Picking sources for stories

stereotype1-300x155.jpgNewsweek‘s error-ridden and preachy cover story aiming, without success, to argue that the Bible has nothing meaningful to say about marriage, is meriting laughter and disbelief among the religious groups it targeted.

The Politico wrote a news story about some of the response. They spoke with people who found Newsweek religion editor Lisa Miller’s piece to be inadequate theologically, because it ignored or creatively interpreted key parts of Scripture. They also spoke with people who found Newsweek‘s essay inadequate politically, since it pretended that formal opposition to same-sex marriage is based Sola Scriptura as opposed to a wide variety of reasons including Natural Law and other secular reasoning. In that sense, the article did a good job of looking at the two major problems with the story, from a journalistic perspective. Here’s a sample:

In addition to contesting Newsweek‘s specific scriptural arguments, some social conservatives took issue with the basic premise of the magazine’s story: that conservative opposition to same-sex marriage is based on specific biblical instructions.

“I see it as an attempt to caricature and reduce to a cartoon the social conservative belief in the efficacy of traditional marriage, and try to reduce it to some formulaic, scriptural literalism,” said Ralph Reed, the former executive director of the Christian Coalition. “There’s more of a practical, sociological foundation for why we seek to affirm marriage as an institution than I think is generally understood by those who want to legalize same-sex marriage.”

Though Reed said he had respect for Newsweek, he said this week’s cover story was based on a “false assumption”: “We’re not trying to take the Bible and put a bill number on it and legislate it.”

But there was something rather noticeably odd about the story as well. Feedback was included from Richard Land, who heads the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; Tony Perkins, president of the socially conservative Family Research Council; and Ralph Reed, the former executive director of the Christian Coalition.

These are all worthy sources and their quotes were interesting and on target.

But could they be more stereotypical of the media-constructed image of opposition to same-sex marriage? The fact of the matter — and it would be hard to learn this from reading outlets such as Newsweek — evangelicals such as those quoted in this story are but one of many religious groups who believe that the Bible defines marriage as a heterosexual union.

Where are Roman Catholics? Where are the Orthodox? They are just the two largest Christian groups in the world comprising, well, the majority of believers. They both have come out publicly and repeatedly against same-sex marriage. Where are the confessional Protestants? Where are the Mormons who have been violently targeted in recent months? And that’s not even looking at Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc.

I know that the media love to go to evangelicals for their quotes but the fact is that religious support for marriage as traditionally defined as a sexual union between men and women could not have wider or more varied support.

It’s a simple point but if you have room to quote three religiously affiliated sources, they should not all be evangelicals.

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  • John Pryor

    I am sorry to see any argument based on Bibical interpretation. With over 450,000 discrepancies between the King james version of the Bible, and a Bible written in Aramaic found in a Coptic Seminary in the Sinai dating to roughly 200 AD, why go there. Like reading tea leaves, it’s read by the interpretor to favor their understanding and biases.

  • Jean

    I think you should know more about what the hindus, muslims, buddhists and mormons think about marriage practices before you assume that they agree with you.

  • http://perpetuaofcarthage.blogspot.com Perpetua

    Hi Mollie,

    I think you are right about who is missing in the interviews. Certainly in California, the Roman Catholics were very involved. The Knights of Columbus made a major donation to the Yes On 8 campaign. And it was the Archbishop of San Francisco who invited the Mormons to join the campaign. So interviewing a spokesperson for Roman Catholics and one for for Mormons would have been appropriate.

    And I would add that it would have been very interesting to have someone from the African-American churches. 70% of African-Americans voted in support of Prop 8. And for women it was even higher — 75% of African American women voted Yes on prop 8. This is very interesting because African-Americans have such a high out of wedlock birth rate (about 70%).

  • http://none Larry ‘the grump” Rasczak

    What amazes me is not that Newsweek did a horrible job here…but that ANYONE would find it “pretty shocking” that Newsweek writes about something despite having an “unbelievable ignorance” of the subject; and that their stories were nothing but a poorly thought out collection of biases and sterotypes.

    If seeing a major media outlet display “unbelievable ignorance” of a subject (especially but not limited to religion) is “pretty shocking” to anyone I would like to say to them “Welcome back to Earth! How long were you abuducted for, and what was Zeta Reticuli like?”

    The fact that Newsweek’s senior editors are a group of biased, ignorant, self-important psuedo-intelectuals, or that do a poor job is about as “shocking” as “Sky found to be BLUE” and “Metro Area to be in darkness after sun sets.” There is a reason the media is going bankrupt, and it has less to do with the economy and new technology than it does with biased, inaccurate, and poorly thought out content.

  • Dale

    John Pryor wrote:

    With over 450,000 discrepancies between the King james version of the Bible, and a Bible written in Aramaic found in a Coptic Seminary in the Sinai dating to roughly 200 AD, why go there.

