In 2001, while serving as religion editor for The Oklahoman, I wrote a Saturday column on a group of lawmakers involved in an unusual endeavor:
I hid my jewelry and locked my wallet in the car. I had gone to a scary place — the state Capitol — to investigate a tip from Rep. Lance Cargill, R-Harrah.
If the shenanigans that my wife's former Harrah High School classmate reported were true, I figured our readers needed to know.
Cargill told of after-dark meetings involving 15 to 20 legislators. The lawmakers, he confided, assemble most Monday nights in an area living room.
They devour sandwiches or fried chicken. Then they loosen their ties, roll up their sleeves and get down to business.
The business of Southern Gospel singing, that is.
I regret to inform you that this undertaking entails no dark, smoky rooms and no money changing hands, although the gatherings were opened to Capitol lobbyist Jeff Applekamp when the politicians learned he could play a mean bass guitar.
Those who follow Oklahoma politics may recall that Cargill later served as speaker of the state House. He resigned as speaker in 2008 after failing to file personal income tax returns and repeatedly paying property taxes on his law office late. Perhaps he was too busy belting out Gospel tunes?
But seriously, I was reminded of the Oklahoma Capitol crooners when I read an in-depth Los Angeles Times story this week on a pastor who aims to deliver California lawmakers from temptation.
The Times' colorful lede:
SACRAMENTO — Amid the crush of lobbyists, lawyers and lawmakers packing the hallways of the Capitol in the final days of each legislative session, one figure moves through the corridors with noticeable serenity.
Tall and lean, Frank Erb might be mistaken for a lobbyist: the dark business suit, the black leather shoulder bag. But he isn't interested in hotly contested bills and votes, and his bag contains a Bible, not checks made out to campaign committees.
Erb is the self-described "pastor to California's leaders," ministering to a small flock that includes some of the most powerful men and women in California.
He has been a fixture at the statehouse in Sacramento for years, holding weekly Bible study sessions that he hopes will deliver legislators from temptation.
That's not always an easy task. Last year, four state lawmakers were accused of criminal wrongdoing — including one who regularly attended the Bible sessions.
The 1,300-word feature is entertaining and enlightening. I enjoyed reading it.
I'd suggest, though, that a few relatively minor tweaks in the religious nitty-gritty could have improved the story. The writer normally covers California politics, not the Godbeat, and that seems obvious in a few places.
For instance, see if you can spot the error in this otherwise nice section:
On one recent morning, nine legislators filed into the wood-paneled Assembly Rules Committee room at 8, settling into leather chairs ringing a glass-top table. The U.S. and California flags standing nearby offered reminders that this was a government building, not a church.
Some brought coffee or tea. A few carried well-worn Bibles. Others preferred using a Bible app on their iPad or smartphone. Most of the men and women wore the sedate business attire of the Capitol, though a few men had yet to don a necktie.
The group had been studying the Gospel of Mark, but this morning's lesson focused on why legislators should read and study the Bible. Erb passed around handouts.
In a resonant voice, he quoted 19 verses, including Timothy 3:15, which says, in part, "You have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom."
There are, of course, two epistles to Timothy in the New Testament. The newspaper should have attributed that quote to 2 Timothy 3:15. That mistake will stand out to any Times reader who grew up memorizing the books of the Bible.
I also found myself curious about the pastor's specific theological leanings and beliefs. The Times characterizes him as a "nondenominational Christian minister," and no doubt, that's what he told the reporter.
But a quick Google search reveals that he attended an evangelical Christian seminary and pastors a church affiliated with the North American Baptists. Both those details might have added some insight to the piece.
My nitpicks aside, though, it's a well-done story overall. I'm tempted to copy and paste more cleverly written chunks of it.
Instead, I'll urge you to click the link and read it all.