Thank you to the GetReligion readers who let us know that we had been called out, so to speak, over at the Spiritual Politics weblog at the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College. Now, that last reference is a mouthful, but all you really need to know is that this election 2008 project is linked to the work of scholar and journalist Mark Silk and the team that produces the Religion in the News journal. Click here see what I'm talking about. Trust me. It pays to pay attention to what they're up to (and I've been meaning to comment on an essay in their most recent issue for some time now and I will do so sooner rather than later).
Silk has a piece up right now that makes a very valid point. It seems, at the moment, that the details about Gov. Sarah Palin's faith are getting muddier rather than clearer as the press continues to throw lots of ink in that direction. Palin has gone from Assemblies of God (kind of) to nondenominational evangelical to, well, what?
Fast forward to now. Palin tells Katie Couric she's not a member of any church, a position she reiterates in the following exchange on Hugh Hewitt's radio show yesterday:
HH: Do you think the mainstream media and the left understands your religious faith, Governor Palin?
SP: I think that there's a lot of mocking of my personal faith, and my personal faith is very, very simple. I don't belong to any church. I do have a strong belief in God, and I believe that I'm a heck of a lot better off putting my life in God's hands, and saying hey, you know, guide me. What else do we have but guidance that we would seek from a Creator? That's about as simple as it gets with my faith, and I think that there is a lot of mocking of that. And you know, so bet it, though I do have respect for those who have differing views than I do on faith, on religion. I'm not going to mock them, and I would hope that they would kind of I guess give me the same courtesy through this of not mocking a person's faith, but maybe perhaps even trying to understand a little bit of it.
Clearly, the key word in all of that is "mock."
Personally, I read that Palin passage and I hear her saying that she is not a member of any particular denomination. That's a very ordinary thing for post-denominational evangelical-charismatic-whatever people to say. The facts, right now, suggest that the Palin family is attending several churches of vague denominational identify. They are church-hopping in two cities.
Silk also has doubts about all that "mocking" language.
... (It's) nonsense to claim that she has been mocked for "putting my life in God's hands." Mockery there's been, some of it based on ignorance and anti-evangelical prejudice, but it has had to do with specific beliefs and practices that Palin is now disavowing, such as ... making a place for teaching creationism in the public schools. Simple avowals of trust in God do not elicit mockery in American culture, beyond the small world of Christopher Hitchens and company. Personally, I'd like to see Palin bearing true witness to her faith, and to see some of her blogospheric defenders -- yo, Getreligionistas! -- acknowledge that she isn't.
So Silk says there has been a bit of mockery (Can I hear an "Amen"), but thinks that some of that edgy coverage is linked to issues that deserve strong coverage. Amen.
Meanwhile, let me say that your GetReligionistas have not been defending Palin as much as we have been challenging the accuracy of some of the coverage of her faith, especially the nasty editing of that God's will in Iraq quote by the AP, ABC News, Howard Kurtz, et al. I didn't need to underline that again, did I?
We also have argued that Palin's public actions are more important than what some people have said about her personal beliefs, information often delivered in second- and third-hand quotes that would draw howls if the same journalistic standards were applied to Sen. Barack Obama by right-wing media (and the howls would be valid). We have also called -- with echoes of the AP Stylebook and that New York Times self study -- for more careful and accurate use of words like "fundamentalist," "evangelical," "Pentecostal," etc.
So I wrote Silk:
I do not believe that calling for accurate coverage of her beliefs and quotations represents any strange stance on journalism. As for the material you quote from these interviews, and how she is wording her current church status, it all looks like valid material to cover. Now do the same for Biden and for another politician who currently, after attacks, has no church home -- Obama.
What a year.
I don't believe so either, Terry. Obama has said he'll church shop after the election. Biden has one, although some of his co-religionists might wish he didn't. What a year indeed.
So there you go. Journalism problems require journalism solutions. No mocking. Careful reporting. A careful use of loaded labels.
Be careful out there, folks.