The Clairvoyant Times
The Obama Messiah Watch, Part 11.
Is Barack Obama the Resurrection and the Life ? To answer this question, Slate has periodically gathered gratuitously adoring material from newspaper, television, and magazine coverage of the U.S. senator from Illinois, best-selling author, Harvard Law Review president, Men's Vogue cover model, two-time Grammy winner, efficient note-taker, physics wunderkind, descendent of George Washington's great-great-great-great-great grandfather, teenage jazz enthusiast, possible telepathic communicator with space aliens from distant galaxies, improvement on all civil rights gains since 1957, calmer of turbulent Iownas, bearer of photographic halos, and front-running candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.
In today's installment, we consider the following Page One headline in the March 23 New York Times: "Obama's Talk Fuels Easter Sermons." This headline is a miracle no less bedazzling than Christ's resurrection. Consider: In order to make this Easter Sunday edition of the Times, it had to be written, at the very latest, on Saturday evening. From this I conclude that Times reporters Laurie Goodstein and Neela Banerjee, or perhaps their assignment editor, were blessed with a holy vision of sermons yet to be recited.
But wait, you saith. Goodstein and Banerjee interviewed a number of ministers in advance about what they intended to put into their sermons. This is Reporting, not Divine Revelation. But I defy any and all unbelievers to identify a single minister quoted or paraphrased in this story, by name or even on a not-for-attribution basis, who actually says he or she intends to discuss Obama's March 18 speech on race (much-praised by commentators within the secular realm, including me). All we get is an unspecified "many pastors" who told the Times that "they felt compelled to talk about it." When an unspecified "many" is said to have said or done something in a news story, and not a single one of these "many" is cited thereafter, that sets off my miracle detector.
Let's take a closer look, shall we?
The first minister quoted is the Rev. William H. Curtis of Mount Ararat Baptist Church in Pittsburgh. He saith:
"At the end of the day, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ makes it possible for even an African-American and a female to articulate the hopes and dreams of America, and do so with the hope of becoming president. Isn't that wonderful?
"It's possible because we do believe that humanity has redeeming qualities, and the resurrection of Christ gives us that faith," said Mr. Curtis, who is president of the Hampton Ministers Conference, a national association of black ministers.
Well said. But there's nothing in that quote to indicate what the good reverend actually intends to say in his Easter sermon, much less that he will talk about Obama's speech.
Moving on to Philip L. Blackwell, senior pastor at the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, from whom we learn that he will "weave an anecdote into his sermon about a black friend of his who had been stopped by the police, who were suspicious because he was driving an expensive car, which he owned":
"The church needs to be a community within which the pain can be shared," said Mr. Blackwell, who is white and leads an urban, racially mixed congregation. "The grievances can be aired, and the power of that can be directed toward the 'new creation' that is portrayed in the Resurrection."
Here we make a little progress. The Rev. Blackwell does tell us something that will be in his Easter sermon. Unfortunately, he doesn't say anything about Obama's speech or even more generally about the Democratic field (as the Rev. Curtis did). He just says he's going to talk about racism, as ministers often do. We hear much the same from Monsignor Patrick Bishop, of Transfiguration Catholic Church in Marietta, Ga., and from the Very Rev. Tracey Lind, dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Cleveland. Lind, at least, is willing (perhaps after a desperate plea from one of the four other Times reporters corralled into contributing to the story; they're listed at its bottom) to credit Obama with rolling away from Jesus' tomb the "pervasive stone of racism." But Lind doesn't say she's going to mention Obama in her sermon and says nothing to indicate that Obama's speech inspired her to discuss racism in the sermon.
"Many ministers," we learn a few paragraphs down, "said they would preach without explicitly mentioning Mr. Obama because they wanted to avoid alienating politically diverse congregations. They are also aware that some churches accused of making political endorsements have seen their tax-exempt status investigated by the Internal Revenue Service."
Would that be the same "many pastors" who "felt compelled to talk about" Obama's speech? If so, then what we've learned is that a lot of ministers would like to ("feel compelled to") talk about Obama's speech but aren't going to, except elliptically. But the Times doesn't cite any individual ministers saying even that.
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.