Newsweek's Religion Reporter Again Features Former Bush-Supporting Pastor Now Backing Obama

For the third time, Newsweek religion reporter Lisa Miller has informed the world that Kirbyjon Caldwell, an African-America pastor from Texas, who formerly supported President George W. Bush, has “given himself heart and soul” to Democratic nominee Barack Obama. 

Miller, whose latest Caldwell feature is a three-page spread in the current issue of Newsweek, writes “last summer he aligned himself with a man who he believes better represents the Christian ethics and American values he preaches.”

Miller wrote effectively the same story about Caldwell in June and July of this year, following closely on the heels of Obama's break with his former pastor Jeremiah Wright at the end of May.  The article in June, “His Mobile Ministry” prominently featured Caldwell as one of many pastors who were part of a telephone prayer ministry for Obama.  The July article “Finding his Faith” was about Obama's search for religion.  In the third article, Miller describes Caldwell as a former Bush supporter who, “when he talks about Obama, he can barely keep the emotion out of his voice.” 

Miller is clearly fascinated that Caldwell, who delivered the invocations at both of Bush's inaugurals and who presided over the marriage of the President's daughter Jenna earlier this year, has thrown his support to Obama.  One can almost sense the glee she feels in the headline and subhead of the story: “Obama's Other Pastor: Conservative, outspoken, and Houston born, this preacher and Bush friend is backing Barack.”

The headline “Obama's Other Pastor” appears to be yet another attempt by Newsweek to distance Obama from the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the pastor who had a close relationship with Obama for twenty years.  One can't help but wonder at the timing of this piece and its headline, coming out immediately after Senator John McCain's campaign announced it would be aggressively going after Obama on the character front in the final weeks before the election.

Miller even manages to get the words “hypocrisy” and “Republican” together in the same sentence, following up with implied disdain for John McCain.

In Obama's unconventional biography, Caldwell clearly sees himself. The hypocrisy of Republican attacks on Obama disappoints him greatly, he says. "Senator Barack Obama went to two good schools. In the neighborhood I grew up in, that's what they said: 'Get a high-school education, get into a good school.' He did that. And now, they are taking his educational background and trying to twist it to make him an elitist."

Caldwell twists his salad with a fork, visibly angry. "In the church I grew up in they told me, 'Son, we want you to get married, but you'll mess up your life if you marry the wrong woman.' Senator Obama and his wife have a great marriage. He confesses Jesus Christ. He practices his faith …" Here Caldwell pauses. "Do you want me to let loose on brother McCain?" Then he calls out McCain especially for his crass language, which he says is "rude, crude, lewd and unbecoming a presidential candidate."

Miller's portrait of Caldwell isn't completely positive.  Her feature includes the opinions of some of the pastor's critics who find him politically opportunistic.  In the primary example of this critique, however, Miller inserts her own bias regarding the Christian ministries that preach that homosexuality is a lifestyle that can be overcome.

More recently, Caldwell has come under fire for supposedly betraying his beliefs. In January, gay groups discovered a ministry called Metanoia on the Windsor Village Web site whose stated aim was to help homosexuals understand with God's help that "change was possible" (euphemistic language for "curing" gays).

Miller goes on to describe Caldwell's reaction to the criticism:

After the groups launched a small battery of protests online, Caldwell says, he received a call from the Obama campaign. "They asked, 'What is Metanoia?,' and they commenced to say they had gotten some calls." Not wishing to cause his candidate any "unnecessary angst," Caldwell voluntarily took the ministry off the Web site, though the ministry itself, which he says was started at the request of church members, remained open. Metanoia, he adds, will be back online soon. The Obama campaign did not comment.

Miller overlooks Caldwell's obvious hypocrisy.

Miller closes the article by noting that Caldwell wants to make sure that people know he is not supporting Obama because he is black.  She notes that the pastor is a “kaleidoscope of contradictions.”  Given the amount of ink Miller has given Caldwell since Obama got the Democratic nomination, clearly the contradiction she finds most appealing is “Bush Friend/Obama Supporter.”

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.