Abortion in a strangely faithless Russia

OnionDomesFrom time to time, readers on the left side of the cultural aisle get upset with the GetReligionistas because of the amount of space we dedicate to abortion and other “Culture of Life” issues.

We don’t hide the fact that we all back traditional church doctrines on these matters, which is not the same thing as saying that we fit neatly into either political party. However, confessing the fact that you are a pro-lifer is just about all you have to do these days to be labeled a right-winger.

Anyway, it is impossible to talk about media bias research in the late 20th century and beyond without focusing on coverage of abortion (and now, issues if marriage and family). As recent elections have demonstrated, these cultural and moral issues are also linked to divisions between the two parties — ragged divisions, but divisions nonetheless — that often are linked to religious beliefs and practice.

If you talk about abortion and the news, you almost always end up talking about religion and the news.

Thus, as an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I was very interested in that recent Los Angeles Times piece that ran under the double-stacked headline, “Abortion foes begin to make their case in Russia — Doctors and politicians are quietly struggling to change the nation’s casual attitude toward the procedure.”

In many ways, it is a stunning piece — full of the kind of candor, nuance and moral confusion that surrounds abortion in real life, yet rarely makes it into news coverage. Abortion was part of the fabric of life in the old Soviet Union and much of that numbed culture remains. Yet there are moral ghosts in the culture as well that reveal themselves in strange ways. Here is the top of the report:

Abortionist Marina Chechneva remembers the old-style Russian gynecologists who worked in state hospitals and churned out back-to-back abortions like Soviet factory workers. She remembers the women who “used to use abortion as a kind of vacation, because in the U.S.S.R., they got three days off from work.”

These days, Chechneva is writing magazine articles about fetus development in hope of raising public opposition to abortion. After years of handling fetuses, she explains, she has come to feel a responsibility toward the unborn children.

“They should realize that what they’re doing is already a murder,” she said.

A fledgling antiabortion movement is beginning to stir in Russia. Driven by a growing discussion of abortion as a moral issue and, most of all, by a government worried about demographics, doctors and politicians are quietly struggling to lower what is believed to be one of the world’s highest abortion rates.

Read on. In effect, abortion is still a means of birth control. Yet now, the government wants to see more births — to prevent the demographic suicide that is affecting so much of Western and Easter Europe and surrounding cultures.

Yet how do you talk about morality in the new Russia? Well, how about a religious frame of reference? Can the “conveyor belt” of abortion — an image from the story — judged as sinful?

The decision to choose abortion shouldn’t be so casual, according to Russian lawmakers.

“The spiritual position,” said Natalia Karpovich, a leader of the State Duma committee focused on family, women and children, “should be that this is murder and the woman who does this commits a sin. Still, I want to stress it’s a woman’s choice.”

Karpovich is among Russian lawmakers who’ve pushed for media messages casting abortion in a less neutral light. She also supports new measures meant to encourage childbirth by paying out cash bonuses and opening new
day-care centers across the country.

“Like on packs of cigarettes or bottles of alcohol, advertisements for abortion services should be obligated to warn about the consequences,” she said. “That they may result in infertility, that some bad changes may happen in
the female organism.”

So there are spiritual questions. But there seems to be a major voice missing, some major voice in Russian history, culture, literature and thought. The word Tradition — with a large “T” as in ancient church fathers — factors into this.

Now, I am not arguing that this voice is as powerful as it once was or that, in a post-Soviet world, it has regain strength and, tragically, integrity in all that it does. But how can one write a story about this topic without mentioning the Russian Orthodox faith and tradition? Read the story. Did I miss something?

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Cheers for (candid) talk on religious left

the faith of barack obamaThere are times when it seems as if the World Wide Web has always been around, like a public utility. But if you look at cyberspace in terms of journalism history, we are still very early in the transition to whatever the heckfire is going to happen next.

One of the encouraging trends that I am seeing more often is the use of verbatim Q&A interviews. This format rarely made sense in dead-tree-pulp media, especially as newspapers struggled with smaller and smaller news holes. But on the Web? Why not?

Printing full questions and full answers is especially appropriate when dealing with subjects as complicated and personal as religion. As this weblog constantly demonstrates, there are times when many of the readers probably know more about the topic being discussed than anyone on the copy desk editing the news stories.

