Politico’s long-but-shallow exposé on Hobby Lobby family

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Cue the dramatic music.

Politico has a breathless, 2,200-word profile of the Greens — the Hobby Lobby family — out this week with this sensational headline:

Hobby Lobby aims for Obamacare win, Christian nation

Stop the presses!

In one sense, it’s a long piece seemingly designed to expose the Greens’ desire to promote the Bible as truth. At the same time — despite its length — the report ends up feeling rather shallow in the true depth it provides.

Like a child playing with a water gun on a hot summer day, Politico attempts to cover a lot of territory. But nothing really seems to stick in this game of journalistic hopscotch.

Let’s start at the top (and don’t bother looking for any named sources up high):

The evangelical owners of Hobby Lobby made a fortune selling crafts supplies and made headlines fighting government-mandated birth control coverage. They’re also using their billions to sell the American public on the literal truth of Scripture — through a public school Bible curriculum, a huge museum around the corner from the Smithsonian and public forums on the faith of the Founding Fathers.

The Green family may be best known in secular circles for their lawsuit against Obamacare, a high-stakes — and highly political — case that could undercut the administration’s goal of setting minimum standards for health care coverage. By the end of this month, the Supreme Court will decide if the federal government can force the Greens to include methods of contraception they deem sinful as part of employees’ health insurance.

The pending Hobby Lobby ruling has thrust the Greens into the national spotlight, but the family’s mission is far bigger than a single court case. The Greens are spending hundreds of millions on a quiet but audacious bid to teach a wayward nation to trust, cherish — and heed — the Bible.

They’re building a huge museum dedicated to the Bible a few blocks from the Mall in Washington , with as much public space as the National Museum of American History. They’ve financed a lavish traveling exhibit as well, complete with a re-created Holy Land cave, a “Noah’s Ark experience” for kids and animatronic characters such as William Tyndale, who was burned at the stake for daring to translate the New Testament into English.

The Greens are sponsoring scholarly study of the Bible and hosting forums such as a recent panel on faith’s role in shaping early America, which they hope to package for national broadcast.

Most provocatively, they’ve funded a multimillion-dollar effort to write a Bible curriculum they hope to place in public schools nationwide. It will debut next fall as an elective in Mustang High School, a few miles from Hobby Lobby’s Oklahoma City headquarters.

I previously critiqued a one-sided Associated Press report on the Mustang Bible elective. Politico never gets around to identifying the source or explaining the specifics on the “multimillion-dollar effort.”

Roughly 600 words into the story, the first named source — besides a reference to a Steve Green quote last spring — shows up. That source is a critic:

The family’s vision is beginning to stir concern, not just among the American Civil Liberties Union and atheist groups such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation, but even from some Bible scholars.

The plans that have been made public so far — including the high school curriculum — seem aimed at portraying Scripture as historically accurate and an unequivocal force for good, said John Kutsko, executive director of the international Society of Biblical Literature, the oldest and largest organization dedicated to biblical scholarship.

That approach fails to incorporate the latest scholarship, acknowledge that the Bible has also played a role as a tool of oppression or recognize different religious viewpoints, Kutsko said.

“It’s a simple, superficial, literal reading of the Bible,” Kutsko said.

In his view, that’s inappropriate both in a public high school and in a private museum that “by virtue of being adjacent to the Mall gives the impression that it’s almost a national museum,” he said.

Politico proceeds to quote a supporter, too, but in more ho-hum fashion:

Supporters, however, say they are confident the Greens will focus on scholarship rather than salvation in their public outreach.

The family does proselytize quite publicly three times a year, taking out full-page ads in newspapers across the country every Christmas, Easter and Independence Day. The ads celebrate the power of faith and direct readers to a toll-free number for Need Him Ministry, a global initiative to bring nonbelievers to Jesus.

If the goal of the museum were evangelizing, “I can assure you, I would not be involved,” said Harry Stout, a professor at Yale Divinity School who has consulted on the museum. “They’re really interested in getting it right.”

