Yet another big pew gap

Dear GetReligion readers:

You may have heard that we are convinced that many folks in the mainstream press just don’t “get religion.” Right?

At times, we have been tempted to believe that some media folks are actively trying to avoid religion, even when it jumps up and punches them right smack between the eyes.

Case in point? Please read the following essay from The Politico (which is a site that I frequent on a daily basis, I must confess, since I work inside the Beltway). The headline: “United? Yes. But ever more divided.” Here’s the top of the essay by Bill Bishop of the Daily Yonder website:

Elections don’t solve differences in America because our differences aren’t about politics. We are separating by the way we live, and these differences are increasing.

This November’s elections are likely to be as inconclusive as all the others of the past generation because politics is only a small part of how this country is sharply dividing. …

Beginning a generation ago, the United States became less a nation than a collection of loosely connected islands — all busy creating their own economies, cultures and politics. If it seems the country can’t find a mutual purpose these days, one reason is that, each year, Americans have less in common with fellow citizens who may live only a few dozen miles down the road.

How to illustrate this? Well there are issues of life expectancy. There are some educational differences (although Bishop handles those in a rather shallow manner). Educational differences lead to economic differences.

Then there are those red and blue differences.

Since the mid-1970s, the U.S. political system has also polarized geographically, as most counties became increasingly Republican or Democratic in presidential elections. The 2008 election, billed as the end of the red and blue division, found the nation more politically segregated than in 2000 or 2004.

Pick something to measure, and you’ll find Americans living in increasingly different realities. Suicide rates in rural and urban counties have been diverging since the ’70s. Rural counties continue to send a disproportionate number of their young into the armed forces. …

Differences within the country pile up and then overlap. The way we create families — the age when the average woman has her first child, for example, or the percentage of couples who cohabitate before marriage — varies from place to place. And these family habits increasingly correlate with how people vote in presidential elections.

Finally, he runs in the wall that cannot be avoided:

Meanwhile, as federal and state governments stall in tedious partisanship, cities, with their more homogeneous electorates, become the new laboratories of democratic experimentation. Similarly, national church denominations lose authority as religion becomes less of a unifying institution and more an expression of local and individual ways of life within increasingly homogeneous congregations.

There is now a mismatch between our problems and our politics.

So, a major divide a generation ago? Anyone want to nominate a few major events that could have created that kind of division in our culture, in our education, in our media? Yes, try to focus on the journalistic implications of this. Think media coverage issues, folks.

As I read this Politico essay, I could not help but think about another essay that I read on the train yesterday — the Weekly Standard cover story that ran with the headline, “America’s One-Child Policy.” This is a piece in an advocacy publication, of course, and there are many passages that can certainly be debated.

However, this religion-related passage hit me as especially fact-driven and, thus, relevant to GetReligion readers. The issue? Why people do and do not have children in postmodern America:

Where people’s offspring had for centuries seen to the financial needs of their parents, retired people with no offspring now had access to a set of comparable benefits. And in a world where childbearing has no practical benefit, people have babies because they want to, either for self-fulfillment or as a moral imperative. “Moral imperative,” of course, is a euphemism for “religious compulsion.” There are stark differences in fertility between secular and religious people.

The best indicator of actual fertility is “aspirational fertility” — the number of children men and women say they would like to have. Gallup has been asking Americans about their “ideal family size” since 1936. When they first asked the question, 64 percent of Americans said that three or more children were ideal; 34 percent said that zero, one, or two children were ideal. Today only 34 percent of Americans think that a family with three-or-more children is ideal.

But on this question there are two Americas today: a secular population that wants small families (or no family at all) and a religious population that wants larger families. Religious affiliation is part of the story, but the real difference comes with church attendance. Among people who seldom or never go to church, 66 percent say that zero, one, or two children is the ideal family size, and only 25 percent view three-or-more children as ideal. Among those who go to church monthly, the three-or-more number edges up to 29 percent. But among those who attend church every week, 41 percent say three or more children is ideal, while only 47 percent think that a smaller family is preferable. When you meet couples with more than three children today, chances are they’re making a cultural and theological statement.

Fascinating. Timely. There seems to be another pew gap out there. How does this affect the news? If you were the publisher of a major newspaper, how would these realities affect you?

Just asking.

