The religion section of Saturday's Washington Post was topped by a year-in-review article by Kevin Eckstrom of the Religion News Service. Like many other reporters, Eckstrom blurred Obama's Rev. Wright problem right into two McCain endorsers who are ministers. "Both" candidates had vague church problems:
The unprecedented and extraordinary prominence of religion in the 2008 election was easily the year's top religion story. Both parties battled hard for religious voters, and both were forced to distance themselves from outspoken clergy whose fiery rhetoric threatened to become a political liability.
In the end, the top prize went to Obama, the son of a Muslim-born father and an atheist mother, who spent much of the campaign fighting off persistent -- and untrue -- rumors that he was a closet Muslim. His party, after years of consistently losing churchgoers to Republicans, decisively won Catholics, Jews and black Protestants, and made small but significant inroads among some evangelicals.
Eckstrom was slow to mention Jeremiah Wright, and then failed to quote a single word from him:
Still, the 2008 campaign was remarkable for the ways religion -- or religious figures -- played such a prominent role. Obama was forced to sever ties with his fiery pastor of 20 years, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, for sermons that were deemed racist, anti-American and at times downright bizarre. McCain, in turn, was forced to return the endorsements of Texas megachurch pastor John Hagee and Ohio's Rod Parsley.
"Deemed" racist, anti-American, and bizarre? How can anyone judge when the reporter doesn’t use any quotes, even fragments of quotes (say, "God damn America")?
But Eckstrom employed quote fractions when conservatives were at issue, and suggested their interventions into politics made a majority of the electorate uneasy, citing expert Luis Lugo of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Focus on the Family founder James Dobson tried to play kingmaker by first saying he would not vote for McCain "under any circumstances" and later calling the Palin pick "God's answer" to prayer. Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who proved most popular among religious conservatives and won the Iowa Republican caucuses in January, failed to gain traction despite ads that dubbed him a "Christian leader."
Obama and Biden faced strong opposition from Catholic leaders over their support of abortion rights. One American cardinal, James Stafford, called Obama's election "apocalyptic," and a South Carolina Catholic priest told Obama supporters to head to confession before receiving Communion.
All of that, Lugo said, shows that voters want politicians to be at least somewhat religious -- but prefer to make up their own minds, without the interference of politically outspoken clergy.
"People still do not want religious institutions or religious leaders to weigh in on politics," Lugo said. "There's strong opposition to it, and a strong consensus against it."