Progressive religious voices not irrelevant, just ignored

Progressive religious voices not irrelevant, just ignored August 2, 2012

So yesterday, more than 60 Christian leaders released a statement “expressing their strong opposition to any legislative proposal that fails to extend the 2009 improvements made to refundable tax credits such as the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit.”

I’m quoting there from Nick Sementelli of the progressive Christian group Faith in Public Life. Pretty much have to quote from a group like that because statements like this are mostly otherwise ignored by cable news and the rest of the media — the same media who eagerly report and repeat every utterance from the religious right.

At some level that’s just weird.

I understand the perceptions and the tropes that shape this coverage and inattention. I get that, for example, the “mainline” Protestant denominations that belong to the National Council of Churches are perceived as declining and irrelevant. But those denominations still represent about 45 million members.

Who decided that 45 million people were irrelevant? How is it possible that 45 million people could be irrelevant?

Today’s statement was also endorsed by Catholics, Mormons, and leaders from evangelical and African American Protestant churches. These folks represent more people than any of the infamous spokespeople of the religious right. They represent the faith and the ethics and the values of more people than the religious right does.

Oh, and they’re not just speaking on their own behalf, either. They’re also speaking on behalf of tens of millions of other people — poor families and the children of poor families. That multiplies the number of people being disregarded when this statement is ignored as irrelevant. It also suggests that this statement is deserving of greater attention than most, because it’s not an expression of self-interest by a faction speaking on its own behalf.

Again, who decided that the faith and ethics and values of tens of millions of people, plus the interests and well-being of tens of millions of additional people, do not matter?

What is the rationale for dismissing these folks as irrelevant while hanging on every outrageous word from right-wing evangelicals? Why isn’t this “newsworthy”?

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  • LL

    People being nice (actually more than “nice,” they’re being decent) isn’t exciting. It’s much more interesting when some idiot starts yapping hateful shit. Then you can broadcast it and then sit back and wait for people to “tweet” about it. No newsgathering required. Almost effort-free. Why create actual newsworthy things (OMG, so boring, esp. when some government or community service organization geek starts talking about facts and throwing out confusing numbers – gag, who wants to hear that?) when you can invite some bigoted asshole to open his/her gaping piehole? Opinions are the same thing as news now. Apparently.  

  • BC

    I think the media thinks that Christian = fundamental evangelical, so these other “religious leaders” are from some obscure cult.  Just as values = anti-abortion.  It’s the price we pay for having media elites who know nothing of religion.

  • Gotchaye

    I’m sure ignorance and bias play into it, but surely LL basically has this right.  “Newsworthy” means “efficiently attracts viewers”.  So we get lazy narratives.  We get sensationalism and coverage of only the loudest and most offensive people.  We get he said she said stenography.  It’s a little hard to blame particular media organizations for this; they’re responding to extremely strong incentives. It’s probably not even conscious at this point. The ones that were doing a good job got fired or canceled or went bankrupt (or just marginalized; there are some good ones out there) and the survivors internalized that the way it works now is the way it ought to work.

  • As a Christian, I found pretty much everything about yesterday horribly, horribly discouraging, depressing and upsetting.

  • Nathan

    I agree w/ Gotchaye for the most part. However, I think it stems from actual political realities. There are two important commodities in politics. Money and people. The corporations take care of the first part. When it comes to people the  political parties are interested in groups who can mobilize large numbers of people for their particular cause. The media are obviously going to focus on similar groups and give them more than their share of coverage. When it comes to mobilizing people there is absolutely no question that the religious right does this better than the progressive wings of the “mainline” denominations.  There are several reasons. The most obvious is the authoritarian nature of the religious right. When a leader says jump the followers ask how high. But, the “mainline” denominations are at another disadvantage as well. You say they represent 45 million people but this simply isn’t true because within each of these denominations there are significant numbers of people who  identify themselves as political conservatives in contrast to their church’s official social stances. Take my denomination, The United Methodist Church, for example. We have 8 million members in the U.S. but of those how many support the official Social Principle’s position stewarded by Jim Winkler and the General Board of Church and Society? How many know anything about the General Board of Church and Society? When Mr. Winkler makes a statement on behalf of the church is he representing all or even a simple majority of the 8 million United Methodists? Not even close. When progressive religious voices are able to mobilize voters to have a meaningful impact on elections then the media will begin to pay attention. Until then, these groups will struggle to have their positions heard beyond the faithful few already listening. I’m not saying this is how it should be, but this is how it is. 

  • dxmachina

    No sex, no sin. No sin, no story.

