Bible, God and Protestants: Another pesky question for the style gurus at The Associated Press

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Here at GetReligion, we don't mind "talking nerdy," as my friend Prof KRG puts it. I'm referring to discussions about the nitty-gritty intricacies of news writing and style.

For example, we wondered aloud what was up when the Wall Street Journal lowercased "bible" instead of capitalizing it.

Similarly, we called attention to it when we started seeing "god" — as opposed to "God" — in news reports.

For today's post, I couldn't help but notice that The Associated Press lowercased "protestant" not once but four times in a story on what Republican Roy Moore's loss in the Alabama Senate election might mean for the abortion issue in 2018.

From the AP story:

Religious influence sharpens voters’ leanings further. White evangelical protestants are the most likely religious group to oppose abortion rights: 70 percent say it should be illegal in most or all cases. Majorities of Catholics, black protestants and mainline protestants all support more access, while unaffiliated voters lean overwhelmingly toward legality.
A state like Alabama, where Republican nominees usually win at least 60 percent of the vote and where half the population is white evangelical protestant (as opposed to a quarter nationally), is more fundamentally anti-abortion than many other states now under Republican control, such as Ohio or Wisconsin, which have far fewer evangelicals proportionally and are typically presidential battlegrounds.

So what's the problem?

AP's own stylebook — which is sometimes referred to as the (lowercase) "bible of journalism" — calls for capitalizing "Protestants":

Protestant, Protestanism
Capitalize these words when they refer either to denominations formed as a result of the break from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century or to the members of these denominations.
Church groups covered by the term include Anglican, Baptist, Congregational, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Quaker denominations. See separate entries for each.
Protestant is not applied to Christian Scientists, Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons.
Do not use Protestant to describe a member of an Eastern Orthodox church. Use a phrase such as Orthodox Christian instead.

Is the fact that AP violated its style own rule in this story a big deal? In the overall scheme, probably not. It's certainly not a problem at the level of getting a factual detail wrong or misspelling a source's name.

Nonetheless, it's a pesky little error.

Imagine if a major news organization reported on "democrats" or "republicans." The lowercasing might make a reader wonder about the organization's experience and competency in covering that subject matter.

A similar thought — from a religion reporting perspective — crossed my mind when I saw "protestants" in the AP story, even though the Religion News Association notes that the term traces its roots "to the protesters or 'protestants' who declared themselves independent of papal authority."

By the way, lowercased "evangelical" is proper AP style. As long as we're talking nerdy, go ahead and give the AP team credit for that.

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