Newsweek puffs Obama prayer team

obamaprayLisa Miller of Newsweek wrote about a heretofore unknown element of Barack Obama's campaign: As many as 100 pastors call in to pray for Obama, including several famous ones, such as T.D. Jakes and Joseph Lowery. Miller argues that not only is the Democratic Party's presumptive presidential nominee religious, he is deeply so:

Americans are accustomed to images of pastors praying with politicians (Billy Graham has counseled nearly every president since Eisenhower), but never before has prayer -- nearly 75 percent of Americans say they pray once weekly or more, according to the Pew Research Center -- been such an orchestrated part of a presidential campaign. In addition to the Friday-morning prayers, there are separate weekly prayer-and-strategy calls for the campaign's Roman Catholic, Jewish, evangelical and African-American faith-group leaders.

When Mollie writes that reporters are "in the bag" for Barack Obama, she is referring to uncritical stories like this one.

For one thing, the relevance of this story is never made clear. Miller writes the following:

Obviously, not every one of the campaign's prayers has been answered.

The sentence is an evasion. Have any of the campaign's prayers been answered? The answer seems obvious considering that Obama is the Democratic Party's presumptive presidential nominee. But Obama's religious-outreach coordinator suggests twice that the pastor's prayers are not to help the candidate win elections. So how has Obama benefited from the pastor's prayers?

For another thing, Miller leaves out a key element of the story: None of the pastors mentioned are Catholic priests or white evangelical pastors. In researching these religious figures, I found that they were either black Protestants (see here and here and here) or white mainline Protestants (see here and here). This is an oversight. Were Catholic clerics or white evangelical pastors not invited? Did they decline the campaign's offer to pray for the candidate?

The Obama campaign has every right to choose the pastors it wants. But Newsweek should have mentioned that most were United Methodists, from the United Church of Christ, or black Protestants. By reporting that pastors are praying for Obama, is it not relevant which denominations they represent?

Don't get me wrong. The inner workings of the Obama campaign is a legitimate topic. After all, the Illinois senator may be elected president. But unless the story adopts a critical attitude, especially about a hot-button topic like religion, a reader will wonder if the story is a newspaper article or campaign literature.

It's that old GetReligion request: Give us a few pieces of specific information. Facts are good.

(Photo by user Abbyladybug used under a Creative Commons license.)

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