Mind your Qs and As

question-markThere's something I just like about the Q&A format. It's nice to just see the particular questions that reporters choose to ask their sources as well as how those sources respond. There are two that I would like to highlight. The first comes from the Washington Post's "Voices of Power" series. That's where reporters sit down with inside-the-beltway power players for a videotaped chat. Here, Post reporter Lois Romano sits down with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to discuss swine flu and other fun stuff. Pretty quickly the interview gets into religion:

MS. ROMANO: You are also a pro-choice Catholic, and I was reading some stories out of your home state recently where one of the bishops took an action. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

SECRETARY SEBELIUS: Well, the Archbishop in the Kansas City area did not approve of my conduct as a public official and asked that I not present myself for communion.

MS. ROMANO: What did you think about that?

SECRETARY SEBELIUS: Well, it was one of the most painful things I have ever experienced in my life, and I am a firm believer in the separation of church and state, and I feel that my actions as a parishioner are different than my actions as a public official and that the people who elected me in Kansas had a right to expect me to uphold their rights and their beliefs even if they did not have the same religious beliefs that I had. And that's what I did: I took an oath of office and I have taken an oath of office in this job and will uphold the law.

MS. ROMANO: Do you continue to take communion?

SECRETARY SEBELIUS: I really would prefer not to discuss with you. That's really a personal -- thank you.

The last question and answer are fascinating, obviously. And yet I'm not sure I would have asked that question. I would want to explore her implication that opposition to abortion is something that she would only arrive at out of a religious understanding. That's not even the position of her own church. Or maybe it would have been interesting to ask her why she disagrees with the Pope on the obligation of Catholics who serve in government. Here he recently reminded Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of what the church teaches on how its members should handle sanctity of life issues.

Anyway, kudos to Ms. Romano for going there. It was somewhat disappointing how little coverage was given to Gov. Sebelius' pro-abortion rights views when she was being highlighted as a Catholic cabinet-member-to-be.

The other Q&A I enjoyed came from Amy Sullivan at Time. She spoke with "Religious Leader Chuck Colson" about a new online research tool he launched this month:

Chuck Colson has spent a lifetime atoning for his involvement in the Watergate cover-up. The founder of Prison Fellowship has spent more than three decades working with prisoners in more than 100 countries, and he has mentored generations of conservative Evangelical leaders. This month he launched the Chuck Colson Center, an online research and education center that he calls "the Lexis-Nexis of resources on the Christian worldview." The last of the original religious-right leaders still actively engaged with the movement, Colson spoke with TIME about his latest endeavor, why he thinks churches have failed society and the biggest mistake the religious right made.

OK, one quick quibble. Is Colson an original religious-right leader or, if you grant that, the last one actively engaged with the movement? I'm not even sure how you quantify the original leaders but surely Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition, would be considered involved, no?

Anyway, Sullivan leads a good conversation:

In recent years, religious leaders have often preached about how to apply a Christian worldview to, say, making a political decision to vote for a certain kind of candidate.

We made a big mistake in the '80s by politicizing the Gospel. We ought to be engaged in politics, we ought to be good citizens, we ought to care about justice. But we have to be careful not to get into partisan alignment. We [thought] that we could solve the deteriorating moral state of our culture by electing good guys. That's nonsense. Now people are kind of realizing it was a mistake. A lot of people are going back and saying, "Let's just take care of the church and tend to our knitting."

Both positions are wrong. There's an intelligent way to engage the culture in every area, including politics. But you can't fix politics or culture unless you fix the church. What we're seeing in society today is a direct consequence of the church failing to be the church.

Has there ever been a time when you think religious people got the balance right by engaging without becoming entangled?

Yes. What happened in 18th and 19th century England, with the Wesley Movement and with William Wilberforce, was ideal. Wilberforce and others formed hundreds of small societies for improving human welfare, preventing cruelty to animals, reforming poorhouses and prisons. And there were great Christian leaders in politics as well. In that period, Christians were not divided by political parties.

Christians aren't divided by political parties today, and yet there is definitely division. It's not unusual to run across liberals who say there's no way Jesus would ever be a Republican, or conservatives who preach that it's not possible to be both a good Christian and a Democrat.

That's dreadful. It's so much bigger than politics. Jesus would have seen the Republican and Democratic parties like the money changers in the temple. They just didn't get it. Now, I'm going to vote for a pro-life candidate if given the choice. But that has nothing to do with partisanship. Democrats do a lot of very good things that we should be supporting. And I say that as a conservative.

It's an interesting discussion. My only hope is that reporters might also learn of the limitations in reporting religious news if they rely on a left-right political approach. There's so much of the church realm that gets missed when looking at religious issues through such a narrow prism.

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