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

Politico’s long-but-shallow exposé on Hobby Lobby family June 17, 2014

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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