God, Faith and a Clueless Media

By Bob Gaydos

It’s God’s plan that I should write this column. It must be because I had no intention of writing about Sarah Palin’s religious beliefs until I read a shocking article in the Sunday Record explaining them, or rather, explaining how the news media misinterpreted them.

 Actually, the article itself, distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, wasn’t shocking; the fact that it appeared at all in a mainstream newspaper is what shocked and impressed me. The simple truth is most reporters and editors in the mainstream news media — which would include TV and, to a slightly lesser extent, news magazines — hate religion stories. They do not understand religion or respect the influence that faith — whether or not it is bound by the principles of any particular religion — has in the lives of millions of people. Indeed, many journalists seem to revel in a need to mock religion and people who express faith in a higher power. Easier to mock than to try to understand.

 I do not state this lightly. It’s what I feel after more than 40 years of daily newspapering. Religion scares a lot of journalists, who don’t bother to differentiate between those who exploit religion for their own purposes — and the airwaves are full of that type — and simple articles of faith that ordinary people use to get through life.

 The Palin “God” flap is an example of the latter. A new book written by yet another angry former presidential campaign aide to Sen. John McCain quotes the former Alaska governor as saying, upon being asked how she could remain so serene after just being asked to run for vice president and being on the verge of becoming one of the most famous people in the world, “It’s God’s plan.”

 That’s it. No further explanation. The Scripps Howard story reported that the Washington Post report on the book was headlined: “McCain aide: Palin believed candidacy “God’s plan.’” Other news accounts were in that similar mocking vein.

 But as the Scripps Howard story explained, this comment does not necessarily mean that Palin believed that God planned for her to be vice president because it would be good for the country. A grandiose view. Rather, it was more likely an example of common speak for evangelicals, and millions of other people, who believe that God shapes their lives through the people and events they encounter and the choices they make, for better or worse. A humble view.

 That does not necessarily mean Palin believes God has chosen her or that her decisions are the work of God. That’s what the jihadists preach. Since Palin’s comment was not expanded upon in the book, no one can know her meaning for sure, but based on her own book, “Going Rogue,” she clearly believes in a God who offers unexpected challenges in life, make of them what you will. Hardly scary, but not sexy enough for publishers and journalists.

 The Scripps Howard piece was written by Terry Mattingly, who directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. (Who knew?) Mattingly suggests it may be time to produce a primer for newsrooms on “How Evangelicals Talk.” Why limit it to evangelicals? If the purpose of good reporting is to understand and explain the human condition, that should include people’s  religious and spiritual beliefs as well. It doesn‘t mean you have to believe what the person believes, but that you should at least try to understand those beliefs and what role they play in a person’s life. Ask the woman what she means, for God’s sake.

 It’s easy enough to mock Sarah Palin. I have succumbed more than once and probably will again. But I had to write this column in her defense and it certainly wasn’t my plan.

Bob can be reached at zestoforange.com    


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