I was reflecting on the interesting election coverage we experienced over the last year(s) and how the religion angles were handled. After 2008, perhaps we can agree that religion angles were handled better in this cycle. Which is not saying much.
The media have never quite figured out how to handle President Barack Obama’s religion, largely downplaying his religious rhetoric and ignoring his religious outreach. Some folks attempted to smear Mitt Romney for his Mormonism, but even that was restrained. Only conspiracy theorists such as the Daily Beast‘s Andrew Sullivan have engaged in the more notable bigotry. That the Daily Beast publishes him is not to their credit, but most publications were more subtle in their pieces skeptical of Mormonism. Some media outlets even seemed earnestly interested in learning about Mormonism as opposed to going for political point scoring.
But there was something about this CNN piece that a few readers sent in that seriously rubbed me the wrong way, headlined “Do you believe in a red state Jesus or a blue state Jesus?,” it begins:
Here’s a presidential election prediction you can bet on.
Right after the winner is announced, somebody somewhere in America will fall on their knees and pray, “Thank you Jesus.”
And somebody somewhere else will moan, “Help us Jesus.”
But what Jesus will they be praying to: a red state Jesus or a blue state Jesus?
Admittedly this is because of my personal bias as a Christian, but I don’t appreciate media outlets referencing my Lord and Savior in such a trifling manner. I’m not sure if media outlets are aware of how offensive it sounds to some of us. You’re then invited to take a poll where Jesus is bifurcated in weird ways, frequently in ways that this Lutheran wouldn’t feel comfortable with. Such as:
Do you believe Jesus is going to return one day, descending from the clouds with an army of angels to fight the final battle between good and evil? Or are you focused on creating Jesus’ kingdom “on earth as it is heaven” and not too worried about who’s left behind or whether Jesus is coming back — or perhaps never even left?
Then you get to pick whether you’re for the “‘Left-Behind’ Jesus” or the “Never Left Jesus.” Hardy har har! Or how about this one?
Were you inspired by watching Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” because you thought it showed how much Jesus was willing to suffer to save mankind? Or were you revolted by Gibson’s film and thought its long and bloody depiction of Jesus’ death reflected Gibson’s obsession?
Are you for “Mel Gibson’s Jesus” or “Mel Gibson’s Obsession”? Ooh, good one.
Now, some of the questions were actually fine and interesting, but what is so problematic to me is the inherent politicization of the framework.
Yes, it is true: Some Christians use Jesus to justify progressive political action. And some Christians use Jesus to justify conservative political action. But this framework routinely ignores and marginalizes those of us that don’t view Jesus through a political prism.
If you are going to write about the politicization of Jesus — a great topic, in my view — is it too much to ask that it be done in a less condescending or derisive way? Or, as one commenter put it:
CNN, stop trying to create a false dichotomy. Jesus is indeed the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, but this in no way stops him from being the champion of the oppressed, for example.
I’m genuinely curious what you think about the way this topic was handled.
And I’m also thinking today might be a good day to reflect on the larger coverage of religion this year. What do you think were the high points and low points? I have my own thoughts (which, if you’ve read the blog this past year will not surprise you) but I’d like to hear what you thought was handled well and what you thought wasn’t handled well. Were there any big stories that just got missed? Stories that were overhyped? Let us know.
Diverging paths image via Shutterstock.