Stout sees one motive above all in the family’s work. The Greens, he said, “are really smitten with the Bible.”

At one point in the story, there’s a quote interspersed between a source’s first and last names — a copy-and-paste error that makes one wonder how quickly Politico put together this story and how much thought and attention went into it:

As presented, the curriculum is “startlingly irresponsible” — and likely unconstitutional, as well, since public schools are allowed to teach about religion but can’t promote any particular theology, said Mark

“They don’t seem to realize that their claims about the Bible’s reliability are statements of faith, not statements of fact,” Chancey said.

Chancey, a professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University who has reviewed the text.

Seriously, folks, I have read the Politico story at least five times and am still not sure exactly what to think of it.

I’d welcome your insight and questions. Please remember, though, that GetReligion is concerned about journalism and media coverage issues, not readers’ opinions of the Greens or the Bible’s place in society.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • fredx2

    The first thing that strikes me is this – since when are reporters upset when fellow citizens exercise their first amendment rights?

    Isn’t Hobby Lobby entitled to advocate their views on the bible as much as anyone else? Apparently not, at least from the language and tone of the story. Whatever happened to letting everyone into the marketplace of ideas and letting that marketplace sort everything out.

    The impression given by the article is that their view of the bible is somehow not supposed to be allowed into our public thinking.

    Actually, Hobby Lobby is the perfect Christian business – they pay new employees almost twice the minimum wage so they can support their families. They give them medical insurance and make sure they can spend time with their families on holidays and Sundays.

    Second, the article seems to argue that Hobby Lobby tried to get publicity “The evangelical owners of Hobby Lobby made a fortune selling crafts supplies and made headlines fighting government-mandated birth control coverage.”

    But the Hobby Lobby was doing its own thing, when the government came along and tried to force them to give up their religious beliefs. That sentence is deeply skewed reporting.

    Futhermore, the authority the article cites, John Kusko from the Society of Biblical Literature, is one of those reliably liberal people who represents not the entirety of Christianity, but his own group. Did she attempt to get a wide view of biblical opinion, both left and right, or did she go to a person she knew would give her the answer she wanted?

    Plus, his organization is getting money from the government to push a certain view of the bible. This seems to be clearly unconstitutional – but something the Obama administration would want to do
    From the wikipedia article on the “Society for Biblical Literature”
    “In 2011 the society was awarded a $300,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to produce Bible Odyssey, “an interactive website that would bring nonsectarian biblical scholarship to the general public.”

    “Nonsectarian biblical scholarship?” What is that? It seems to be a secular interpretation of the bible. Whatever it is, it is a spin, a certain outlook and the government is not allowed to either advance or retard religion.

    And even more weirdly, his organization has started an initiative to create a network of scholars on the Koran:

    “ATLANTA, May 29, 2012 – The Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) has been awarded a $140,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to support a three-year consultation that will explore the formation of an independent network of Qur’anic scholars. This international consultation will meet to evaluate and frame a vision and mission for a professional organization, namely, a *Society for Qur’anic Studies.

    “Considering the enormous cultural importance and global influence of the Qur’an, a pressing need exists for an independent and self-defined association of scholars of the Qur’an to do collaborative research and to enrich and inform courses at colleges and universities,” says John F. Kutsko, executive director of SBL and director of the initiative.”

    Really? There are not enough Koranic scholars to be found in the world? But anyway, why would the BIBLE SOCIETY be concerning itself with creating a network of Koranic scholars?

    The whole think just stinks.

  • fredx2

    And finally, sentences like this are supposed to be written by polemicists, not reporters:

    “The Green family may be best known in secular circles for their lawsuit against Obamacare, a high-stakes — and highly political — case that could undercut the administration’s goal of setting minimum standards for health care coverage”

    Oh my! The government’s goal might be undercut! As we all know, government is the all knowing, all benificent and should never be opposed.

    Would the case undercut the goal of “setting minimum standards for health care coverage”? Not at all. It would only concern an attempt to force people to provide free contraceptives. Not all minimum standards.

