Post: Christian conservatives usually look like this

angerLibby Copeland’s 2,500-word profile of Sen. Sam Brownback thoroughly analyzes his religious views. Titled “Faith-Based Intitiative: Presidential Hopeful Sam Brownback Strives to Be Humble Enough for a Higher Power,” the piece is all religion, all the time.

And because I know very little about Brownback, I’m unsure whether he really is as folksy, non-threatening and, well, slightly weird as she makes him out to be. The piece is puffy and Copeland seems a bit taken with Brownback. She’s goes to great lengths to point out how much Brownback prays for his enemies, how he apologized to Sen. Hillary Clinton for thinking hateful thoughts about her, how he worried about his stereotyping Copeland as a liberal because she’s a reporter. For The Washington Post. (You have to admit it’s funny that he says that to her and she puts it in her story.)

But there is a paragraph in the piece that says nothing about Brownback and everything about Copeland.

Because of his emphasis on compassion, Brownback does not fit the stereotype of the angry Christian conservative. This persona was embodied sensationally by “Pitchfork Pat” Buchanan and his talk of America’s “religious war,” by Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who once imagined “rampant” lesbianism in his state’s schools, by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who said abortionists, feminists, gays and pagans helped cause the 9/11 terror attacks. (Falwell later took it back.)

Well, if the Post‘s stereotype of Christian conservatives is that they are angry and are described best by bizarre outliers and uncharitable caricatures, then I guess Brownback doesn’t fit! I wonder if there are any other Christian conservatives — other than this Brownback fellow — who deviate from the Falwell model?

I know it was in the Style section, but when do reporters there get to stop using that as an excuse?

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  • http://fkclinic.blogspot.com Nancy Reyes

    The clue in all of this is that Brownback is a Catholic…Catholics tend to be liberal on many social issues…trying to paint them as narrowminded radicals doesn’t work too well…if Catholics were that narrow, then Teddy Kennedy would be an Episcopalian by now.
    However, it doesn’t stop the reporter from taking Dr.Coburn’s remarks out of context…

  • paddyo’

    An excuse for WHAT? Nice try. She didn’t write: “sterotype of Christian conservatives” … she wrote “stereotype of ANGRY Christian conservative.” There IS such a stereotype out there. That’s why it’s called a sterotype. It may not be right or complete or utterly and completely representative — stereotypes rarely are — but it’s out there. And Brownback isn’t just any Christian conservative, angry or otherwise. Copeland has every right to take note of it — just as you have every right to be snarky about her approach.

  • Steve

    Christianity cannot be defined in American political terms that both the Right and Left so like to do. There is aspects of personal sin that one side doesn’t like while there is an aspect of personal responsibility to our neighbor that other side chooses to ignore.

    When we try to live the two greatest commandments, we cry to God for mercy while at the sametime bring mercy to our neighbor.

    This is why it is very hard to paint people like Sen. Brownback into a specific corner.

  • Stephen A.

    It’s debatable whether the reporter was talking about ALL Christian Conservatives here. The modifier “angry” could technically mean just a subset of them, I admit, but I doubt her readers will be confused as to her meaning.

    As for the Left’s stereotype of Brownback, all I’ve ever seen in blogs and in print about him from that quarter is hysterical ranting about a “coming theocracy” if he’s ever elected president. Which is lunacy, but again, it fits with the above-mentioned stereotype and I suppose that’s why Copeland said, in effect, “No, really, he DOESN’T have horns or breathe fire after all.” it was meant as a breathless revelation, because I’m sure she was genuinely surprised to discover he was at least somewhat human.

