When it comes to covering controversial petitions, the little guy in the list may be the big story

It’s hard to make a petition sound exciting, but there are ways.

A few days ago, a bunch of evangelical Protestant leaders signed a petition denouncing the Trump refugee ban and ran it in a full-page ad in the Washington Post. Being that such ads cost somewhere north of $30 K, that was a substantial outlay for World Relief, the sponsor.

I am surprised that other than CNN, the Post itself, The Hill and The Guardian, most other publications ignored it, or simply rewrote CNN’s piece.

I’ll start with CNN’s account, as I believe they broke the story:

(CNN) -- Scores of evangelical leaders, including at least one from each state, have taken out a full-page newspaper advertisement to denounce President Donald Trump's temporary ban on refugees, urging him to reconsider his executive order and welcome people fleeing persecution and violence.
On January 27, Trump issued an executive order that temporarily restricts travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries, suspends the US Refugee Admissions Program for four months, indefinitely bars Syrian refugees and reduces the number of refugees the United States will accept from 110,000 to 50,000.
The evangelicals' advertisement, which is slated to run in The Washington Post, is signed by 100 prominent evangelical pastors and authors, including some who rarely wade into politics. It is addressed to Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
Signees include Pastor Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, Christian author Ann Voskamp, Bill and Lynne Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church, preacher and author Max Lucado, Pastor Eugene Cho of Quest Church and Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.
CNN obtained an early copy of the advertisement, which appears in the name of World Relief, an evangelical relief organization that has resettled thousands of refugees in the United States. In addition to the leaders who signed the print ad, hundreds more have endorsed its message online, said Scott Arbeiter, World Relief's President.

A few notes: Actually, it was Tim and Kathy Keller who signed it. The Associated Press stylebook instructs clergy to be addressed as “the Rev,” so am not sure where CNN comes up with the “pastor” designation.

Living in Seattle, I know that Quest Church is based here, but does everyone know that? Since the article says that someone from every state signed it, it would have been nice if the petition had identified the signatories by state. A lot of folks had identities such as “First Baptist Church” after their names, which could be anywhere. I am curious which signatories were from places like Idaho, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming. 

After quoting from the statement, the article adds:

While the advertisement is signed by evangelical heavyweights, several evangelical leaders who backed Trump during the campaign are supporting the ban. They include Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition; Franklin Graham of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association; and the Rev. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas.

The Guardian managed to get ahold of Graham.

Opposition to Trump’s refugee ban is, however, not universal among evangelical Christians. The Rev Franklin Graham, son of the influential evangelist Billy Graham, defended the ban in a statement to the Guardian.
“I believe that all people coming from other countries need to be completely vetted,” he said. “We need to be sure their philosophies related to freedom and liberty are in line with ours.
“Sharia law, for instance, is ultimately incompatible with the constitution of this nation. I support safe zones in the countries where refugees can flee and find protection. This is much safer than them trying to cross the sea, risking their lives. Let’s take the help to them.” 

Which, by the way, Graham’s organization Samaritan’s Purse is doing. See the video atop this blog post.

The Post’s story tells us that two of the signatories are immigrants and adds some statements from other signatories and sympathetic Catholics. I wish the Post had included a PDF of the ad, as many readers outside the Beltway don’t get the print edition.

For the benefit of local readers, I wish the Post had added the name of two locals: David Renwick of National Presbyterian Church in the District and John Yates, rector of The Falls Church Anglican in northern Virginia. Having attended the latter church for a little more than a year and also having covered it extensively during its split from the Episcopal Church, I know that Yates ordinarily doesn’t mess with politics. For him to sign this is a big deal. Ditto for Scott Dudley of Bellevue (Wash.) Presbyterian.

Here is a potential headline: None of the stories mentioned that Betsy DeVos’s pastor signed the petition.

I wish that some of the lesser-known leaders had been interviewed. It’s one thing to mention the Kellers, who are used to being in the public eye, but what about the other folks who may get some blowback? One of the pastors, Sandy Willson of Second Presbyterian in Memphis, announced his retirement last Sunday, so no problem there. 

The Huffington Post may have the last word in this. In an article that included thoughtful quotes from Fuller Seminary past president Richard Mouw, their sub-headline asked: "But will evangelicals in the pews care?" 

They may if more media bestir themselves and decide to cover it.

Image © 2014 Samaritan’s Purse. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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