  • Holden Pattern

    The sad reality is that non-movement-conservative Christians have completely lost control of their brand.  “Christian” means people like Tony Perkins or Bill Donohue, because they have dedicated decades to (and have lots of money to spend on) becoming the exclusive representatives for “Brand Christian”.  

  • Follow the money.

  • LL

    Yeah, this, too, in addition to my initial content. 

    As much as I hate to admit it (because even though I work in advertising, I find the idea repellent), maybe the decent Christians should try a little more/better PR.  If you’re a godless elitist Yankee or Hollyweird producer and you need a mouthpiece for your “Chick-fil-A controversy” story, you pick one from among your go-to group of idiots that always seem to get on TV to speak for all U.S. Christians. They’re the Coke or Pepsi of Christianity. You’re not familiar with the other ones, so you just go for the old reliable, no matter how shitty it is. 

    The other ones are too busy doing actual Christian things, like helping people instead of excluding them. But they might want to do a little more to boost their visibility, do a little attention-whoring. I know some efforts have been made in this area, but it doesn’t seem to be registering with the “media.”

  • LL

    “initial comment” is what that was supposed to say.

  • swbarnes2

    Well, here’s just one opportunity for Progressive Christians to get out there and show that they can move the political landscape:

    BATON ROUGE (AP) — Taxpayer dollars in Louisiana’s new voucher program will be paying to send children to schools that teach creationism and reject evolution, promoting a religious doctrine that challenges the lessons central to public school science classrooms.

    I think if Progressive Christians won’t support education as vigorously as conservatives will support a fast food franchise owner, that explains the lack of attention.

  • Quick question here: How many “decent Christians” are in a position to speak as Christians on things like this?

    Rightist Protestants tend to come from churches that are congregational, if not entirely autonomous. What the pastor says in the next pulpit over isn’t your business, and if (as in Greg Boyd’s case) they lose half a congregation as a result, that’s not your problem. Whereas the biggest mainline churches… aren’t. (The UMC in particular, which is the only mainline church that isn’t reliably Democratic at this point.)

    Being Religious Right means never having to worry about the General Conference.

  • swbarnes82 has a point. Right-wing organizations have amazing message control and ability to ‘marshal the troops’  for things like this.

    Even if leftists like mushy “diversity of tactics” (which in practice means letting the Black Bloc fall right into government-set traps to make them look bad, because nobody will read them the Riot Act and say ‘if you dudes want to be our muscle, you need to do X, Y, and not Z.’), there’s still a crying need to be able to generate the visibility and buzz that a bunch of bigoted folks can generate by flooding a fast food restaurant.

  • Worthless Beast

    If you’re a news organization, what are you going to report?  “All airplanes in the world flew and arrived at their destinations today, except for two that had a two-hour delay on the tarmac due to weather, then all was well?”  – Or are you going to get your reporting on for the crash or the hijacking that happens every once in a blue moon?

    My mother’s afraid to get on a plane.  I’ve flown a few times – it’s not a big deal and I’m alive.  Some people prefer elevators to stairs because they’ve seen films about people trapped in elevators and falling to their deaths.  I prefer elevators to stairs becuase that’s never happened to me, whereas I’ve actually fallen down stairs and gotten hurt in an accident that wasn’t reported anywhere in even the local news.

    It’s negativity bias, dirty laundry that’s been cultivated for so many years it’s become a lazy memetic thing.  Airplanes are dangerous, even when they’re not. Elevators are scary, even when they’re not.  All these are those, even when more of them are not. If you want to get your fifteen minutes of fame today, you either have to do something extrodinarily good or extrodinarily bad, and if you’re in a “bad” category, you have to do something extra-special extrodinarily good to put the tiniest chisel in a bad reputation – though you, individually, will probably just be seen as a fluke. 

  • That’s the whole thing, isn’t it?  Visibility.  People stormed Chik-whatevs yesterday…to buy chicken.  Lines stretched around the block, people’s cars were towed, etc. 

    So, what’s more filmable: people packing tiny restaurants and standing in line for hours…or people releasing statements?  Right now, the right understands the need to control the message, the language, and the imagery far better than the left does.  We are way back from Square One at this point.

  • which in practice means letting the Black Bloc fall right into
    government-set traps to make them look bad, because nobody will read
    them the Riot Act and say ‘if you dudes want to be our muscle, you need
    to do X, Y, and not Z.’

    That’s mostly because no one wants the Black Bloc to “be [their] muscle”, they want them to just not exist anymore. Effort would be better expended trying to get the police and news media to better differentiate between general protesters and idiotic assholes.

