Newsweek published an interesting but uneven cover story about Barack Obama's relationship with his father and father figures. The story was interesting because it contained plenty of good journalism about Obama's personal relationships, such as a quote from Obama about his faith and the perspective of the teacher whose classroom Obama Sr. met his son for the first time. But it was uneven because it also contained little more than an apologia for the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright.
Toward the end of the story, Newsweek editor and resident civil theologian Jon Meacham got around to explaining why Obama joined Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. In the course of his explanation, Meacham described Wright's theology this way:
Much has been written about the "Africentrism" of Trinity: the African-American Last Supper that hangs in the church lobby and the kente cloth that drapes its altar. But Wright's ideas about Africa were more than decorative. Wright taught that African- Americans should be proud of their African heritage, of the stories of slavery and freedom handed down by their grandparents and great-grandparents. He also preached that people should feel a financial and social responsibility to their brothers and sisters in Africa, especially those without food and water, those with chronic or incurable disease, those without any education.
He also preached ... well, you can fill in the blank (here and here). See what I mean? Meacham did not describe Wright as a journalist would, characterizing the man's theology in full. He described him as an apologist would, characterizing his theology in the most anodyne and positive terms.
Imagine if Obama had joined the church of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, he of the famous quote about the true origins of Sept. 11. Would Meacham have been so silent about Falwell's controversial views? I doubt it. As Mollie noted, too many reporters have one standard for old Mainline churches such as the UCC and another standard for evangelical churches.
Newsweek's story overall was well reported and informative. But this one flub leaves you wondering whether the story really got religion.
(Photo of the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Jr. by talkradionews.com used under at Creative Commons license.)