Politics, sin and serious reporting in La. bayou country

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As I’ve shared before, I spent a few years of my early childhood in West Monroe, La., where my dad attended the White’s Ferry Road School of Preaching.

That now-defunct school was operated by the White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ, now known nationally as the home congregation of the Robertson family of “Duck Dynasty” fame. Through my work with The Christian Chronicle, I remain in touch with a number of White’s Ferry Road church leaders and members.

Given my personal connection, national news out of Louisiana bayou country tends to catch my attention. The latest headlines involve Congressman Vance McAllister, who ran on a Christian family values platform but got caught in a compromising video with a woman who is not his wife. (I met McAllister’s predecessor, Rodney Alexander, several years ago when he caught a ride on a private plane that the White’s Ferry Road church’s disaster relief ministry chartered to assess Hurricane Katrina damages.)

The brouhaha over McAllister prompted this Facebook post by my good friend John Dobbs, who preaches for the Forsythe Church of Christ in Monroe, La., across the Ouachita River from West Monroe:

I’m embarrassed for Vance and his family, sorry that he made some choices that have caused a lot of pain. I realize he lives a very public life. But we are all sinners, and I wonder how any of us would feel to have our sin video taped and put up for all the world to see? Vance needs to work that out with God and his family. He is working in a culture of adultery in Washington D.C. (does anyone doubt that?) and I pray that he can restore his family and keep his guard up.

Dobbs’ post generated lively feedback about sin, forgiveness, politics and media coverage, including this response from Keith Roberts, minister and elder of the Calhoun Church of Christ, east of West Monroe:

I’m disappointed. I like Vance and thought he would bring a bit of ‘fresh air’ to the process. Instead — more of the same.

And the aftermath of this incident isn’t about forgiveness (any of us can fall quickly) but about leadership.

A man who’s unwilling to keep the most fundamental promise in his life will have trouble keeping his word in other areas (I’ve always wondered why people didn’t see that in Bill Clinton’s case).

I need to pray for Vance & his family.

Overall, that Facebook discussion was serious and respectful in tone. Differences of opinion were evident. But each side was fairly represented. Believe it or not, I felt the same way about a New York Times story this week on how McAllister’s northeast Louisiana district is reacting to the scandal.

From the top of the NYTimes report:

WEST MONROE, La. — As she handed out garbage bags on Saturday as part of an anti-litter drive, Patsy Edmondson drew a parallel to Louisiana’s history of tawdry politics.

“If we grow up in litter, we accept it,” she said. “If we grow up with this kind of politician, we accept it.” Rolling her eyes, she said both were learned behaviors. “We’re trying to teach our children it costs us money to be dirty.”

Ms. Edmondson’s congressman, Representative Vance McAllister, is the latest Louisiana official facing demands for his resignation, after a leaked video last week showed him passionately kissing a woman who was not his wife.

After winning an election pledging to “defend our Christian way of life,” Mr. McAllister now faces accusations of hypocrisy as thick as spring mosquitoes on the bayou. Gov. Bobby Jindal, a fellow Republican, has called on him to step down, and the state Republican chairman labeled him “an example of why ordinary people are fed up with politics.”

A quick aside: What do you think of “hypocrisy as thick as spring mosquitoes on the bayou?” Clever or cliche?

Keep reading, and the NYTimes provides this background:

In his only statement since the scandal broke last Monday, Mr. McAllister, 40, said he was seeking the forgiveness of his wife, Kelly, and their five children, who were featured in a campaign ad last year that showed the family around the breakfast table before a Sunday church service. …

In his one interview since the scandal, Mr. McAllister told The News-Star of Monroe that Ms. Peacock was his first infidelity in 16 years of marriage and that he had confessed to his wife in January or February, about a month after the video was recorded.

Certainly, the references to forgiveness and confession will resonate with readers of faith, regardless of how they feel about McAllister. Give credit to the NYTimes for reporting those details without the parenthetical groans or sarcasm that often seem to accompany news reports on such statements.

The NYTimes succeeds, too, in providing cultural — and religious — insight into the district that McAllister represents:

A self-made businessman with no political experience, Mr. McAllister won his rural district, one of the largest and poorest in the state, by forming an unusual coalition of socially conservative Republicans, blacks — and fans of “Duck Dynasty.” Phil Robertson of the reality show, which is set in and around West Monroe, recorded ads supporting “my good friend Vance McAllister.”

The endorsement “validated him culturally” as an unknown in a region where gun rights and evangelical Christianity are the bedrock, said Karen Haymon, an aide to a Republican rival in a 13-way open primary.

(The story doesn’t mention that McAllister later invited Willie Robertson to join him at President Barack Obama’s “State of the Union” address in January.)

The NYTimes piece ends this way:

It is clear (McAllister) has lost much support at home. On a sunny Saturday, shoppers in downtown Monroe and West Monroe, which face each other across the Ouachita River, expressed anger and disappointment.

“Our community is known for Christian values,” said Failine Waggoner, the mother of a 2-year-old. “We were so proud to be sending to Washington someone representing us in that way. He let us down.”

Pete Toms, a construction supervisor, said he voted for Mr. McAllister because of the “Duck Dynasty” endorsement, and feels betrayed. “It feels like he took my vote and wasted it,” he said.

Bob Dziadaszek, strolling the RiverMarket in Monroe, had blunt advice for Mr. McAllister: “I think he should man up and step down.”

There certainly was room for more religion content in this story. For example, how have McAllister’s pastor and church family responded to this scandal? And how have the Robertsons — whose family and church also have a cordial relationship with the governor — reacted, if at all, to McAllister’s admission of an extramarital affair and Jindal’s call for the congressman’s resignation?

But overall, I was pleased with this story. The NYTimes did a nice job of presenting the facts and letting them speak for themselves.

By all means, feel free to liven up the comments section by disagreeing with me. Remember, please, that GetReligion is concerned about journalism and media coverage, so focus on those issues, not your support or not for McAllister.

About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Julia B

    I t was “accusations of hypocrisy as thick as spring mosquitoes on the bayou”, not “hypocrisy as thick”. I thought it was very evocative and painted an apt picture.

    • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

      Yes, it also could be “now faces accusations of hyprocrisy as thick …” Not sure I understand the point.

      • Julia B

        It makes more sense that it was “accusations” being thick as mosquitos than “hypocracy” being thick as mosquitos. My mom was an English teacher – it’s part of my DNA to notice things like that.

        • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

          Trying to avoid a lecture from an English teacher? Now, THAT I understand. :-)

          • helen

            Maybe it also helps if you’ve seen mosquitoes on on the outside of a plate glass window, totally blackening it. :(

  • Michael

    “For example, how have McAllister’s pastor and church family responded to this scandal? ”

    As a pastor myself, I would hope that McAllister’s pastor would have responded something like this: “I’m sorry but any conversation I have as a pastor fall under the seal of the pastoral office and at it would be a breach of office to comment on it.”


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