  • James Davis

    Mollie has a point. Yes, the reporter, Libby Copeland, tried to cover her butt by saying Brownback doesn’t fit the “angry Christian conservative” stereotype. But you have to ask where stereotypes come from. In Copeland’s case, it likely came from the newsroom culture of the paper that employs her, the Washington Post. The same newsroom that had no trouble in 1993 with running a reporter’s comment that evangelical Christians were “poor, uneducated and easy to command. “

  • Diane Fitzsimmons

    What I couldn’t figure out was why the reporter chose that particular subset of Christian (angry, conservative) to compare Brownback to. Why not any of the other many subsets, as characterized by Rick Warren, or James Dobson, or Richard John Neuhaus, or Mother Theresa, or Joel Osteen, or Billy Graham, or Brian McLaren, or Tony Campolo, or Mark Noll, or Ron Sider, or …? In other words, there are lots of subsets of Christians. I believe the mention of “angry, conservative Christians” is not because the average person lumps Brownback into that category, or because the average person thinks most Christians are in lockstep with Falwell. I think it’s because the writer (or editor) has a pre-conceived notion of what a Christian is and thinks that most people have that same notion. As a former editor, I always tried to tell writers to avoid describing someone as “not fitting” one’s ideas or stereotypes. (For instance, it’s quite common for a young writer to describe a vibrant, athletic person in their 60s as not looking like a “typical” grandparent.) Just describe the person, and let the reader decide.

  • c.tower

    This Stereotype of “angry Conservative Christians” has more to do with the current state of the Republican Party than with religon per se. Right-wing politicians have made a practice of playing to their base by pushing “hot button” issues… mostly because it’s a quick way to raise money and get votes.(If I want The Faithful to vote for me, I’d better convince them The Other Guy is a THREAT to The Faith… and, hey, it’s easier than actually trying to fix the economy…)

  • Harris

    I would think that the ‘angry, conservative Christian,’ is less a description of Christians generally, than of the popular mindset regarding those Christians identified with the Christian Right. The point is not Sen Brownback’s faith (he’s Catholic, for one), but of his position as a one of the political and religious right. It is his politics that marks him.

    Now, can one find “angry conservative Christians” on the political right? All too easily. One only has only to read a self-proclaimed Christian like Ann Coulter or visit a site like the World magazine blog to see it in full throat. Or for that matter, watch the sneers come out at the mention of a Hillary or Ted on any number of conservative and Christian sites (often including this one).

    I would suggest that the share of media voice that political Christianity has is in fact been dominated by that “angry” subset. This dominance may also in fact be a function of social distance. Those who most hear the anger may also be those whoare the most distant. So blue state readers may take it as a commonplace in a way that red state readers do not, presumably because they can interpret it better. Call it the ‘crazy uncle Fred’ interpretation. Yet undeniably, justified or not, a number of people only hear the vitriol in political Christianity. (One can read the comments section on any number of liberal blogs to see this phenomenon in action.)

    To the degree that this perspective of a vitriolic Christian politician is commonly held, then one an article such as that in the Post can be seen as an attempt to lance this boil of prejudice. Say, in the same way a conservative commentator may point out the worth in oh, the MSM.

  • Matt

    “then Teddy Kennedy would be an Episcopalian by now.”

    This is a little off-topic (sorry), but I thought he was excommunicated because of his divorces and remarriages. Is an excommunicated person still considered a member of the Roman Catholic Church?

    Sorry if this is a dumb question. I don’t know much about the Roman Catholic Church.

  • Stolzi

    Teddy Kennedy has only been married twice. He obtained an annulment for his first marriage, as well as a civil divorce.

    I believe if an annulment is not obtained, a person living in a second marriage (which is not regarded as a marriage by the church) cannot receive Communion; but I would think they would still be regarded by the church as a Catholic, at least if they keep coming. Which some remarried people, in humility, do.

    Now, Frank Sinatra…. I always wondered how he qualified for a Roman Catholic funeral.

  • Alison

    FYI – Although Falwell did publicly retract his 9/11 comment, when he was in Kansas City just prior to the last presidential election, while appearing at First Family Church he retracted his retraction. Of course he was in front of a friendly crowd at the time of his second retraction.