Washington Post goes to church in Greenville, N.C., and offers some nuance about Trump's rally

There’s been a lot of talk (you think?) about President Donald Trump’s rally last week in Greenville, N.C.

You know, the one where the crowd chanted “Sent her back! Send her back!” in regard to U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.

Well, the furor over the rally prompted the Washington Post to go to church — in Greenville.

The result? Pretty good, actually.

Here’s how the Post frames its news-feature:

GREENVILLE, N.C. — The Rev. Stephen Howard knew President Trump’s speech was going to be unsettling for his city and his mostly black church the moment he saw people had lined up at 4 a.m. Wednesday to get into the arena. 

These were his congregants’ neighbors and co-workers. Soon, they would be cheering for a president whom Howard and many of his flock at Cornerstone Missionary Baptist Church considered a racist. He knew he would have to say something.

“I’m not into politics, but I’m into speaking for people,” he said.

Across town, Brad Smith, the pastor at a 192-year-old predominantly white Baptist church, got his first inkling that something had gone wrong when his wife returned home from the speech. She was there as an employee of East Carolina University, where the rally was held, and was shaken by the anger in the auditorium.

“It was bad,” she told him. “Really bad.”

And then we get to the next paragraph:

Last week’s campaign event in this North Carolina city was something different and more disturbing than the typical Trump rally. Before the president even stepped on the stage in Greenville, the House had voted, mostly along party lines, to condemn as racist his repeated attacks on four congresswomen of color.

“More disturbing than the typical Trump rally.” Nah, the Post isn’t trying to hide where it stands on Trump.

In a perfect world, a newspaper that claims to be impartial would do a better job of writing around its bias. But let’s not let that one line trip us up entirely because, as I said, the story overall is actually pretty good.

What do I like about it? Mainly this: The Post delves below the surface enough to offer a little nuance. That, my friends, is often the difference between a cartoon-caricature portrayal of a given scenario and a real-life portrait of actual, complicated human beings.

Here is the Post’s nut graf:

Some of the deepest soul searching has taken place in churches, and much of it fell to pastors like Howard and Smith. In the days after the rally, they spoke with spouses, friends and congregants about what the event revealed about their president, their country and their hometown. Were the president’s words and the anger they generated evidence of a moral or political failing? Did they say something deeper about their city? And did one of the biggest news events in Greenville’s recent history merit a pastoral response from the pulpit Sunday?

As for the nuance I mentioned, some of the best material comes in the story’s reporting on Jeff Manning, pastor of the Unity Free Will Baptist Church in Greenville. Honestly, it’s a little strange that Manning isn’t mentioned up higher with the other pastors. The story has a double byline, so perhaps the Manning details came later from a different reporter than the one who wrote the lede. There’s no way to know.

What I liked is that Manning is neither a total apologist nor a total critic for Trump. His position on Trump requires some explaining. After noting the pastor’s concern about Trump taking God’s name in vain at the rally (more on that issue in Sunday’s post), there’s this:

He generally has liked Trump’s policies: the economy doing well, the Supreme Court inching closer to an abortion ban, and the president moving to protect the country’s southern border.

Manning’s biggest concern was the anger gripping the country, some of which he blamed on Trump.

“Christ got fired up at times,” Manning said, “but he was always righteous in his anger.”

Too often, he worried, Trump’s fury wasn’t righteous. And lately, that had led him to fret about the state of the president’s soul.

On Sunday, he didn’t plan to talk about the president’s rally or its aftermath. Instead, he would discuss a verse from Philippians about embodying Christ-like qualities: “To live is Christ and to die is gain.”

It was in this context that he found Trump wanting and wondered whether he was a “true believer.” “I have grave concerns about his spiritual condition,” Manning said of the president. “There’s too much evidence against it. . . . I pray he will become one.”

That was a real conversation that Manning had with the reporter.

Later in the story, some more nuance emerges:

Smith knew he had Trump supporters in his pews. One of his members regularly posted articles from outlets such as Breitbart on her Facebook page that he found objectionable or at least worrisome.

But he knew that, if he asked, that same woman would rush to the aid of one of the Hispanic or Chinese families that used their church.

“I could go to her, and she’d be right there for them,” Smith said. “It’s baffling.”

I don’t know the specific woman that Smith is talking about. But I’m friends with some of the same people on Facebook. Which is probably why that section of the story resonated with me.

Kudos to the Post for a story that is enlightening and probably about as fair and balanced as one can expect in an age in which Trump and that newspaper (among others) are at war.

Please respect our Commenting Policy