Washington Post religion writer Michelle Boorstein has a must-read story today on the faith of White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Boorstein, recently honored with the Religion News Association's top prize for religion reporting at large newspapers and wire services, demonstrates once again why she is one of the best in her field.
"How Sarah Huckabee Sanders sees the world" is the headline on the Godbeat veteran's masterfully crafted piece that opens like this:
This is the world as seen through the eyes of White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders:
As a girl, she watched her father, Southern Baptist pastor-turned-GOP-governor Mike Huckabee, sidelined when he entered politics. Arkansas Democrats literally nailed his office door shut.
In the years after, she saw conservative Christians — like her family, like most everyone she knew — ridiculed in American pop culture.
As a young woman, she moved to Washington for a government job, and noticed right away, she says, that people in the nation’s capital care more about your job than who you are. “Certainly not like where I’m from,” she says.
Sanders described this perpetual interloper experience from her other world: an elegant, well-appointed office at the White House, where reporters from places such as the New York Times and CNN metaphorically prostrate themselves at her door day in and out, and from where she can receive guidance on the phone every day from her father, long a political darling of conservative Christians, a TV celebrity now worth millions.
As the public face of the U.S. president, Sanders is a fitting symbol for her fellow religious conservatives, who are both insider and outsider, powerful and powerless.
Religious conservatives “aren’t outsiders in this White House, but generally speaking, they are,” the 35-year-old said recently in an interview in her West Wing office.
Regular GetReligion readers may recall that my August critique of a New York Times profile of Sanders was much less charitable. In fact, that analysis relied heavily on sarcasm.
With tongue firmly in cheek, I noted how shocking it was — at least to the NYT — to discover Sanders is "AN EVANGELICAL WHO READS A CHRISTIAN DEVOTIONAL BEFORE NEWS BRIEFINGS."
Bottom line: I voiced frustration with the cameo appearance that Sanders' faith made in the NYT story. I pointed out specific unanswered questions of a religious nature that haunted the piece.
Here's the good news: Boorstein answers all of those questions that the NYT (in a story produced by a media correspondent, not a religion beat specialist) ignored.
For example, the NYT offered no information on the content of the devotionals.
Enter the Post story:
To prepare for that briefing, Sanders that day had opened her leather-bound daily devotional, as she always does before heading out to the podium. The one she uses is the best-selling “Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence.”
In her office, she read this to herself: “Come to me and rest. Give your mind a rest from its habitual judging.”
In the original post, I also opined:
But wait, I don't think Southern Baptists baptize babies, do they? So what is Sanders' specific Christian affiliation?
Given that question and many others, the Sanders story story seems ready made for a little ghostbusting.
More from Boorstein:
Although she identifies as a Southern Baptist — the biggest, and among the most conservative U.S. affiliations — the past few churches she has attended are more mainstream evangelical. Her husband is not only a Catholic, but their three children were baptized as infants, a rite mandatory for Catholics and some other Christians but long considered a deviation to traditional Southern Baptists, who believe baptism should be reserved for people who have decided on their own to accept Christ.
A family friend describes Sanders and her husband, Bryan Sanders, as “progressive Christians.” In a compromise, they go to evangelical and Catholic churches every Sunday.
Besides the specific information on Sanders' faith, Boorstein's story features a variety of sources who offer expert insight — or at least attempt to do so — into the faith and worldview of Sanders.
It's a tremendously compelling read. Check it out.