Evangelicals in the mist

fieldguidetoevangelicalsEight years ago, more than 60 percent of California voters banned same sex marriage. It was this majority vote that was overturned by the California Supreme Court.

So I like the basic idea behind Susannah Rosenblatt’s story for the Los Angeles Times. She wrote about some people who believe that marriage should be limited to one man and one woman:

Besides her faith, family is at the center of Cathi Unruh’s life.

That is, family as defined by their understanding of God’s will: a husband, a wife and their children. The El Segundo native even home-schooled her four children to more firmly root them in the family’s evangelical Christian faith.

So for Unruh, the quick translation of Thursday’s ruling by the California Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage is simple. It goes against God’s plan. A union between a man and a woman is “God’s standard of what is best, what’s most healthy, physically, spiritually and emotionally,” she said.

She and her husband, Kris, who met while touring with an evangelical music group, believe homosexuality is akin to sins such as adultery and stealing. Although the couple would readily vote for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, they don’t support bullying those who don’t share their values.

“I don’t sit and smack them upside the head with what I believe,” Unruh said Thursday in her home. “It comes down to a personal relationship, just caring about them as an individual. I would share what I believe.”

The only people profiled for the entire story, by the way, are the Unruhs.

Why choose only one couple to write about? Why make them evangelical Christians? Why this one couple, with no real reason given for why these people are typical or atypical?

Permit me to quote a relevant quotation from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association:

Widen your source base. When reporting on same-sex marriage, avoid the stereotypes trap.

As the NLGJA notes, not everyone who is lesbian, gay or bisexual supports same-sex marriage. And not every religious adherent opposes same sex marriage. Considering that such a significant majority of voters in California oppose same-sex marriage, I think the reporter could have included much more diversity.

To be fair, Rosenblatt does concede that the Unruhs aren’t necessarily representative:

The Unruhs are hardly alone in their thinking. They are among the 61% of voters who decided eight years ago to ban gay marriages in California, a sentiment shared by a broad cross-section of people for a range of reasons.

For the Unruhs, it’s religion. More recent polls show the state is much more evenly drawn on the matter.

This is one of my pet peeves. I’m not saying that recent polls don’t show the state is much more evenly drawn, but is that a poll of the general public, of voters, or of likely voters? How statistically reliable is the poll? We have no idea because we’re not given any information. Not to mention, what does “much more” mean? Why not just use the actual numbers and actual poll? Otherwise, it seems like it’s dismissing the Unruhs and the 61 percent of other voters in California.

The rest of the article reads like a typical anthropological study of a bizarre species. For people who have actually met Evangelical Christians, it’s ridiculously boring. Did you know, for instance, that people can oppose same-sex marriage while still welcoming gay people into their home? And did you know that in addition to learning about Christianity, Evangelical Christian homeschoolers assign philosophical works by Plato and Nietzsche?

weddingbands 01Still, the piece doesn’t really delve into anything interesting. They mention their reliance on Scripture but no Bible passages about marriage are mentioned. This line also struck me as weird:

And they believe heterosexual marriage is supposed “to give us a picture of the relationship [God] desires to have with us,” Kris Unruh said.

Putting the word “God” in brackets is bizarre. I wonder if the Unruhs said “He” and were referring to Ephesians 5:22-33 where the Apostle Paul describes marriage as a picture of Christ‘s relationship with His bride, the church.

Even if the story wanted to limit sources to voters who oppose same sex marriage on religious grounds, this article could have been so much more interesting.

Why just portray this couple? Why act as if this is a story about conservative evangelicals fighting against the rest of California? Why not talk to any traditional Catholics, Eastern Orthodox believers, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists or any of the other multitudes of religious groups that believe marriage should be preserved as an institution between one man and one woman?

Why write about this one family? All. Alone. And. Bizarre.

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  • http://www.OUTTAKEonline.com Charlotte

    Marriage is a basic civil right that should be attainable by all Americans if they choose. ..

  • http://catholidoxy.blogspot.com Irenaeus

    Charlotte is wrong, for I say it’s not a basic civil right, and for what I think are good reasons. But who shall decide between us? And spare me the open mind nonsense. Sounds like yours it pretty closed on the issue, just in a direction different than I. But that’s not pertinent for the comboxes — nor is promoting videos. Be that as it may…

    Is it really so wrong to portray just one person/family in a news story? This particular piece might have left you unhappy, Mollie, for various reasons, but I think in principle portraying one person/family on an issue may be helpful, as it (in theory) allows one to go deeper — the less is more principle. Further, if the story is part of a de facto series in which various sides and people are presented, then it seems to me more permissible to do such an article focusing on one.

