Earlier this year, I complained about the lack of coverage surrounding President Barack Obama’s confession of Christian faith at a pre-Easter Easter breakfast he hosted at the White House. I wrote:
“… Remember how much the media covered those polls showing that huge chunks of people in all parties were confused about Obama’s religion? Isn’t that at least partly an indictment of how the media cover Obama’s own words about his faith? Even when he speaks very clearly about his own religious views, the news is covered but not highlighted, pushed to the margins or sent out on the wire without fanfare.”
It happens all the time. Part of the problem, I’m sure, is that many reporters have a preferred template of “Republicans have religion, Democrats don’t.” Another might be the comfort they have in criticizing religious speech from some political figures compared with a reticence to do the same with others. I don’t know, but it keeps happening.
This weekend, President Obama gave an interesting speech that was full of religious imagery. The speech was to the Congressional Black Caucus on the occasion of their annual awards gala. And near as I can tell, it’s received almost no coverage.
I’m going to quote directly from the speech’s beginning, just so you get a feel for the religious substance (He’s referencing Reverend Dr. Joseph Lowery):
A few years back, Dr. Lowery and I were together at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church in Selma. (Applause.) We’ve got some Selma folks in the house. (Applause.) And Dr. Lowery stood up in the pulpit and told the congregation the story of Shadrach and Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace. You know the story — it’s about three young men bold enough to stand up for God, even if it meant being thrown in a furnace. And they survived because of their faith, and because God showed up in that furnace with them.
Now, Dr. Lowery said that those three young men were a little bit crazy. But there’s a difference, he said, between good crazy and bad crazy. (Applause.) Those boys, he said, were “good crazy.” At the time, I was running for president — it was early in the campaign. Nobody gave me much of a chance. He turned to me from the pulpit, and indicated that someone like me running for president — well, that was crazy. (Laughter.) But he supposed it was good crazy.
He was talking about faith, the belief in things not seen, the belief that if you persevere a better day lies ahead. And I suppose the reason I enjoy coming to the CBC — what this weekend is all about is, you and me, we’re all a little bit crazy, but hopefully a good kind of crazy. (Applause.) We’re a good kind of crazy because no matter how hard things get, we keep the faith; we keep fighting; we keep moving forward.
Now, I picked up on this because I love the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. The image here is from my Arch Book of that Bible story that I read and reread as a child. The speech goes on and on with religious imagery, but it looks like it was picked up by precisely two media outlets.
The first was ABC News. And really, they just printed a transcript of the speech and set it up with several paragraphs that didn’t really mention anything about religion. Well, there was this:
The president urged black Americans — a key Democratic constituency — to keep their faith in him even though the economy remains sluggish.
The second was the Washington Examiner‘s conservative editorial page, which actually did a good job of explaining the religious significance of the story, before adding some criticism of the comparison Obama made to it. That paper’s story began:
President Obama made an appeal to the religious faith of black voters at a Congressional Black Caucus rally, likening Biblical prophets who had faith in God — and so refused to worship an idol — to the black voters who “keep the faith” by supporting him and his policies – and, he hopes, his reelection campaign.
Obama opened the speech by mentioning the Biblical story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, three captive Jews who were thrown into a fiery furnace because they would not worship a golden idol. Obama quoted a pastor who referred to the three men as “good crazy” for having that faith. He added that the pastor had attributed the same “good crazy” to him when he decided to run for president.
Obama continued that analogy, equating the Jews’ “faith in the things not seen” to the more mundane “belief that if you persevere a better day lies ahead.”
Obama added, “you and me, we’re all a little bit crazy, but hopefully a good kind of crazy…We’re a good kind of crazy because no matter how hard things get, we keep the faith; we keep fighting; we keep moving forward.”
I actually liked that additional context because while the Congressional Black Caucus and any of us who loved Arch Books are probably going to remember the particulars of the story, even many Hebrew School and Sunday School students might have forgotten some of the story. And those who didn’t have the benefit of learning about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego might not pick up on the significance of Obama’s story at all. Now, the Washington Examiner, being conservative, also took some swipes at Obama’s speech. But it’s an editorial page and we typically don’t address political opinions. I just thought it interesting that they were one of only two news outlets to even cover the speech’s religious themes.
Again, it’s weird that any story about the White House forgetting to send out a Christian holiday proclamation gets hundreds of hits while any story indicating Obama’s familiarity with a Bible story gets downplayed to the point of almost a blackout. And the thing is that I’ve covered Obama enough to know that he drops stuff like this somewhat regularly.
If the sermon at whatever church Michele Bachmann happened to visit in Iowa one day gets coverage, if every reference a GOP candidate makes to — gasp — prayer gets covered, surely a presidential speech built completely around the faith of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego might be worthy of something, right?