  •  But it’s not even that though – if there had been large anti-CFA protests, they would have been presented in an entirely different way – see the difference between coverage of the Tea Party bringing loaded guns to townhall meetings versus the Occupy camps. The Left CAN’T control the message because the instruments of control are almost all outside their hands.

  • Half the complaints I heard about the Black Bloc about a decade ago had to do with the way nobody would step up and take overall control and say “Dudes. If you’re going to be the ones to go up against riot control cops for God’s sake don’t do stupid shit or be visible.”

  • PJ Evans

    It’s the price we pay for having media elites who know nothing of religion.


  • Pseudonym

    This is pretty much exactly it. The rule of mainstream news is: if it bleeds, it leads.

    Some idiot firing his (and it’s usually “his”) mouth off over stupid and/or trivial nonsense makes me want to buy shares in popcorn. Some person saying well-reasoned, intelligent, perhaps nuanced things about issues which matter in the long run… well, most people would rather flip the channel.

  • Pseudonym

    Avarice and usury are not sins in the modern world.

  • Pseudonym

    To a progressive Christian (hell, to a progressive person), that’s anathema. Spending money on think tanks, debate framing and PR just seems wrong, when it could be spent on feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless.

    Unfortunately, the reality is that in current society, you don’t get your foot in the door without PR.

  • Patrick

    Because being the formal head of a religious group is not the same as politically representing its members. Which is why all the Catholics I know are liberal, and all the members of mainline Protestant churches I know are reactionary fundamentalists.

  • There is nothing inherently wrong with seeking publicity. In fact, it’s often wrong not to seek it, and not just from a practical standpoint. People can go around quietly feeding a few poor people, or they can run a massive campaign to change laws so that fewer people go hungry. 

    The left wing likes to sit around having ridiculous tempests in teapots. We’re horrifically bad these days at realizing that you don’t have to agree with every single thing a person does and says and thinks and feels to be on the same side. 

  • friendly reader

    As someone with a father who’s been in university public relations since she was a child, this gets a hearty “like” from me. PR is a tool that can be used for good or for ill.

  • Prof_J_Hen

    It’s not just mainstream media who ignore progressive Christians. I had to stop reading Alternet after one too many story lumping all types of Christians into the fundamentalist/born-again group and denigrating all Christians as ignorant, backward, and superstitious. They couldn’t seem to get past the belief differences to see that Christians can be valuable allies, they would rather marginalize us and spread anti-Christian messages. Sorry if I’m ranting, but I’m still smarting from all the hate I got for posting a request for civility toward progressive Christians, including several people telling me progressive Christians either don’t do anything or don’t exist because they’d never heard about anything progressive Christians had ever done. It kills me that we’re getting tarred by the same brush on both sides of the aisle and are accepted by neither.

  •  Admittedly, the vitriol painted with a wide brush on all Christians is inappropriate, but as someone who actively avoided Christians for a few years, I can tell you why: Once beaten, twice shy. Or, in my case, MANY times beaten, extremely defensive. Some of us (especially gay folks like me) have been on the receiving end of some VERY nasty stuff, and the people dishing it out were preaching that they were speaking the Christian truth. That’s a lot of very deep emotional scarring. When you’ve heard nothing but hate for a very long time, and the mouthpiece calls itself Christian, it’s very hard to separate the bigots from the progressives.

    I’ve finally been able to make that distinction. I’ve gotten past the Christian-phobia, but I’ve got to say… mine was based on some very real things, and so are a lot of people’s fears. I’m not Christian, but I do have good friends who are progressive Christians, and I stand beside them in support of progressive and positive values. But remember… it took a long time for me.

    Those people who were spewing anti-Christian rhetoric are probably letting loose after years of abuse. With time and support, most of them will come around.

  • My initial thought on this post was that only bad news counts as news, and therefore only extremists and nutters get news coverage. 

    But then I remembered a few news items where someone did something to counteract the haters and it was covered on the news (OK so it’s still about the haters, but at least the good guys got some coverage).

    Examples include the man on a skateboard who rescued a Koran from being burnt. 

    The God Hates Figs counter-protest. 

    The Laramie Angels. 

  • Kdm1921

    I’d like to add another perspective.  I truly believe, and have read some evidence to support the belief, that people process information differently.  Some are not capable of living in a world with a multitude of shades of gray.  They need the world to be black and white.  Just tell me what  I should believe is their moniker.  Add to the mix that people are inherently lazy when it comes to researching (and thinking) about those ideas that take them out of their comfort zone.  And finally, group think is prevalent in most organized groups and it is not only encouraged, but demanded of those in power.

  • That’s not it at all.  The media gives the religious right so much airtime because they’re only interested in sensationalism and conflict.