In a WWW world, why not print the story and then back it up — online, at least — with the full texts of the crucial interviews? Let people read the interviews for themselves, if they choose to do so.

The other day, I pointed readers toward an interesting interview with the Rev. Franklin Graham, which had moments of nuance — imagine that — as well as the blunt talk that is so common with Graham the younger.

This time around, take a look at this Newsweek interview (online only) with Stephen Mansfield, author of the new book “The Faith of Barack Obama.” Reporter Jessica Ramirez did the interview, which covers lots of familiar territory about Obama’s family history.

Then, near the end, we see The Question. This is not quite “tmatt trio” territory, but it’s close:

So, where do you think Obama fits in the spectrum of Christianity?

I think Barack Obama believes about Jesus and about conversion what your average evangelical does. He believes that Jesus is the son of God and that he died for the sins of the world and God raised him from the dead again. Where he begins to depart from orthodox evangelical Christianity probably begins with his view of scripture. He believes some of it might be of human origin, and some scriptures may be of more weight than others.

So in a sense, [his is a] traditional theological liberalism that tends to treat scripture as being at least partially of human origin. But then you add that sort of young postmodern twist. Postmodernists don’t really reconcile systems of thought. In fact, they’re not sure systems of thought are possible. Theologically speaking, they might pick one from column A and two from column B, whether it all fits together or not. So he’s a theological liberal with a postmodern emphasis.

Read on. He pretty much buys the media template that a new evangelical left is rising up to broaden the social agenda beyond the old one or two issues, etc. etc. As the Divine Ms. MZ has noted, there seems to be a MSM echo chamber on that point, while the polls appear to be just as close as ever and the familiar social issues are very much alive and kicking, if you are following the headlines.

The question again: Can Obama propose actual change on the social issues, which would mean compromises between his own party’s hard lifestyle left and the religious right? That would have been a good question to include in this interview. Still, lots to read and mull. More please! There’s plenty of room online.

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Newsweek on abortion, hellfire and rumors

murphybrownOne of the problems with the mainstream media’s rush to the gutter in the early days following her being named for the VP slot is that their entire reputation has been shot. So many people disliked what they saw and read in the first week that they’ve lost a level of trust with the media. It’s important, though, to understand that the desire for information about Palin is legitimate and good and it’s the point of having a press.

And it may not be a big deal, but some who pushed some of the more disconcerting lines of attack against Palin conceded they went overboard. Here’s a clip of Sally Quinn apologizing, in her special way, for some of what she wrote last week.

I had written up a long post about Hanna Rosin’s surprisingly clueless rant in Slate about why evangelical Christians didn’t like the choices made by fictional character Murphy Brown but didn’t crucify Palin because her daughter is pregnant out of wedlock. It was an uncharacteristically poor piece (she at one point says something about Palin’s “wreck of a home life” — come again?) from a great religion reporter, but it was more punditry rather than straight reportage so I didn’t post it. I had also looked at Slate Group editor-in-chief Jacob Weisberg’s piece that also focused on different reactions to fictional character Murphy Brown and the Palin family.

Anyway, Weisberg’s Slate piece was picked up by Newsweek, which is all part of the same Washington Post media family. Media consolidation is fun. The begins by saying that conservatives in the 1980s framed the pro-life cause as part of a broader family-values agenda that included upholding the nuclear family. He argues that opposition to abortion and support of the nuclear family are at odds. He says that abortion is key to upholding the kind of family structure that conservatives believe in (two parents, no government assistance). He says that abortion gives people the chance to live the conservative dream. It’s kind of a weird article. It is interesting to see the editor of a prominent publication unashamedly argue for the morality of abortion, using Bristol Palin’s unborn child as a hook:

Forget the Juno scenario–in the real world, only a tiny fraction of unwed mothers give their babies up for adoption. If you do not allow teenage girls who accidentally become pregnant to have abortions, you are demanding either that they raise their children as single mothers or that they marry in shotgun weddings. By the numbers, neither choice is promising. Unmarried teenage moms seldom get much financial or emotional support from the fathers of their babies. They tend to drop out of high school and go on the dole, and they are prone to lives of poverty, frustration, and disorder. Only 2 percent of them make it through college by the age of 30. The Bristol Palin option doesn’t promote family happiness, stability, or traditional structure, either. Of women under 18 who marry, whether because of pregnancy or not, nearly half divorce within 10 years–double the rate for those who wait until they’re 25.

