Righteous winds and prayer warriors

civil religionAs soon as I heard Sen. Barack Obama's speech to Northern Virginians this week, I was sure we would have to do a post criticizing media coverage of it. The speech had some strong religious imagery, and in the past, religious references from politicians have been scrutinized and picked over. Here's how the Washington Post covered the rhetoric:

With an ear-splitting rally in the Richmond coliseum and a late-afternoon speech at a chilly park in Leesburg, Obama promised to deliver the Commonwealth in the Democratic column for the first time since 1964.

"I feel like we've got a righteous wind at our backs," Obama told tens of thousands gathered on the rolling hills of Ida Lee Park. It was his eighth day of campaigning in the state since securing the Democratic nomination in June.

The language was not analyzed in the Post story. Or in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Or the Chicago Sun-Times. Or ABC News or any other mainstream media outlet, near as I can tell.

And I would just like to say "thank you" to these media outlets. I don't know if they didn't pounce on it because Obama didn't spell out exactly where the righteous wind is coming from or if it was deemed civil religion-y enough for candidate speech or what. But it's just nice to see that the media is giving candidates some room for religious references in their public discourse.

Of course, Obama used the "righteous wind" line in his notable speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, so it's not a new line he developed.

I should note that one Congressional Quarterly blogger took issue with the speech, saying that politicians who even hint that God is on their side make him squeamish:

"I feel like we got a righteous wind at our backs here," Obama told an estimated crowd of 35,000 cheering supporters in Lessburg, Va., on Wednesday night.

Sure, that's well short of God telling him to invade a country. But a "righteous" wind at your back? That is definitely church talk, and of the scariest variety, suggesting that a political candidacy is a divine cause. Beware the politician who thinks God is voting for him.

But that's an opinion piece and an appropriate place to disagree with religion being in the public square. It is interesting to consider whether there would have been more outcry if, say, Gov. Sarah Palin had implied divine favor for her ticket. Actually, this amazingly snotty Washington Post campaign diary entry is probably a good indication.

In one of her latest interviews -- reported on by the Associated Press -- Palin says whoever wins the election is in God's hands:

Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin describes herself as a "hard-core pro-lifer" and expresses confidence that in spite of disheartening polls, "putting this in God's hands, that the right thing for America will be done at the end of the day on Nov. 4."

The Philosophy of Religious Language 70KE This isn't a religious point, but that has to be one of the most awkward ledes I've read in a while. Anyway, the article describes an interview Palin gave to James Dobson, and you can read a rough transcript of the highlights over at Steve Waldman's site. Also, Palin's been giving quite a few interviews this past week and Christianity Today's politics blog has some of the highlights and links if you're interested. The AP article is interesting and has plenty of religion, including this bit:

Palin thanked Dobson and supporters for their prayers and -- when Dobson inquired about the importance of faith in her life -- said: "It is my foundation, yes, my Christian faith is."

She also used terms like "prayer warrior" and "intercession" -- words that might be unknown to the average listener but are common vocabulary in Pentecostal Christianity. Palin spent 20 years in a Pentecostal Assemblies of God Church, but she usually refers to her faith generically as Christian, not even evangelical.

As someone who grew up a few dozen miles north of Focus on the Family's corporate campus, I am pretty sure that the average listener to Focus on the Family's radio programs knows exactly what the words "prayer warrior" and "intercession" mean. Heck, I'm Lutheran and even I knew what these words meant growing up. And I'm somewhat shocked that reporter Eric Gorski, who covers Focus so well and used to write for a Colorado Springs paper, would suggest that these words are unfamiliar to the average Focus on the Family radio listener. I'm also surprised that he would suggest that only Pentecostals -- and not other evangelicals -- are familiar with this vocabulary.

Actually, that whole last paragraph is as much of a mess as his lede. When he writes "average listener," who is he referring to? Is it as I'm interpreting it, the average Focus listener? Or is it some other group -- say, average listeners of words in general? And yes, Palin spent many years in an AOG church. She is no longer a member of a Pentecostal church, so the "but" is misleading. And the "not even" is at the very least odd since evangelical is a word without an agreed-upon definition. I always joke that "evangelical" is like "pornography" -- I know it when I see it.

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