Religious Trump reaction: RNS struggles to find a range of actual human voices

When news spread that Donald Trump won the presidential election, I got the sense that the various elites -- cultural, political, mainstream media -- were reacting like Family Guy's Chris Griffin:  "Whaaaattt??"

The Religion News Service, at least, tried to gather responses from religious leaders, rather than have secular pundits opine about them. But that mechanical approach -- which tmatt likes to call post-Interview Journalism™ -- has weaknesses of its own.

It's not that RNS lacked effort. It compiled a long list of comments. A long, long list. Nearly 2,400 words, with 17 sources.

RNS also attempts some balance, backed up by numbers, as the top shows:

Some celebrated and congratulated the victor. Others prayed and called for unity. It was clear early on that evangelical Christians had been key to Donald Trump’s stunning upset.
Meanwhile, others including atheists and Muslims reacted in shock and vowed to defend against what one group termed “unconstitutional and undemocratic actions.”
According to exit polls, 81 percent of white evangelicals and born-again Christians cast their ballots for the reality TV star-turned-Republican presidential candidate.
It was a higher figure than voted for Mitt Romney (79 percent) in 2012, John McCain (73 percent) four years before that or George Bush (79 percent) in 2004.

From there, we get a smorgasbord of quotes. Here's a sample.

* Trump's spiritual adviser Paula White: "We were brought together with a mutual love for our country and through a mutual faith in God … We aren’t ending this season so much entering a new one, ready to love the world together to a degree greater than we ever could alone."

* Atheist leader David Silverman: "This is why I fight. This makes the work more important. Separation of religion and gov (sic) is in serious danger. Help."

* Christian author Jen Hatmaker: "Our marching orders are the same. We are still about the same things we’ve always been about, Christian. We will still love our neighbors and resist fear. We will stick up for the marginalized and protect the vulnerable."

* Baptist ethicist Russell Moore: "The most important lesson we should learn is that the church must stand against the way politics has become a religion, and religion has become politics."

* Pastor Robert Jeffress, another Trump advisor: "For those who didn’t choose to vote for President-elect Donald Trump and may carry a measure of uncertainty about the future, there’s no need to fear and no reason to be discouraged … As Christians, our hope does not reside in kings, presidents or any authority other than God and God alone."

* Sociologist Tony Campolo: "His victory is likely to get evangelicals to do some soul searching as to who they are, and why they were swept up in supporting a man whose rhetoric played upon fear of immigrants, fear of Muslims, an anti-scientific disbelief in global warming, overt racism and sexist attitudes that are contrary to scripture."

* Christian author Rachel Held Evans: "White Evangelicals, you just made Donald Trump the most powerful man in the world. Don’t you dare complain about being persecuted."

* Jewish leader David Harris: "America’s diversity must be defended against any further attempts to demonize or stigmatize on the basis of ethnicity, race, gender or faith."

* Muslim Advocates, without naming Trump, condemns the "undemocratic and unconstitutional policies proposed by candidates – from banning Muslims from the U.S. to vilifying Mexican Americans to threatening journalists and political opponents … If President-elect Trump wants to bring America together and be a leader for all Americans, he will need to disavow these dangerous proposals and ideas."

Did you notice something about the quotes? The Trump supporters spoke in less strident, more conciliatory terms. The opponents still seem to be working out the bile of the rhetoric from the campaign.

This reveals a weakness of the pure aggregation approach. Some of the more extreme reactions fairly cried out for follow-up questions.

For Harris, one might ask if one party did all the demonization. It was Hillary, not Trump, who said half of the other side was a "basket of deplorables" … "racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic." Sure, she walked back from that, but only after a backlash of criticism.

For Campolo, Hatmaker and the Muslim Advocates, it would be interesting to ask: "What do you fear? What could Trump do that would pass scrutiny by Congress and the courts?"

Given the format, though, RNS doesn't get to ask those questions, or any others.

A more significant weakness in the compilation: RNS seems to stick with the evangelicals it knows, like Evans and Moore. Hatmaker even has her own link at the top of the RNS homepage.

Who is missing? Well, how about Franklin Graham? He's been in RNS more than 1,100 times, yet he isn’t quoted here. But on his Facebook page, he congratulates Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence:

This election has been long, it's been tough, and it's been divisive. It's time to put that behind us. Now is the time to come together in unity and work together. Our nation has so many problems that need fixing. Even more important are the spiritual needs of our country. Whether we are rich or poor, without Jesus Christ we are the most desperately in need, the poorest of the poor. We cannot ignore His hand and His supreme authority.

RNS could have also asked Jerry Falwell Jr., who has hosted a Trump speech at Liberty University. Time magazine caught up with Falwell after the election. Time also noted that Mark Burns, a televangelist in South Carolina, has been "one of the most visible pastors supporting Donald Trump." Both Burns and Falwell have often been in RNS; they just don’t seem to share the inner circle with the likes of Evans and Hatmaker.

I understand the situation. You're working hard and insanely early -- the RNS story moved online around 6:30 a.m. You want to lean on the people you know. It's tempting to take shortcuts.

All the more reason to resist the urge.  The more you settle on the old reliables, the less you cover the actual community. You may be also tempted to ask them fewer questions.

Please respect our Commenting Policy