Myopic coverage of Warren in tragedy?

Myopic coverage of Warren in tragedy? April 7, 2013

Of the many sad stories this weekend, one was the news that Rick Warren’s son Matthew killed himself. Suicides are difficult to cover and there’s some (though probably not enough) debate about when and how to cover them. In this case, the news was announced in emails to the congregation and staff of Saddleback Church, the megachurch founded by Warren. It’s reasonable to cover this death, I think.

And as for the coverage, I think it was fairly decent — just covering the basics of what was known and how the information was communicated.

But former (and yet forever in our hearts) GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey tweeted out something of interest in one report:

Weird LaTimes summary: Rick Warren is a world-famous evangelist…perhaps most widely known for having delivered the inauguration invocation

Here’s the actual conclusion to the Los Angeles Times story in question:

The elder Warren is a world-famous evangelist and bestselling author of “The Purpose Driven Life.” He is perhaps most widely known for having delivered the invocation at President Obama’s inauguration in 2008.

One reporter agreed with Sarah, calling the description “more than a little myopic.” Huffington Post religion reporter Jaweed Kaleem wrote:

that may be accurate for some people not in Christian/evangelical world. I had never heard of him til ’08.

Even though I am so old that I was literally shopping for a cane today (remember my ankle injury?), I’m not so old as to have experienced the entirety of American history. But Kaleem’s comment is a very good reminder that many reporters, including many very good reporters, are simply young. Not having heard of Warren prior to 2008 means that you had to have been in utero (or high school, or something similar) during 2002 or whenever Purpose Driven Life came out and became one of the best selling books in history. If you’re a reporter, it’s a good idea to remember to ask the old fogeys about stuff you haven’t heard of. If you’re working with a reporter, don’t assume knowledge that might not be there.

Another person wrote in response to Sarah: “Yeah, or that one book, pastoring that one church, something about AIDS. But, sure, they should go with the invocation thing.”

I think the problem with the piece is mostly that a reporter wrote the phrase “perhaps most widely known.” The modifier, preceding a claim that is debatable, just makes things messy.

It’s fine to want to put something in about politics, perhaps, though there are better options. I agree with Sarah that non-reporters probably don’t care as much about inaugural invocations.

But the failure to mention any of Warren and Saddleback’s domestic or international mercy work is a problem. And except insofar as all Christian pastors and authors are “evangelists,” I am wondering if the Times meant to say he is a world-famous evangelical. What do you think?

Here’s the latest from the Times:

The elder Warren is a world-famous evangelist and the bestselling author of “The Purpose-Driven Life.” He delivered the invocation at President Obama’s inauguration in 2008.


In the days to come, we might expect to see some religion news coverage of mental illness and suicide. CNN has an opinion piece up “How churches can respond to mental illness.” USA Today has a piece on the vile comments some activists made in response to the suicide.

Please let us know if you see any particularly good or bad coverage.

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  • FW Ken

    I was going to complain about the USAToday article because it really only provided direct evidence of one hate-monger commented, and credible reference to a couple of others. It’s too easy to say “some people” are being hateful. Then I read the comments under the USAToday article and, by golly, there really are quite a few idiots out there.

    But if you are going to write an article about people saying mean things, why not differentiate between Christians who believe suicides go to Hell (period) and non-Christens

  • FW Ken

    And non-Christians who just hate Warren.

    And may God bless this family and comfort them.

  • sari

    The AP article was good, I thought, particularly in getting quotes from Pastor (Rev?) Warren and in addressing the many ways in which the family intervened to help Matthew.

    As to Rick Warren, some of us were unfamiliar until he offered to host the presidential debates prior to the inauguration. Don’t assume that non-Christians and nominal Christians are familiar with prominent Christian clergy. I wouldn’t know the first thing about Rev. Hagee, an hour south of my home, except that the San Antonio rabbi who has worked with him for years on Zionist causes brought him to the Austin community’s attention.

    My heart goes out to him and his family. It is at such times that our faith is tested.

  • tmatt

    Has Warren ever done an evangelistic crusade?

    He is a pastor, a missionary, a writer and an evangelical activist. But EVANGELIST? Technically, no. There are much better words for this various ministries.

    I know: “Evangelical,” “evangelist,” what’s the difference, anyway?