Earlier this week we saw two sad stories involving political figures. It turned out that the Democratic nominee to be the next Connecticut Senator, Richard Blumenthal, had lied (or "misplaced" his words, as he put it) about whether he'd served in Vietnam. And a Republican Congressman from Indiana, Rep. Mark Souder, resigned upon revelation of an affair he'd had with a staffer. Now, I certainly wish that stories about Blumenthal engaged what his religion had to say about what he'd done, but they didn't even get to the part where they mention what his religion is, much less how that religion treats his sin. There were a few things I found interesting -- First Things had a brief piece about aspirational lying. And Slate's William Saletan had a devastating look at how Blumenthal holds himself to a lower standard than those individuals he's gone after as attorney general. I didn't see any of these explorations in the mainstream media.
But we're in luck with Souder since he's an "outspoken evangelical" (a member of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, to be exact). So the stories about him actually led with his religion! Check out this Associated Press report:
Indiana Rep. Mark Souder -- an evangelical Christian who promoted abstinence education and was known for his outspoken views on religion -- said Tuesday he will resign from Congress because of an extramarital affair with a part-time staff member.
I wish I could tell you what the writers meant when they said he had "outspoken views on religion" but they never got around to explaining it. It's interesting when something is important enough to be included in the first few words of a story but not important enough to explain in any way, shape or form.
The Washington Post took a particular delight in revealing Souder's resignation and the reason for it. They led with his "support of traditional family values" and explained that he was confronted by his own staff. This type of story is catnip for inside the beltway journalists:
A self-described conservative and a Christian, Souder had focused on three areas since entering Congress: in his words, "how to keep the economy strong; how do we improve our education system; and how do we change the cultural and moral direction of this country."
Souder, 59, a pudgy man with an unruly shelf of gray hair, got high marks in his district for his evangelical beliefs. He received an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association and a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee.
Yes, nothing says professionalism like subjectively weighing in on someone's looks. Anyway, I wish the reporters would have explained precisely how he got high marks in his district for his evangelical beliefs. I'm not saying it's wrong but the way they've written it, it makes it seem like the NRA and NRLC ratings are equivalent to getting high marks for evangelical beliefs. I don't think that's what they're trying to say but without any other supporting information, it's hard to say.
Anyway, apart from the schadenfreude many of us have over the downfall of a social conservative, Souder's entry into the "sex scandal press conference" hall of fame was certainly interesting. He said, according to Politico:
"I sinned against God, my wife and my family by having a mutual relationship with a part-time member of my staff," Souder said in a statement Tuesday. "I am so shamed to have hurt those I love."
The general tone of all the media coverage I've read is that the takeaway from the news is nothing more than: HYPOCRISY! It's probably worth reminding reporters that religious folks who espouse particular values don't believe they're immune from temptation or sin. In fact, whatever one may think of whether social conservatism is right or wrong, it is an acute awareness of human failing that likely motivates some of the outspoken advocacy for laws that support morality. There seems to be a ton of confusion about that among reporters. But somehow I think it's asking too much for reporters -- or readers, for that matter -- to engage some of the more substantive questions when we could instead just delight in another sex scandal.