The pattern looks to have begun with President Obama.... Since running for president, Trump has also raised similar faith-based concerns about his fellow Republicans. In October, retired neurosurgeon and devout Seventh-day Adventist Ben Carson was the target: "I'm Presbyterian. Boy, that's down the middle of the road, folks, in all fairness," Trump told voters in Florida. "I mean, Seventh-day Adventist, I don't know about. I just don't know about." In January, lifelong Southern Baptist and son of a pastor Ted Cruz was in the crosshairs: "Just remember this," Trump said, "in all fairness, to the best of my knowledge, not too many evangelicals come out of Cuba, okay?"
First up from the God Machine this week is an unexpected development in the 2016 presidential race: one of the cycle's most secular candidates keeps questioning other candidates' religious beliefs.
As we discussed a few days ago, Donald Trump spoke to a group of far-right evangelical Christian leaders on Tuesday, where he expressed his doubts about Hillary Clinton's faith, insisting Americans "don't know anything about Hillary in terms of religion." He added, "Now, she's been in the public eye for years and years, and yet there's no – there's nothing out there. There's like nothing out there."
The criticism was substantively bizarre -- Clinton has spoken many times about being a Methodist -- but just as important, NBC News reported, "[A]ttacking other people's faith appears to be a favorite move in Trump's playbook."
Ben Carson, apparently trying to mount some kind of defense of his ally, said this week that Trump went after Carson's faith because "he didn't know what to do and he was getting kind of desperate."
But that's not much of an explanation. Presidential candidates aren't supposed to use religion as a campaign weapon whenever they're worried about losing. This is especially true of secular candidates who don't appear to have any real understanding of, or interest in, matters of faith.
The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne Jr. explained this week, "Absent anything substantive to say about his belief system, Trump lashes out at others. And lacking an affirmative vision, he plays on fears and tells evangelicals, as he did Tuesday, that our nation's leaders are 'selling Christianity down the tubes.' Well. If religion is being sold out, it's Trump who is orchestrating the deal."
Also from the God Machine this week:
* It's hard to feel bad for this pastor: "A Sacramento, Calif., church whose pastor celebrated the Orlando massacre will not have its lease renewed next year, its landlord said Tuesday. Verity Baptist Church Pastor Roger Jimenez sparked an outcry and rebukes from national Baptist leaders by saying at the pulpit last Sunday that his only problem with Omar Mateen's killing of 49 people at a gay nightclub is that Mateen 'didn't finish the job.'"
* An ugly story out of the Keystone State: "After a Pennsylvania church wished its Muslim neighbors a 'blessed Ramadan,' a local school board member who is also a Donald Trump delegate encouraged his followers to berate the church's pastor for speaking positively about a 'godless' and 'pagan' religion (thanks to reader R.B. for the heads-up).
* A striking shift in Canada: "Catholic priests in Montreal will be banned from being alone with children to provide a 'safety net' against allegations of abuse. Archbishop Christian Lepine has issued a decree to implement the policy, which also covers lay workers and volunteers."
* A year ago this week, when the Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land, a variety of prominent social conservatives raised the prospect of pastors being forced, under threat of jail time, to perform same-sex marriages against their will. My friends at Americans United for Separation of Church and State created a new website, NumberOfMinistersForcedToMarrySameSexCouples.com, that offers a comprehensive list of every religious leader compelled to perform a marriage ceremony against his or her will. It's worth checking out (and clicking the link).