    Eh, another one taken in by Bart Ehrman. Out of those “discrepancies”, how many result in a substantive change in the meaning of the text? Precious few. For those who want an excuse to ignore the moral teachings of the Bible, though, that little factoid is a handy excuse, even if it’s disingenuous.

    Like reading tea leaves, it’s read by the interpretor to favor their understanding and biases.

    Actually, those who practice biblical hermeneutics are remarkably restrained in interpretive techniques, as opposed to, say, the U.S. Supreme Court, that argues from “penumbras” and “emanations” not found in the text of the U.S. Constitution. If any institutions are guilty of playing fast and loose with textual interpretation, it’s the courts like the California Supreme Court who have created “rights” ex nihilo. You sure you want to accuse others of reading their ideology and biases into texts?

    I’d love to see Newsweek and other MSM publications exercise the same scrutiny of the questionable textual interpretation and authority of certain court opinions as they do scripture–but I guess we’re supposed to take the courts’ double-talk and unjustifiable extrapolations on faith.

  • Dave2

    Mollie wrote:

    Where are Roman Catholics? Where are the Orthodox? They are just the two largest Christian groups in the world comprising, well, the majority of believers. They both have come out publicly and repeatedly against same-sex marriage. Where are the confessional Protestants? Where are the Mormons who have been violently targeted in recent months? And that’s not even looking at Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc.

    Mollie, I think this point simply won’t stand. Since this story is about the United States, not the world at large, the relevant demographics are American demographics, not worldwide demographics.

  • Martha

    “Newsweek” wants to put forward the secular case for civil same-sex unions? Knock yourselves out, guys.

    But when you are addressing the religious opposition, and when you are talking about should or should not churches change their teaching to accommodate same-sex marriage, and can churches even do that according to their views of sacramental marriage – then you kinda haveta do more to put forward both sides of the argument than just say “Big poopy heads!”, y’know?

    I look forward to Jon Meachum’s defence of the Chinese government abrogating to itself the right to choose the next Dalai Lama, based on the fact that re-incarnation is just downright unscientific and those who believe it as an article of their religion are crazy nuts and besides, the concept is unworthy of 5,000 years of Buddhist and Hindu thought on their foundational documents.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie


    Newsweek’s argument wasn’t the case for changing laws in a given state. It was the religious argument for gay marriage. Presumably that’s universal.

    Either way, all of the groups I mentioned are in the US. And Evangelicals are not, despite their over-representation in news stories, a majority in the US. And they are certainly not an exclusive representation of all opponents of same-sex marriage.

    The point stands.

  • Brian Walden

    Dave2, I think you have a point. Perhaps if you had to pick only three experts one Protestant (possibly specifically Baptist, I think they’re the largest denomination), one Catholic, and one Non-religious might be representative of the American population. Worldwide demographics would probably work out to something like one Christian, one Muslim, and one Hindu expert.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    So, Dave2, there aren’t enough of us Catholics, or Orthodox Christians demographically here in the United States for Newsweek to bother with?? What is this the reincarnation of the 19th Century “No Irish Greeks,Russians)Need Apply” with regard to major social-political issues???
    And wasn’t it the liberals for the last 4 Bush years screaming and yelling about world public opinion and how our foreign policies should be tailored and fabricated to please everyone else in the world even at our peril.

  • http://indianajanesnotebook.blogspot.com Jane

    I think Dave2′s thinking reflects what we see in the media, and kind of makes Mollie’s point about the over-representation of Evangelicals.

    And Brian, at somewhere between 22 and 24%, Roman Catholic is the largest denomination in the US, followed by the Southern Baptists.

  • FW Ken

    Nothing like some facts to settle a statistic debate:



    The link button doesn’t seem to be working, btw.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Jane–you can get an interesting debate in some quarters that the Catholic Church is not merely a “denomination” because “denomination” has historically been mostly applied in history and sociology books to organizational subsets of the Protestant Reformation. Consequently many Protestants are proud to be members of a particular “denomination” –although many Protestants reject the word “denomination” in favor of “church” — while many Catholics consider the word almost an insult if applied to them. “The Catholic Church is not just one denomination among many.”-They will argue–”There is one True Church and the Catholic Church is it-period.” I think most Orthodox would take the same attitude (they are not members of a “denomination” but of The Church) However, I am not sure on that.

  • Brian Walden


    I didn’t mean to try contradict you right after your reply to Dave2, I must have been writing at about the same time as you.


    I second what Ken said. The Catholic Church would never call itself a denomination – so if you go by the rule that you let a group label itself the Catholic Church wouldn’t be a denomination. At the same I just looked up denomination on Wikipedia and Merriam-Webster and they seem to make no such distinction in using the term or in applying it to any religion. I wonder if the AP stylebook has anything to say on the subject.

