Hear me, people, I am very familiar with the competing truth claims connected with the great barbeque churches of the American Southeast. Yes, the Southeast (my adopted homeland). Don't try to talk to me about the Southwest (my native land), that place where people think that barbeque is a verb or an adjective that can be applied to materials taken from cows and chickens. I'm talking barbecue as a noun. I'm talking pulled pork and we can then get into doctrinal disputes about the contents of the sauce used in various cults that surround this cuisine.
So I was not turned off by the fact that the New York Times mini-profile of Burns Strider -- the Bible Belt faith outreach specialist for Bill and Hillary Clinton's latest campaign -- began with his knowledge of roasting pigs. When it comes to being part of an elite, he is in the right park.
DUNN, N.C. -- For Burns Strider, this was something close to heaven on earth. The smoke from the roasting pig was wafting over him, the Carolina sunshine was pouring down and he had a small-town preacher in his grasp.
Propped against a white Chevy pickup truck with a plastic-foam plate of barbeque in his hand, he leaned in. "Brother, let me ask you this," he said to the Rev. Ron Spears, pastor of the 150-member Faith and Power Christian Center in Dunn, a town astride Interstate 95 in southeast North Carolina. "In the black community here, is there a meth problem? I know it's eating these towns up. My brother is a sheriff over in Mississippi, and when they get on this stuff, they can't get off."
That is a great place to start. And it is totally appropriate that the story filled us in on how Strider talks to religious people about health-care issues, military ties, education and other issues friendly to his cause.
The story even gives us a good overview of Strider's assignment in this campaign.
Mr. Strider carries the title of senior adviser and director of faith-based operations for the Clinton campaign, but that only begins to describe his mission. A native of Grenada, Miss., he is the emissary from and to rural and religious voters, particularly in the South. His job is to close the God Gap and the Bubba Gap, helping Mrs. Clinton connect with evangelicals and veterans and Nascar fans, the kind of voters that Senator Barack Obama clumsily referred to as bitter small-towners who cling to their God and their guns in times of economic hardship.
He approaches his work with religious gladness. He may be the happiest man in either campaign, happier certainly than, say, Harold Ickes, whose job is to browbeat superdelegates for Mrs. Clinton. ... While Mr. Strider certainly believes in Mrs. Clinton's candidacy, he does not have the personal, political and financial interest in it that many of her other staff members do. He is, adapting a phrase much used by Christians, in the political world but not of the political world.
But here's the bottom line. We need to know who this man is, what he believes and how he got where he is now. If his assignment is to "drive the wedge" in between evangelicals and the GOP, then we need to know how he answers questions about the so-called "wedge" issues, the public-square disputes that, like it or not, are often linked to 2000 years of traditional Christian doctrine.
So what do we get?
One of the strangest paragraphs that I have seen in a long time.
Mr. Strider, a paunchy 42-year-old, worked for two years a decade ago as a Southern Baptist missionary in Hong Kong, but never formally entered the ministry. He also spent a summer in his youth on the competitive pig-smoking circuit in Mississippi. He was pretty good, he said, but not good enough to qualify for the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest held every May in Memphis.
That's about all we learn about what he thinks and believes. Content? Specifics? Tough questions? Nope.
But let's do some math. If he is 42 and a former Southern Baptist missionary, that would mean that he was probably in seminary -- if he truly was a missionary and not some kind of volunteer -- during the decade following the great Southern Baptist civil war that began in 1979. So what do we need to know? Where did he go to seminary? What brand of Baptist is he now, if he remains a Baptist? Where does he stand on basic cultural issues?
Information. Readers need information. If this man is in charge of outreach to evangelicals, how does he answer some of the basic evangelical questions?