When it comes to Texas Gov. Rick Perry and his views on religion in the public square, I've had my own harsh words but I really had trouble with a news article I read earlier this week from the Houston Chronicle. The headline of the piece is "Perry puts faith on display but offers little for collection plate." Reporter Gary Scharrer decided to get very personal:
AUSTIN -- Gov. Rick Perry has never been shy about putting his faith on display, from speeches at prayer breakfasts to his 2005 signing of abortion restrictions into law at a church school's gym to inviting the nation's governors to a prayer meeting at Reliant Stadium that some are calling "Prayer-a-palooza."
But when it comes time to giving, the governor doesn't come close to the biblical guidance of tithing.
From 2000, when Perry became governor, through 2009, he earned a total of $2.68 million, according to his tax records. Of that amount, he gave about half a percent to churches and religious organizations, or $14,243.
By comparison, Americans averaged gifts of nearly 1.2 percent of their income to churches and religious groups from 2004 to 2008, according to Empty Tomb Inc., an Illinois-based research firm specializing in U.S. church-giving trends.
"He's going to have a hard time with this. While that may be acceptable for someone who does not aspire to leadership, evangelicals get very concerned when their leaders don't walk the talk," said Michael Lindsay, incoming president of Gordon College and author of Faith in the Halls of Power.
While charitable contributions gleaned from public tax records are fair game for reporters, there's something about this report that just bothers me.
Now, maybe Scharrer knows more on the topic of tithing than others, but is it fair to say that there is a clear and obvious biblical guidance for tithing? (Quick note: if you'd like to learn more about the biblical guidance for tithing and how some religious adherents practice, I recommend the book pictured here by GetReligion's own Douglas LeBlanc.)
The fact is that while many people suggest that the tithing in New Testament church should continue to be the 10 percent of the Old Testament, there's a lot of debate about that. A reporter shouldn't just condemn someone but, rather, speak to different theologians for input on the matter.
And on that note, Lindsay is a great choice for someone to talk to about evangelical politics, but I'm pretty sure his view is not universally held when it comes to whether evangelicals wouldn't accept someone who one year tithed at the rate Perry did.
Which brings me to another point -- a single year of charitable contribution data is not sufficient for a story such as this. If the reporter really felt that a gotcha tithing story would be the proper way to fight Rick Perry, he should have seen if there was something unique about the one year cited or if it was part of a larger trend or an outlier. Actually, the reporter might have tried to do that but the section of the article dealing with other years' giving is too confusing for me to understand.
Another Christian is quoted in the story but he is also highly critical of the governor.
This just really reads more like a gotcha attack than an attempt to either discern the wisdom of the prayer event Gov. Perry is promoting or evaluate Perry's personal piety.