Blago’s ‘deep and abiding faith in God’

When I was still living in the Chicago suburbs, every time Rod Blagojevich’s name was mentioned, eyes were rolled. Who could believe that the great people of Illinois voted him into the highest position in the state not once but twice?

As you might recall, Blagojevich was arrested on federal corruption charges in 2008. Now he stands trial, and the jury began deliberations yesterday.

Politico released a quickie from Andy Barr that leaves much to be desired. He quotes Blagojevich as saying his fate is now “in God’s hands,” before quoting more from the press conference.

Blagojevich said he has put his faith in 12 members the jury currently deliberating his fate.

“[The jurors] are the ones who will decide and make the decision,” he said. “Patti and I have great confidence and faith in their judgment, common sense and decency. And ultimately in the final analysis Patti and I always have a deep and abiding faith in God.”

The end.

But what exactly is that faith in God is Blagojevich talking about?

I would’ve expected a little bit more from the Chicago Tribune, with the headline “‘Ultimately, it’s in God’s hands,’ Blagojevich says.” But the paper added nothing but a brief mention of the remarks, even though it’s the focus of the headline.

The Chicago Sun-Times took almost the exact same angle: “Case is ‘in God’s hands,” Blagojevich says.” The paper uses the buzz words for the headline without explaining it further.

Flash back to 2008 and you’ll find a few reports about his Serbian Orthodox faith. Here’s one of the first ones by Kate Shellnut for the Windy Citizen where she gives some historical background.

As a child, Blagojevich attended Old Holy Resurrection Serbian Orthodox Church on the Northwest Side, where he sang and played in the orchestra along with his brother Robert, the Chicago Sun-Times reported in 2006. Old Holy Resurrection, in Logan Square, is one of about ten Eastern Orthodox Churches in that area, catering to the city’s Serbian, Romanian, Belarusian, Ukrainian and Greek Orthodox populations.

Blagojevich now lives in Ravenswood Manor, but he said during an interview for his run for governor that he currently doesn’t attend a single church regularly. Still, as the son of Serbian immigrants to Chicago, he remains an icon for the Serbian-American population and remains active in their religious community. Back in April, he visited a Serbian Orthodox monastery and parish in the Third Lake, a northern suburb.

Mary Houlihan also did some reporting for the Chicago Sun-Times on the reaction from the Serbian Orthodox community.

Remember this quote from Ari Goldman last year?

As Rabbi Allen Schwartz of Manhattan recently told his congregation, the Madoff scandal broke just as the scandal Blagojevich scandal was breaking in Illinois. “Did you ever see a reference to Blagojevich’s religion?” the rabbi asked. “Yet we kept seeing Madoff described as Jewish.”

Now there’s no need to reference Blagojevich as Serbian Orthodox in every story, but when referencing his quotes about his faith, it seems necessary.

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  • Christopher Orr

    I questioned a Serbian Orthodox priest I know about whether Blago was Orthodox, too. That was because I regularly saw his ethnic heritage (Serbian) referred to, but nothing about his religion.

    The comment regarding Madoff by Rabbi Allen Schwartz is inapt due to the fact that Judaism is both an ethnicity and a religion, as is well attested to. Madoff also visibly and actively aligned himself with the Jewish community and its charitable organizations, so it was more appropriate to mention his ethnic/religious background when discussing his downfall. Blago’s target demographic and personal narrative was not Serbian, not so much as an ethnicity and definitely not as a religion (which is part of the reason his faith is never mentioned – he didn’t seem to be particularly pious, either as an Orthodox Christian [Serbian or otherwise] or as anything else). Besides, unlike being Jewish, being Serbian is not the same as being an Orthodox Christian Serb. Serbian is not a religion, it is solely an ethnicity, though historically aligned (not so much after Communism) with Orthodox Christianity whose borders go far beyond the Serbian nation.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Christopher, thanks for your thoughts an for helping further compare the Madoff situation. What do you think that means for the reporters who write about the press conference? Is there a good way to give it context?

  • Christopher Orr

    I tend to think simply reporting his words as most articles have done it the way to go. He doesn’t mention any particular church, any particular idea or theology of God, so it doesn’t seem appropriate to jam in any mention of his religious upbringing or current affiliation (if any).

    However, I seem to remember him making a show of meeting with religious leaders, or at least saying he was going to. At that point it would have been appropriate to go into his own religious background and how his religious affiliation seems to have become more vague over the years. At that point, mention could also be made of his wife’s religious background (if any) and any specific churches a reporter might find he has attended even infrequently – that would be the way to see whether his comment that “he currently doesn’t attend a single church regularly” means he doesn’t attend any church at all thus making his “in God’s hand” comment more rhetoric than true religious commitment.

    Of course, an expose of his background could and should include reference to his then religious practice with comment on how that has changed over the years.

  • Donna Farley

    “he remains an icon for the Serbian-American population”


    bad word choice……

  • Jeff Finley

    This Finley guy’s reporting is just as bad:

    Oh, wait, never mind.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    In Madoff’s case one argument for mentioning his religious background is the devastating effect his crooked dealings have had on the Jewish Community. Many Jewish philanthropic groups trusted him and they became among his prime victims.
    Among those most harmed by being victimized by Madoff are the 90 year old American Jewish Congress-which recently announced it will have to suspend operations; the Robert I Lappin Foundation and the Chais Family Foundation–which closed; and Yeshiva University which was seriously wounded.
    It is a far more poignant and devastating (as well as newsworthy) story when a person uses his standing in his religious community to betray the trust they have in him in order to plunder them.

  • Carl

    Orchestra? Don’t the Serbians only use the human voice for their Divine Liturgies? It was my understanding that this was standard Eastern Orthodox practice.

  • Jon in the Nati

    Orchestra? Don’t the Serbians only use the human voice for their Divine Liturgies? It was my understanding that this was standard Eastern Orthodox practice.

    Quite so. But I think the orchestra may have been something that was not a part of the worship of the church. Perhaps a school orchestra, or some such thing. Serbs, more often than Orthodox of other ethnicities, have their own schools.

    I played in the band at my Lutheran church/school, but we never played for church.