God, guns and Russia: Washington Post fails to note crucial detail about summit on persecuted Christians

The lead story in today's Washington Post focuses on guns, religion and "how American conservatives grew closer to Putin's Russia."

If that storyline sounds familiar, it's because Time had a "quite similar" piece back in March, as the magazine's Godbeat pro, Elizabeth Dias, pointed out on Twitter:

The Rev. Franklin Graham, the prominent evangelical pastor, figures heavily in the Post's story, but a GetReligion reader who emailed me voiced concern about Graham's portrayal:

It seems to me that Franklin Graham’s actions have been — at best — incompletely reported here, if not considerably distorted. Note that the sections on Graham fail to note the reason why the persecution conference was moved from Moscow to Washington. Why? Perhaps because that reason undermines the narrative of the article.

After reading the Post's coverage and reviewing the relevant background not included in the story, I must say I share the reader's concern. More on that in a moment.

But first, what narrative does the Post push? The lede sets the scene:

Growing up in the 1980s, Brian Brown was taught to think of the communist Soviet Union as a dark and evil place.
But Brown, a leading opponent of same-sex marriage, said that in the past few years he has started meeting Russians at conferences on family issues and finding many kindred spirits.
Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, has visited Moscow four times in four years, including a 2013 trip during which he testified before the Duma as Russia adopted a series of anti-gay laws.
“What I realized was that there was a great change happening in the former Soviet Union,” he said. “There was a real push to re-instill Christian values in the public square.”
A significant shift has been underway in recent years across the Republican right.
On issues including gun rights, terrorism and same-sex marriage, many leading advocates on the right who grew frustrated with their country’s leftward tilt under President Barack Obama have forged ties with well-connected Russians and come to see that country’s authoritarian leader, Vladimir Putin, as a potential ally.

Later in the story, Graham is introduced:

Top officials from the National Rifle Association, whose annual meeting Friday featured an address by Trump for the third time in three years, traveled to Moscow to visit a Russian gun manufacturer and meet government officials.
About the same time in December 2015, evangelist Franklin Graham met privately with Putin for 45 minutes, securing from the Russian president an offer to help with an upcoming conference on the persecution of Christians. Graham was impressed, telling The Washington Post that Putin “answers questions very directly and doesn’t dodge them like a lot of our politicians do.”

And a little deeper in the report, more details are offered:

That was the takeaway for Graham, the North Carolina-based evangelist, after his November 2015 Kremlin meeting with Putin.
The last time Graham had visited Moscow, with his father, Billy Graham, in the 1980s, the practice of religion was prohibited. On this trip, he said, conditions for Christians in Russia remained difficult. But Graham recalled that Putin listened as he described evangelical Christianity and the challenges facing Christians around the world. Putin explained that his mother kept her Christian faith even during the darkest days of atheistic communist rule.
“He understood,” Graham said of the Russian leader.
Putin offered to help Graham organize an international conference on Christian persecution in Moscow, Graham said. Instead, a Russian delegation is expected when the conference takes place in May in Washington, Graham said.

Before we get to the reader's real beef — and mine — did you notice that the first reference to Graham reported the meeting as occurring in December 2015 while the second said it happened in November 2015? One of those dates is obviously wrong. Does the inability to get that simple fact right concern anybody besides me?

But what's most distressing to the reader — and me — is that the Post neglects to explain why the conference is being held in Washington instead of Moscow. 

On his Facebook page in August 2016, Graham wrote:

Earlier this year I announced that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association would hold the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians–the first event of its kind in Moscow.
We were looking forward to this significant event being held in Russia because no one knows modern Christian persecution better than the church that suffered under communist rule. However, just a few weeks ago Russia passed a law that severely limits Christians' freedoms.
It seems that every week we learn of another example from a part of the globe that shows how critically we need to have this World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians, which will now take place May 10-13, 2017 in Washington, D.C.
Hundreds of Christian leaders, advocates, and persecution victims from all around the world will come together to address the atrocities being done to those who profess the Name of Jesus Christ.
As our team continues to prepare for this historic event, please join me in praying for our brothers and sisters in the Lord who are being persecuted for their faith. Share your prayer and encouragement for them in the comments below.

The decision to move the conference out of Moscow doesn't exactly sound like Russia has Graham in its back pocket. Why not include that vital context in the Post story?

Could it be, as the reader suggested, "because that reason undermines the narrative of the article?"

Just asking.

Please respect our Commenting Policy