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.
Could you provide a link to Andrew Sullivan’s (and the Daily Beast’s) alleged bigotry and conspiracy theory promoting.
I hate false dichotomies. Take it or leave it!
Seriously, that is the main drawback of this piece. I would love to have had a “both” (and an “other”?) category too. Simply because for the vast majority of the last 2000 years, nearly all forms of Christianity would claim both to most of the questions. The fact that so many of these points were bifurcated in such an restrictive way gives me cynical pause.
A few questions went beyond false dichotomy and rather illustrated various popular heresies (wrt Christianity), so in some sense there is a genuine right answer for an informed Christian (eg one or many salvation routes). But these heresies are actually popular and thus the question looks like a credible choice. Ross Douthat’s recent book elucidates the scope and nature of these quite well.
In religious coverage over the past year I, as a Catholic, was most disgusted by the media’s almost complete ignoring of Freedom of religion issues and the First Amendment with regard to Obamacare. The Obama Admin. argued that women were being unfairly targeted (“The War on Women” Obama followers called it). And the media basically followed the Obama line in its coverage— with Planned Parenthood (in spite its checkered history:born and nurtured in racism) being treated as untouchable although many other organizations and institutions do much of the same work. Yet , there is probably no more basic freedom in our Bill of Rights than religious freedom. In fact, many historians argue that all our freedoms have their roots in freedom of religion and the Church’s never ending struggle to not be co-opted by the power of government. A struggle that goes back almost 2 millenia to St. Thomas More, to Archbishop St. Thomas Becket, to St John Chrysostom and a long list of other martyrs.
It is also strange that they equate theological conservatism or liberalism so directly with political conservatism or liberalism. Many of the questions in the poll had absolutely nothing to do with political beliefs, and those that did were a stretch. While there is a corelation between religion and political beliefs, one does not absolutely indicate the other. The way they chose to explore the relationship is condescending and definitely, as mollie said, “marginalizes those of us that don’t view Jesus through a political prism.” I also found some of the questions unanswerable or loaded; for example, believing that evangelism by showing Jesus’s love through actions and relationships is better than simply asking random people “are you saved?” does not mean someone sees Jesus only as a good example for how to live, rather than also as their savior. But then, I also don’t see how seeing Jesus as one’s savior excludes seeing him as a good example. The goal of the article seems to be to say that religous liberalism equals political liberalism, which equals caring about people, in contrast to religous conservatives who are always politically conservative and hold outdated, rigid, literalistic beliefs.
I thought some of GetReligion’s own articles were rather poor this year, with yours on abortions being particularly bad.
As for the article originally commented on, I thought it was fine. Whether we like it or not Jesus has been heavily politicized in modern America (and even at other instances throughout history). It is not just a small minority that are doing this, but a very large and powerful segment of the voting populace. To ignore it would be foolish.
Really? I’m pretty darn proud of my work on the topic. And I’m so appreciative of how many of you have commented publicly or privately about your approval of the same. Do you have anything specific (links, quotes) to substantiate your claim? I’m always aiming to improve.