A recent front-page Los Angeles Times story makes the case that reluctant evangelical Christian voters are warming to Mormon Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee. Or, should I say, the story purports to make that case.
The headline and deck:
Evangelical support grows for Romney
Overcoming concerns about Romney's Mormon faith, conservative white Christians, buoyed by a massive outreach effort, get behind the GOP challenger.
Presumably, the writer traveled to Colorado to write this story because it features a Colorado Springs dateline:
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Celebration Church sits tucked away in the corner of a repurposed shopping mall, one of the more modest venues for worship in this city of booming megachurches and superstar preachers. It has no cafe, bookstore or multimedia wizardry, but it compensates with warmth, friendliness and an especially erudite pastor who has a day job as an entrepreneur.
Still, the message from the pulpit on Sundays this month is not so different from that being heard in conservative evangelical churches across America. "When you vote," Pastor Barry Farah tells his flock, "you have to vote responsibly." And that, he says, means supporting "biblical principles."
Farah hasn't endorsed a candidate, nor does he need to. It doesn't take a theologian or seer to figure out which presidential candidate is closer in line with biblical principles as he describes them — principles that translate into opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage and support for school choice and limited government.
Hope you enjoyed your quick visit to Colorado, fellow readers, because that's all the time you'll spend there until a couple of bare-bones quotes at the end.
As for the "especially erudite pastor," the above three paragraphs represent the full extent of his cameo appearance in this front-page news story.
I'm not a theologian or a seer, but I must admit that I need a few more details to understand what Farah means by supporting "biblical principles." How exactly did he describe those principles? Did he mention abortion/same-sex marriage/school choice/limited government specifically? If not, how did the reporter decide which candidate is closer in line?
Also, since the story is supposedly about evangelicals who once had concerns about Romney and his Mormon faith but no longer do, has Farah's position on the Republican candidate changed in recent months? If so, wouldn't it be appropriate for the reporter to quote the pastor on how his outlook has changed? If not, what's the point of featuring him up so high in this story? Seriously, it would be nice if the Times gave some clue as to why this particular church and pastor were chosen for the spotlight amid all the "booming megachurches and superstar preachers" in Colorado Springs.
In a story full of unattributed generalizations (in the old days, we called it "editorialization"), the Times quotes Romney advocates who claim he has gained support among evangelicals. But the piece provides no polling data to confirm that. (For those new to journalism, attribution means providing a named source to answer the question, "How do you know that?" That, by the way, does not seem to be a question asked that frequently by Times editors.)
Meanwhile, here's the entire rest of the story from the Colorado church:
Celebration Church members who were interviewed said they planned to vote for Romney in part because they agree with him on social issues, in part because they believe he is best equipped to turn around the economy, and in part because they are unhappy with Obama.
John Chinnock, 62, manager of an environmental cleanup company, said he sided with Romney on social issues but believed the economy was the most important matter in this election. Obama, he said, is trying to make the country more like Europe, "where the government stresses the direction of where the economy is supposed to go."
Chinnock said he had no problem voting for a Mormon. "Not all the Founding Fathers were Christians," he said. "Some of them were Unitarians; some of them were Deists. … But they did believe in inalienable rights — that is, rights that come from God."
So, there you go. A front-page story in a major American newspaper on once-leery evangelicals changing their mind about a Mormon candidate. The only thing missing: an actual evangelical who changed his/her mind on Romney.