‘Mainstream’ evangelicals criticize critics of the religious right (part 2)

Let’s start with what Skye Jethani gets partly right in his push-back against the push-back against the appalling public theology of the religious right.

In his Out of Ur essay “No, We’re Not a Hate Group,” Jethani discusses the way the “sensationalism” of the spotlight-grabbing media stars of the religious right can make them seem disproportionately influential:

In the free market of the media it is not fair and accurate reporting that gets rewarded, but page views, clicks, and [Nielsen] ratings. With online and cable news outlets struggling for viewers (and revenue), there is constant pressure for these organization to not just report news but make it. Therefore, when a Christian leader is needed to comment on an event, they are more likely to invite a Crazy Uncle Christian known for shooting his mouth off and insulting minorities than the thoughtful, reflective Christian offering wisdom.

… If you’re behind the editorial desk at CNN and desperate for page views, which story are you going to publish: “Christian Leader Fasts and Prays for Victims of School Shooting” or “Christian Leader Blames Shooting on School Prayer Ban”[?]

Sadly, when sensationalism sells it’s going to be the crazy uncles in Christendom that get media attention.

Yes, “sensationalism sells.” But Jethani apparently didn’t watch CNN in the days and weeks following the Newtown shooting. The former story — “[Christians] … Pray for Victims” — was reported dozens of times covering numerous events. They reported — positively — on sermons at several area churches. They quoted from clergy who spoke at funerals. It wasn’t just CNN, either — one prayer vigil was broadcast on all the major networks — with NBC interrupting Sunday Night Football to show it live. Look through CNN’s Belief Blog over the past month and you’ll find many, many thoughtful, reflective, restrained and respectful articles commending the responsible reactions from numerous Christian leaders following the tragedy.

Your church prayed for the victims of a tragedy without blaming them or kicking them while they’re down? Bravo! Have a cookie!

Sure, CNN also covered the statements by Huckabee, Dobson, Fischer and Graham, but they didn’t interrupt Sunday Night Football to do so. And they had to cover those statements because they are news.

It’s the man-bites-dog principle. The old saying is that “Dog Bites Man” is not news — that’s what dogs sometimes do, and it’s just a routine occurrence. But “Man Bites Dog” is news — it’s something unusual, unexpected and noteworthy.

Similarly “Pastor Provides Pastoral Care” is not news. Nor is “Shock-jock Says Something Shocking” newsworthy. But if the “Morning Zoo Crew” on the local radio station dispenses with its usual crude antics in the wake of a tragedy, organizing a vigil and rallying community support for the victims, that would be news — a reversal of the usual roles, something surprising and unexpected.

By the same token, when a religious leader, of all people, responds to tragedy by making the sort of shocking statements one usually expects to hear from Zoo-Crew shock-jocks, that’s news too.

One could, in a sense, regard the newsworthiness of Huckabee and Dobson’s comments as a kind of slantwise affirmation of American Christianity. Despite a decades-long pattern of white evangelical spokespeople saying appalling things in the aftermath of tragedies, those comments are still regarded as news — meaning they are still perceived as surprisingly out-of-character, as unexpected, Man-Bites-Dog incidents.

The larger problem with Jethani’s lament about CNN supposedly ignoring that story they didn’t ignore — “Christians Pray for Victims” — is that he seems to want media coverage of the church to be like one of those children’s events where everybody gets a trophy just for showing up. His fine whine reminds me of Chris Rock’s most notorious routine — the one in which he outlines the difference between black people in general and a small sub-set of the black population with whom he is sorely disappointed (I’m paraphrasing). Of this latter sub-set, Rock says:

 [They] always want credit for some [stuff] they’re supposed to do. … [He] will brag about some [stuff] a normal man just does. [He] will say some [stuff] like “I take care of my kids.” You’re supposed to, you dumb $@%#. … What are you bragging about? What kind of ignorant [stuff] is that?

“I ain’t never been to jail.” What you want, a cookie? You’re not supposed to go to jail, you low-expectation-having $@%#.

This seems to be the gist of Jethani’s complaint about Cheshire’s complaint, of his criticism of Cheshire’s criticism. He wants reporters to ignore religious leaders who behave badly. And when religious leaders do not behave badly — when they do [stuff] they’re simply supposed to do — he wants a cookie.

Cable news is certainly often guilty of “sensationalism.” CNN has an infamous tendency to go into histrionics over stories of missing white women. But the correction to that would be for CNN to cover such stories in a more restrained and proportionate manner. It would not be for CNN to ignore such stories completely while covering, instead, the stories of the many millions of white women who are not missing.