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Glenn Beck’s gospel

Glenn Beck announced today that he won’t appear on his radio show for two days next week because of medical problems in his hands and feet. He said on his radio show that doctors tell him that there may be “small fiber” issues involved, and he will undergo two days of testing.

“I wouldn’t ask for your prayers on healing,” Beck said. “I would ask for your prayers on clarity. I would ask for your prayers…for a desire to continue to stand.”

Beck tied his medical problems to “spiritual wounds.” “There’s a physical reason, but I believe physical, mental and spiritual are all tied…you can’t injure the soul of someone and not have physical wounds appear eventually…a lot of physical things, a lot of mental things are from spiritual wounds and vice versa.” Beck also attempted to interpret the news with a few religious references.

What is happening to my physical body to some extent and what it happening to me mentally is not a depression, is not a death. It is a transformation. It is a transcendence. It is a reaching out of the slime and pulling yourself out. So it is not bad news. It is just a transition period that will leave us in the end still meeting every day…still standing for what we want…still questioning with boldness the very existence of God. But it will leave us in the end being bearers of light.

All of this brings me back to Mark Leibovich’s lengthy profile of Beck for the New York Times Magazine titled “Being Glenn Beck.” For someone who sprinkles religious language in his appeals, you would think the profile would deal with Beck’s faith a bit more. Instead we get just a few glimpses from his past.

By the mid-’90s, Beck had been married, divorced, pony tailed and seemingly at a dead end. He joined Alcoholics Anonymous, reluctantly attending his first meetings in a church basement in Cheshire, Conn. … He tells of walking into a bookstore and loading up on books by a hodgepodge that included Alan Dershowitz, Pope John Paul II, Carl Sagan, Nietzsche, Billy Graham and Adolf Hitler. “The library of a serial killer,” he called it. He even enrolled at Yale, with a written recommendation from an alum who was a listener at the time, Senator Joe Lieberman. He took one class, early Christology, but says he “spent more time trying to find a parking space” than in class and quickly dropped out.

Then the writer explains how the Becks landed in Mormonism — as if they had picked out a minivan.

No. Honest. The section doesn’t explore why the two were led to Mormonism, what attracted them to the faith, why they didn’t choose Catholicism, etc.

Beck met Tania in 1998. She walked into the New Haven radio station where he was working to pick up a Sony Walkman she won in a contest. They began dating. He wanted to marry, and she agreed, but only on the condition that they find a religion together. They shopped around, attended services and eventually settled on Mormonism–inspired in part by Beck’s best friend and radio sidekick, Pat Gray, who himself is Mormon. Beck, who was brought up Roman Catholic, has called his faith “the most important thing” in his life.

Man, for someone who feels so strongly about his faith, you would think religion would deserve another paragraph or two. Fear not: the piece gives us some information about how consumption habits.

Beck is also a showman at his core and a workaholic. His insomniac mind spins with ideas for segments and revenue streams (which he will duly e-mail to his staff at 3 in the morning). He sleeps little: three, maybe five hours a night if he is lucky, Beck told me. His Mormonism forbids coffee, but he consumes a lot of Diet Coke and chocolate.

Well, you don’t know what led Beck to Mormonism, how it influences his political thinking, or, well, anything substantial. Do I sound picky? I just figured that in an 8,000-word piece, you could make room for something the man calls “the most important thing” in his life.

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The naked tea partiers

For reasons known only to New York Times editors, Kate Zernike is continually given free rein to write about the Tea Party. There have been a litany of complaints about her coverage, perhaps most notably when earlier this year she accused Human Events editor Jason Mattera of speaking in a “Chris Rock voice” and using “racial stereotypes” to mock Obama. Mattera was born and raised in Brooklyn, and Zernike didn’t realize that was just how he talks. Not content with the amount of racial phrenology she’d employed to date, she wrote a piece about race and the Tea Party pegged to the Glenn Beck rally that contained this immortal sentence:

In the Tea Party’s talk of states’ rights, critics say they hear an echo of slavery, Jim Crow and George Wallace.