Clearly if she were conservative she should just have an abortion right now. Classy, Weisberg! Oh, and sorry about all your numbers being questionable. Weisberg then goes on to say he’s “long expected” Republicans to drop their anti-abortion views. Which makes you kind of wonder how he became the editor of a Washington Post group publication. He blames “evangelical dominance” for what ails the Republican Party and repeatedly refers to pro-lifers as “anti-abortion extremists.” It was slightly edited by the time it reached Newsweek so that Gov. Palin wasn’t described as an extremist but, rather, a purist.

In all seriousness, I think this Palin-induced hysteria is good for a few things. Finding out what the editor of Slate Group thinks of pro-lifers and the morality of abortion is helpful, I guess. That Newsweek would think it worthy of publication is good to know, I guess.

Newsweek had a couple of other interesting religion pieces. Religion reporter Lisa Miller has a story about how the Palin pick totally kills the long-heralded moderation of evangelicals. You might not know that from the headline, which is, I kid you not:

A Religious-Right Revival
The senior pastor of Palin’s former church preaches hellfire for anyone who isn’t saved by Jesus.

Well, that just isn’t done in newsrooms! It brings to mind both Weiss’ First Law of Religious Relativism:

Every religion is crazy, by definition, to an unbeliever.

junoPoster2And, of course, it also reminds me of the famous Tmatt Trio. I’m thinking of question #2:

(2) Is salvation found through Jesus Christ, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)?

That a Christian pastor would believe in hell is supposed to be shocking? That a Christian pastor would believe that Jesus saves is shocking? That a Christian pastor would preach exclusive truth is supposed to be shocking? Come again? What’s really shocking is that Newsweek thinks this is shocking. Also: hellfire? Is this the best way we could present this doctrinal tenet? Everyone calm down.

It’s a shame because the piece itself makes a really interesting point. These “new” evangelicals are supposed to care about a lot more issues than abortion. But being pro-life is foundational. With Palin’s impeccable pro-life credentials, she’s well liked by evangelicals. But do her other views match up with their broader agenda?

Younger Christians express disappointment that the rules of the game have changed so little. Cameron Strang is the 32-year-old publisher of the Christian magazine Relevant and an advocate for the new evangelical agenda. That evangelicals are pro-life is stipulated, he explains. But young Christians had become hopeful in recent years that they might look beyond abortion to other issues — a change in perspective that could lead to a vote for Sen. Barack Obama. Palin backs these Christians into a corner. “She hasn’t addressed issues of concern to younger Christian voters,” says Strang. “All of a sudden, it’s us versus them and you have to pick a side. With abortion as a wedge issue, it’s going to be harder and harder for moderate Christians to feel OK supporting Obama.” Everything new is old again. Palin’s candidacy revives the religious right, the abortion debate and the pit-bull advocate for both. The only difference is the lipstick.

I guess we can add lipstick to ensoulment as the big buzzwords this year on the religion beat! (Incidentally, Washington Post‘s On Faith religion site currently features a Chicago Divinity School professor saying this about Palin:

Her greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman.

Anywho, the final Newsweek story of note is a list of rumors about Palin that aren’t true. One relates to an issue I covered a while back:

Palin has not pushed for teaching creationism in Alaska’s schools. She has said that students should be allowed to “debate both sides” of the evolution question, but she also said creationism “doesn’t have to be part of the curriculum.”

Now if only we could get these factchecks to Matt Damon!

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Ignore GOP pros; listen to readers (updated)

trig4634 bg2 1 We’re beginning to get into the next stage of Hurricane Sarah, where professionals in the mainstream press (and those who study them) have a chance to catch a deep breath and ask that question that must be asked: “What in the heckfire is going on here?”

The Chicago Tribune ran such a piece the other day by journalism professor Don Wycliff of Loyola University, Chicago, who used to be the newspaper’s public editor.

The headline was simple enough: “The GOP’s beef with the media.” Yes, it’s about Gov. Sarah Palin, Sen. John McCain and all of those people chanting, over and over, “NBC!”