The news media may be suckers for sensational claims, and the Crazy Uncles of the religious right may be virtuosos at exploiting that weakness, but cable news did not create the religious right. Nor did the critics of the religious right create it.

The religious right arose from within white evangelical Christianity. And it continues to thrive and to be enormously popular within white evangelical Christianity. That’s not something that we can blame on CNN, or on me, or on Michael Cheshire.

 

  • Michael Pullmann

    On the other hand, if CNN started covering white women who aren’t missing, my mom might get on TV.

  • http://mordicai.livejournal.com Mordicai

    I mean, if Mike Huckabee wasn’t “Mike Huckabee, Darling of the Right & Fox” but was instead “Mike Huckabee, Disgraced Sourpuss Ousted For Intolerance,” it wouldn’t be news when he said stuff like this.  But he’s the former, not that latter– & whose fault is that?

  • GKaplan

    I’ll add only that “doing stuff you’re supposed to do” isn’t always stuff that’s EASY to do. Some people want “a cookie for” (i.e. “take pride in’)  taking care of their kids because they grew up in homes where they weren’t taken care of, and/or are surrounded by people who frankly don’t take care of their kids. Taking pride in something “you’re supposed to do” can be well warranted, most especially when what you’re supposed to do isn’t done on a regular basis by many around you.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Perhaps a comprise position can be reached if the media labelled the Dobson, Huckabee, et al. as “self-described Christian,” much like they do with anarchists who don’t throw bombs.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    The Chris Rock line (“What you want? A cookie?!”) was exactly what I was thinking of in response to the last post. 

  • LL

    And what’s really funny about all this whining, of course, is that while the supposedly non-hateful evangelicals want us all to avert our eyes and pretend we didn’t hear what the hateful ones are saying, they don’t seem particularly inclined to reciprocate. So when some “liberal” asshole says/writes something appalling, that’s presented (in outraged statements) as if it is the foundational belief of every liberal/gay person/black person/woman/celebrity, even if that person is not particularly influential, much less a “leader.” If Alec Baldwin (for example) or some other doofus says/writes something offensive, a lot of people on the “right” (including, of course, Fox News) act as if Baldwin cleared it with Obama before going public with it. Other “liberals” are called upon to explain themselves, over something none of them said or agreed with. 

    So the hateful nutjobs of the religious right don’t count as representative of the group, but everybody else’s nutjobs do count as representative of their respective groups. 

    Not very sporting. 

  • MaryKaye

    When I was a teenager in Anchorage, Alaska, my girlfriend and I decided to explore some different local churches.  We hopped the bus to Anchorage Baptist Temple, the largest Baptist church in Anchorage.

    That killed our explore-churches plan cold.  It was a horrifying experience; one of the youth pastors told us that a very young woman had come to him and confessed to a sexual sin (bestiality) and he demonstrated to us how he had screamed abuse at her to shame her as much as he could.

    This would have been around 1978.  The claim that the excesses of the Right are made up or exaggerated by leftist media was a damned lie then and it is a damned lie now.  (The same pastor is in charge at ABC now as in 1978.  I doubt *very* much that it’s changed.)  I didn’t get my opinion of ABC from the media, but from their own lips. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    Besides, it’s not like Mike Huckabee is some obscure figure that some intrepid reporter found hiding out in a shack in the boonies. He has a highly-rated TV show — watched by millions of people on a major network. Oh, and he was the governor of Arkansas and a major party political candidate. It would be preposterous for us to pretend as if he didn’t exist, just because he’s inconvenient for them in this very moment — especially when they themselves are responsible for his power and prominence. 

    If they want to relegate Huckabee into obscurity, then stop giving him money and attention. Stop voting like he tells you and running interference for him when he screws up. Treat him like he’s not your friend, and I’ll stop thinking that he’s your friend.

  • Thebewilderness

    There is no “seem”. The corporate media providing them a microphone gives them disproportional  influence. That is what it is for, fer cryin’ out loud.

  • http://mordicai.livejournal.com Mordicai

    For heck’s sake, treating him like he’s not your annointed spokesman would be a start!

  • Wingedwyrm

    Let’s note the power impact here.  The people who get news time by claiming that the lack of prayer in schools (rather, the lack of the use of state authority to enforce and/or endorse prayer and a specific theistic faith theirin) aren’t random nuts.  They are not, other than their coverage, powerless in the world.

    These are people who are already being listened to.  James Dobson and Mike Hukabee speak, people listen, give credit to, respond, and vote.  This makes things of note that they do, even things that aren’t so much news as just the next expected step in a depressingly predictable story, news.

