The mainstream press “just doesn’t get religion”

Los Angeles Times media columnist Tim Rutten (access requires subscription) is asking some serious questions about the media blitz that is driving the same-sex marriage wave from the blue-state Northeast to the blue-state West.

The overarching image, he notes, is that this extra-legal change resembles the Civil Rights Movement. This is interesting, in that the U.S. Supreme Court has — lacking any kind of scientific clarity on the origins of homosexuality — stopped short of directly equating homosexual orientation with race, gender, etc. Of course, homosexuality could also claim to be a religion and, thus, gain protected status. I once quipped that all of the gay members of the various traditional churches should all convert to the Episcopal Church and then claim that they were facing discrimination based on their chosen faith. That might work.

But I digress. Rutten ends with thoughts from CNN political analyst William Schneider, who notes why this entire topic will cause tensions in newsrooms for years or even decades to come. The Civil Rights era, notes Schneider,

“. . . is evidence of how the courts can force change and abortion is an example of how they cannot. Public opinion accommodated itself to the court’s ruling in Brown. In 1973, when the court decided Roe vs. Wade, public opinion did not shift. In fact, it has become more divided in the years since. That’s because people’s views on abortion are deeply grounded in religion. Abortion remains a highly contentious issue because it involves a big conflict between the theory of rights and religious conviction. The same may be true for same-sex marriage.”

So what does this have to do with reporters and editors on the God-beat? There is this final haunting statement from Rutten, quoting Schneider:

“(The) press may have as much trouble handling this issue as it traditionally has had with the debate over abortion` and for the same reason. “On the national level,” said Schneider, “the press is one of the most secular institutions in American society. It just doesn’t get religion or any idea that flows from religious conviction.”

Imagine that — finding a plug for our blog in the Los Angeles Times.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Greg Piper

    Actually I’m skeptical that most Americans see abortion as a religious issue, or should I say, most pro-life Americans see it that way. The humanity of the unborn, irrespective of what any particular religion has to say about them, has become front and center for the pro-life movement. At the same time I don’t think the movement has effectively used the secular tools of medical science and the language of civil rights to convince a majority of Americans that abortion is not simply a moral issue, but a human rights issue, since only the most ideological and far-gone abortion advocate can deny that abortion kills a human being. The public at large is slowly abandoning this fantasy of the pro-choice activist that abortions only happen for extremely difficult and rare situations, and anyone who disagrees with it must be some fire-breathing fundamentalist. Unfortunately the Dems are so deep into the grip of pro-choice interests that no significant positive action can take place until a Dem leader of stature does a Sister Souljah with NARAL et al.

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  • Jan Edmiston

    Barbara Bradley Haggerty (Religion Correspondent for NPR) has some great stories supporting this idea that the press doesn’t get faith at all. (She is Christian.) She spoke at an event last fall (Oct. 2005)about issues like Biblical illiteracy among journalists (so when a candidate refers to a Bible story, they don’t know what he/she is talking about.)

    Check her out.