Not getting it

BibleInfluenceThis New York Times story does everything possible to fit the facts into the mold of a “Democrats try to get religion in order to appeal to religious people” story. I find this an an example of how many in the Democratic Party and many mainstream reporters do not get religion or religious people.

Fortunately the reporter, David Kirkpatrick, included a thorough accounting of the facts in the rest of the story. Here’s the lead, which is what I found a misinterpretation of what is described later in the story:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 26 — Democrats in Georgia and Alabama, borrowing an idea usually advanced by conservative Republicans, are promoting Bible classes in the public schools. Their Republican opponents are in turn denouncing them as “pharisees,” a favorite term of liberals for politicians who exploit religion.

Democrats in both states have introduced bills authorizing school districts to teach courses modeled after a new textbook, “The Bible and Its Influence.” It was produced by the nonpartisan, ecumenical Bible Literacy Project and provides an assessment of the Bible’s impact on history, literature and art that is academic and detached, if largely laudatory.

The Democrats who introduced the bills said they hoped to compete with Republicans for conservative Christian voters. “Rather than sitting back on our heels and then being knocked in our face, we are going to respond in a thoughtful way,” said Kasim Reed, a Georgia state senator from Atlanta and one of the sponsors of the bill. “We are not going to give away the South anymore because we are unwilling to talk about our faith.”

The premise of the article is that Democrats are attempting to out-religion Republicans. The roles have been reversed. Republicans are now opposing religious teaching in schools.

Alas, this is not the case. The class proposed by Democrats is nothing to get excited about politically (I think the course looks great educationally). How is a textbook titled The Bible and Its Influence at all controversial or beyond the status quo, especially in the South? It’s produced by an ecumenical religious group and does not come close to touching the separation-of-church-and-state clause, as I see it, because it is not focused on a particular translation or interpretation of the Bible.

I’m sure Kirkpatrick’s original idea for an article on Democrats getting religion was a good one, and he cites several examples nationwide, but I believe his attempt (or his editor’s or whoever wrote that lead) to spin the story at the top falls flat on its face. An article with that type of lead made me think there was an actual proposal that would reach the religious voter Democrats are so desperate to bring into their fold.

As long as politicians see religion as solely a political vehicle for attracting votes, they will not gain the support they seek, especially in the South. The same goes for journalists and their media outlets — not that the NYT or its reporters are marketing their product to religious types in the South anyway.

The rest of the article is a series of politically charged back-and-forths between Republicans and Democrats that does little to get to the bottom of the story. Nice reporting, but isn’t getting to the bottom of things a journalist’s goal? Gathering the back-and-forth is key for getting to that truth, but in the end, give the reader a more accurate idea of the situation being reported.

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  • Beth

    Your second sentence stopped me in my tracks. Does it intend to assume as fact what it ostensibly says, that “Democrats” (no qualifier here — so not just *some* current leaders, not just those *quoted* in the article, but *all* of us?) don’t understand “religion or religious people,” period — but only “many” mainstream reporters lack such understanding?

  • dpulliam


    Thank you for pointing out my poor phrasing. I’ve since updated it to reflect my true intentions.

  • Michael Rew

    Cynical. Democrats push for teaching religion as literature. Anti-religionists probably will have it thrown out by the courts, which will suit the Democrats just fine. But the Democrats still win kudos for trying. It will be interesting, though, to see if what may be the most noninvasive method of including the Bible in school will be upheld by courts. I predict no class on the Bible will ever be allowed in public schools, although the courts continue to act like there are ways it can be included.

  • Bartholomew

    The Bible Literacy Project is a vast improvement over the alternative, fundamentalist, curriculum put out by the rival National Council for Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (which, despite Michael’s complaining is in use in a number of public schools already). But there are still a few problems with it, as outlined by Americans United

    By the way, I’ve been following the US Bible Curriculum controversy on my blog. I’ve an index here, if anyone’s interested

  • MJBubba

    It is not surprising that a New York journalist would assume that any Democrat that promoted a study of the Bible would be doing so only for political advantage. It might not occur to East-coasters that there actually are many Democrats in the red states who also are Christian believers concerned that basic literacy, and an understanding of Western Civ., should include a threshold level of Bible knowledge. The shame is that the Republicans in the south would use the universalist character of the national Democratic Party leadership as an excuse to prevent real progress that happened to be promoted by southern Democrats.

  • Dan Berger

    This layman with a passing familiarity with literature (and hence with the centrality of Biblical as well as Greco-Roman mythological references therein) thinks that the Americans United piece is just a wee bit paranoid.

  • Betty Peters

    Stories on the Bible Literacy Project in Alabama have generally missed several important facts: (1) the bill is in conflict with state code in that it usurps the authority of the state & local school boards and state and local textbook committees to review and adopt books, (2) it violates the sunshine law in that there will be no public hearings for the textbook as currently required, (3) it violates the state bid law by endorsing a specific textbook, (4) it has no teachers’ manual ready which can be reviewed, and (5) it is unnecessary as there is ALREADY AN ELECTIVE in Ala. state code which would allow THE BIBLE AND ITS INFLUENCE to be adopted if it had a teachers’ manual. Leading House Democrats framed HB58 (BLP bill) as a Democratic vehicle (see BLP website which had headlines saying Ala. Democrats push Bible Literacy Bill on 12/1/05 with an embargo of the news story until 2:30 that day at which time the Alabama press conference was held. The vote last week on this bill had 3 Democrats siding with the Republicans, by the way. The BLP wanted its book adopted in a Bible Belt state to give it credibility with “Evangelical Christians” because they say that the Evangelicals cost them the last election. The Christian Left appears to be quite comfortable with the BLP curriculum. Randy Brinson of Redeem the Vote is the de facto lobbyist for the BLP in Alabama, Georgia, and Missouri and bills have been introduced in all 3 states; Florida is supposedly next on the list. Brinson ALWAYS identifies himself as an “Evangelical Christian” and a “Republican.”

  • Yeah Right

    The legislature authorizes textbooks all the time. Betty’s just mad because she’s on the Board of Education and nobody asked for her opinion. I don’t know who on the “Christian Left” likes the textbook, but Chuck Colson, Vonette Bright, Joe Stowell, Ted Haggard, and Peter Lillback like it, so it must be a piece of communist trash, right Betty?