Most U.S. Christians believe Muslim values are out of sync with America, but why?

In recent weeks, I've started reading the Houston Chronicle on my iPad — via an e-replica app that affords me all the joys of the print edition but leaves no ink stains on my fingers.

For the record, I'm totally fine with no ink stains, although I do miss the sweet smell of newsprint! 

Even though I'm a relatively new Chronicle subscriber, I'm already becoming a bigger fan of religion writer Allan Turner. I had, of course, praised some of his stories in the past. But I didn't follow his work on a regular basis (in part because of the Houston newspaper's paywall).

In today's City-State section, the lead item is a commentary by the Chronicle's Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Lisa Falkenberg (with whom I worked at The Associated Press in Texas in the early 2000s) suggesting that banning Syrian refugees plays into terrorists' hands. My thanks, by the way, both to Falkenberg and Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy for retweeting the link to my post yesterday concerning media coverage of the refugee issue (Kennedy even quoted me in a column):

To be clear, I wasn't calling out the Texas lieutenant governor. I was making the journalistic point that reporters should dig deeper when a politician such as Patrick cites "Judeo-Christian values." 

But back to Turner and the reason for this post ...

While the Syrian refugee issue is the focus of both Falkenberg's column and the Houston newspaper's lead front-page story today, Turner has an interesting story hidden inside the City-State section.

The story concerns a survey that asked Americans about their perceptions of Muslims:

From white Protestants to Catholics, from Maine to Hawaii, a solid majority of American Christians believes Muslim values are at odds with American values and way of life, a national survey released Tuesday indicates.
In the Public Religion Research Institute poll, which seeks to elicit opinions on social, political, economic and religious issues, almost three of four white evangelical Protestants told researchers they believe Muslim values are out of sync with those of America.
More than 60 percent of white mainstream Protestants and Catholics agreed, as did 55 percent of African-American Protestants. Overall, the study found, 56 percent of Americans perceive an American-Muslim values divide — up from 47 percent in 2011 and 2014.

In my experience, most survey stories stop there. They throw out eye-grabbing numbers but make little attempt to put them into context. 

Here's what impresses me about Turner's story: In a relatively concise piece, he goes to the trouble of quoting five sources, including experts from mainline and evangelical Protestant universities as well as an interfaith leader, an Arabic studies professor and the president of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston.

Does this piece hit every conceivable angle or talk to every source I would have suggested? No. Not at all. But that would be impossible to do in an 800-word daily news report.

But Turner's story does provide some meaty, thought-provoking analysis, such as this:

Christians, (Baylor University professor Chris) van Gorder said, see Jesus as “the one way to truth and light.”
“They see in Islam the same type of assertion they make,” he said. “They alone have the truth. ... There’s spiritual warfare between the two sides. Either you’re for Christ or you’re against him. There’s not much gray area, not a middle space. When they see (Christians) beheaded, that underscores the narrative.”
For (Emran El-Badawi, University of Houston’s director of Arabic studies), Christians with misgivings about Muslim values are, in part, victims of “corporate media” that “tells us of wars, terrorism, the kinds of things that question (Islamic) values and morals.”
“This is not surprising to me,” he said of the survey. “My American brothers are confused, and their television set is telling them that all Muslims need to take all responsibility for terrorism. They question what values Muslims hold and conclude those values must be fearsome. It was fed to them yesterday, after 9/11, and they see it on Fox TV news today.”

I do wish the Chronicle had offered more details on the backgrounds of those quoted. The newspaper identified van Gorder, for example, simply as a "Baylor University professor" without explaining what might make qualify him to speak on this subject. (A quick Google search reveals that van Gorder has a Ph.D. in Islam and Christianity and has published books on Muslim-Christian relations.)

No doubt, the finite space of a newspaper page forced Turner to boil down his quotes and his identifications of the sources. But even given that, he and the Chronicle provide important, substantive coverage of the survey.

And, as I'm discovering, that's typical of the caliber of journalism produced on a regular basis by this Godbeat pro.

Nice work, sir! 


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