As most of you know, I’m pretty good at giving people the benefit of the doubt whenever that’s possible. It’s an essential part of approaching others with charity and humility, in addition to being an obvious implication of the Golden Rule. But sometimes, well, there just isn’t enough room to do anything other than describe a massive problem.
Yes, I’m talking about yesterday’s daily White House press conference wherein Jay Carney now infamously claimed the Bible says, “The Lord helps those who help themselves,” which it doesn’t. But Jay Carney isn’t the story. The fact that one staffer, even such a prominent one, would attribute an aphorism from Ben Franklin to Scripture is purely uninteresting, precisely the sort of blunder we are in fact called to overlook or forgive. Besides, it’s probably the most common erroneous attribution people make to the Bible, so the fact that Jay did so doesn’t bother me a bit.
What flabbergasted me was the fact that the entire White House press corps didn’t catch the error. It took Politico several hours later to notice that the White House transcript issued for the event had noted the error. That means that there wasn’t a single reporter in that room yesterday with enough exposure to Christian teaching to recognize Carney’s mistake on the spot and call him on it.
See, Evangelicals pretty regularly complain that the media or the leaders of culture don’t really get us. Sometimes that’s a fair complaint and sometimes not. But in this particular instance, I know I could go to any Evangelical church in the country and expect at least half of the attendees to correctly know this particular piece of religious urban legendry. So what I’m guessing half of all Evangelicals know, not a single major news reporter in a room of a hundred knows. And for a group of people who generally will pounce like piranha on even the most minor gaffe, their silence symbolizes a tremendous disconnect.
The good news, such as it is, is that the White House itself made the correction. They may have been prodded by outside sources, but a self-effacing government is always better than the alternative. But the White House hinting at its own errors is still quite some distance from a coalition of major news sources first admitting and then rectifying their vast ignorance of mainstream American religion.