  • hoosier

    Why do you always capitalize Natural Law? That’s like an economist capitalizing Monetarism or Classical Economics. It’s annoying, and it makes you look like you don’t know what you’re talking about. Anyway, I don’t know what you’ve read on the web, or what your pastor or whoever has told you, but natural law (perhaps as opposed to Natural Law) could just as easily be used to justify ssm. It all depends on what the person who is finding the law thinks is just or natural. That’s why so many societies reject natural law systems for positivist ones (or is that Positivist?). Just throwing Natural Law out like it’s an answer is facile and ducks the serious issues at stake.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie


    The funny thing is that I am an economist by training and I also capitalize things like Monetarism and Classical Economics. It may be annoying but I doubt it looks like I don’t know what I’m talking about.

    But thanks for your snark.

    For what it’s worth, I blame the Germans who raised me for my overcapitalization.

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

    where are the ancient Romans?

    Where are the ancient Greeks? The Chinese? The Hindus?

    I never saw gay marriage in Africa either.

    Why pick on the evangelicals?

  • A. C. Story

    While I can understand the point of view of people who are opposed to / hate gay people.. the fact is they are here, and were put here by God.

    When I was growing up gay and Christian, I never quite understood what everyone got so upset about. As a Christian we model our lives after Christ, his teachings and examples. I never read where he thought gay people were such a big issue… in fact he hung out with the people on the margins of society… prostitutes, the poor, the oppresssed. His example to us was to reach out to those who are in all areas of society, as he reached out to them and to us.

    I found the Newsweek article pretty accurate theologically… and in the spirit of what Christ taught us, in my opinion. It kinda summed up what I had read and believe from the first time I read the the Gospels.

    All thru the debates I sat back and watched Christian leaders, quote scripture left and right… but you know they never quoted Jesus. They quoted the Old Testament, Jewish Law, which they seem to pick and choose which ones are palateable for them to follow, and ignore the rest. Well they are not Jewish they are Christian… Follow Christ’s example. Next they quote Paul…. well again Paul although inspired by Christ, was not Jesus… Paul’s words are secondary to me sorry.

    The Christians who conveniently hate or just justify thier dislike for others..because they can find some reference to in the Bible.. but really isn’t backed up by the words and actions of Jesus should re-examine it. Or not call themselves Christian.

    And just to point out… some hypocrisy from the Baptist and Southern Baptist commentaters in the Politico article. They belong to denominations that supported slavery, and when that ended, enacted and supported laws of segregation….. to the point of having churches of thier denominations segragated along racial lines until recent times. All because they could find verses in the Bible that supported their views. Have either of these denominations appologized for support and active participation by the churches and their members in this… I am sure if they had, the members that claim to belong to these denominations would have seen the light long ago.

    As for damaging the family… the straight Christians did that 30 years ago… which is why many choose not to marry, and even more decide to only stay married until it suits thier needs.. whether or not there are children involved… They seem to have come to terms with divorce and with the sin of adultry quite eagerly… Maybe they should spend the millions that they would never have donated if they were not united against the evil “gay” people wanting to get married and spend it promoting better marriages.. supporting girls (and boys) who make a bad teenage choice and get pregnant… giving them other options thant the hated abortion.

    To sum up.

    I don’t think I will change anyone’s mind on whatever side of the issue they have made up their mind on. But we are all human and have been an example by Jesus how to live our lives and how to treat others. Take the stone out of your eye, and not worry about the speck in your neighbours.

    People are going to marry who they want… and it isn’t really anybody’s business unless it somehow hurts other people, and well it doesn’t. And before you think otherwise.. think how you thru your actions might have hurt other people intentinally… and then justified it thru your non-Christ-justifiable faith… really you are not better thant the people you condemn, and they are not better than you. Just that there are more of you to condemn instead.

    Think about it.

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  • http://kevinjjones.blogspot.com Kevin J Jones

    One caveat: Some journalists, when they appear conscious of avoiding the stereotypical leaders, just end up sounding like they prefer the muddle-headed to anybody who can articulate a good argument against their preferred views.

    From The Culture and Media Institute:
    In remarks at an August session at the annual conference of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, David Waters, editor of the “On Faith” blog, which appears the Newsweek Web site, urged reporters “not to go” to established leaders like Robertson and Dobson, contrasting them to “real people”:

    “I think, as journalists, our No. 1 obligation is obviously to the truth, and if we’re going to be about the truth then we have to fight and we have to fight for space and for time to tell the right story and to tell the real story, and I think the best way to go about that, at least I’ve found in my experience with my own reporting and with other reporters, is to take time and not go to the Pat Robertsons and the James Dobsons of the world but to find the real people who are really struggling with this issue.”

  • Dave

    A.C. Story:

    Yes, the Southern Baptists have repented their historical support of slavery.

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