Three in one

TrinityIt's not every day you read a story where the reporter describes the same person as a Jehovah's Witness, a fundamentalist and an evangelical. Read through these first few paragraphs the short Lexington Herald-Leader story and see if you can help me sort this out.

When Monica Marks was growing up a Jehovah's Witness in Eastern Kentucky, she dreamed one day of getting an education.

Now that dream will take her from the University of Louisville to the University of Oxford in England as a Rhodes Scholar.

"Where I grew up, it was never which college are you going to, it was if college was possible," Marks said Saturday, just hours after learning in Indianapolis that she had been awarded the prestigious scholarship. "For me, it was just so rebellious to even consider that."

Marks, 23, grew up in Rush, Ky., in a fundamentalist evangelical family, but her parents respected her hunger for education.

I'm so confused. Was she a Jehovah's Witness but her parents were evangelicals or fundamentalist?

First, take a look at GetReligion's previous exegeses of the Associated Press' style on the word fundamentalist.

fundamentalist The word gained usage in an early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. In recent years, however, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians. In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself.

What's unclear in the story is whether Monica Marks describes her upbringing as fundamentalist or whether the reporter Janet Patton assumed that it was fundamentalist. Also, does she call herself an evangelical? In my experience, most people do not consider themselves both an evangelical and a fundamentalist. Here's what the 2007 AP guide says about evangelicals:

evangelical Historically, evangelical was used as an adjective describing dedication to conveying the message of Christ. Today it also is used as a noun, referring to a category of doctrinally conservative Christians. They emphasize the need for a definite, adult commitment or conversion to faith in Christ and the duty of call believers to persuade others to accept Christ.

Also, how could she be an evangelical and Jehovah's Witness when their core beliefs about Jesus and the Trinity are completely different?

Let's look at one of the reporter's descriptions above once more:

When Monica Marks was growing up a Jehovah's Witness in Eastern Kentucky, she dreamed one day of getting an education.

The reporter assumes that it's inconceivable that a Jehovah's Witness would get an education. Would she have used the same phrase if she were describing a Catholic or Jew? Her religious background may have been a roadblock from getting an education, but the reporter doesn't explain how. It comes up again here:

Marks, 23, grew up in Rush, Ky., in a fundamentalist evangelical family, but her parents respected her hunger for education.

Why the but? Are her religion and education mutually exclusive for some reason? How did her parents respect her hunger for education? What did they do to make that happen? Was she homeschooled? Did she attend a religious private school? The student then compares her upbringing to Islam.

Her background shaped her choice of what to study as well: Marks is presently researching Islamic law in Turkey as a Fulbright Scholar and plans to continue those studies at Oxford, where she will research comparative human rights and Sharia law.

Winning the Rhodes scholarship, "really resonates with me on a deep personal level," Marks said. "It's a vote of confidence in your future."

She said she is often struck by the patriarchal similarities between Islam and her fundamentalist Christian upbringing.

This reporter assumes that we know what Monica Marks is talking about. What are the patriarchal similarities that she's referring to?

There are several questions left unanswered in this story. Writing a short, localized article doesn't mean that you should spend less time checking your facts. Monica Marks may very well feel that her religious background shapes her study of Islamic law, but I want to know how.

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