Sermon after the soundbites

bibleIn news lingo, there is this thing called a "follow" story and it is something that modern, shrinking, distressed newsrooms rarely have the time or resources to do. Here's the basic idea: So you have this gigantic news event that attracts waves of coverage. It's all over the wires, on A1 in the newspapers, gets live coverage on the cable networks and the big event gets mentioned for more than 60 seconds on the major newscasts. If it's really important, the late-night comics weigh in and offer their insights.

Then what happens? The herd moves on to the next event.

The follow story assumes that the people most involved in the event carry on with what they were doing before and, in fact, there may even be content in the events that happen right after the media event. Who knows, there may even be content in these next, non-media-events that adds insights to the very event that journalists had decided was important.

So let me cut to the chase. If the Saddleback forum took place on a Saturday and it was led by a pastor, then it is safe to ask this question: Is this minister -- the Rev. Rick Warren, in this case -- going to preach on Sunday? Might his words from the pulpit have something to add to the words offered in the media event a few hours before that?

So what did he say on Sunday? The Los Angeles Times is to be commended for going over to Saddleback Church and finding out. Who knows, the sermon might even be as important as what happens on Larry King Live.

What happened on Sunday morning? Here's the top of the story:

The morning after Pastor Rick Warren interviewed both major presidential candidates at his evangelical church in Orange County, he delivered a Sunday sermon urging his congregation to judge Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain on how their characters would affect their decisions as leaders.

"Don't just look at issues, look at character," Warren said to a crowd of nearly 3,000 during one of two morning sermons at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest. "Look at the candidate and say, 'Does he live with integrity, service with humility, share with generosity, or not?' "

Dressed in his usual bluejeans, Warren delivered the sermon titled "The Kind of Leadership America Needs" using Bible passages about faith and compassion. He did not speak of the differing views expressed by Obama and McCain when they appeared on the same stage Saturday, saying simply that "they were very different in personality, in philosophy, in direction, in goals and in vision, and there's nothing wrong with that."

And guess what happened then? The Times story completely ignored the actual content of the sermon.

Now, I have heard Warren preach once or twice and he is, despite his reputation as a megachurch preacher, a very conventional man in terms of his use of sermon texts. I would be shocked if the biblical texts that he used didn't offer direct insights into what he was thinking.

The story tells us that he used "Bible passages about faith and compassion." Well what, pray tell, were these passages? Were they, perhaps, passages that Obama often uses? Were they texts that pointed toward any particular concerns?

In other words, this is a news story about a sermon. What did the minister say in the sermon? Might that be a significant part of the report, in addition to all of the political background? In a story about a sermon, the basic facts include the biblical texts and some quotes from the sermon. Can we agree on that?

I have even heard ministers send somewhat coded messages to their flocks, using religious images and language that flies over the heads of the reporters. I wonder. Did that happen here? The people in the church probably got the sermon. Did the reporter?

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