“Critics say” is the ultimate news reporter’s cop out; it’s just a shibboleth meaning “here’s what I think.” And then to employ it as a way of smearing a healthy portion of the American electorate as racist… oy. Well, she was back in the Times again this weekend purporting to decode how the Tea Party “has resurrected once-obscure texts by dead writers — in some cases elevating them to best-seller status — to form a kind of Tea Party canon.” I’ll just dispense with the most cringe-inducing aspect of the story now. Here’s Zernike discussing economist F.A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom:

Ron Johnson, who entered politics through a Tea Party meeting and is now the Republican nominee for Senate in Wisconsin, asserted that the $20 billion escrow fund that the Obama administration forced BP to set up to pay damages from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill circumvented “the rule of law,” Hayek’s term for the unwritten code that prohibits the government from interfering with the pursuit of “personal ends and desires.”

I’ll throw this one over to my old colleague Jonah Goldberg:

If I had said a day ago that your typical New York Times reporter doesn’t have the vaguest sense of what the rule of law means, I would have heard from all sorts of earnest liberal readers — and probably some conservative ones too — about how I was setting up a straw man. But now we know it’s true. It’s not just that she doesn’t know what it is, it’s that even after (presumably) looking it up, she still couldn’t describe it and none of her editors raised an eyebrow when she buttered it.

Ok, you get the picture. The reason why I’m even discussing this piece here is because Zernike discusses three texts in particular — Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, Bastiat’s The Law and W. Cleon Skousen’s The 5,000 Year Leap. Contrary, to Zernike’s assertion, the first two of these books can’t even remotely be described as “once-obscure.” Hayek’s Road to Serfdom was a best seller when it was published in the forties and his works have never been out of print, despite being all but ignored by the academy. His talks drew huge crowds and he’s perhaps the best known economist of the 20th century after Milton Friedman and John Maynard Keynes. (Fun fact: Hayek was also Ludwig Wittgenstein’s second cousin.) He won the Nobel Prize, for crying out loud! As for French political economist Claude Frederic Bastiat’s slender volume The Law, it’s a classic economic text and conservatives and libertarians have been touting it for decades, and certainly well before Tea Parties sprang up in the last 18 months.

Which brings us to W. Cleon Skousen, the only one of the the three whose work generally might be seen as obscure. Skousen’s The Naked Communist did sell millions in its day, but it does seem weird that an almost forgotten Mormon writer (who owes his current influence almost single-handedly to Glenn Beck’s promotion of his work) would be elevated to the same status as Hayek and Bastiat. Here’s how Zernike describes it:

The relative newcomer is “The 5000 Year Leap,” self-published in 1981 by an anti-communist crusader shunned by his fellow Mormons for his more controversial positions, including a hearty defense of the John Birch Society. It asserts that the Founding Fathers had not intended separation of church and state, and would have considered taxes to provide for the welfare of others “a sin.”


The book was published in 1981 by W. Cleon Skousen, a former Salt Lake City police chief who had a best seller in “The Naked Communist” in the 1960s, and died in 2006 at the age of 92. “The 5000 Year Leap” hit the top of the Amazon rankings in 2009 after Mr. Beck put it on his list for the 9/12 groups, his brand of Tea Party.

Hmm. Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that. For one thing, it would be nice if we got some more context here. The way Zernike writes this, she makes it sound like Skousen was some sort of Mormon outcast. That’s not exactly the case. In 1959, Mormon prophet David O. McKay had encouraged the entire church body to read The Naked Communist, during one of the church’s General Conferences.

Yes, it is true that W. Cleon Skousen was a Bircher and defended the church’s institutional racism. Skousen also had a conspiracy-minded group in the 1970s known as the Freeman Institute, and the church felt compelled to issue an official proclamation banning the group from using church facilities so as to avoid the implication they were endorsing the group’s wackier ideas.

But all of this hardly means that Skousen was shunned by Mormons in a broad sense. Quite the contrary, Skousen was a professor of theology at BYU, and his works on Mormon theology are still fairly standard texts on the subject. (Bound sets of Skousen’s The First 2000 Years: From Adam to Abraham, The Third Thousand Years: From Abraham to David, The Fourth Thousand Years: From David to Christ were quite common to see in Mormon households when I was growing up.)

As for me, I wrote about him in detail a few years ago and went on record as saying that politically Skousen is a radical and a firebrand who embodies a conservatism that is best left “chained to a radiator in the attic.” However, to be fair to Skousen — he was actually quite intelligent — his writings on political matters are sometimes extreme, but often they were within the mainstream of conservative thought, even if many conservatives are uneasy with Skousen’s overall reputation.

