Newsweek puffs Obama prayer team

obamaprayLisa Miller of Newsweek wrote about a heretofore unknown element of Barack Obama’s campaign: As many as 100 pastors call in to pray for Obama, including several famous ones, such as T.D. Jakes and Joseph Lowery.

Miller argues that not only is the Democratic Party’s presumptive presidential nominee religious, he is deeply so:

Americans are accustomed to images of pastors praying with politicians (Billy Graham has counseled nearly every president since Eisenhower), but never before has prayer — nearly 75 percent of Americans say they pray once weekly or more, according to the Pew Research Center — been such an orchestrated part of a presidential campaign. In addition to the Friday-morning prayers, there are separate weekly prayer-and-strategy calls for the campaign’s Roman Catholic, Jewish, evangelical and African-American faith-group leaders.

When Mollie writes that reporters are “in the bag” for Barack Obama, she is referring to uncritical stories like this one.

For one thing, the relevance of this story is never made clear. Miller writes the following:

Obviously, not every one of the campaign’s prayers has been answered.

The sentence is an evasion. Have any of the campaign’s prayers been answered? The answer seems obvious considering that Obama is the Democratic Party’s presumptive presidential nominee. But Obama’s religious-outreach coordinator suggests twice that the pastor’s prayers are not to help the candidate win elections. So how has Obama benefited from the pastor’s prayers?

For another thing, Miller leaves out a key element of the story: None of the pastors mentioned are Catholic priests or white evangelical pastors. In researching these religious figures, I found that they were either black Protestants (see here and here and here) or white mainline Protestants (see here and here). This is an oversight. Were Catholic clerics or white evangelical pastors not invited? Did they decline the campaign’s offer to pray for the candidate?

The Obama campaign has every right to choose the pastors it wants. But Newsweek should have mentioned that most were United Methodists, from the United Church of Christ, or black Protestants. By reporting that pastors are praying for Obama, is it not relevant which denominations they represent?

Don’t get me wrong. The inner workings of the Obama campaign is a legitimate topic. After all, the Illinois senator may be elected president. But unless the story adopts a critical attitude, especially about a hot-button topic like religion, a reader will wonder if the story is a newspaper article or campaign literature.

It’s that old GetReligion request: Give us a few pieces of specific information. Facts are good.

(Photo by user Abbyladybug used under a Creative Commons license.)

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  • Jerry

    Mark, assume the story was written about McCain with a different list of pastors who are doing the praying. Would you still express your issue as snarkily and suggestively as this:

    Have any of the campaign’s prayers been answered? The answer seems obvious considering that Obama is the Democratic Party’s presumptive presidential nominee. But Obama’s religious-outreach coordinator suggests twice that the pastor’s prayers are not to help the candidate win elections. So how has Obama benefited from the pastor’s prayers?

    You seem to be implying hypocrisy in Obama’s religion so do you have any evidence for that? And why is it a major revelation that some ministers from different denominations might not attend because they have theological differences with his positions? That is not news to me and does not necessarily need to be repeated in every story.

    And do you have any evidence that McCain’s religious events are any different or are being reported any differently? Or maybe he’s not holding them? If so, why don’t we see that reported?

  • Chris Bolinger

    …never before has prayer…been such an orchestrated part of a presidential campaign

    That’s the truth. A widely publicized prayer conference call may strike some as a wee bit contrived. As they say in the Marketing biz, there’s no such thing as bad PR.

  • str1977

    And why is it a major revelation that some ministers from different denominations might not attend because they have theological differences with his positions?

    It is not a major revelation but a fact that shouldn’t be hidden.

    BTW, it is not primarily “theological differences” but possibly political ones. Or the concern about whether such an interference is proper. Catholic priests for that matter are not allowed to interfere like that into politics.

  • Harris

    The ghost of partisan politics rather floats through this post.

    I do agree that there is a missing story, it would be how many other campaigns have prayer teams. Is the Obama effort for instance a reflection of his community organizing days? Is this a style — or a technologically adapted style — from say, black churches?

    Style aside, campaigns and candidates often have their religious story. Earlier in the NYT magazine, it was about Sen. Clinton’s relationship to the Family and her participation in Senate Bible studies. I’m sure we’ll see more about the faith community surrounding Sen. McCain, as well, and for the same reason. So the snarkishness is out of place — this is a type of story.

    Of course, what makes it a bit more unusual is to have the Dems leading with it. There is something of an aggrieved, Hitchens-esque tone in “how many prayers…”, this after the respondents have noted the broad kind of prayers that are being offered.

    And lastly, since we don’t have a list of who is actually in on these calls, no conclusion can or should be drawn about the presence or absence of evangelicals or Catholics. Given the character of the prayers as offered, it is entirely conceivable that a staunch conservative would be in on the prayers, not for political purposes but spiritual, and as such would decline to be interviewed at all (this being a spiritual not a public task).

