A deacon by any other name

coburnandobamaA Washington Post profile of Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) tries to put his various roles at odds with each other, including his role as a Southern Baptist deacon.

The article begins with the Southern Baptist deacon angle, but don’t expect to learn much in terms of actual journalism — you know, like new information — about being a deacon at his church or specifics about his beliefs. The “faith section” focuses on Sen. John Ensign’s sex scandal.

Being a deacon, doctor and lawmaker gets complicated.

Coburn found himself the target of critics earlier this year when he invoked doctor-patient privilege regarding conversations with Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), about a high profile sex scandal.

The reporter seems to connect Coburn’s role as a deacon with his friendship with Ensign. But I’m guessing that that Coburn’s role as a deacon in his Southern Baptist church (hello, which church was that?) has nothing to do with his relationship with Ensign. Each church probably has different expectations for their deacons, but this Southern Baptist checklist gives us the idea that he probably helps with Communion, visits people in the hospital, and evangelizes. So whatever relationship Coburn had with Ensign probably falls outside his deacon responsibilities.

Coburn and Ensign lived together in the C Street House where Christians share a home and have Tuesday night Bible study. The Post reports that Ensign’s mistress’s husband called Coburn about getting a payout from Ensign.

Speaking more like a preacher than a politician in his Senate office,
Coburn said the focus of his talks with Ensign and Hampton was to help them keep their marriages intact. Other officials have run from the increasingly isolated Ensign. “If somebody disappoints you, do you abandon them or try to help them?”

But how does that quote make Coburn sound like a preacher? It sounds more like a friend, maybe a friend who’s a Christian, but not necessarily a preacher.

coburnThere is also an odd, unattributed quote in the middle of the article about same-sex marriage and guns.

Several other senators said they like Coburn personally but vehemently disagree with his hard-core conservative, pro-gun, anti-gay-marriage stances. “Beware of he who prays loudest in church,” said one Democratic colleague as he disappeared into a Senate elevator.

What a weird quote. Of course, the unnamed person disappeared into the elevator, but couldn’t the reporter follow up and ask him to flesh that out a little bit more? Does that “Democratic colleague” seem to think Coburn contradicts his faith?

The reporter adds a few nice touches about Coburn delivering babies, giving us a little picture of him when he’s not in the Senate. But you would think that a man who has delivered 4,000 babies would have a thing or two to say about abortion, especially with the little battle going on with health care. Maybe his views are old news, but it seems appropriate to at least mention.

On a positive note, thank goodness the profile did not turn into a story about the religious right. Take a look at what the Post wrote in 2006 in a profile of Sen. Sam Brownback:

Because of his emphasis on compassion, Brownback does not fit the stereotype of the angry Christian conservative. This persona was embodied sensationally by “Pitchfork Pat” Buchanan and his talk of America’s “religious war,” by Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who once imagined “rampant” lesbianism in his state’s schools, by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who said abortionists, feminists, gays and pagans helped cause the 9/11 terror attacks. (Falwell later took it back.)

This article did not fall into the trap of describing him as an angry conservative, but it doesn’t do a lot to tell us more about Coburn as a Southern Baptist deacon. That was the original angle, right?

Back in 2005, Coburn told reporters that he had questioned Chief Justice John Roberts about how his faith influences his work, so perhaps that’s a trail the reporter could have followed with Coburn. Does his faith influence his “watchdog” attitude about spending in Washington? The reporter just doesn’t seem to prove that his roles as deacon, doctor and lawmaker are complicated. My guess is that the first two merely inform the third.

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  • Jerry

    Being a deacon, doctor and lawmaker gets complicated….Coburn found himself the target of critics earlier this year when he invoked doctor-patient privilege regarding conversations with Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), about a high profile sex scandal.

    The reporter seems to connect Coburn’s role as a deacon with his friendship with Ensign.

    The story says that Cobern himself said that his conversation was privileged. And the quote you provided was not a reference to a religious relationship but a doctor/patient one. It was probably confusing to say both ‘deacon’ and ‘doctor’ in that sentence, but to me clearly the reporter was speaking of Coburn as a physician.

    Whether or not Coburn was really in a doctor-patient relationship with Ensign or using it as an excuse is a separate question, of course.

    “Beware of he who prays loudest in church,”

    What a weird quote.

    I personally did not find that quote weird at all, just a way of alluding to Matt 6:5-6. Whether or not that allusion was the intent and whether or not it’s applicable is a another question.

  • blestou b

    If you know enough about a person to know that they are a “Democratic colleague” in the United States Senate, then you know enough to use his/her name and attribute the quote.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Take a look at what the Post wrote…

    Why waste my time?

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Jerry,
    Thanks for your thoughts. I felt that the reporter was making a religious connection when she wrote at length about Coburn’s connection to Ensign through living at C Street. She also makes that Deacon-relationship connection when she describes Coburn as speaking more like a preacher. Otherwise, why would she even bring up the fact that he’s a deacon?

    When I said the quote was weird, I meant it was weird to include it randomly without more explanation. The whole description of the unnamed colleague disappearing into the elevator felt out of place when someone probably could have given a fleshed out explanation of where Coburn’s faith could conflict with his policies.

  • Dave

    I have to give props to the 2006 WaPo story. It included the Pagans slammed in Falwell’s infamous 9/11 quote. Many MSM restatements of that quote inexplicably omit Pagans.


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