Thank you, thank you, thank you, to all of the GetReligion readers out there who sent me comments and emails last night about a hilarious correction linked to a Newsweek story by reporter Susannah Meadows entitled “Cut, Thrust and Christ: Why evangelicals are mastering the art of college debate.”
We will get to that punch line in a minute, but first you need to know the context. The subject of the story is the high-quality debate team at the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. Read closely and it isn’t very hard to figure out that the seed for this sometimes snippy story is — surprise, surprise — changes at the U.S. Supreme Court and a change in the atmosphere there on issues linked to the usual moral and cultural issues linked to the sexual revolution.
The Liberty team is currently ranked No. 1 in the country, above Harvard (14th) and all the other big names. But for the evangelicals, there’s a lot more at stake than a trophy. Falwell and the religious right figure that if they can raise a generation that knows how to argue, they can stem the tide of sin in the country. Seventy-five percent of Liberty’s debaters go on to be lawyers with an eye toward transforming society. “I think I can make an impact in the field of law on abortion and gay rights, to get back to Americans’ godly heritage,” says freshman debater Cole Bender.
Debaters are the new missionaries, having realized they can save a lot more souls from a seat at the top — perhaps even on the highest court in the land.
Heavens above, there is even a Karl Rove sighting in the article.
But this article will, I imagine, be remembered for the previously mentioned correction. It seems that, during the interview with Falwell, Meadows did not grasp one of the good reverend’s evangelical metaphors. Perhaps it was a bad phone connection or a bad audiotape. Thus, the online version of the story has this ending:
Correction: In the original version of this report, Newsweek misquoted Falwell as referring to “assault ministry.” In fact, Falwell was referring to “a salt ministry” — a reference to Matthew 5:13, where Jesus says “Ye are the salt of the earth.” We regret the error.
This, in turn, provided a timely ending for my Scripps Howard News Service column this week, which offered what I hope was a calmer, newsier take on my GetReligion post last weekend about the First Things blog item in which Father Richard John Neuhaus complains that the mainstream journalists that he meets from time to time are “not always the sharpest knives in the drawer.”
I still think that Neuhaus needed to be more careful before he clicked “send” on such a sweeping attack on journalists in general and those who cover religion news in particular. Nevertheless, he does have some points to make and some witty anecdotes for inclusion in what I called “the journalistic genre of ‘laugh to keep from crying’ miscues about religion.”
Now, Newsweek has added a great kicker. Anyone else out there have some favorite rimshot lines? Remember, keep ’em clean (this is a family friendly religion-news critique blog) and it helps if you can give us a URL or two for future reference.