  • Chris Bolinger

    The bottom line is that a prayer conference call is a political and PR stunt. Maybe they can start the next call with someone reading Matthew 6:5.

  • Katherine

    Did you notice how the campaign classifies its faith groups?

    the campaign’s Roman Catholic, Jewish, evangelical and African-American faith-group leaders

    The vast majority of African-American Christians are evangelicals, but there are black Catholics. Why are religious black supporters kept in their own group?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mark Stricherz

    Jerry,

    I did not mean to be sarcastic or suggestive; and don’t think the post was. I attempted to raise legitimate questions about the story, not to imply hypocrisy on Obama’s part. I just think the Newsweek story was a puff piece. As for your contention that the denominations of the ministers does not need to be mentioned, I agree with str1977

    It is not a major revelation but a fact that shouldn’t be hidden.

  • Stephen A.

    It’s certainly no surprise that Newsweek has done yet ANOTHER fawning, gushing, salivating puff piece/cover story on Obama. They’ve been in the tank for him for months, much to the chagrin of the Hillary camp.

    A little bit of skepticism is warranted about these outward manifestations of religion by Democrats, especially since Democrats have shied away from religion altogether in recent decades, to the point that many people of faith see them as hostile to it.

    It would seem to have been more productive to ask Obama if he thinks it’s right for schools to (illegally) ban private prayer, disallow Bibles, treat Christian t-shirt-wearing teens like worse offenders than those who wear filthy rapper’s t-shirts, and make war on all public expressions of religion on the public squaure and in the workplace.

    But those are tough questions Newsweek doesn’t seem interested in tackling. Better to bring in the token Left-wing “social justice=religion” pastors to back up the idea that Obama’s really engaging religion head-on here.

    I’m also still waiting to see the expose on black churches engaging in widespread politics from the pulpit, contrary to IRS regs. Not even Fox News has taken that one on. Too much Britney and Brangelina to talk about, I guess.

  • http://asksistermarymartha.blogspot.com Sister Mary Martha

    Maybe the Catholic priests are praying, too and just too busy to call in.

  • Tony

    The press has a responsibility to present a balanced view of topics. It appears to be true that, overall, the press has a difficult time portraying religion in general because they attempt to purportedly avoid bias. It is difficult to present information about religion in a manner that does not offend someone.

    So, Newsweek tries to counter-balance the previous presentations of Sen. Obama’s faith as being equal to the antics of a UCC minister. It seems necessary that the MSM correct its bias about Sen. Obama’s faith. They cannot be obvious in tearing him down without at least a mild attempt to show the other side. I see nothing surprising here. Not all stories present all sides of an issue, but the body of stories should work to present a complete picture.

    Interfaith councils, which these prayer calls seem to represent, serve an important role in uniting people of varied faith. Politics from the pulpit is bound to alienate someone in the pews. All too often people are using religion as a tool not for spiritual development and enlightenment, but instead to breed distrust in political leaders. And certainly, that is how I read the Mark’s post.

    I am saddened by the negativity of the discourse of my brethren. It seems that Sen. Obama will be our next president and we should be praying for him. But we should be encouraging people of all faiths to support not just Sen. Obama, but BOTH candidates as we strive to make this a more perfect union.

    I’m sure glad that our currency doesn’t say “In Bloggers We Trust”.

  • Dave

    Stephen A. (#8) writes:

    A little bit of skepticism is warranted about these outward manifestations of religion by Democrats, especially since Democrats have shied away from religion altogether in recent decades, to the point that many people of faith see them as hostile to it.

    So, then, anything the Democrats do or don’t do about religion is wrong?

    Fair and balanced, right…

  • Stephen A.

    So, then, anything the Democrats do or don’t do about religion is wrong?

    No, it’s just that reporters should be skeptical of overnight conversions from those particular Democrats who have been utterly silent about religion for 20-30 years or who have had nothing but negative snide remarks about those who take religion seriously on a daily basis, then suddenly start appearing in liberal churches reciting the Democratic Party platform as if it’s some kind of religious document. Reporters should be wary of using these staged rituals to write breathless (and misleading) “Democrats are appealing to religious folks” stories, or at least they should make note of the leftist slant of those ‘religious folks’.

  • Dave

    Stephen, that’s fine with me if the same reporters exercised comparable skepticism about the sincerity of Republicans’ protestation of religious commitment.

    (FWIW, it doesn’t do great credit to a Christian to doubt that someone can have a conversion experience.)

    And reporters don’t need to point out the lefist slant of the religious folks appealed to, if they make clear enough the content of the religious appeal.


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