TV-Radio

'Deconstructing My Religion' at CBS: Another tiresome diatribe on sex and evangelicals

'Deconstructing My Religion' at CBS: Another tiresome diatribe on sex and evangelicals

There’s no question that “Deconstructing My Religion,” CBS’ 26-minute special that aired Dec. 2, was supposed to be ground-breaking. Instead of footage on the evangelical juggernaut, here were folks who had actually left those beliefs and lived to tell about it.

But after sitting through the presentation and re-watching parts of it, I realized it wasn’t news, it was simply a diatribe with three talking heads talking about how they left white evangelicalism. I say “white,” because no ethnic minorities are featured. There’s the requisite academic patched in near the end and a few snatches from people at conferences and panels.

As I watched, I kept on wondering: What is the purpose of this show? There was no survey data presented. There were no alternate points of view. If you wish to view this documentary, don’t watch the version off the CBS site, as it’s full of ads and constant interruptions. The YouTube version is way better.

It started with a nine-minute monologue by Linda Kay Klein, now 39, who became born again at 13. I’m guessing that was about 1991. Her major gripe was the “sexual shaming” she endured. More than one-third of the show was her complaining about how her rigid upbringing constrained her ability to sleep around later in life.

A narrator intones:

“Sex outside of heterosexual marriage in evangelical culture is considered a sin. In the 1990s, an entire industry was created to support this message and it continues today.”

Lord, are they kvetching about purity-themed Bibles, purity pledges and the like again? That complaint was run into the ground some time ago. The “True Love Waits Bible” was published in 1996, 22 years ago. Get over it.

One reason why CBS gave Klein so much air time is because she just came out with “Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement that Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free,” published by Simon & Schuster, a division of CBS.

Of course I am very envious of how Klein got a 26-minute book trailer courtesy on prime time. Guess it’s who you know (and who you want to attack).

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Weekend thinking about the greatest threat to journalism and American public discourse

Weekend thinking about the greatest threat to journalism and American public discourse

Republicans have always loved to complain about media bias.

I mean, who can forget hearing the soon-to-fall Vice President Spiro Agnew proclaiming: “Some newspapers are fit only to line the bottom of bird cages.” Here’s another one: “Some newspapers dispose of their garbage by printing it.”

However, the serious study of media bias issues didn’t really get rolling until Roe v. Wade, an issue that transcended mere partisan politics — even more than the fighting in Vietnam. Slanted coverage of abortion and related cultural issues (classic Los Angeles Times series here) created a link between media-bias studies and debates about the coverage of religion in the mainstream press.

I began my full-time work in journalism in the late 1970s, when all of this exploded into public debate. Here is a big chunk of my graduate project at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, as published as a 1983 cover story by The Quill:

According to a study by S. Robert Lichter of George Washington University and Stanley Rothman of Smith College, editors, producers and reporters of the nation's "prestige" media do not share the public's interest in religion.

"They're very secular," Lichter told George Cornell. The leaders of American media are "much less religious than people in general," he added.

In each "elite" news organization, Lichter and Rothman selected individuals randomly. At newspapers they interviewed reporters, columnists, department heads, bureau chiefs, editors, and executives. In broadcast newsrooms they interviewed correspondents, anchormen, producers, film editors, and news executives. A high proportion of those contacted, 76 percent, took part in the survey. In the blank on the survey labeled "religion," 50 percent of the respondents wrote the word "none." In national surveys, seventy percent of the public claims membership in a religious group. Gallup polls indicate 41 percent of Americans attend church once a week. In a report in Public Opinion, Lichter and Rothman said:

"A predominant characteristic of the media elite is its secular outlook. Exactly 50 percent eschew any religious affiliation. Another 14 percent are Jewish, and almost one in four (23 percent) was raised in a Jewish household. Only one in five identifies himself as a Protestant, and one in eight as a Cathiloc. . . . Only 8 percent go to church or synagogue weekly, and 86 percent seldom or never attend religious services."

