A chuckle, a grumble and a question mark

Big baseball fan that I am, I'm going to take take three swings with this post. Hopefully, I make solid contact on at least one pitch.

All three of these stories concern the 2012 presidential race (you may have heard there's an election in November).

Pitch 1: Your friendly GetReligionistas are generally big fans of Bob Smietana, esteemed religion news scribe with the Bible Belt Tennessean. (Smietana, by the way, is an avid Boston Red Sox fan, but we're not going to bring that up.)

Smietana's latest piece of Godbeat journalism strikes right on target as far as hitting key issues in a timely fashion. The story — available on the Tennessean site and also reprinted by Gannett sister USA Today — concerns religion labels in the 2012 campaign:

NASHVILLE – There aren't any white Protestants on the presidential ballot this year — a first in American history.

Instead, race features two Catholic vice presidential candidates, a Mormon Republican and African-American mainline Protestant.

Perhaps lucky for all of them, voters care more about issues such as social justice or gay marriage than they do about denominational brands.

That's particularly true for Republican Mitt Romney and running mate Paul Ryan, who hope to woo evangelical voters that share their values rather than their theology.

But I must acknowledge that one source used in the story made me chuckle. Smietana quotes Shaun Casey, professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., concerning whether evangelical Christian voters might be enthusiastic about Mormon Romney and Catholic Ryan. Casey opines that the Romney-Ryan ticket might keep some evangelicals at home.

To his credit, Smietana's piece provides the background that made me chuckle: the fact that Casey served as President Barack Obama's evangelical outreach coordinator in 2008. In other words, he's got a horse in the race. Given his partisanship, I don't know that readers should expect Casey to be the one to suggest evangelicals are (or are not) excited about Romney-Ryan. (Then again, I quoted Casey myself in 2008.)

Pitch 2: CNN's Belief Blog reports on atheists taking down billboards critical of presidential candidates' faith amid a "large volume of threats."

A large volume of vague, anonymous threats, that is.

If I might grumble a bit, this seems to be one of those maddening stories where someone starts a fight, then plays the victim card when the other side responds. So CNN reports on the victim with no evidence whatsoever to support the claims of a "large volume of threats." Am I missing something?

Cathy Lynn Grossman at USA Today boiled the situation down this way on her soon-to-be dearly departed Faith & Reason blog:

Vitriol, evidently, can be directed only against believers.

Pitch 3: The Washington Post reports on some black church leaders trying to inspire congregants to vote for Obama despite his support of same-sex marriage.

The story opens like this:

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Two dozen of this region’s most influential black pastors sat in the cramped conference room of a suburban Baptist church last week, brainstorming how to inspire congregants still dismayed by President Obama’s support for same-sex marriage.

One idea that emerged was to focus black churchgoers on the differences between Obama’s traditional brand of Christianity and Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s Mormonism, especially its history of racial discrimination.

We can’t tell people who to vote for, but we can certainly point out the differences,” said the Rev. Lin Hill, associate minister of the 2,500-member Bethany Baptist Church, which hosted the gathering on Saturday. “Our president has declared Jesus Christ to be his Lord and savior, while his opponent denies the deity of Christ.”

Hill’s analysis of Mormon theology is rejected by Romney and church officials, who say they believe in Christ’s divinity.

Way up high, the story raises the issue of Mormon beliefs concerning the deity of Christ. That would seem to be a pretty big issue for the rest of the story to address. Instead, the Post takes a "he said/she said" approach in the first four paragraphs and never provides any more details or background to help readers understand the key theological issues involved.

That lapse leaves a giant question mark hanging over the entire story.

That's three strikes.

I'm out.

"Vote" image via Shutterstock

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