Mind your Qs and As

question-markThere’s something I just like about the Q&A format. It’s nice to just see the particular questions that reporters choose to ask their sources as well as how those sources respond. There are two that I would like to highlight. The first comes from the Washington Post‘s “Voices of Power” series. That’s where reporters sit down with inside-the-beltway power players for a videotaped chat.

Here, Post reporter Lois Romano sits down with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to discuss swine flu and other fun stuff. Pretty quickly the interview gets into religion:

MS. ROMANO: You are also a pro-choice Catholic, and I was reading some stories out of your home state recently where one of the bishops took an action. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

SECRETARY SEBELIUS: Well, the Archbishop in the Kansas City area did not approve of my conduct as a public official and asked that I not present myself for communion.

MS. ROMANO: What did you think about that?

SECRETARY SEBELIUS: Well, it was one of the most painful things I have ever experienced in my life, and I am a firm believer in the separation of church and state, and I feel that my actions as a parishioner are different than my actions as a public official and that the people who elected me in Kansas had a right to expect me to uphold their rights and their beliefs even if they did not have the same religious beliefs that I had. And that’s what I did: I took an oath of office and I have taken an oath of office in this job and will uphold the law.

MS. ROMANO: Do you continue to take communion?

SECRETARY SEBELIUS: I really would prefer not to discuss with you. That’s really a personal — thank you.

The last question and answer are fascinating, obviously. And yet I’m not sure I would have asked that question. I would want to explore her implication that opposition to abortion is something that she would only arrive at out of a religious understanding. That’s not even the position of her own church. Or maybe it would have been interesting to ask her why she disagrees with the Pope on the obligation of Catholics who serve in government. Here he recently reminded Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of what the church teaches on how its members should handle sanctity of life issues.

Anyway, kudos to Ms. Romano for going there. It was somewhat disappointing how little coverage was given to Gov. Sebelius’ pro-abortion rights views when she was being highlighted as a Catholic cabinet-member-to-be.

The other Q&A I enjoyed came from Amy Sullivan at Time. She spoke with “Religious Leader Chuck Colson” about a new online research tool he launched this month:

Chuck Colson has spent a lifetime atoning for his involvement in the Watergate cover-up. The founder of Prison Fellowship has spent more than three decades working with prisoners in more than 100 countries, and he has mentored generations of conservative Evangelical leaders. This month he launched the Chuck Colson Center, an online research and education center that he calls “the Lexis-Nexis of resources on the Christian worldview.” The last of the original religious-right leaders still actively engaged with the movement, Colson spoke with TIME about his latest endeavor, why he thinks churches have failed society and the biggest mistake the religious right made.

OK, one quick quibble. Is Colson an original religious-right leader or, if you grant that, the last one actively engaged with the movement? I’m not even sure how you quantify the original leaders but surely Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition, would be considered involved, no?

Anyway, Sullivan leads a good conversation:

In recent years, religious leaders have often preached about how to apply a Christian worldview to, say, making a political decision to vote for a certain kind of candidate.

We made a big mistake in the ’80s by politicizing the Gospel. We ought to be engaged in politics, we ought to be good citizens, we ought to care about justice. But we have to be careful not to get into partisan alignment. We [thought] that we could solve the deteriorating moral state of our culture by electing good guys. That’s nonsense. Now people are kind of realizing it was a mistake. A lot of people are going back and saying, “Let’s just take care of the church and tend to our knitting.”

Both positions are wrong. There’s an intelligent way to engage the culture in every area, including politics. But you can’t fix politics or culture unless you fix the church. What we’re seeing in society today is a direct consequence of the church failing to be the church.

Has there ever been a time when you think religious people got the balance right by engaging without becoming entangled?

Yes. What happened in 18th and 19th century England, with the Wesley Movement and with William Wilberforce, was ideal. Wilberforce and others formed hundreds of small societies for improving human welfare, preventing cruelty to animals, reforming poorhouses and prisons. And there were great Christian leaders in politics as well. In that period, Christians were not divided by political parties.

Christians aren’t divided by political parties today, and yet there is definitely division. It’s not unusual to run across liberals who say there’s no way Jesus would ever be a Republican, or conservatives who preach that it’s not possible to be both a good Christian and a Democrat.

That’s dreadful. It’s so much bigger than politics. Jesus would have seen the Republican and Democratic parties like the money changers in the temple. They just didn’t get it. Now, I’m going to vote for a pro-life candidate if given the choice. But that has nothing to do with partisanship. Democrats do a lot of very good things that we should be supporting. And I say that as a conservative.

It’s an interesting discussion. My only hope is that reporters might also learn of the limitations in reporting religious news if they rely on a left-right political approach. There’s so much of the church realm that gets missed when looking at religious issues through such a narrow prism.