In the Associated Press story reporting the results of the survey, Lichter said the "non-religious aspect" of the media simply showed up in the data. "We asked the standard things, and it just jumped out at us," he said.

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Religious mystery at heart of Jonestown: Why did this madman's disciples follow him?

Religious mystery at heart of Jonestown: Why did this madman's disciples follow him?

Whenever I think about the Jonestown massacre in 1978, I always think of one question.

No. It’s not, “Why did he do it?”

The Rev. Jim Jones was a classic “cult” leader in every sense of the word, in terms of sociology and doctrine (click here for background on that tricky term). He was an egotistical control freak who was used to having his own way. He took a congregation that started out in liberal mainline Protestantism and then took it all the way over the edge.

No, the question that always haunted me was this one: “Why did THEY do it?”

Why did 900-plus people, to use the phrase that changed history, “drink the Kool-Aid”?

What happened inside their heads and their hearts that led them to follow their preacher into what he called “revolutionary suicide,” rather than face legal authorities?

Yes, they were following a madman. But what was Jones preaching that created this hellish tragedy? WHY did they follow him?

That’s the mystery that host Todd Wilken and I explored during this week’s GetReligion “Crossroads” podcast. Click here to tune that in.

It’s pretty clear that religion was at the heart of this tragedy, even though very few mainstream news organizations — especially those blanketing TV screens with the ghoulish images from Jonestown — saw fit to explore that fact. Few, if any, religion-beat specialists got to cover that story.

Why did editors and producers settle for a splashy, simplistic take on Jonestown? That was the question that I explored in my earlier post on this topic: “Thinking about the Rev. Jim Jones: A classic example of why religion reporters are important.”

As I wrote in that earlier post:

There was no logical explanation for this gap in the coverage (especially in network television). To me, it seemed that newsroom managers were saying something like this: This story is too important to be a religion story. This is real news, bizarre news, semi-political news. Everyone knows that “religion” news isn’t big news.

Yes, there was a deranged minister at the heart of this doomed community. Journalists described him as a kind of “charismatic” neo-messiah, using every fundamentalist Elmer Gantry cliche in the book. OK, so Jones talked about socialism. But he was crazy. He had to be a fundamentalist. Right?

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Friday Five: Thanksgiving, missionary death, Jordan Peterson, hurricane heroes, homeless church

Friday Five: Thanksgiving, missionary death, Jordan Peterson, hurricane heroes, homeless church

Happy (day after) Thanksgiving!

I’ve been mostly away from the news this week, enjoying my favorite holiday.

If I missed any important headlines that I should have included here, by all means, leave a comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion.

In the meantime, let’s dive right into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: This is an international story, so you might have missed it. The Washington Post reports from New Delhi on an American missionary who tried “to meet and convert one of the most isolated hunter-and-gather tribes in the world” by offering them “fish and other small gifts.”

Instead, the Post reports that “the tribesmen killed him and buried his body on the beach, journals and emails show.”

The story offers revealing insights from the journal as well as quotes from the missionary’s mother.

2. Most popular GetReligion post: As often happens, the words “Jordan Peterson” in a headline tend to attract attention.

Last week’s No. 1 most-read post was by our editor Terry Mattingly — the piece that he wrote to support last week’s “Crossroads” podcast. The headline on that: “Why is Jordan Peterson everywhere, right now, with religious folks paying close attention?” Here’s a bite of that:

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Washington Post offers nice, but totally faith-free, look at Dan Crenshaw's redemptive SNL visit

Washington Post offers nice, but totally faith-free, look at Dan Crenshaw's redemptive SNL visit

Apparently, there is more to Lt. Com. Dan Crenshaw than an eyepatch, his history as a Navy Seal, a Harvard graduate degree, his Spanish-language skills and the ability to land a few humorous punches on Saturday Night Live.

The newly elected representative from Texas district 2, in the greater Houston area, is riding his victory in a purple district and his Ivy League level wits to leverage his moment in the YouTube spotlight. What happens next? That’s a good question.