Here’s a crucial section of the essay. I’ll get to my main question in a minute:

… (To) the extent that Palin’s and the delegates’ demand is that the media simply cease and desist investigating Palin’s background, it will not happen and it should not. You can’t present the nation with a gift horse, as McCain did in naming Palin, and demand that people not look it in the mouth — at least until Wednesday, Nov. 5.

The media, as lucky full-time practitioners of the role of citizen that the 1st Amendment protects, have a duty to explore the life and activities and attitudes of a person in Palin’s position and make the results public in responsible fashion. The question is whether they did so in this instance. In the case of the Palin daughter’s pregnancy, I think they erred in several ways.

He starts with a Reuters report that allowed an anonymous McCain aide to try to tie all of those acidic baby Trig rumors to partisan Democrats — not just to the anonymous wackos in the netroots. Does it help when campaigns are allowed to play by the same rules as out-of-control bloggers? No, you’re supposed to have evidence and on-the-record sourcing.

While continuing to take shots at the GOP, wherever possible, Wycliff does make this comment:

But the larger question is whether the daughter’s pregnancy was a legitimate news story at all. Should responsible, mainstream news organizations — the free-fire zone of the blogosphere is another matter entirely — have battened onto the story and run it?

I think not.

As Obama himself said, the pregnancy story tells the American electorate nothing substantial about Palin and her fitness for the office of vice president.

This brings me to my main point (and I’ll keep reading elsewhere to see if this thesis holds up). I think some of the voices in the mainstream press are making a mistake. They are confusing the orchestrated cries of GOP spinpeople with the howls of outrage out in red zip codes from ordinary readers.

The bottom line: Press people need to sift through the noise and find out what ordinary readers and consumers are upset about (if, in fact, many of them are upset).

Don’t chalk this firestorm up to the nasty GOP professionals. Some people are mad, but not about the press vetting Palin. They want to know if the press actually needed to vet the baby.

UPDATED: I mean, honestly, why would readers be angry about some of the Palin-hate websites that are out there. Like this one. Yes, I know that this is not MSM or even netroots. But, really, this ocean of baby-hate is hard to fathom.

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Palin coverage in the heartland

Sarah PalinOut in the heartland, much of the news coverage of Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s running mate Sarah Palin has focused on how she has thrilled evangelical voters.

In other words — surprise, surprise — the focus is on the horse race and not on the substance. Since the pick was announced, there has been some coverage of the substance of Palin’s beliefs and career, but a lot of it still focuses on the process that was involved in selecting Palin.

In the heartland and in Ohio specifically, newspapers have had predictable coverage. The Columbus Dispatch ran an article focusing on how Palin could draw evangelicals (and women) to vote for the Republicans in November.

Ohio Right to Life Executive Director Mike Gonidakis praised McCain’s choice, saying Palin will energize social conservatives: “It’s a definite game-changer, not only for the pro-life movement, but for the (GOP) base here in Ohio.”

But Emily’s List, which raises money for female Democratic candidates, said Palin won’t hurt Obama among women.

That description of Emily’s List should have noted that the group supports only candidates who are also support abortion rights. However, that almost goes without saying.

Some articles have focused on local Democratic Party responses to the Palin pick. Others have mentioned local Republicans enthusiasm. The enthusiasm typically focuses on evangelical voters. Other articles don’t mention religious issues at all.

Since there is no real practical way for me to canvas all of the papers around the country, please send us local articles that discuss whether or not GOP officials believe Palin will help bring out more voters that otherwise might have stayed home. My hometown newspaper, The Indianapolis Star, wrote in an article Tuesday that Hoosier delegates at the Republican Convention were excited about Palin. The only suggestion of religious issues is the mention that Palin is pro-life and the fact her 17-year-old unmarried daughter is pregnant.

The Dayton Daily News writes little on Palin’s personal views, but repeats the often repeated story about Palin’s pro-life views and the way those views have influenced her personal actions:

Palin, 44, already has made history. She is both the first woman and the youngest person to hold the Alaska governorship. She is the first woman on a Republican presidential ticket, and if elected, would be the first female vice president. She is pro-life, and was celebrated in the anti-abortion movement when she refused to consider an abortion after learning Trig was likely to have Down syndrome.