The 5,000 Year Leap is among the more intellectually sober things Skousen wrote, which is why I suspect Zernike’s heavily contextualized two-word excerpt seems like a forced attempt to make the book seem more radical than it is. In fact, it probably wouldn’t be too hard to find much more politically radical sentiments in works by Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky and the dozens of other lefties currently clogging up college syllabi while worthy conservative writers such as Hayek are often ignored.

What I ultimately find interesting here is that Zernike sought to frame Skousen as a radical by saying he was shunned by the Mormon church when the truth is much more complicated. Perhaps that’s a sign of the church’s increasing acceptance as part of the mainstream religious community.

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God and the Tea Party

Whatever else might be said of the current political climate, there’s no doubt that it’s interesting. No one quite knows what might happen in the coming election but we do know that we’ve seen a pretty dramatic shift from 2008, when Democrats seemed unstoppable. Most of the excitement right now is happening in the Tea Party.

But what is the Tea Party? I remember when I was at the first 9/12 rally in Washington, D.C., tmatt asked for a report on what the media missed in terms of religion coverage. The fact was that I saw almost no religious signage, even if the attendees included a fair number of churchgoers. The T-shirt worn by the girl in this picture was one of the few exceptions.

But then there was Glenn Beck’s March to Restore Honor on August 28. That had heavy religion messages, although it was more civil religion than Mormonism. We looked at some of the coverage of the religious overtones of that event at the time. Barbara Bradley Hagerty has a piece for NPR that accurately reflects the tension within the Tea Party movement along religious lines.

She visits a local Tea Party event where concerned citizens are given updates on what’s happening nationwide:

On the one end of the spectrum, Stacey Hagga says that religion and socially conservative issues are simply not a factor in the Tea Party movement.

“I personally don’t know the last time I was at church,” she says, shifting her toddler from one hip to the other. “I think people are just generally concerned about the economy and the direction of our country. I have my 2-year-old here and I’m just concerned about his future.”

Nearby, Sandy Smith, a registered nurse, sees some religious undercurrents to the Tea Party movement.

“It’s a movement about the Founding Fathers and what their faith was to this country, and how they brought faith over to this country,” she says.

Smith is describing a “civil religion” that seems to appeal to many Tea Partiers: the idea that America was a divine experiment, that the Founding Fathers were Christian men who created a nation on biblical principles. She says America in 2010 has lost that.

One reader who submitted the story noted one problematic aspect to the story. Immediately after a discussion of evangelicals and the Tea Party movement, a quote from Glenn Beck is slipped in. His actual religious affiliation, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, isn’t mentioned in the story.

Anyway, Hagerty doesn’t just use anecdotes or quotes from one Tea Party meeting in Northern Virginia. She also looks at the data, which shows that Tea Partiers are more likely to be weekly churchgoers and conservative Christians than the population as a whole. She looks at how some conservative Christian groups are trying to pressure prominent Tea Party folks into elevating social conservative issues — something that isn’t happening.

And yet, there’s still tension between these two groups. For example, [Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association] recently interviewed Amy Kremer, chairman of the Tea Party Express, on his nationwide radio program. Fischer told her that evangelicals want some signal that the Tea Party movement supports their views on abortion and marriage.

“Can we hear that message from the Tea Party leadership?” he asked.

“You’re not going to hear it from me,” she responded. “I’m sorry, I’m going to disappoint you.”

The piece goes on to explain that the Tea Party includes atheists, libertarians and others who are primarily motivated not by social conservatism or religion but on concerns about the size and scope of government.

I was hanging out last night with some other journalists who live on my block and we were talking about how some reporters try to force a particular angle, tone or narrative into a story. As journalists, we know that it’s pretty rare that a story can be told simply or that a source will give the perfect quote.

What I like about this story is that it explores the tension and includes a variety of viewpoints without forcing a particular answer. Is the Tea Party movement religious? Yes. Also no. Kudos to NPR for giving Hagerty the space needed to explore the issue accurately rather than forcing a simple answer on listeners.