However, this is GetReligion. So I would like to pause and note that it is hard to run for office as a Republican in Texas (or even as a Democrat in large parts of Texas) without people asking you about your religious beliefs and your convictions on religious, moral and cultural issues. This is especially true when your life includes a very, very close encounter with death.

So let’s start here: If you were writing about Crenshaw and what makes him tick, would it help to know what he said, early in his campaign, during a church testimony that can be viewed on Facebook? The title is rather blunt: “How faith in God helped me never quit.”

I am going to answer, “Yes,” especially with people using words like “redemption,” “grace,” “forgiveness” and “repentance” to describe what happened during his encounter with funny-man Pete Davidson on SNL.

I’m also going to say, “Yes,” because we’re talking about politics in Texas. Also, the language in that church testimony are rather strong. It sounds like faith is part of his story — period.

But let’s start with something good, in terms of the content of the lengthy Washington Post profile of Crenshaw that ran in the wake of his election and, well, that television thing. Here is the overture, which is long (but I don’t know what part to cut):

HOUSTON — Dan Crenshaw’s good eye is good enough, but it’s not great. The iris is broken. The retina is scarred. He needs a special oversized contact lens, and bifocals sometimes, to correct his vision. Six years after getting blown up, he can still see a bit of debris floating in his cornea. His bad eye? Well, his bad eye is gone. Under his eye patch is a false eye that is deep blue. At the center of it, where a pupil should be, is the gold trident symbol of the Navy SEALs. It makes Dan Crenshaw look like a Guardian of the Galaxy.

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Relentless 'hollowing out' of newsrooms shapes all beats, and our democracy

Relentless 'hollowing out' of newsrooms shapes all beats, and our democracy

In a break from usual practice, this Religion Guy Memo examines the over-all situation of the American news media.

When times are tough, specialty beats — like religion — become especially vulnerable.

The news biz is transfixed by the mutual rancor between the incumbent American president and the political press corps, which reached another nadir last week. The performance -- on both sides -- hasn’t been this nasty since 1800, when hyper-partisan newspapers manhandled the feuding Adams, Burr, Hamilton and Jefferson. Here’s hoping for a letup 221 or 225 years later when the Donald Trump administration ends.

Meanwhile, media toilers and consumers should be alert to the ongoing broad, bad context within which journalism functions, summarized in this headline: “The Hollowing Out of Newsrooms.” That’s how “Trust,” the Pew Charitable Trusts magazine, upsums data compiled by the Pew Research Center for its latest “State of the News Media” report as of 2017.

One major caveat: As Pew acknowledges, 2017 is a somewhat misleading year for assessing audiences because we’d expect a decline from 2016 with its intense interest in the election. However, Trumpish fascination continued through 2017 and Pew says post-election falloffs usually hit cable news but have little impact on newspapers, network TV or radio. The next report, for 2018, will be significant given fascination with the campaign just past. (Note: These surveys exclude magazine journalism. Non-fiction books are a whole other story.)

Pew’s first such report back in 2004 warned that “most sectors of the news media are losing audience,” therefore “putting pressures on revenues and profits.” According to the latest report, total newsroom employees, whether reporters, editors, copyreaders, photographers or videographers, declined by nearly a fourth between 2008 and 2017, from 114,000 to 88,000

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Monday Mix: 'SNL' forgiveness, hate list scrutiny, abuse vote delay, grieving California, Pittsburgh guns

Monday Mix: 'SNL' forgiveness, hate list scrutiny, abuse vote delay, grieving California, Pittsburgh guns

Religion? Maybe.

Redemption and repentance? You bet.

If you somehow missed it, you must watch Pete Davidson’s “Saturday Night Live” apology to Dan Crenshaw and Crenshaw’s gracious acceptance of it. It was the talk of Veterans Day weekend, and rightly so.

Welcome to another edition of the Monday Mix, where we focus on headlines and insights you might have missed from the weekend and late in the week.

The fine print: Just because we include a headline here doesn't mean we won't offer additional analysis in a different post, particularly if it's a major story. In fact, if you read a piece linked here and have questions or concerns that we might address, please don't hesitate to comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion. The goal here is to point at important news and say, "Hey, look at this."