    That is creepy reporting.

    ‘Reporters like this used to get fired.

  • Guest

    I also raised an eyebrow over this:

    When the foundation released its draft of the Bible curriculum, it
    boasted that it was the product of “10 rounds of scholarly writing, scrutiny
    and editing,” supervised by “a team of more than 70 international Biblical
    scholars.”

    But some scholars who were asked to submit articles to the
    curriculum writers said they never reviewed the draft presented to Mustang
    schools and have no idea whether their work was incorporated.

    How many are “some” scholars? Like
    whom? And what topics are we talking about?

    That kind of vagueness in sourcing and
    details wouldn’t make it into any court or peer-reviewed journal. It also wouldn’t
    qualify for news outlets like Politico
    – once upon a time.

  • Jim Davis

    I also raised an eyebrow over this in the article:

    “When the foundation released its draft of the Bible curriculum, it
    boasted that it was the product of ’10 rounds of scholarly writing, scrutiny and editing,’ supervised by ‘a team of more than 70 international Biblical scholars.’

    “But some scholars who were asked to submit articles to the curriculum writers said they never reviewed the draft presented to Mustang schools and have no idea whether their work was incorporated.”

    Leaving aside the implied sarcasm of the partial quotes, how many are “some” scholars? Who are some of them? And what topics are we talking about?

    That kind of vagueness in sourcing and details wouldn’t make it into any court or peer-reviewed journal. It also wouldn’t qualify for news outlets like Politico — once upon a time.

    • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

      Good catch, Jim.

  • joshuatod

    This does feel very rushed to attract page views around the time that the Supreme Court case is to be decided. However, I doubt the Greens’ and Hobby Lobby’s PR firms recommended responding at all to a site like politico. I wonder if the reporter really thought SBL was a great, objective source for a quote on biblical scholarship. When considering studying Bible in graduate school, I learned that SBL is quite liberal, overall. I had no idea based on its name. Politico could have asked some from the National Bible Association, too. Too bad this story didn’t interview Haynes, who would have brought up some legitimate concerns on the Mustang curriculum. I would have liked more on the 2010 documentary, since it actually goes against many right-leaning folks’ thoughts on the Middle East.

    • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

      Great points, Josh.

      When I wrote my earlier post about the AP story, I mentioned that Charles Haynes would have been a good source.

      In an e-mail to me then, Haynes said:

      Yes, I have been following this story… I actually helped Mustang resolve a “Dec. dilemma” conflict in 2005… and draft a good “religion in schools” policy.

      In my view, the AP story was not balanced. Green’s religious views — or religious motivations — do not necessarily make the curriculum unconstitutional. The material must be considered on its own merits. I couldn’t make sense of the quote from Rick Tepker — but he seems to be arguing that anything Green proposes must be unconstitutional because Green proposes it.

      Green, of course, helped created the perception of a “conspiracy” to promote the Gospel in schools by keeping the curriculum under wraps during the process of adoption.

      I now have read some of the curriculum — and see quite a few problems. There is a lot there to discuss… That’s why the public would be better served if the media focused on the substance of the textbooks rather than viewing the material through the lens of Steve Green’s religious views and motivations.

      I suspect that Steve Green believes that it is possible to offer a Bible elective in public schools that is both constitutional and consistent with an evangelical reading of the Bible. I don’t think this is possible… But that will be the debate over the coming months.

      Charles C. Haynes | Director

      Religious Freedom Center
      NEWSEUM

      • joshuatod

        That’s great insight, Bobby. Wonder how the Greens would reply.

  • AugustineThomas

    I would just skip reading Politico in the future. I’m always shocked that Christians spend so much time dissecting the nonsense that the secularist media puts out there.
    It would be better for us to create our own media organizations and large corporations than weakly complain about secularists.
    (I understand that you want to expose Politico, it’s just my opinion that your time would be more well spent helping to create authentic Christian culture. It would be extremely wise for all churches, orthodox and heretical, to stop copying secularist culture.)


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