As your GetReligionistas have noted many times, it’s pretty obvious that many people — including more than a few mainstream reporters — are confused about the meaning of the word “evangelical.” Heck, I’m not sure that I know what that word means anymore and I used to be one. The Rev. Billy Graham once told me that he wasn’t sure how to define “evangelical.” Honest.
For the most part, many journalists seem to think that “fundamentalist” means people (we don’t like) who believe that some truths are absolute and eternal (especially if the doctrines in question are linked to the Sexual Revolution). So what about “evangelical”? It seems that “evangelical” has simply become a political term for religious conservatives. Somewhere, I imagine, there is an Orthodox Jewish leader who will soon be hailed as a powerful “evangelical.”
Anyway, please note the USA Today headline and key references in the actual text of the following Associated Press report (drawn from the Wilmington, Del., News Journal) about the every colorful Christine O’Donnell of Delaware:
The headline: “Christine O’Donnell reins in evangelical talk.”
And here’s a look at the top of the story:
When the energy and conservative fervor of the Tea Party swept into Delaware this year, it found Christine O’Donnell.
She had long been an outspoken crusader for chastity, against abortion and for prayer in schools.
O’Donnell didn’t merely join groups that shared her moral certitude, she founded an advocacy group and became a leading voice in others, staking out positions against sex education, urging that biblical creationism be taught in schools, and professing that homosexuality is a sickness. She seamlessly turned that enthusiasm toward politics.
Just four years ago, she told The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal that during the primary she “heard the audible voice of God. He said, ‘Credibility.’ It wasn’t a thought in my head. I thought it meant I was going to win. But after the primary, I got credibility.”
These days, she talks more about the Constitution than the Bible. After knocking off longstanding U.S. Rep. Mike Castle, a moderate Republican attacked by the Tea Party Express for occasionally voting with Democrats, O’Donnell recast her campaign. She steered clear of the talking points that made her popular with talk-show hosts and conservative commentators. …
“My faith has influenced my personal life,” O’Donnell said Wednesday night at a Republican speaking engagement. “My faith hasn’t really influenced my politics.”
This report, of course, describes her infamous 1997 visit to Bill Maher’s show Politically Incorrect in which she confessed that she “dabbled into witchcraft.” It mentions that she attended Fairleigh Dickinson University and majored in theater. It notes that she converted to evangelical Protestantism in college. It mentions that she opposes abortion, believes that homosexual behavior is sinful, that masturbation is sinful, etc., etc. These are all “evangelical” stances, apparently. It is especially bad, of course, that she believes that some people — attention devotees of the Kinsey Scale — change their sexual behaviors during their lifetimes in ways that suggest sexual orientation is often not a matter of black and white certainty.
Wait, she converted to evangelicalism? Converted from what, you ask? From Catholicism, of course.
However, it is interesting to note that this AP report never mentions her Catholic upbringing and, most importantly, it does not mention that, as an adult, O’Donnell returned to the Catholic faith.
In fact, unless my search engine is broken and I am blind, it does not appear that this news story contains the word “Catholic.” This candidate is, apparently, still an “evangelical.” Search the text for yourself.
Meanwhile, the candidate is not hiding her church affiliation, as she demonstrated in the most quoted clip from that Delaware debate. The New York Times political team noted:
As she did throughout the first half of the debate, Ms. O’Donnell quickly tried to return the focus to Mr. Coons, saying, “I would argue there are more people who support my Catholic faith than his Marxist belief.”
Now, if you write for The Huffington Post, this is how you can deal with O’Donnell’s return to the Catholic fold:
Delaware is 29 percent Catholic. Mike Castle, Christine O’Donnell’s opponent for the senate nomination, is Catholic. Christine O’Donnell was born Catholic but renounced the church when she was in college, and became whatever backwoods claptrap was going. When she started running for office all the time, she converted back. Which sounds pretty convenient, but then, the prodigal son came home when he ran out of money, too.
Apparently, if one is an editor at the Associated Press, it is also possible to simply call her an “evangelical” — whatever that means — and be done with it.
Catholic? Apparently not. Silence is golden and, in this case, politically important.
PS: Oh, it goes without saying that comments should deal with the journalism issues in this news report — not with one’s views of either of the candidates in this race. This is not the place to debate whether one agrees or disagrees with O’Donnell’s religious beliefs.