People have marveled at how well she has juggled her public and private life as a mother of five children, including one with special needs.

Much more could be said about Palin’s personal religious views and how they influence her public policies. From what I have seen most local newspapers have either relied heavily on wire services or other major newspaper’s coverage of the Palin pick. Part of the challenge is that Palin’s religious views are hardly typical, at least compared to what reporters are used to seeing in national politicians, and remain somewhat of a mystery.

I am hoping there are some local heartland-oriented newspapers out there with the resources to cover how the Palin pick is seen in their local community. And maybe they will mention religious issues.

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Blackberry singing in the dead of night

LindamBreastPumpIf you had any doubts, it has been proven that we are in an age in which the mainstream press is trying to figure out where the blogging ends and the news begins.

The official voice of newsroom water coolers inside the Beltway — that would be Howard Kurtz of the Washington Posthas a piece up talking about how the rumors about Gov. Sarah Palin spread from the alpha site of the Democratic Party netroots, the Daily Kos, over into terrain closer and closer to the mainstream. It should be noted that this is the left media version of the role that talk radio has played on some stories affecting Democrats.

Out of all of this, the truly big scandal is the role of Andrew Sullivan in validating the rumors, but I will leave commentary on that to others. Here is a crucial piece of the wider debate, from Kurtz:

The controversy erupted as a debate was taking shape over whether some media criticism of Palin’s limited government experience has been sexist. Liberal radio host Ed Schultz was telling listeners Monday that Palin was an “empty pantsuit” who had set off a “bimbo alert.” Shortly afterward, the pregnancy statement was released and, without missing a beat, Schultz said her daughter’s situation was relevant because the governor is a champion of moral values.

But a liberal reader posting on Salon under the name Redstocking Grandma denounced the pregnancy allegations: “This is just creepy; it feels stalkerish.” What some Democratic supporters were doing, she said, is “revolting.”

The most interesting facet of all of this, for me, is the way in which Palin’s family has turned the working-mom wars upside down. I mean, back in the days of Promise Keepers, it was the stuff of anecdotes that some evangelical Dads made sacrifices in order to further the careers and ambitions of their wives and were even better around the house than the liberated Alan Aldas of the blue zip codes. Now, we have a test case being lived out — flaws and all — in front of the national press.

As the Divine Ms. MZ has stressed, a number of times, this whole idea of husbands and wives in conservative homes living complex lives is not all that surprising to people outside of mainstream newsrooms. There are evangelical dads with jobs and some with careers and the same is true of the mothers, out there.

For me, the most interesting, and in some ways infuriated, story that has surfaced in the blitz of coverage today — there are THREE, count ‘em three, stories in the New York Times wave on A1 — was the Washington Post story with the double headline: “Gov. Mom — The Land of the Midnight Sun’s New Claim To Fame: Being Led by a 24-Hour Mother.”

Yes, the big investigative story right now: Is Palin still breastfeeding her baby, Trig? Did Sen. John McCain’s crew vet her on this policy question?

Clearly, the Post is getting feedback on its coverage from readers. Meanwhile, how are the working moms in all of these big newsrooms feeling about this coverage? Any folks there having children in their ’40s? Anyone there with complex family dynamics? How are all of the small-town, big-family evangelical moms and dads in those newsrooms holding up? No need to answer that one.

Back to that Post report. Here is a big chunk of that, with many crucial details:

Palin has carefully portrayed herself throughout her career as someone committed to both family and profession — and tough enough to handle both. She made a show of dismissing the chef at the governor’s mansion saying she wanted to do her own cooking, and that the kids were old enough to make their own sandwiches. And no one can recall her ever having a full-time babysitter.

“You walk into her office and Piper is sitting there, the baby is in the crib — that’s just the way it is. This is how she lives her life. Someone who was in a meeting with her recently said she was discreetly nursing Trig,” said Palin’s biographer Kaylene Johnson.

From interviews with those closest to Palin emerges a description of a hectic lifestyle, but one in which the hominess and rural community of Alaska have enabled her to have her kids around her while she works and have offered a deep bench of family and friends for child-care support. She has shown up to meetings and news conferences carrying Trig in a baby pouch.