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  • Sadie

    Re: Sebellius

    I found this article from Life Site News interesting:
    http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2009/sep/09092312.html

    It answers the Sebellius WaPo interview with responses from the Archbishop and others that sets the record straight. I cannot but wonder why Sebellius is so confused on the issue. Here are a few snips:

    However the Catholic Church views abortion and as first and foremost a moral issue – not a religious or faith issue – because the sacredness of human life pertains to the natural law, which reveals the intrinsic rightness or wrongness of human acts through reason.

    “Secretary Sebelius misrepresents the issue by her attempt to invoke separation of church and state,” wrote Naumann. “At no time did I ask her not to execute her oath of office.

    “Secretary Sebelius makes it appear that she was asked not to receive Holy Communion because she was the victim of merely upholding the law. In reality, Secretary Sebelius opposed even such modest restrictions on abortion as parental notification of minors, required waiting periods before an abortion, as well as meaningful regulation of abortion clinics to protect, at least, the mother’s health.”

    During her tenure as Kansas’s governor, Sebelius vetoed many pro-life bills that included widely-regarded “common-sense” regulations and health-standards on an out-of-control abortion industry documented to have facilities operating in sub-standard medical conditions. Such vetoes thwarted the Kansas legislature’s attempts to provide parental notification and informed consent laws, greater abortion waiting periods, the right to see an ultrasound before choosing an abortion, and the legal right to a patient, spouse, or family member to sue an abortion provider over a suspected unlawful late-term abortion.

  • Dave

    Evidently Sibelius regards opposition to abortion as a religious posture. GetReligion certainly agrees; it posts on abortion articles where there is no question of whether the reporter “gets religion” because (says GR) abortion is an intrinsically religious subject.

    The Church wants to efface the religious aspect by citing so-called natural law. But you’re never going to get that out of a Q&A with Sibelius. There are limits to the praxis.

    In the Colson interview, he goes back to the 19th Century for examples of when religious leaders interfaced competently with society, but he does not cite Martin Luther King Jr. Another example of the limits of Q&A.

  • Dale

    Evidently Sibelius regards opposition to abortion as a religious posture. GetReligion certainly agrees; it posts on abortion articles where there is no question of whether the reporter “gets religion” because (says GR) abortion is an intrinsically religious subject.

    No, Get Religion does not say that opposition to abortion is a religious “posture” (whatever that means). Rather, the press continuously simplifies the ethical issues involved, assumes that any “reasonable” person thinks abortion upon demand is ethically permissible and distorts the arguments of those who oppose abortion. Often that distortion is by attributing opposition to abortion as merely a privately held preference of religious practice– like you’ve done here.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Once again, we are being misquoted on this.

    Anyone with any background in media-bias studies from the past three decades knows the central role that abortion coverage has played in any discussions of religion and the press. And, of course, the religious left argues that opposition to abortion is rooted in religion. The right can argue from logic rooted in human rights, but anyone who has ever covered events opposing abortion rights knows that faith is a large part of the mix.

    It is a failure to get religion when one inaccurately covers the views of religious people involved in these kinds of debates. It is a failure to get religion, for example, when reporters do not seek out and accurately quote the views of religious liberals on abortion issues, as well. Both sides deserve respect and accurate coverage.

  • Dave

    Dale, at no time did I say “private.” You have injected that.

    My report of what GR thinks about abortion and gay marriage stands; it has been often restated by the GetReligionistas when someone asks “Where’s the failure of the press to get religion?” in a comment on a post regarding either topic.

    I don’t agree with your characterization of how the MSM reports abortion, but a further exchange on that would bring down the Off-Topic wrath of the board owners.

  • Jerry

    Terry,

    The problem with interviews like this one is that the reporter does not go far enough or perhaps the editor deleted the questions. There are two key questions: The first is: How do you reconcile the teachings of the church and your pro-choice position? The second might follow depending on the answer to the first: When the teachings of your church and your reading of your oath of office are in conflict, how do you reconcile them?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Jerry:

    Agreed. What did I say that made you question that I would want more info about her doctrinal and political views?

  • Jerry

    Terry, I don’t question you wanted more information. But the way you posted that was more directive than the way I thought the questions should be asked. I would have asked the questions in a more open-ended way.

    Partly that was the result of how I approached the review. First, I reacted to the issue. I started to post my reaction and then decided to take a break. I came back, re-read the interview. I realized that I had made some assumptions about her position that were not backed up by information from the interview. So I posted the questions I would have asked if I had been the reporter.

  • JOHN WICKEY

    Sebellius takes the typical liberal position regarding religion and the conduct of the political office, that she can be two people at the same time, both anti and pro abortion. It is the dishonesty of it that is so striking, but gradually being accepted as reality as the church is allowing itself to assimilate into the religiou8sly tinged secular, but pagan culture.