Earlier this summer, I followed Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., to a Fourth of July parade and to the Southern Baptist church where he worships each Sunday.
I wasn't stalking Lankford; I was working on a profile of him for Religion News Service.
The piece that I wrote focused on how Lankford balances his dual roles as a pastor — his former full-time vocation — and as a politician.
A few critics who don't like where Lankford stands on certain issues accused me of writing a puff piece, even though I quoted both Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with the Democrats.
I was reminded of that (limited) negative reaction when I saw what some readers said about a Boston Globe piece this week on the faith of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a potential 2020 presidential contender.
That story's lede:
When Senator Elizabeth Warren last week visited the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta — religious home to the heirs and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. — the liberal firebrand began her remarks in a familiar vein, decrying an economy that only works “for a thin slice at the top.”
It might have been just another political stop, a timely bit of outreach to the African-American voters who could be key should she run for president.
But then Warren shifted her focus to Matthew 25:40 — and Jesus.
“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me,” Warren said, quoting the Gospel. Then she shared her interpretation: “He’s saying to us, first, there’s God in every one of us, there’s Jesus in every one of us — however you see it in your religion, that inside there’s something holy in every single person.”
Warren is well known for her acrid take on Wall Street money power, on the Trump presidency, and on all the forces in American life that, in her view, deny equal opportunity to all. Much less well known is Warren’s relationship with God.
The senator’s personal religious views are part of her life that few if any of her supporters or detractors think of when they contemplate the Massachusetts lawmaker, who has built a national reputation on the strength of her populism and is on many political observers’ short list of likely 2020 White House contenders.
A couple of the tweets to which a reader called my attention:
I honestly can't tell if this tweet by former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer is sincere or sarcastic:
What do you think?
Remembering that GetReligion advocates fair, impartial coverage of religion news, my thoughts:
1. I understand why some readers — or perhaps "many readers" would be more accurate — are skeptical and even cynical about mainstream news coverage of politicians. Certainly, anyone who peruses this journalism-focused website with any sort of regularity could cite countless examples of cases where such stories fell short, particularly on social and religious issues. In the case of Pence, I wrote the following post myself (just a few months ago), so I definitely get where that opinion is coming from:
2. But — and you had to figure a "but" was coming — I thought the Warren story was terrific. It was well-sourced (even if Warren herself declined to talk. It delved into the role of faith in a prominent person's life (here at GetReligion, we are all about that). And it did a nice job, i thought, of backing up the assertions it made.
What would have made the Globe story better?
When doing the Lankford piece, I was fascinated to learn about the bipartisan Bible study involving both conservative Republican and liberal Democratic senators. I wonder if Warren is among the participants. If so, what might someone like Lankford say about Warren's faith?
The other thing that might be helpful would be a deeper discussion of why conservative Republican and liberal Democratic politicians approach their faith differently in the public eye — for example, why Lankford granted pretty wide-ranging access to a religion writer and why Warren declined to comment for such an article. I recall reading a wonderful piece that explained the varying approaches and may have even highlighted it previously. But as I type this, I'm on a plane to Nashville, Tenn., for the 2017 Religion News Association annual meeting — and my Wi-Fi connection is slow. In other words, I'm not having much luck trying to search for that previous piece in a timely fashion.
As I prepare to shut down my computer for landing, feel free to disagree in the comments section with my assessment of the Warren story. But please remember that we want to talk about "journalism" and media issues, not your personal political positions. Obviously, there are plenty of other outlets to express such thoughts.