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Editor's Weekly: Week's news mixes politics and religion

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 10, 2012 - Dear Beaconites -- In the days following Missouri's primary, the Beacon has been filled with news of church as well as state. In part, this reflects the power of religion in Missouri politics. 

As Beacon political reporter Jo Mannies noted, Todd Akin, the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate, began his victory speech by thanking “God our Creator who has blessed this campaign, heard your prayers, and answered them with victory.” Such declarations, in addition to reflecting Akin's genuine beliefs, amount to high octane fuel for his base of support.

Religious freedom was directly on the ballot with Amendment 2. It passed overwhelmingly despite considerable uncertainty about what its actual impact will be, Beacon staffer Jason Rosenbaum reported. State and federal constitutions already protect religious freedom. Whether Amendment 2 can extend such protection is a matter of debate.

The most controversial wording in the amendment did not appear on the ballot -- wording that could be interpreted to curb prisoners' rights and to allow students to object to assignments. The ACLU has already challenged the measure in court.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, the vulnerable Democratic incumbent who will be seeking to tamp down Akin's margin outstate, voted for Amendment 2. Neither she nor her staff would immediately explain why, but Thursday she said the ballot language looked straightforward and added, "I'm all for prayer."

As religious themes played out in politics this week, internal politics played out in religious institutions. Pat Rice reported on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which convened in St. Louis to ponder a response to Vatican efforts to impose tighter control. A Vatican critique in April characterized the group as favoring "radical feminist" ideas and exhibiting disregard for church doctrine in areas such as artificial contraception, homosexual relationships and abortion.

More than 900 Women Religious opened their session here with prayer, song and a plan to discuss matters in closed session before entering into further dialogue with church officials. In contrast to secular politics, where religious references often exacerbate division, the Women Religious leaders seemed determined to minimize open conflict.

Meanwhile, conflict erupted at one of the region's most noteworthy religious institutions when Saint Louis University's law school dean quit, as Beacon staffer Dale Singer reported. “It is the ultimate irony that a Jesuit university would operate so far outside the bounds of common decency, collegiality, professionalism and integrity," said Annette E. Clark in her resignation letter. "I simply cannot be part of, and I assure I will not be complicit with, an administration that can’t be trusted to act honestly and in the best interests of its faculty, staff and students.”

University president Lawrence Biondi, whose outsized personality has had an impact far beyond the campus, said Clark was about to be fired anyway. In a letter, he said Clark’s actions “demonstrate a lack of a clear and comprehensive understanding of the duties and obligations, autonomy and authority, of a modern-day dean at a large and complex university.”

You might regard the various intersections of politics and religion this week as mere happenstance. Or perhaps the news reflected something deeper about the intertwined forces that shape our world and ourselves.

Politics is about power. Yet politics is shaped in part by beliefs. Religious institutions are about beliefs. Yet religious institutions are shaped in part by disputes over power. This week, Beacon coverage provided a window to watch as the forces of power and belief continued their endless interplay.



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