Winning the sweepstakes for the most hysterical piece of political journalism in recently is no mean feat, but I think Joshua Green at The Atlantic might have done it:
Michele Bachmann's Church Says the Pope Is the Antichrist
Michele Bachmann is practically synonymous with political controversy, and if the 2008 presidential election is any guide, the conservative Lutheran church she belonged to for many years is likely to add another chapter due to the nature of its beliefs—such as its assertion, explained and footnoted on this website, that the Roman Catholic Pope is the Antichrist.
Now as it happens, this immediately set off alarm bells because I happen to be one of the millions of Lutherans in the country. (Though it should be noted the headline is very misleading because Bachmann no longer goes to a Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod church.) This might be news to some beltway reporters, but as it happens some wars over this and handful of other important theological issues were fought betweent Catholics and Lutherans in the 16th century. It was called the Reformation. It was kind of big deal.
My better half, who happens to be a religion reporter, put it this way:
Now, as anyone who knows anything about church history can tell you, the papacy is not a feature of Protestantism. And if you followed the Reformation or knew anything about the abuses of Pope Leo X or the anathemas of the Council of Trent, it’s not really newsworthy that the reformers looked at what Scripture says are the marks of the anti-Christ and basically said “yep — the papacy has those.” What makes the church to which Michele Bachman was once joined slightly different is that while most Lutheran church bodies will talk about the historical context into which they were made, the Wisconsin Synod says that basically they’re still Protestants who still don’t believe in the papacy and still think it sits in opposition to the Gospel of Christ.
And, again, if you don’t know that Catholics and Protestants have very strongly held different views on whether the papacy is on the whole a really good or really bad institution, you should repeat 8th grade or whatever.
We may forget how different Pope Leo X was from some of his successors, but the Reformation era also saw the Council of Trent and its anathematization of Lutheran beliefs. Lutherans didn't get their anti-papcy rhetoric from nowhere; it was a two-way street.
Yet, somehow Catholics and Lutherans have been living side by side in the American midwest all this time without civil unrest. After nearly half a millennium and the general prospering of freedom of religion thanks largely to the founding of America, Lutherans and Catholics celebrate their common Christian values and are otherwise content to politely argue the theological issues on the merits. Imagine that.
While nothing Green writes in his report is egregiously untrue (though the fact that Bachmann is no longer a WELS Lutheran should have strangled this report in the crib anyway), the idea that Green thought this would somehow be controversial dramatically illustrates three points. One, national reporters -- and left-leaning political class more generally -- are embarassingly ignorant of basic Christian history. (And given the significance of the Reformation, we can just abbreviate that to the fact they're ignorant of basic history.) Two, there's a far too prevalent view that American Christians are motivated politically by radical tribalist beliefs. And three, left-leaning America must really believe Michele Bachmann is the Anti-Christ because there's no accusation transparently absurd enough to avoid flinging at her.
Ok, maybe I'm exaggeratingly slightly on that last point. But not much.