She and her husband kept their family house in the small town of Wasilla, where her parents, three siblings and closest friends live. Most of the year, she is able to commute back and forth from Anchorage daily, except when the legislature is in session in Juneau. Todd Palin is currently on leave from his job as an oil field worker, making it possible for him to be a full-time dad, said two friends.

blackberry 8700rAnd on that life-and-death journalistic question of the day:

The McCain campaign said it could not confirm that Palin was still breastfeeding Trig, but the governor said as much in a interview with People magazine on Friday. “What I’ve had to do … is, in the middle of the night, put down the BlackBerrys and pick up the breast pump,” she worked into an answer to a question about whether she was a morning person.

Now, does all of this make Palin more or less attractive to feminist women in newsrooms? How about working moms and/or big-family moms in ordinary church pews?

As strange as it sounds, both of those questions are relevant at the moment.

Clearly this woman is no wallflower. Then again, I know lots and lots of very traditional female believers in a variety of religious settings who are not wallflowers either.

So here is what needs to happen next. I hope reporters go take a long look in the mirror, then go back to their computers and call up the search engines. It’s time for some humble, low-key visits to listen to some women and men in some evangelical church fellowship halls. Look for the folks who have a bunch of kids and are getting along just fine, thank you very much.

What a world we live in.

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Evangelicals surprise the media

evangelicalsSally Quinn, the atheist who professed knowing “practically nothing about religion or the internet” when she started the Washington Post/Newsweek religion site On Faith, had a curious admission in her most recent piece. Her essay is about how the news of Bristol Palin’s pregnancy will affect religious voters. She begins by admitting that Sen. John McCain’s pick of Gov. Sarah Palin angered her.

Anger seems to be a dominant feeling coming from the current mainstream media feeding frenzy. I have honestly never seen anything quite like what’s happening here.

I know reporters can get a bit out of control when dealing with their favorite issue (politics) — but I am actually shocked by the way journalists are handling this story. CNN, for instance, showed Barack Obama telling the media that Palin’s daughter should be off-limits — and then went right into a story that used Palin’s daughter’s teenage pregnancy as a hook to condemn abstinence education. It didn’t sit well with many viewers — and even a few of the commentators whose time on air followed the spot denounced it in the strongest terms. The mainstream media notoriously had to be forced to report on John Edwards’ baby drama. But the story of Palin’s daughter has made the front pages of most major papers.

Anyway, Quinn’s piece is a great example of why On Faith is better when it involves actual reporting. After copping to extreme anger and being insulted, she alleges that McCain’s pick will not go over well with “family values” voters. I almost stopped reading after she accused McCain of picking Palin because he’s trying to “win an election.” (Yes, I imagine that political calculation did go into his thinking, Sally.) Anyway, here we go:

And now we learn the 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is pregnant. She and the father of the child plan to marry. This may be a hard one for the Republican conservative family-values crowd to swallow. Of course, this can happen in any family. But it must certainly raise the question among the evangelical base about whether Sarah Palin has been enough of a hands-on mother.

McCain claims he knew about the pregnancy, and was not at all concerned. Why not? Not only do we have a woman with five children, including an infant with special needs, but a woman whose 17-year-old child will need her even more in the coming months. Not to mention the grandchild. This would inevitably be an enormous distraction for a new vice president (or president) in a time of global turmoil. Not only in terms of her job, but from a media standpoint as well.

Nice. Question her parenting skills and push the idea that women must put everything on hold until they have no concerns at home. Yay feminism! She actually goes on to say that women should not get involved in politics until their children are older. It’s like up is down in newsrooms. Anyway, what about her contention that evangelicals won’t support Palin? Here’s the best part:

Southern Baptist leaders like Richard Land and Al Mohler have praised McCain’s choice. But these are the same men who support this statement from the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message:

“A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.”

Okay, Quinn. You’re a reporter. Rather than quote this statement completely out of context, how about you pick up the phone (there should be one near your computer where you typed this piece) and call either of these men and ask them how this statement on marriage relates to women’s work outside the home.

Sheesh. Newsflash: Baptists believe the Bible to be sacred Scripture. Now read Ephesians 5. See how it says Christian marriage is about wives submitting to their husbands as the church submits to Christ? See how it says husbands are to sacrifice everything for and love their wives as Christ did for the church? This is basic Christian teaching. Does it play into whether Land and Mohler support or oppose Palin? I highly doubt it. But maybe you should ask them before you quote them completely out of context. I really don’t get what that statement has to do with Quinn’s story at all.