    What I’d like to see coverage of are the non-religious arguments for the traditional family and against gay “marriage”. They’re out there; few informed Christians base there position solely on Scripture. But where is the coverage? Probably doesn’t fit the template.

  • Brian

    Um, this was one of about 10 stories that the LA Times ran that day on different responses to the court decision. Not every story has to cover every single viewpoint completely. I was actually surprised as I skimmed through the front section that there was such a story at all.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    I saw all the other stories. I still agree with MZ that the decision to focus on this one seemingly random family — standing for 60 percent of the voters or something — was bizarre, especially in light of the diversity of people on the opposed side of the political aisle.

  • Dan

    “Although she taught her two daughters and two sons a Christian worldview, Unruh also assigned philosophical works by Plato and Nietzsche, and contrasted intelligent design with evolution, to expose them to different ideas they would encounter in the world.”

    By contrasting Plato and evolution with the “Christian worldview,” the foregoing sentence suggests a rather uninformed understanding of what the “Christian worldview” is. The Christian worldview has absorbed much of Greek philosophy, including, specifically, much Platonism (which is monotheistic). (The reporter obviously does not know her Saint Augustine.) The relation between Christian thought and theories of evolution is complex and the degree of tension, if any, between them depends what particular Christian school of thought and what particular theory of evolution are referred to.

    I would also venture that a reporter with a better understanding of the “Christian worldview” might have conducted the interview such that it would have produced the following paragraph:

    “The Unruhs also expressed concern that ‘gay marriage’ would exacerbate anti-child social trends that have resulted in a million plus abortions every year, ubiquitous divorce, ever-increasing rates of out of wedlock births, and widespread sexually transmitted disease. ‘It pains us that our children must confront such unnecessary ugliness, and virtually none of our leaders seems to want to do anything about it. Instead they continue to foist on us laws that just make everything worse.’”

    “That hasn’t stopped her from welcoming her daughter’s gay friends into their El Segundo home.”

    Query: Which is more likely, that a devout Christian would utter a anti-homosexual slur or that a homosexual gay rights advocate would call a devout Christian bigoted for being opposed to same sex marriage?

  • Dave

    Much was made in a recent post of the MSM tendency to make gay marrieds look normal. Perhaps the interview with the Unruhs was an effort to make opponents of same-sex marriage look normal — well-read, walking their talk, tolerant of BGLT individuals, etc.

  • danr

    My regional paper, WaPo, regularly has articles along the lines of, “Evangelicals are… Real People!” Example – a front-page article on coach Joe Gibbs, with pretty much that theme.

    The condescencion towards evangelicals seems to run pretty thick in the MSM, so articles like this no longer surprise me.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    We’re not talking about condescension, although there may be some of that there.

    Why this family? What is the symbolism? How does it relate TO THE FACTS of the statewide story?

  • meverest

    That “[God]” is strange indeed! There should be a GetReligion contest to fill in that blank. “He”? “Jesus”? “our Lord and Savior”? “the Author and Creator of the universe”?

    Tmatt has said several times that he would like to see complete interview transcripts on newspaper websites more often. I’d love to see what compelled Rosenblatt to make the switch.

  • Dan

    My guess: The LA Times probably has a stylebook like the one at my paper in which all pronouns, including those referring to God, are lowercase. Rosenblatt substituted “God” for “he” to eliminate any ambiguity.

  • danr

    Tmatt, read Mollie’s post again and notice she legitimately and repeatedly alluded to the condescension dripping from the story. It indeed relates to the symbolism of the portrayal of this sole family – why them (and only them)?

    The fact is that the MSM continually seeks to define the battle divisions in modern American culture wars, and based partly on polling and degree of influence, they rightly or wrongly have positioned evangelicals as heading the front lines of the conservative opposition.

    To define this strange breed, stories like this take opportunity to further stereotypes and paint images of “typical evangelicals” (conveniently, this family homeschools). The choice of quotes is also revealing (wow, not all evangelicals believe in “bullying” those who disagree?)

    So even if condescension wasn’t meant to be germane to the surface “facts” of the text, it’s a relevant and undeniable subtext.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Chalk this one up to laziness on the part of the author, the editor…pretty much everyone involved. If it were a term paper, it would get a “D”, at best.

    The headline is so lame that it is LOL funny:

    Christian couple believe court ruling goes against God’s plan

    They are among the majority of voters who decided eight years ago to ban gay marriages in California.

    Stop the presses!

  • meverest

    10. Dan wins the prize. Got this reply from Rosenblatt after asking her what the original quote was:

    The original quote was “to give us a picture of the relationship He desires to have with us.”

    I changed it to God to clarify the Unruhs comment, that they were not talking about an individual.