Three weekend reads

1. “We and others like us who are on this ‘hate map’ believe that this is very reckless behavior. … The only thing that we have in common is that we are all conservative organizations.”

The Washington Post Magazine takes a deep dive into “The State of Hate.”

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Election day drinking game? Maybe. But here's another evangelical politics stat for news stories

Election day drinking game? Maybe. But here's another evangelical politics stat for news stories

Hey, it’s election day.

Want to have a drinking game? Most evangelicals and Baptists can use Dr Pepper or some other appropriate beverage.

Take a drink tonight when, during cable-news gabfests, you hear a reference to white evangelical voters and their love of Donald Trump.

You can take a DOUBLE SHOT if someone quotes the magic “81 percent” number from 2016.

Oh, wait. I am making an assumption here. So let me say this: You have heard, I assume, that 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump and that they still just love that man more than life itself?

The reality, of course, is more complex than that.

Thus, those who love nuanced, accurate journalism can only hope that editors and producers will hand out copies of the recent Christianity Today essay by Ed Stetzer, director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, that ran with this headline: “Why Evangelicals Voted Trump: Debunking the 81%.” The survey info in that essay is important.

Here is some additional information to toss into the mix, care of the National Association of Evangelicals and Baptist Press. The big numbers are right at the top:

WASHINGTON (BP) -- Most leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals identified as independents in an NAE poll preceding the 2018 U.S. midterm elections. …

Two-thirds of those surveyed, 66 percent, described themselves as independents rather than a member of a major political party in the NAE poll of its 106-member board of directors, the NAE said. While the sampling is narrow and not scientific, the NAE said the results "track with" those of a 2017 Gallup poll of the general U.S. population.

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R-rated 'Game of Thrones' is also grist for debates about a second 'R' -- religion

R-rated 'Game of Thrones' is also grist for debates about a second 'R' -- religion

Last week, the New York Times magazine produced a fawning piece about George R.R. Martin, fantasy’s “reigning king” because of his seminal “Game of Thrones” series, now at five (immense) books.

I say “fawning” because the story was only on the series’ amazing success and not on the major problems Martin is having at finishing up his series. More on that in a bit. The goal, eventually, is to discuss whether the Times or any other publication has has shown any interest in the role of religion in this global hit.

These books started coming out in 1996, then continued in a (sort of) steady clip until 2011 with the release of book five. Book six, “The Winds of Winter,” was supposed to be out by 2016 at the latest, but the writer got caught up with helping produce the HBO drama (starting in 2011) Game of Thrones.

I read the first two books some years ago, but, annoyed with non-ending violence, I dropped them. I picked them up again in the fall of 2014 and finished the series while teaching in Fairbanks so as to have something to occupy me during that cold, dark winter. Now I’m making my way through the HBO drama and am nearly finished with the fourth season. As the Times says:

After the HBO show premiered, the world Martin had created became a global phenomenon, and his readership reached heights few authors have ever found — his American peers now include other household names of genre fiction, such as Tom Clancy and Stephen King.

The plot of “ASOIAF,” as fans call it, is concerned largely with events unfolding in and around the continent of Westeros around the year 300 A.C. (“after conquest” of the seven kingdoms in the books). The inciting incident of the series is the death, under suspicious circumstances, of Jon Arryn, who had been serving as hand of the king (chief of staff, basically) to a royal named Robert Baratheon. Arryn’s demise sets in motion a chain of events leading to the murder of King Robert himself, which in turn creates a power vacuum, destabilizing the prevailing political order. After centuries of relative calm, chaos erupts into a full-blown war, involving several of the realm’s great family houses.

Millions of people, of course, knew all of that already.

One reason it’s been taking me so long to get through the HBO series is because I can’t watch the stuff while the kiddo is awake because the violence/gore/explicit sex content is off the charts. Maybe that’s why — of the reams of material written about the book and wildly successful series — comparatively little has been written about the role of religion in the Game of Thrones books.

Not to say there isn’t any.

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