In a lengthy “investigative” piece on President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, a New York Times reporter — who was on a reporting team that won a Pulitzer Prize for its false reporting on the president’s alleged collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign — analyzes Barrett’s religious beliefs.
Sharon LaFraniere had a co-byline on a Pulitzer Prize-winning story claiming that George Papadopoulos spilled the beans on the Russians having dirt on Hillary Clinton. As Breitbart News reported, recently unclassified documents and recordings show that Papadopoulos repeatedly denied any connection between the Trump campaign and Russia, debunking some of the Times’ prize-winning reporting.
In the Barrett piece, LaFraniere admits that “those who did agree to interviews had left the People of Praise community, their perspectives were more likely to be negative,” and that Barrett and her family declined to be interviewed. She also reported that the Times could not confirm if Barrett and her family are still part of the People of Praise.
“The People of Praise declined to confirm Judge Barrett’s membership,” the Times reported. “But a photocopy of an undated membership directory obtained by the New York Times includes Judge Barrett, her husband, Jesse, and five of their now seven children.”
Nonetheless, the Times decided to put together a piece about Barrett’s faith — she is an unabashed Catholic — based on interviews with people who do not know her and others who chose to leave the People of Praise, a network of Bible study and worship groups headquartered in South Bend, Indiana. The organization was founded in 1971, according to the organization’s website, which said there are currently about 1,700 members in 22 cities across the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean.
LaFraniere’s investigation also does not include facts offered on the People of Praise website, which pops up at the top of the list on a Google search.
On the “About” page, there is a lengthy explanation of the organization’s mission and beliefs, which says, in part:
Jesus desires unity for all people. We live out this unity the best we can, in spite of the divisions within Christianity. We are Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians and other denominational and nondenominational Christians. Despite our differences, we are bound together by our Christian baptism. Despite our differences, we worship together. While remaining faithful members of our own churches, we have found a way to live our daily lives together.
Our community life is characterized by deep and lasting friendships. We share our lives together often in small groups and in larger prayer meetings. We read Scripture together. We share meals together. We attend each other’s baptisms and weddings and funerals. We support each other financially and materially and spiritually. We strive to live our daily lives in our families, workplaces and cities in harmony with God and with all people.
Our community life is grounded in a lifelong promise of love and service to fellow community members. This covenant commitment, which establishes our relationships as members of the People of Praise community, is made freely and only after a period of discernment lasting several years. Our covenant is neither an oath nor a vow, but it is an important personal commitment. We teach that People of Praise members should always follow their consciences, as formed by the light of reason, and by the experience and the teachings of their churches.
The Times report said Barrett’s father decided to quit a promising job in Houston, Texas, because he and his family were happy living in Louisiana and enjoyed the close-knit Christian community they belonged to as members of People of Praise.
The Times reported Barrett attended law school in South Bend, Indiana, where she met her husband, Jesse, who was raised in a People of Praise community in that city.
According to its People of Praise website, “Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians and other denominational and nondenominational Christians” belong to the community. Barrett has not spoken about her connection to People of Praise but has consistently spoken about her deep Catholic faith.
Despite the diversity the group itself disclosed, the Times account implies that beliefs the People of Praise embrace are controversial while, at the same time, “much of its theology would be familiar to conservative Catholics and other Christians.”
The beliefs that the Times uncovered and deemed controversial are, in fact, mainstream in the Catholic and Protestant traditions, including the belief that marriage should be between one man and one woman.
“For many, like Mr. Coney, [Judge Barrett’s father] the communal life offered by the People of Praise was so rich that being without it seemed unimaginable. For others, though, the degree of commitment could feel overly intrusive and controlling,” the Times reported.
“The community is more important than anything else in your life,” Ailish Byrne, whose parents were involved in the community in the 1970s and 1980s, said in the Times report.
The Times reported on more of what it uncovered through various sources:
Judge Barrett, who has described herself as a faithful Catholic, does not appear to have ever spoken publicly about the religious community that has played a significant role in her life. But her nomination to the Supreme Court after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg has vaulted the People of Praise, which has just 1,650 adult members, into the media spotlight. Along with the attention has come scrutiny of the group’s conservative beliefs and practices; it has been falsely credited with inspiring Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
The People of Praise is a small, especially insular religious group with an unlikely amalgam of influences. Most of the group’s members are Catholic, and yet its worship practices draw on the ecstatic traditions of charismatic Christianity, including speaking in tongues. The group’s close-knit style arose out of the 1960s when hippie ideals — that living in deep community with others was superior to being alone — entered Catholic life. It also has an intellectual bent from its origins in academic communities like the University of Notre Dame, where Judge Barrett has taught for 18 years.
Belonging to the People of Praise, which has communities in 22 cities, most in the United States, is a significant commitment. Members are asked to donate at least 5 percent of their gross income to the community. Since the People of Praise is not a church, members attend services at their chosen congregations on Sunday mornings followed by a private People of Praise worship service in the afternoon. Members agree to submit to the leadership of a spiritual director and sign a 181-word “covenant” that they frequently recite together. “We will serve one another and the community as a whole in all needs: spiritual, material, financial,” it reads in part.
The Times actually debunked the claim by many left-wing media that People of Praise inspired Margaret Atwood’s book, The Handmaid’s Tale, about women being forced to bear children.
The Times tracked down Arthur Wang, a doctor in Indiana who joined the group in 1988.
“Dr. Wang left the group around 2014 after realizing the rigidity was not good for his emotional health, and also for political reasons: His own politics had become more progressive as his social network expanded, and he began to realize the members were more right-wing,” the Times investigations found.
“The group was not this bipartisan group of people,” Wang said. “The social scene was extremely Republican, very much Rush Limbaugh.”
The Times report included a statement obtained from the People of Praise spokesperson, Sean Connolly.
“Decision-making in the People of Praise is collegial, engaging the entire community — women and men alike — in consultation on significant matters that affect us,” Connolly said. “Each person is always responsible for his or her own decisions, including decisions in their personal lives or careers, and no community member should ever violate his or her conscience.”
And the Times noted that in 1975, Pope Paul VI welcomed People of Praise members to the Vatican, presiding over a charismatic Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica attended by more than 10,000 people.
The Times also implied that Barrett’s full family life as the mother of seven children, one with special needs, and her exceptional career, which will likely include being seated on the Supreme Court, are not solely her own accomplishments.
“Some other former members noted that it was certainly possible for women to excel in chosen fields, as Judge Barrett had, but that such professional choices could only proceed with the support of a woman’s husband and the community,” the Times reported.
In fact, when Trump introduced Barrett at a Rose Garden event three weeks ago, she credited her partnership with her husband for helping her succeed — dispelling the Times and others who claim People of Praise’s practices subjugates women.
“At the start of our marriage, I imagined that we would run our household as partners,” Barrett said. “As it has turned out, Jesse does far more than his share of the work.”
Moreover, Barrett has spoken repeatedly about the separation of faith and judicial philosophy, including in an interview with the Heritage Foundation in March, which included a discussion about how Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) had questioned the nominee’s “dogma” during her first Senate confirmation hearing for the federal bench seat she now holds.
“I don’t think that faith should influence the way a judge decides cases at all,” Barrett said. “I don’t think that a judge should twist the law to help it match in any way to the judge’s convictions.”
“Everyone has convictions,” Barrett said. “It’s not unique to people who have faith.”
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