culture journalism life politics

It’s the Great Pariah, Charlie Brown!

Scene 1:

An online “journalism” site pretends to be utterly shocked to find that two evangelical Christians, hosts of a feverishly popular home renovation show, actually attend an evangelical church, pastored by an evangelical theologian. The site earnestly contends (with no witnesses) that the orthodox sexual ethics of the church’s pastor are “controversial,” and insists that they instantly create a PR crisis for the couple who have publicly endorsed evangelized discriminated said nothing.

Scene 2: 

The president elect’s nominee for Secretary of Education is a professing Christian, and believes that education is important to the life and culture of her faith. According to major journalism site, however, this necessarily indicates a frightening tendency toward theocracy. The website “exposes” decade-old quotes by the nominee using traditional language completely understood by everyone in her faith community, but apparently coded for nefarious purposes according to a journalist, who implicitly frames her as a threat to the separation between church and state.

Scene 3: 

A presidential nominee for a major American political party goes about the campaign without offering a single interview or outreach to an evangelical media outlet. The lack of any attempt to court evangelical voters is so glaring, in fact, that advisers of the party’s previous (victorious!) nominee voice near-disbelief at the campaign’s apathy. In a historically unprecedented move, the candidate’s campaign simply acted as if evangelical voters didn’t exist.


Now, I think it’s fair to ask a simple question here: What relationship does scene 3 have with scenes 1 and 2? What exactly can we glean from the fascinating intersection of journalistic hostility with political apathy? Is it possible that what we see happening in scenes 1 and 2 has more than a coincidental relationship with the very significant events of scene 3?

In other words, could it be that irresponsible journalism on religion and religious people actually has real sociopolitical consequences? I wonder. Speaking personally: If my conception of a group of Americans was formed significantly by the kind of coverage we see above, I honestly don’t know if I would see them as, well, real Americans, much less desire their vote. Evangelicals and those who know evangelicals won’t be suckered by the Buzzfeeds of the world, of course. But as religious affiliation ebbs and religious literacy withers, how many people in the next 30 years will know their evangelical neighbors enough to know that the Gaines family isn’t a subversive, anti-American cult? And how much, in the end, will this be attributable to journalists who create controversy and outrage out of thin air?

Unless there is a resurgence of religious literate journalism, it feels like progressive media will be out in the pumpkin patch with Linus, waiting for the Great Pariah to swoop down and expose itself. That’s a not a pleasant thought.

By Samuel D. James

Believer, husband, father, acquisitions editor, writer.

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