State funerals are what they are — the high-church rites of civil religion.
Obviously, they are political events that may include elements of partisan drama. Obviously, they are civic events featuring warm, mostly secular, salutes to national leaders. At the same time, they are funerals in which families confront the death of a loved one, a process that is often complex and emotional.
But may I add one more statement to this list of facts? The vast majority of state funerals are also worship services and this is especially true when dealing with political leaders who were faithful members of a parish and their lives were framed in a specific religious tradition.
With all of these realities in mind, let me suggest a quick, digital test that readers can use when evaluating the mainstream press coverage of the long, beautiful Washington Cathedral rites for former President George H.W. Bush.
First, search the story for this name — “Russell Levenson.”
Then search the story for this name — “Donald Trump.” After all, everything in Beltway land, these days, is ultimately about the Tweeter In Chief.
Now, compare and contrast what you find.
Who is Levenson? He is the rector of the large Houston parish attended by George and Barbara Bush and, thus, their pastor for more than a decade. Since this funeral was a rite of Christian worship, Levenson delivered the sermon at the end. Yes, this was the rare event where a priest spoke AFTER an address by the president, in this case a former president.
The way I see it, it’s hard to cover a worship service while ignoring the sermon and, come to think of it, the actual contents of the funeral rite itself.
So let’s look at some of the content in two crucial news sources in elite American media — The New York Times and, naturally, The Washington Post.
The main story at Times included material addressing secular and religious content in this particular state funeral. Sure, I would have liked a stronger emphasis on the faith content, but I know I am not part of this newspaper’s target audience, it’s choir. I thought this was a rather restrained, solid story.
Yes, there was a reference to Levenson’s sermon — at the very end.