I should also note how surprised I was to read in the New York Times that the United Church of Christ and the National Baptist Convention were co-sponsors of this weekend’s One Nation Working Together rally on the mall. Even if there were 300-plus groups sponsoring, the religious influences of the rally were largely unexplored. There even was an interesting angle (unnoticed by the mainstream media) of the United Methodist Church backing out of its sponsorship at the last minute, citing concerns over the tone of the rally and of co-sponsors. They didn’t state which co-sponsors were problematic but the march included the Communist Party USA and other radical groups. Once again, though, the religious left is largely invisible to the media.

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The missing Mormon murder

Frequently when we’re talking about violence against religious minorities, it’s a foreign issue. But it happens stateside as well, sadly. Recently there have been a few attacks that have received media attention. When Michael Enright stabbed his New York City cab driver Ahmed H. Sharif, for being a Muslim, it was major news. When a fire broke out at a construction site of a Tennessee mosque, it was major news. This weekend word came that the ATF has ruled that fire arson, it was also major news.

The coverage of the cabbie attack isn’t going to win any awards, but I think the coverage of the fire at the mosque construction site has been fine. Of course, there’s not much to go on right now, so the news has been relatively straightforward. Because of the public debate over various mosques, there’s question about motive. But there aren’t any answers right now. Be sure to let us know if you see any particularly good or bad media coverage on that front.

It’s interesting, though, how some violent attacks are national news and others aren’t. Last week I saw the news that a Mormon bishop was murdered at his ward in Visalia, California. I grew up in that county so I was following what little news trickled out. There’s also some lack of clarity about motive since the man who shot the bishop was later killed by police and, like Enright, apparently suffered mental illness.

But by and large, there doesn’t appear to be much major media interest in the story. This is a church body that was seriously targeted in the aftermath of California’s Prop. 8 ruling. So it’s just interesting that at no time did this merit much serious coverage. Sure, there are some local news briefs and mentions on media blogs. The New York Times has yet to mention the killing or even run this Associated Press report, which I saw in the Salt Lake Tribune, from the first day:

A Mormon church official was shot dead between services on Sunday, and less than an hour later, the man suspected of the crime also died after a shootout with police.

Clay Sannar, 42, a lay bishop with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Visalia, southeast of Fresno, died after being shot in his office, said Visalia police chief Colleen Mestas.

Soon after the first shooting, a caller identified himself to police as the shooter. Police responded, and there was a confrontation with several shots exchanged, said Mestas. The suspect was hit multiple times. He was taken to nearby Kaweah Delta Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. He has not been identified yet. No officers were injured, Mestas said.

Tulare County sheriff’s deputies are taking over the investigation of the shootout involving the police officers. The sheriff’s department did not immediately return calls for comment.

Visalia police continue to investigate Sannar’s shooting, but have not identified a motive.

It’s interesting to consider what makes for national news and what doesn’t and how that coverage affects the way we view the world.

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Hey, what was said at the rallies?

Once upon a time, I had one of the best seats at the famous “Stand in the Gap” rally held on the National Mall in 1997 by the Promise Keepers organization, since I served as a kind of religion-news color commentator for MSNBC — the only network that covered that massive event from dawn to dusk.

At the end of the day, several things intrigued me.

First of all, it was obvious to me that hardly any of the journalists present gave a flip what anyone on the stage was saying. Everybody was there to cover the interactions that they hoped took place between the counter-demonstrators and the men, young and old, for what I called the “Woodstock of the charismatic renewal movement.”

Alas, all the men wanted to do was sing and pray. Bummer.

Since hardly anyone in the press was listening, few people noticed that (a) many of the speakers were Democrats of color and (b) that hardly anyone was taking potshots at President Bill Clinton. In fact, most of the rhetoric that day stressed that the nation’s problems most pressing problems were moral in nature and, thus, couldn’t be solved with legislation. There was a profound sense of disappointment in the air that day with politics in general. If anyone needed to be worried, I said on the air, it was Newt Gingrich and the GOP leadership since many of the keepers sounded like they were upset with Beltway politicians — period.

So what does this have to do with the Glenn Beck rally yesterday at the Lincoln Memorial?

Probably very little, since (a) I know next to nothing about Beck (I have never seen his show) and (b) I don’t know much about what happened at his big show since the main story in the Washington Post about this event offers next to nothing in terms of content from any of the presentations. Honest. Please read the thing for yourself.

