Meet the new caricature

GrayjacketI can't remember when, exactly, the mainstream media decided that it would stop with the unilateral caricature of evangelicals as the Christian Right, but I'm not sure the new caricature is much improved. Newsweek religion reporter Lisa Miller worked overtime to give the impression that the latest political switch among the formerly Christian Right is in support of legalized abortion. Note this, for instance:

Adam Hamilton does not call himself "pro-choice." He prefers "pro-life with a heavy heart." What that means, as he explains in his new book "Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White," is that he believes abortion should be available and legal, that there are instances in which it might be necessary and that those instances should be very rare. Further, he says, the abortion debate has been too hot for too long, and that, as a Christian minister, his job is to try "to support people no matter what decision they make." As an evangelical megachurch pastor in Kansas, a man educated at Oral Roberts University, Hamilton speaks carefully, aware that he's staking out a controversial position.

Lisa Miller would have you believe that conservative Christians are even giving up on their opposition to abortion. Except that what Lisa Miller worked very hard to keep out of her story is that Adam Hamilton is a mainline Protestant. United Methodist Church, in fact. He received his M.Div. from Southern Methodist University. I mean the United Methodist Church supports legalized abortion. And has for a long time. To portray this as some kind of change in evangelical thought is ridiculous. Methodists have, by their own admission, fine-tuned a statement in support of legalized abortion for almost 40 years. The book's forward, incidentally, was written by Jim Wallis.

Here, Miller shows how much reporting went into her piece:

In the past, an evangelical who might condone abortion in the case of his ailing wife or 14-year-old daughter would never say so in public. Now, the abortion rhetoric has faded somewhat as evangelicals turn their attention to other things: AIDS, the environment, Darfur. In 2004, megapastor Rick Warren announced that abortion was a "nonnegotiable" for evangelical voters. This year, he's been silent. What's new, then, is not that a pastor like Hamilton would take a softer approach to abortion, but that he would feel comfortable enough to say so from the pulpit and in print.

What a disaster of a paragraph. Horrible. First off, the ridiculous "ailing wife" and underage daughter example matched with a hypothetical "evangelical." Who is this person? Hypotheticals in the abortion debate have always been unhelpful but what is Miller saying? That a man who would have carted his child off for an abortion but would never say so "in the past" might now proudly announce his support of abortion for his daughter? Really? And what is this straw-man "ailing wife" reference? Because evangelicals used to claim they wanted women to die in pregnancy? But now they don't?

And notice how she says "in the past" an evangelical would have hidden his support for abortion. But now . . . well, now what? Now they just don't talk about it much? And for our evidence we have Rick Warren? Rick Warren? And, again, it's not exactly news that a United Methodist pastor clearly articulates the views his church has held for decades. In the small town I grew up in, our local Methodist pastor was saying precisely the things that Hamilton is preaching and writing in his book.

But even though the story is only four paragraphs long, it has yet another clunker of a paragraph:

As for his heavy heart, Hamilton comes by it honestly. Seven years ago he received a letter from a parishioner describing her own teenage pregnancy in the years before Roe, the pressure from her parents to abort and her refusal to do so--in spite of the cost. That letter was from his mother.

And then the story ends. Evangelical support for abortion is worth covering. And if conservative evangelical attitudes are changing with regard to abortion, that is definitely newsworthy. Unfortunately, this story fails to give adequate weight or depth to either of those angles.

The headline of this story, by the way? How Would Jesus Choose? Ugh.

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