Hearing different Sunday morning messages

ben cardin and michael steeleA Jewish candidate and a Catholic candidate square off in a statewide race with national implications. What happened the Sunday before Election Day? They went to church, of course. Just a few miles south of the hotly contested race for one of Maryland's seats in the Senate, which pits Democratic Benjamin Cardin and Republican Michael Steele against each other, two major newspapers in the nation's capital squared off in their coverage of the churchgoing politicians. A major issue in covering this collision of politics and religion is, of course, the possibility that their appearances could upset the Internal Revenue Service. Both reporters address the matter, albeit in very different ways.

The Washington Post's Ovetta Wiggins and Hamil Harris covered a range of services and came to the following conclusion regarding this hot-button issue:

Pastors exhorted their congregations to cast ballots tomorrow but were careful not to declare support for individual candidates, lest they run afoul of rules for nonprofit organizations.

"I think I'd get in major trouble if I made an endorsement," Bishop Adam J. Richardson Jr. told the several hundred worshipers at Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington yesterday. "But I think I can say, 'I wish you well.'"

Careful regarding the rules, you say? How about reporters being careful before making generalizations? How's this for being careful? My friend Jon Ward of The Washington Times writes:

The top two candidates in Maryland's U.S. Senate race attended black churches yesterday in the key battleground of Prince George's County, and received clear and not-so-clear endorsements from the pulpits.

"Everyone who's your color is not your kind," the Rev. Delman L. Coates told the mostly black congregation at Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton. "All your skinfolk is not your kinfolk."

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, the Democratic nominee, who is white, looked on from the front pew as Mr. Coates subtly disparaged supporters of Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, the Republican nominee and the first black elected to statewide office in Maryland.

"On Tuesday, we have to have more on our minds than color," the preacher told the roughly 1,500 parishioners. He rattled off a list of unsympathetic black people, including the slave who alerted the masters to Nat Turner's rebellion in 1831 and the black man who shot Malcolm X in 1965.

Ouch. That's not very careful of Coates with regard to the IRS rules. Clearly the reporting by the Post's Wiggins and Harri was not as thorough as Ward's. Or maybe two reporters cannot be at every church service and they should just avoid overarching statements like "Pastors ... were careful not to declare support for individual candidates."

It's also important to note that the pastor may be able to skirt the official rules by phrasing his statement as "This is just what I think personally." But is that what he is doing in his Sunday-morning sermon?

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