Every now and then, the newspaper that lands in my front yard runs a story about one of the most famous and, for many, most inspirational men currently alive and well and working in Baltimore.
No, this is not another post about coverage of the theological insights of Ray "God's linebacker" Lewis of the world champion Baltimore Ravens.
I'm talking about Dr. Ben Carson, who is usually, in media reports, described as the "trailblazing black neurosurgeon" at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He is also well known as an author, of course.
The most recent Baltimore Sun story about the good doctor is not, repeat, is NOT, haunted by a religion ghost. In fact, the story does a pretty good job of noting that his Seventh-day Adventist faith is a crucial part of what makes him tick -- even if the references settles for the usual "devout" label without providing any material that demonstrates that fact, as opposed to simply proclaiming it.
Let me repeat, this particular story does not ignore religion. In fact, the team that produced it made sure to include the doctor's beliefs as part of his public persona.
So what, in my humble opinion, makes this a story that deserves some GetReligion attention? I was fascinated by the fact that the Sun team clearly took the content of Carson's faith semi-seriously for a completely and painfully obvious reason, which is that his recent remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast have stirred up political talk about his future.
The content of his faith is news because it's political, not because it's a key element in the life of a major figure in the city. Thus, readers are told right up front:
Dr. Ben Carson says he didn't anticipate the reaction to what he considered his common-sense remarks as keynote speaker this month at the National Prayer Breakfast. But after video went viral of the trailblazing black neurosurgeon taking jabs at Barack Obama's health care overhaul a few feet from the president himself, some want the famed doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to parlay the attention into a new career: politics.
"Here you have this guy who has been a celebrity minority for 30 years coming out and making the conservative case better than a lot of conservatives can," said Jonah Goldberg, editor-at-large for National Review Online. "Emotionally, that had a really big impact for a lot of people."
While some objected to Carson raising health care and tax policy at the traditionally nonpolitical Washington breakfast, conservative heavyweights Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter all cheered his address. The Wall Street Journal published an editorial with the headline "Ben Carson for President."
Trust me on this: How does the Sun team expect their readers to react to all of those names, to this litany of cultural doom, in a news report about a prominent local African-American leader? Click here for the YouTube answer.
So what was Carson actually trying to say at the breakfast? It would have been nice if the piece had actually quoted a chunk or two of the address, but this information made it into the report:
Carson, who plans to retire from surgery in June, says he has no interest in running for office. But he says he will use the new exposure to urge common sense, bipartisanship and a reversal of the "moral decay" that he says is eating away at the country.
"I have this feeling that as time goes on, we're not getting any more civilized, and we should be," he said in an interview. "We're still running around like the days of Genghis Khan. There are so many important, better things to do and we need to encourage people to reach into the brighter side of humanity and not encourage people to continue to glorify the darker side."
He won plaudits from the political right for his prayer breakfast call for the creation of health savings accounts at birth in place of what he considers the bureaucracy of Obama's health reform, and for the imposition of a flat tax that he likened to a biblical tithe to supplant a complex tax code that he said asks too much of the rich.
He also lambasted Washington for the $16.5 trillion national debt -- evidence, he said, of hubris to rival that of ancient Rome. Though he didn't mention it in his remarks, Carson adds same-sex marriage to his litany of the nation's problems. Much of his address focused on a biblical argument for bipartisan cooperation.
In addition to citing his church affiliation, the story also notes that Carson is a political independent, not a registered Republican. It also includes a fascinating quote about the role that faith has played in his view of science, and how his views on science have helped support his beliefs about creation. Interesting stuff.
Nevertheless, his traditional views on moral issues are assumed to place him straight into GOP territory, even though the state of Maryland includes large numbers of church-going African-American voters who are politically progressive, but conservative on moral and cultural issues.
The bottom line: This prayer breakfast speech was important because of the assumption that it was one early scene in a possible political drama.
Always remember: Faith is opinion. Politics is real news.
If Carson intends to make real change, then that will have to take place through politics. Right?
The doctor disagrees. This is how the story ends:
...The comments weren't intended to stoke political controversy, Carson said. Nor, he said, did they appear to offend Obama.
"I think there is virtually no better setting than something like the National Prayer Breakfast to talk about the spiritual state of the nation," he said. "I believe the spiritual state of the nation is not good."
Carson said he hopes to spark independent thinking over partisan bickering. He has planned 10 international trips after his retirement from surgery to speak to youth about the importance of education. He also plans to continue speaking around the United States -- something for which he is now likely to be in greater demand. Many of those speeches are likely to touch on what Carson sees as a weakening of the nation's moral fiber that threatens the country's survival.
"We try to make everything equal now, every kind of family situation," he said. "We go into the schools and we say there's no outstanding people because we don't want this one or that one to feel bad. We're basically extracting reality out of everything so everybody can feel good. But ultimately making everyone feel good makes everyone feel bad."
Stay tuned. The team at the Sun, I am sure, will watch Carson closely in the near future. He is important, now. This is real.