Conservative commentator Glenn Beck on Saturday drew a sea of activists to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where he championed a religious brand of patriotism and called on the nation to recommit itself to traditional values he said were hallmarks of its exceptional past.

On the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, steps away from where it was delivered, Beck and fellow “tea party” icon Sarah Palin staked a claim to King’s legacy and to that of the Founding Fathers. They urged a crowd that stretched to the Washington Monument to concentrate on the nation’s accomplishments rather than on its psychological scars.

“Something that is beyond man is happening,” Beck said. “America today begins to turn back to God.”

Boy howdy, I can really sink my teeth into that. Later on, we get this chunk of content:

Beck, a Fox News host, has developed a national following by assailing President Obama and Democrats, and he warned Saturday that “our children could be slaves to debt.” But he insisted that the rally “has nothing to do with politics. It has everything to do with God, turning our faith back to the values and principles that made us great.”

King’s niece Alveda King, an anti-abortion activist, addressed Beck’s rally with a plea for prayer “in the public squares of America and in our schools.” Referencing her “Uncle Martin,” King called for national unity by repeatedly declaring “I have a dream.”

So Alveda King spoke (video here)? That’s interesting, although I think it is a bit narrow to call her an anti-abortion activist — period. I am sure that she considers herself both an ordained minister — so this reference should, under Associated Press style, refer to her as the Rev. Alveda King — and a human-rights activist. She is a former legislator in Georgia, too, elected as a Democrat. (Here is a piece that she wrote before the rally.)

By the way, if African-Americans are conservative on life issues, does that cancel out everything else that they do? Curious.

The key for journalists, once again, is not what anyone actually said at the Beck rally or at the counterpoint rally led by the Rev. Al Sharpton — who is allowed, unlike King, to retain his ordination. What really matters, you see, is the political implications of these events. Quoting lots of religion talk might warp the template prepared in advance for the coverage.

One more detail struck me.

The simultaneous rallies rendered the country’s political and racial divisions in stark relief.

Sharpton drew a mostly black crowd of union members, church-goers, college students and civil rights activists. …

The Beck crowd, meanwhile, was overwhelmingly white, and many in the crowd described themselves as conservatives with deep concern about the country’s political leadership and its direction.

OK, I like the attempt to give us a bit of insight into the composition of the Sharpton crowd. But where is the similar information about the faithful in the Beck congregation? Any church-goers? College students? Any Catholics? Conservative Jews? Human rights activists on issues such as international slavery, sexual trafficking, hunger, the right to life, etc.? Were the folks in one crowd worried about politics and the folks in the other crowd unconcerned about that subject?

Enough. Once again, I wish I knew more about what people on both sides actually said. I’d like to make up my own mind, if possible, about the content of both events.

It also sounds, to me, that if anyone should be concerned after the Beck event, it should be the whole Vice President Dick Cheney wing of moral libertarians who are not all that interested in social and religious issues. Right? Also, does this mean that the Tea Party Movement’s leadership is slightly out of touch with its own base, in terms of thinking that economic issues are all that matters?

Just asking.

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Faith in rescuing

After a major disaster or an interesting person goes missing, reporters often do follow-up stories to capture the intensity and emotion during the often-terrifying experience.

In this case, several international outlets are following the story in Chile where 33 miners have been trapped for 17 days deep inside a collapsed mine. All are alive and communicating, but it could take up to four months to free them.

Of course, you have to wonder how they will eat, exercise and, well, stay sane. They have been told to stay thin (under a 35-inch waistline) to play cards, sing and exercise, and rescuers are telling them that it will take four months to get them out.

The Associated Press reports that they are living on high-calorie, protein-enriched drinks now. MSNBC reports that rescuers are sending down games and antidepressants.

In a country where 71 percent of the population is Catholic, does faith play a role at all in the communication? For example, are they communicating with a priest or some kind of chaplain? Religion might not be part of the story, which is fine, it might be too soon to weed out that angle, or reporters might not be bothered to report it.

On the other hand, the Salt Lake Tribune has a fabulous follow-up story about people trying to rescue a 26-year-old from after he was trapped in a cave right before Thanksgiving last year (h/t Melissa Nann Burke). Here’s part 1 and part 2.

Throughout the story, the rescuers–many of whom are Mormon–tell the reporter of how they sung hymns, prayed, and talked about their faith. Here’s an example of how the religion played into the drama.

