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In his State of the Union address on Tuesday evening, President Bush criticized “activist courts” and their attempt to “redefine marriage,” and then said this in the context of his discussion of a more hopeful America:

A hopeful society has institutions of science and medicine that do not cut ethical corners, and that recognize the matchless value of every life. Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research: human cloning in all its forms, creating or implanting embryos for experiments, creating human-animal hybrids, and buying, selling, or patenting human embryos. Human life is a gift from our Creator¯and that gift should never be discarded, devalued, or put up for sale.

With increasing frequency one encounters the claim that this president gives those who contend for the culture of life nothing more than words. And of course he could do more, but words are not unimportant. We are ruled by words¯words of encouragement, words of persuasion, and words that end up being laws, regulations, and court decisions. Many of us are eager to see what happens to the above words. Whether with a sense of hope or of dread, almost everybody is alert to the possibility of imminent and major change, a mood not unrelated to the presence of Justice Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court. Psalm 146 cautions us against putting our trust in princes, which no doubt goes for justices as well. I take it that the caution is against disproportionate trust.

Writing for the Scripps Howard chain, Terry Mattingly, who directs a journalism center in Washington, DC, picks up on my comments here about reporters who exhibit an embarrassing ignorance when writing about religion. He mostly agrees, although he thinks more could be done to educate such reporters. His column includes this:

Just this week, Newsweek served up an instant classic in the journalistic genre of “laugh to keep from crying” miscues about religion.

The story concerned the success of the debate team at the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. At the moment, the team is ranked No. 1 in the nation (Harvard University is No. 14) and Falwell tried to explain that the debaters were, in their own way, involved in a kind of ministry to the culture.

Alas, the reporter mangled a crucial metaphor.

Thus, the story now ends with this correction: “In the original version of this report, Newsweek misquoted Falwell as referring to ‘assault ministry.’ In fact, Falwell was referring to ‘a salt ministry’¯a reference to Matthew 5:13, where Jesus says, ‘Ye are the salt of the earth.’ We regret the error.”

That’s a good candidate for instant classic. But it faces stiff competition. For instance, the New York Times reporter who last year wrote about John Paul’s body lying in state with the bishop’s crozier in his hand. That came out as his lying in state with the traditional “crow’s ear” by his side.

Be assured that all this is meant as helpful joshing. I agree with Mr. Mattingly that reporters need all the instructive encouragement they can get.

Coretta Scott King has died. She was a conscientious mother and a gracious lady. We became acquainted during the movement years, and, following Dr. King’s death, I squired her at several events. After I spoke at one gathering, she assured me that I was her second favorite preacher. This young man felt immensely flattered, until another preacher friend said she had told him the same thing. She could be a charmer, and, of course, everyone was second best to Martin. She asked me to serve on the board of what became the King Center in Atlanta, which I did, but it soon became embroiled in the fractious politics of what was left of the civil rights leadership after Dr. King’s death. When the King children grew up, the center was battered by intra-family disputes and unpleasant wranglings over copyrights and government support. During the tumultuous years of the movement and after, Coretta tried to be a model of grace under pressure, and, assisted by her vibrant Christian faith, almost always succeeded. She was a trained and accomplished singer and she regretted¯although I do not think she resented¯having to sacrifice her career to her husband’s cause, which was also hers. My impression is that she found being a celebrity something of a burden, and so tried to enjoy it. Coretta Scott King, requiescat in pace .

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