A far better story came from Associated Press, which discussed how evangelical voters would feel about the pregnancy news:

Key evangelical leaders rallied to Sarah Palin’s support Monday amid news that her 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, was having a child.

“Before, they were excited about her, with the Down syndrome baby,” conservative, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist said. “But now with this, they are over the moon. It reinforces the fact that this family lives its pro-life values.” . . .

Evangelical leader Richard Land also backed Palin completely.

“This is the pro-life choice. The fact that people will criticize her for this shows the astounding extent to which the secular critics of the pro-life movement just don’t get it,” Land said in a statement.

“Those who criticize the Palin family don’t understand that we don’t see babies as a punishment but as a blessing. Barack Obama said that if one of his daughters made a mistake and got pregnant out of wedlock, he wouldn’t want her to be punished with a child. Pro-lifers don’t see a child as punishment.”

The immediate support of these major figures, who offered universal praise for the Palins’ actions after learning their daughter was pregnant, provides the filter through which conservative Christian voters will process the development.

Most important for Palin, an elder statesman of the movement, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, released a statement lauding the Palins for acting in keeping with the group’s policies and practices:

“We have always encouraged the parents to love and support their children and always advised the girls to see their pregnancies through, even though there will of course be challenges along the way. That is what the Palins are doing, and they should be commended once again for not just talking about their pro-life and pro-family values, but living them out even in the midst of trying circumstances.

“Being a Christian does not mean you’re perfect. Nor does it mean your children are perfect. But it does mean there is forgiveness and restoration when we confess our imperfections to the Lord. I’ve been the beneficiary of that forgiveness and restoration in my own life countless times, as I’m sure the Palins have,” Dobson said.

I said it was better — but it’s certainly not perfect. For one thing, I’m pretty sure Grover Norquist is no “key evangelical leader.” And while it’s well and good to get quotes from Land and others, what does it mean that they are the “filter through which conservative Christian voters will process the development”? Is this a reference to Michael Weisskopf’s Washington Post news article that claimed evangelicals were poor, uneducated and easy to command? And why is James Dobson’s statement “most important for Palin”? I don’t get why it would be more important than anything else.

evangelicals soGoneOtherwise, it’s nice to see the media correctly quoting evangelical leaders. Usually they make them seem like dour fussybots intent on condemning everyone for everything. While it is true that they condemn sin — they also emphasize the importance of repentance and forgiveness. That part of the equation tends to be ignored by the press. These folks may take a hard line against sin that is proudly displayed or defiantly defended but they’re not going to condemn a teenage girl who is about to give birth to a child rather than abort it.

In other words, Quinn’s lack of knowledge about evangelicals shows. She should try talking to some and see if they really do match up with her stereotypes. Byron York of National Review has a fascinating piece about how the McCain team actually personally called “40 top evangelical and other cultural conservative leaders” and gave each a chance to respond. York reports that the response was unanimous support for Palin. He then goes to talk to a few delegations about the matter. Not surprising to anyone who knows human nature, some of the delegates speak about their own teenage pregnancies and how it brought them into the pro-life movement.

Another example of advancing stereotypes was found in a New York Times story a reader passed along. The headline and first graph promise tumult in the GOP and the story says that “social conservatives” and “groups that oppose abortion rights” may not continue to support Palin.

But then the article goes on to quote a ton of people and all of them — except for one Democrat — are completely supportive of Palin. The reporter even asks if Palin will be thrown off the ticket — despite the fact that no Republicans seem concerned, not even the evangelical types, and McCain says he knew (along with everyone in Wasilla) and he’s not concerned:

Early reaction among women at the Republican convention to the news about Bristol Palin’s pregnancy was almost uniformly supportive.

“This happens to people in all walks of life,” said Karen Minnis, 54, a state representative from Oregon.

She also said she had no problem with Governor Palin continuing to campaign while her daughter is pregnant and she herself has an infant son. . . .

When Pam Younggren, 61, of Fargo, N.D., was told the news of the 17-year-old’s pregnancy, she shrugged. “Well, she wouldn’t be the first one,” she said.

