Neglecting Palin's faith, mostly

palin2 01The major news magazines' coverage of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's religiosity was more like that found in newspapers than, well, magazines. It contained a few facts but no explanations. While there were a couple of exceptions to this trend, those exceptions are instructive. Time magazine provided the least information about Palin's Christianity and how it shapes her political views. Reporter Michael Sherer wrote about Palin's impact on the female vote this November without mentioning a) Palin's faith and b) female voters tend to be more religious than male voters.

When Palin's faith and political views were mentioned, the reporter did so in a less than sophisticated way. Take this passage from Claire Suddath's story:

She is Christian and pro-life, but also a supporter of birth control: she's a member of Feminists For Life (FFL), an anti-abortion, pro-contraception organization. In 2002, she wrote a letter to FFL stating that she had "adamantly supported our cause since I first understood, as a child, the atrocity of abortion.

Perhaps Suddath's editor removed the context or explanation of Palin's faith and politics. I hope so, because her story would have been better served had she mentioned the relationship between her Christian faith and anti-abortion convictions. As GR contributors have written, a person need not be religious to be pro-life, although religious tradtionalists are more likely to hold that view.

Newsweek reporters did little better. In their brief profile of Palin, Evan Thomas and Karen Breslau mentioned the governor's faith only in the context of her tentative support for teaching creationism alongside evolution in public schools. The reporters described her position this way:

Palin said during her run that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in schools. She was baptized in an Assembly of God church, a Pentecostal denomination that believes God created the world at every step. Maria Comella, a spokeswoman for the McCain-Palin campaign, said Palin attends different churches and does not consider herself Pentecostal.

This description is better than Suddath's above; at least it notes the theology of the Assemblies of God. Yet the passage does not quote Palin's explanation for her view. And Palin no longer identifies exclusively as a Pentecostal. So this passage leaves as many questions as answers.

The two exceptions to this poor to middling coverage were not magazine stories. AP reporter Eric Gorski wrote a characteristically informative religious profile of Palin that appears on Newsweeks' Web site. While most of the story was of the go-through-the-rolodex-of-Christian-leaders variety, Gorski deserves praises for starting to dig beneath the surface, quoting from Palin's previous pastor:

The 44-year-old mother of five, who led her high school chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, was baptized as a teenager at the Wasilla Assembly of God Church, where she and her family were very active, according to her then-pastor, Paul Riley.

She now sometimes worships at the Juneau Christian Center, which is also part of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God, said Brad Kesler, business administrator of the denomination's Alaska District. But her home church is The Church on the Rock, an independent congregation, Riley said.

"The church was kind of a foundation for her," said Riley, who said he gave the invocation at Palin's inauguration and had her address students at the church last month.

The other exception was Time reporter Jay Newton-Small's interview with Palin. Rather than being a strict journalism story, it had a question-and-answer format. Small's questions were interesting, as were Palin's answers. One example is this exchange:

What's your religion?

Christian.

Any particular...?

No. Bible-believing Christian.

What church do you attend?

A non-denominational Bible church. I was baptized Catholic as a newborn and then my family started going to non-denominational churches throughout our life.

Another example was the previous Q & A in the piece:

Where do you see yourself going? Staying on in Alaska. Washington?

You know, I don't know. I knew early on that the smartest thing for me to do was to work hard, do the best that I can, make wise decisions based on good information in front of me. And then put my life, get myself on a path that could be dedicated to God and ask Him what I should next. That will be the position I will be in as long as I'm on earth -- that is, seeking the right path that God would have laid out for me.

Give credit to Newton-Small and her employer for interviewing Palin before she was chosen as McCain's running mate. By hedging her bets, Newton-Small told her readers a lot about Palin's faith and religious outlook.

However, I must fault the magazine reporters for not exploring why Palin decided to give birth to a son with Down Syndrome. As Mollie noted, 90 percent of mothers whose embryo or fetus has Down Syndrome decide to have the unborn infant killed. Did Palin's faith play a role in her decision? It sounds logical considering her answer above to Newton-Small. Was it her non-religious pro-life principles or some other factor?

Palin's decision to carry her son to term is not simply a personal story. It will have political ramifications. Take this post by anti-abortion activist Jill Stanek about the birth of Palin's fifth child:

But Palin told the Anchorage Daily News in April, "We knew through early testing he would face special challenges, and we feel privileged that God would entrust us with this gift and allow us unspeakable joy as he entered our lives. We have faith that every baby is created for good purpose and has potential to make this world a better place. We are truly blessed."

Meanwhile, Barack Obama, actively opposed legislation as IL state senator to protect little babies with Down syndrome who had survived their abortions but were being shelved in a hospital soiled utility room to die....

Conservative-leaning writer Michael Barone agrees that Republicans will contrast Palin's decision with Obama's vote. I expect that more magazine reporters will dig into Palin's faith and religious outlook. But if they don't and it ends up affecting the election this November, don't say Get Religion did not warn you.

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