Evangelicals surprise the media

evangelicalsSally Quinn, the atheist who professed knowing "practically nothing about religion or the internet" when she started the Washington Post/Newsweek religion site On Faith, had a curious admission in her most recent piece. Her essay is about how the news of Bristol Palin's pregnancy will affect religious voters. She begins by admitting that Sen. John McCain's pick of Gov. Sarah Palin angered her. Anger seems to be a dominant feeling coming from the current mainstream media feeding frenzy. I have honestly never seen anything quite like what's happening here.

I know reporters can get a bit out of control when dealing with their favorite issue (politics) -- but I am actually shocked by the way journalists are handling this story. CNN, for instance, showed Barack Obama telling the media that Palin's daughter should be off-limits -- and then went right into a story that used Palin's daughter's teenage pregnancy as a hook to condemn abstinence education. It didn't sit well with many viewers -- and even a few of the commentators whose time on air followed the spot denounced it in the strongest terms. The mainstream media notoriously had to be forced to report on John Edwards' baby drama. But the story of Palin's daughter has made the front pages of most major papers.

Anyway, Quinn's piece is a great example of why On Faith is better when it involves actual reporting. After copping to extreme anger and being insulted, she alleges that McCain's pick will not go over well with "family values" voters. I almost stopped reading after she accused McCain of picking Palin because he's trying to "win an election." (Yes, I imagine that political calculation did go into his thinking, Sally.) Anyway, here we go:

And now we learn the 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is pregnant. She and the father of the child plan to marry. This may be a hard one for the Republican conservative family-values crowd to swallow. Of course, this can happen in any family. But it must certainly raise the question among the evangelical base about whether Sarah Palin has been enough of a hands-on mother.

McCain claims he knew about the pregnancy, and was not at all concerned. Why not? Not only do we have a woman with five children, including an infant with special needs, but a woman whose 17-year-old child will need her even more in the coming months. Not to mention the grandchild. This would inevitably be an enormous distraction for a new vice president (or president) in a time of global turmoil. Not only in terms of her job, but from a media standpoint as well.

Nice. Question her parenting skills and push the idea that women must put everything on hold until they have no concerns at home. Yay feminism! She actually goes on to say that women should not get involved in politics until their children are older. It's like up is down in newsrooms. Anyway, what about her contention that evangelicals won't support Palin? Here's the best part:

Southern Baptist leaders like Richard Land and Al Mohler have praised McCain's choice. But these are the same men who support this statement from the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message:

"A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation."

Okay, Quinn. You're a reporter. Rather than quote this statement completely out of context, how about you pick up the phone (there should be one near your computer where you typed this piece) and call either of these men and ask them how this statement on marriage relates to women's work outside the home.

Sheesh. Newsflash: Baptists believe the Bible to be sacred Scripture. Now read Ephesians 5. See how it says Christian marriage is about wives submitting to their husbands as the church submits to Christ? See how it says husbands are to sacrifice everything for and love their wives as Christ did for the church? This is basic Christian teaching. Does it play into whether Land and Mohler support or oppose Palin? I highly doubt it. But maybe you should ask them before you quote them completely out of context. I really don't get what that statement has to do with Quinn's story at all.

A far better story came from Associated Press, which discussed how evangelical voters would feel about the pregnancy news:

Key evangelical leaders rallied to Sarah Palin's support Monday amid news that her 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, was having a child.

"Before, they were excited about her, with the Down syndrome baby," conservative, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist said. "But now with this, they are over the moon. It reinforces the fact that this family lives its pro-life values." . . .

Evangelical leader Richard Land also backed Palin completely.

"This is the pro-life choice. The fact that people will criticize her for this shows the astounding extent to which the secular critics of the pro-life movement just don't get it," Land said in a statement.

"Those who criticize the Palin family don't understand that we don't see babies as a punishment but as a blessing. Barack Obama said that if one of his daughters made a mistake and got pregnant out of wedlock, he wouldn't want her to be punished with a child. Pro-lifers don't see a child as punishment."

The immediate support of these major figures, who offered universal praise for the Palins' actions after learning their daughter was pregnant, provides the filter through which conservative Christian voters will process the development.

Most important for Palin, an elder statesman of the movement, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, released a statement lauding the Palins for acting in keeping with the group's policies and practices:

"We have always encouraged the parents to love and support their children and always advised the girls to see their pregnancies through, even though there will of course be challenges along the way. That is what the Palins are doing, and they should be commended once again for not just talking about their pro-life and pro-family values, but living them out even in the midst of trying circumstances.

"Being a Christian does not mean you're perfect. Nor does it mean your children are perfect. But it does mean there is forgiveness and restoration when we confess our imperfections to the Lord. I've been the beneficiary of that forgiveness and restoration in my own life countless times, as I'm sure the Palins have," Dobson said.

I said it was better -- but it's certainly not perfect. For one thing, I'm pretty sure Grover Norquist is no "key evangelical leader." And while it's well and good to get quotes from Land and others, what does it mean that they are the "filter through which conservative Christian voters will process the development"? Is this a reference to Michael Weisskopf's Washington Post news article that claimed evangelicals were poor, uneducated and easy to command? And why is James Dobson's statement "most important for Palin"? I don't get why it would be more important than anything else.

evangelicals soGoneOtherwise, it's nice to see the media correctly quoting evangelical leaders. Usually they make them seem like dour fussybots intent on condemning everyone for everything. While it is true that they condemn sin -- they also emphasize the importance of repentance and forgiveness. That part of the equation tends to be ignored by the press. These folks may take a hard line against sin that is proudly displayed or defiantly defended but they're not going to condemn a teenage girl who is about to give birth to a child rather than abort it.

In other words, Quinn's lack of knowledge about evangelicals shows. She should try talking to some and see if they really do match up with her stereotypes. Byron York of National Review has a fascinating piece about how the McCain team actually personally called "40 top evangelical and other cultural conservative leaders" and gave each a chance to respond. York reports that the response was unanimous support for Palin. He then goes to talk to a few delegations about the matter. Not surprising to anyone who knows human nature, some of the delegates speak about their own teenage pregnancies and how it brought them into the pro-life movement.

Another example of advancing stereotypes was found in a New York Times story a reader passed along. The headline and first graph promise tumult in the GOP and the story says that "social conservatives" and "groups that oppose abortion rights" may not continue to support Palin.

But then the article goes on to quote a ton of people and all of them -- except for one Democrat -- are completely supportive of Palin. The reporter even asks if Palin will be thrown off the ticket -- despite the fact that no Republicans seem concerned, not even the evangelical types, and McCain says he knew (along with everyone in Wasilla) and he's not concerned:

Early reaction among women at the Republican convention to the news about Bristol Palin's pregnancy was almost uniformly supportive.

"This happens to people in all walks of life," said Karen Minnis, 54, a state representative from Oregon.

She also said she had no problem with Governor Palin continuing to campaign while her daughter is pregnant and she herself has an infant son. . . .

When Pam Younggren, 61, of Fargo, N.D., was told the news of the 17-year-old's pregnancy, she shrugged. "Well, she wouldn't be the first one," she said.

So the religious voters are not in tumult, as the New York Times claimed. It's just bizarre headline/lede writing.

I actually think this story provides the perfect prism through which to analyze some evangelicals' approach to sin, repentance and forgiveness. I think it has to be one of the most misunderstood aspects of evangelicals and would contribute greatly to the public discourse. Unless the media need to keep defining evangelicals who are politically conservative as bogeyman who should be feared by all, that is.

Every time I write about evangelicals, I want to include cover art from Evangelicals, the band. And now I have.

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