    If the President of the United States of America, on the first day following inauguration, went to the press room during the day’s briefing and said the words “poopy doopy”, then left without another word, that would be news.  If he kept on doing that every single day, it would still be news a month later, a year later.  As forth year starts up, the news would still be talking about the poopy doopy redundancy and its effects on policy, economy, the country’s sewer workers and plumbers.  It would never fade into being not-news for the simple reason that the President is so powerful.  What he does has an impact.

    What Mike Hukabee does with the power that the American religious right gives him makes news.  If you don’t want it to make news, the simple answer is to stop giving him all that power.

    Okay, nothing new really said in this post.  But, I repeat, “poopy doopy”.

  • MikeJ

    Why should I care about whether they marginalize  the kooks? 45% of the people in Washington state voted to keep gay people second class citizens.  They don’t want to be called a hate group, they merely share all the same beliefs as hate groups.

    They have no problem with hating, but god forbid you should call it that out loud.

  • Jon Hendry

    Basically, Dalrymple is using a convenient definition of “evangelical leader” that probably favors people covered in his academic reading, either as subjects or authors.

    Who likely have little or no relevance to the evangelical on the street, let alone the evangelicals among the “Keep Government Hands Off Our Medicare”-type people.

  • Joshua Bowers

    On the other hand, many presidents, including Obama, do end speeches and many public appearances with an appeal for divine intervention in the future of our country. This never seems to be news anywhere expect in the atheist blogosphere.

  • LMM22

    Why should I care about whether they marginalize  the kooks? 45% of the people in Washington state voted to keep gay people second class citizens.

    Yes, and twenty six people were just murdered in a school that’s less than an hour from me.

    You’ll forgive me if I have more important things to care about than a historic election that you just won.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    You’re free to care about what you care about, and not care about what you don’t care about.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I’ll add only that “doing stuff you’re supposed to do” isn’t always stuff that’s EASY to do. Some people want “a cookie for” (i.e. “take pride in’)  taking care of their kids because they grew up in homes where they weren’t taken care of, and/or are surrounded by people who frankly don’t take care of their kids. Taking pride in something “you’re supposed to do” can be well warranted, most especially when what you’re supposed to do isn’t done on a regular basis by many around you.

    I have been told before that I am an awesome roommate because I pay all my bills and rent on time, I take out the trash, I clean the house on a regular basis, and if I am alerted that something needs to get done I do it without feet-dragging or complaint.  

    Such praise always catches me by surprise.  That kind of thing should be what is expected of a roommate, not something exceptional.  It says something about the housemates’ previous experiences if the baseline is praise-worthy.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    By the same token, when a religious leader, of all people, responds to tragedy by making the sort of shocking statements one usually expects to hear from Zoo-Crew shock-jocks, that’s news too.

    I have to wonder if maybe those religious leaders feel the need to make shocking statements out of fear that they will fade into obscurity unless they continue making them.  

  • Wingedwyrm

    That’s true, but it’s also true that, in today’s political climate, it would be more impactful (one way or another) for an elected official, or someone seeking elected office, to not say “May God bless the United States of America” at the end of a speech or public appearance.

    Similarly, the not-asking-God-to-Bless-the-Country, if continued on throughout the administration would never stop being news.  It wouldn’t stop because it would never stop being a a button the right could press again and again to suggest hostility towards faith, just as one example.

    In today’s political climate, the president appealing to the divine for blessings upon the nation is the political equivilant of nothing happening.

  • Rebecca

     More or less this. Sandy Hook was obviously a tragic loss of life. To suggest that it negates every other issue – and treating LGBT folks as second-class citizens is a life and death issue, newsflash – is bizarre.

  • Makabit

    I’m incredibly sorry for the tragedy your community has suffered through. For those so directly affected, little else will matter for a long time.

    However, for those outside that first zone of shock and horror and loss, other issues and concerns will continue to be relevant. This is not meant as a dismissal of what you and yours are going through.

    Please, take good care. You are in our thoughts and prayers.

  • reynard61

    “Cable news is certainly often guilty of ‘sensationalism.’ CNN has an infamous tendency to go into histrionics over stories of missing white women. But the correction to that would be for CNN to cover such stories in a more restrained and proportionate manner. It would not be for CNN to ignore such stories completely while covering, instead, the stories of the many millions of white women who are not missing.”

    Or they could, y’know, cover stories about missing non-white women too. I’m sure that they have families who would like to know what happened to them.


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