Knowing help was on the way steeled Josh for another trip down the tunnel to take the friend’s place. The brothers made small talk to take their minds out of the cave. They talked about Josh’s girlfriend, whether he should follow John into medical school. They sang the hymn “How Firm a Foundation.”
Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.
Again, they prayed.
“I’m so sorry. Father, just get me out of here. Save me for my wife and kids,” John said.

The series is 5,400 words–amazing for a daily newspaper. It’s encouraging to see editors committed to long-form journalism because that’s often where you have the time and space to tease out those kinds of religious details.

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Did God pick Harry Reid’s opponent?

No longer content to play a role only in Bible Belt politics, the Almighty has entered the fray in Republican Sharron Angle’s bid to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada.

So far, there’s no word on God’s positions on legalized gambling and prostitution, but he is weighing in on abortion and school choice. (Surely I jest.)

The top of a Sunday Page 1 story in the Las Vegas Sun:

RENO — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle describes her motivation for seeking elected office as a religious calling.

Politics, including her bid to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, is God’s purpose for her life — one he has long been preparing her for, she says.

“When God calls you, he also equips you and he doesn’t just say ‘Well, today you’re going to run against Harry Reid.’ There is a preparation,” she said during a recent interview on the Christian Broadcasting Network. “Moses had his preparatory time. Paul had his preparatory time. Even Jesus had his preparatory time, and so my preparation began on a school board.”

Now, at first glance, Angle’s comments don’t surprise me. For a Southern Baptist politician to suggest that she’s following God’s calling in her life impresses me as, well, exactly what you’d expect an evangelical to say.

The bigger question is this: Is she heeding God’s general direction in her life or saying that God handpicked her to unseat Reid?

The Sun story and an earlier Associated Press report provide little insight into that. To be fair, Angle appears to be cherry-picking friendly interviewers and avoiding mainstream media questions about her religious beliefs.

Nonetheless, the Sun used Angle’s CBN interview remarks last week to focus on her public policy positions concerning separation of church and state:

A Southern Baptist active in her church, Angle’s religious convictions have informed many of her positions throughout her years in politics. She believes abortion is a violation of God’s will and should be banned in all cases. She argued for the religious freedom of private and home schools. And she has said that public policy should support the “traditional” family structure as described in the Bible, in which one parent stays home with the children while the other works.

Note the scare quotes around “traditional.” Some of that space might have been better used to explain precisely what Angle means by a traditional family structure. Moreover, the reporter might have included the specific Bible chapter and verse that refers to one parent staying home with the children while the other works.

The story then goes into a lengthy exploration of “a religious political movement — Christian Reconstructionism — seeking to return American civil society to biblical law”:

The movement’s more extreme beliefs are based on a strict interpretation of Mosaic law described in the Old Testament and include the execution of homosexuals and unchaste women and the denial of citizenship to those who don’t adhere to Reconstructionists’ religious beliefs. Angle has never advocated those views.

Angle has never advocated those views. But what the heck? Let’s bring them up anyway.

Now, given the amount of ink devoted to this movement, you might assume that Angle has subscribed to it. Well, not exactly. But she does consider her candidacy a calling from God.

In general, the Sun story reports too many details as fact — about Christian Reconstructionism and Angle herself — for my tastes. In this kind of politically and religiously charged story, I prefer over-attribution to facts hanging out there with no sources.

So, there you have it. A Southern Baptist running for high political office in the home of Sin City.

Her opponent: Oh, he’s a practicing Mormon who said in 2001 that you can’t “separate your religion from your politics; it’s part of your personality. It is part of who you are.” He also describes himself as anti-abortion.

For now, though, it’s Angle’s faith — not Reid’s — that’s making headlines. And that’s just fine with the Democrat, according to a Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist who wrote about Angle’s calling from God:

Of course, Reid’s camp is having a field day with this. In hardball politics, this is batting practice.

There’s a reason Angle’s poll numbers are tanking despite Reid’s resounding unpopularity and Nevada’s high unemployment rate. But you can’t blame the good Lord or the Searchlight senator for it.

Given the subject matter, just a reminder: GetReligion is interested in the media coverage and journalistic issues related to this Senate race. Please take political comments somewhere else.

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