. 

No matter: The Times – which hasn’t endorsed a Republican presidential candidate since Biden was 14 years old in 1956 – provided yet another example of the paper of record playing the role not of a journalistic entity holding the powerful accountable but of an extension of the new administration’s communications team.

And even if this is more opinion than news, it’s still a shaky argument at best. 

One could make the argument, for example, that in President Carter’s case, he was, and still is, far more guided by his religious convictions than the current occupant of the Oval Office. Note: Carter is the last nominally pro-life Democratic president. Yet unlike Biden, his religious convictions have never wavered. More than 30 years after leaving office, for instance, he urged the Democratic Party to espouse his “position on abortion, which is to minimize the need, requirement for abortion and limit it only to women whose life are in danger or who are pregnant as a result of rape or incest.”

That’s called backing up words with action. And it’s a call Joe Biden would never make despite being super-religious and stuff. 

George W. Bush also wore his faith on his sleeve during his presidency, often mixing in religious themes with an overarching worldview around basic human rights. 

It’s also interesting to compare stories like these with the coverage of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett — whose deep religious faith was portrayed as extreme and dangerous with plenty of Handmaid’s Tale memes to go around.  

“Judge’s faith becomes early flashpoint in Supreme Court fight,” read a Politico headline in October ahead of Barrett’s confirmation hearings. “Amy Coney Barrett, a contender to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, belongs to a tight-knit charismatic Christian community whose conservative views alarm some liberals.”

“Amy Coney Barrett served as a ‘handmaid’ in Christian group People of Praise,” reads a Washington Post headline, sparking outrage.

So, in other words: 

Coney Barrett’s deep faith as it pertains to her job = bad. 

Biden’s “liberal Christianity” as it pertains to his job = good. 

“While conservative Catholics have doubled down on abortion policy and religious freedom for the past four years, Mr. Biden’s policy priorities reflect those of Pope Francis, who has sought to turn the church’s attention from sexual politics to issues like environmental protection, poverty and migration,” the Times also puts forth. 

“On his first day in office, Mr. Biden recommitted the United States to the Paris climate agreement, the international accord designed to avert global warming; ended the ban on travel from predominantly Muslim and African countries; and stopped construction on the border wall.” 

In other words, policies the Times’s editorial board and approximately 96 percent of its staff fully endorses that has little to do with a religious compass. 

See how it works? 

Maybe, just maybe, we should stop ranking presidents based on who might be “the most religiously observant” in straight news stories. Especially when the deeds of the 46th president hardly support the teachings in the book discussed at every Sunday mass.  

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.

Tags Abortion law Amy Coney Barrett Catholic Church Hyde Amendment Joe Biden Joe Biden 2020 presidential campaign leftwing media bias Media bias Pope Francis Ruth Bader Ginsburg The New York Times

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