So the religious voters are not in tumult, as the New York Times claimed. It’s just bizarre headline/lede writing.

I actually think this story provides the perfect prism through which to analyze some evangelicals’ approach to sin, repentance and forgiveness. I think it has to be one of the most misunderstood aspects of evangelicals and would contribute greatly to the public discourse. Unless the media need to keep defining evangelicals who are politically conservative as bogeyman who should be feared by all, that is.

Every time I write about evangelicals, I want to include cover art from Evangelicals, the band. And now I have.

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Bringing Wasilla to life and life to Wasilla

wasillaOf all the stories I’ve seen about Bristol Palin’s pregnancy, one stood out as particularly good. TIME‘s Nathan Thornburgh reported on the story from Wasilla, Alaska, and the trip there seemed to have affected him — in a good way.

So his name is Levi.

That’s about the only thing that I didn’t know about Bristol Palin’s pregnancy. The rest of the details I picked up almost without trying, while talking about other things with townsfolk — some who know the governor and her family well, some who don’t. It was, more or less, an open secret. And everyone was saying the same thing: the governor’s 17-year-old daughter is pregnant, the father is her boyfriend, and it’s really nobody’s business beyond that.

I happen to agree.

This tiny town wedged in between the Chugach and Talkeetna mountain ranges has intrigued the whole country since John McCain’s surprise Friday announcement that Wasilla’s favorite daughter, Sarah Palin, would be his running mate. Sure, some of the interest was a prelude to attacks on Palin’s readiness for national office. But Wasilla also offered a welcome chance to get specific about the geography of a politician. It’s one of our most cherished myths, that a leader can come from somewhere and you can guess at their qualities not just by what they say, but where they live.

Well, here’s the deal: small towns have their own value systems, and in this situation those values are more a lot more valid than the dispassionate, pushy inquisitiveness that political journalism encourages.

With all the drama from this story in the regular press, this account actually makes you want to read more. It adds insight and context and real people — not inside-the-beltway pundits — in a way that actually engages the reader.

He quotes the various residents as a way of exploring Palin’s values and considering that the hook is her daughter’s pregnancy, it comes off very even-handed — and, in light of what’s being spewed elsewhere, decent:

People in Wasilla are Alaskan tough, so not only does a thing like teen pregnancy not seem like anyone’s damn business, but it’s also not seen as the calamity so many people in the lower 48 might think it is. This is dangerous country — it’s not just the roughneck jobs on cable reality shows. It’s real life here. I listened to the absolutely heartbreaking story of how the godfather of Track Palin, Sarah’s oldest son, died in small plane crash just minutes after having dropped off four kids. Another family invited me into their home and told their incredible story; with one son in Iraq, their other son was working on a conveyor line in Anchorage, got caught in the belt and had his head partially crushed. He lived to stand across the kitchen table from me and his parents, looking fully healed just three months later, grinning at his dumb luck and wondering what comes next in life. “It makes you realize that a thing like a little teenage pregnancy isn’t such a big deal,” his mom said. “Bristol—and lots of other girl like her out there — are going to be just fine.”

Amazing how much more interesting stories are when there are real people in them. Anyway, there was one part that wasn’t so great:

The fact is, regardless of what you will hear over the next few days, Bristol’s pregnancy is not a legitimate political issue. Sarah Palin is a longterm member of a group called Feminists for Life, which is not opposed to birth control. So you probably can’t tag her for consigning young people to unwanted pregnancies.

Actually, it’s not correct to say that Feminists for Life isn’t opposed to birth control (sorry for all the negatives there). They actually don’t take a stand on the issue of birth control. Some members are opposed. Some aren’t. But to say that, because of this stance, we can’t “tag her for consigning young people to unwanted pregnancies” is just atrocious. If she was opposed to birth control, we could? If she supported abstinence, we could blame her for unwanted pregnancies? Are you kidding me? The reporter is free to have any opinions he wants about birth control, but he should keep them as his opinions.

But I don’t want to harp on it too much. I actually enjoyed this story — apart from the content, even — much more than any other political story I’ve read in a long time. And normally I hate stories where reporters go into the first person. Still, exploring how values shape a candidate can be very cold when it’s done from a distance. By traveling to Palin’s hometown, this story came alive.

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