I have to admit to a bit of fascination with the presidential campaign of Mike Huckabee. Though I disagree with him on a whole host of issues, I find him to be likable and a more compassionate man than our current President, for whom compassionate conservatism was an empty campaign slogan. As a pastor-to-be, I find myself following the Huckabee campaign with interest, despite my overall Democrat-leaning tendencies. What does it mean when a religious leader enters the political sphere not as a lobbyist or advocate – a la Jerry Falwell – but as a legitimate candidate with a real chance of winning? (John McCain – who I supported back in 2000 – is my bet to win the GOP race, however.)
The main stream media has been fascinated, too, with Mr. Huckabee. As our friends over at Get Religion consistently comment, the media generally does a mediocre job at reporting on religious issues. I fear that’s the case again today in the Washington Post, where Perry Bacon, Jr. filed an awkward report on Huckabee’s return to the pulpit in a New Hampshire church called The Crossing yesterday.
First, I’m not sure that this story is very newsworthy – or that the newsworthy angle was properly covered. The guy is a Baptist minister, after all. Preaching and worshiping is the kind of thing Baptist ministers do. But what is newsworthy – yet which failed to make it into Mr. Bacon’s story – is that Huckabee took a few politically valuable hours just two days before a major primary to go to church in a state in which religion is not a favorable demographic. He could have been out at the diners and Main Streets, greeting voters and making promises he can’t keep. Instead, he went to church. Was this angle highlighted in the Washington Post piece? No.
Surely his presence and his preaching in an evangelical congregation has political implications – it reminds religious voters in South Carolina that he’s a faithful Christian even in relatively faith-less New Hampshire – but the campaign did not allow cameras in the church, the church had only 200 worshippers yesterday morning, and it met in a school gymnasium. One could hardly accuse Governor/Pastor Huckabee of using this new, small church to score political points in his New Hampshire Primary race.
What’s more is that, judging by his description of the worship service, I could imagine that this was Mr. Bacon’s first time ever in an evangelical church. From the article:
Huckabee mixed homespun jokes into his sermon and added a more
religious tone than in his political speeches, not just quoting from
the Bible but citing specific verses and talking about the serious side
of faith. . . . .
Oooo. Ahhhh. He cited specific verses? He had a religious tone? He mixed in a few jokes? Wow. Where I come from – a liberal-leaning Lutheran tradition – we call that preaching. Nothing too fancy or unique about it. Rather ordinary and typical, actually. Is this all Mr. Bacon could say about his delivery?
The article continues with a description of worship service, and Mr. Huckabee’s participation in it:
At the Crossing, like at Huckabee’s Arkansas church, a band with guitar
players leads the singing, and the words of the songs appeared on a
projector rather than in hymnals. In contrast, however, this relatively
new congregation does not own a building — there is a large sanctuary
at his Arkansas church — so more than 200 people sat in folding chairs
in the large cafeteria, with the lunch tables used during the school
week stacked against the wall.
Huckabee, sitting in the front row beside his wife, Janet, seemed to
know most of the songs without reading the words and praised the guitar
player as being better than he is. And he said he enjoyed the upbeat
service, which included tambourine and drums and children running under
flags that were waved during the songs.
OK, a few things with which to quibble:
- No hymnals? Hymnals are hardly universal anymore. Half of Christianity doesn’t use hymnals.
- Huckabee and his wife "seemed to know most of the songs without reading the words"? (Sarcastic ooooo’s and ahhhh’s abound.) This is like reporting that a Lutheran pastor sang "A Mighty Fortress" without looking at a hymnal!
- Children ran under flags that were waved during the songs? Were these color banners, American flags, or the so-called Christian flag?
Well, there’s more to say on this issue and this report, but that’s enough for now. Keep an eye over at Get Religion – I’m sure they’ll have a good commentary on this article later in the day.
UPDATE: Mollie, over at Get Religion, wrote a brief post about the Bacon piece in yesterday’s Washington Post.