How Evangelicals Talk 101

OK, doesn't anyone in the mainstream national press understand how evangelical Christians talk? Honestly, head right on over to Google News and do a search for "Palin" and, of course, the hotter than hot political soundbite of the day -- "God's plan."

You're going to end up reading all kinds of things, including a lot of junk, but here is the basic Associated Press report on this non-story of the day, which ran under the totally predictable headline, "McCain aide: Palin believed candidacy 'God's plan.' "

Sarah Palin believed that Sen. John McCain chose her to be his running mate in 2008 because of "God's plan," according to a top political strategist in the Arizona Republican's campaign.

In an interview with the CBS news magazine "60 Minutes," Steve Schmidt described Palin as "very calm -- nonplussed" after McCain met with her at his Arizona ranch just before putting her on the Republican ticket. McCain had planned to name Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., as his vice presidential choice until word leaked, sparking what Schmidt called political blowback over picking the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee.

Schmidt said he asked Palin about her serenity in the face of becoming "one of the most famous people in the world." He quoted her as saying, "It's God's plan."

Palin has not ruled out a run for the presidency.

Now, so far, I have not been able to find any information that provides the information that the reader needs in order to make any sense out of this short quotation. We do not know the context for this quote and we do not know if this is the whole quote, or if it is the only part of the quote that (a) Schmidt remembers or (b) thinks will cause headlines that will make Palin and/or her faith look stupid (yet again).

But if you know anything about the lingo of mainstream evangelicals and/or if you have managed to trudge through Palin's book "Going Rogue" (my take: it's a pretty interesting book about her love for her family and the state of Alaska, which is kind of ironic if you stop and think about it), you know that the odds are about 100-1 that what Palin said is that her nomination was part of God's "plan for her life."

This is, after all, precisely the approach she takes in her book when discussing the various twists and turns that her life has taken. She believes in a God who works through the choices that people make and also, mysteriously, through the events -- both painful and joyful -- that take place in their lives.

If you listen to evangelicals talk, you know that a typical statement of this belief might sound something like this: "Looking back, I could see that flunking out of dental school in Dallas was part of God's plan for my life as a medical missionary in India."

In other words, "God's plan" may have had something to do with India, but that is not the point. The point is that the individual believer can only strive to discern God's plan for her or her own life. Palin was probably saying that the nomination was part of God's plan to broaden her horizons beyond Alaska. But, honestly, we don't know.

We. Do. Not. Know.

Meanwhile, like it or not, this kind of reference to "God's plan" is how most evangelicals think and talk and, truth be told, many other believers use very similar language when talking about issues of Divine Providence.

Now, if it turns out that Palin really did say that her nomination was part of God's plan for the United States as a whole since, as the AP story quickly notes, she has not ruled out running for the presidency (which is the shocking connection implied in most of these stories), then headline writers can loosen up their fingers yet again and pound out some more really wild headlines -- with good cause.

Until then, someone needs to produce some kind of "How Evangelicals Talk" phrase book -- much like the one reporters needed when Jimmy "born again" Carter ran for the presidency -- and hand it out in some elite newsrooms.

Oh, by the way, it goes without saying that the goal here is to discuss the journalism issues in this post, not what people think about Palin or the content of her faith. This is a journalism blog, folks. Stay on topic.

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