Let’s have a short religion-beat test.
When a story is built on media contacts with the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalists, you are really with what part of the cultural and doctrinal part of the marketplace of American religion?
I see that hand on a religion-news desk! These are outspoken churches on the Religious Left. The United Church of Christ is the elite flock that was home to President Barack Obama.
Now, would you be surprised to find out, on cultural issues, group’s such as the National Council of Churches, the National Council of Jewish Women and Muslim networks linked to the pink-hat Women’s March hail from the same basic zip code, in terms of moral, social and religious issues?
Now, what else do these groups have in common? Well, they are all, to be blunt, they are all tiny, in terms of the size of their flocks. However, they have lots of connections in the media-rich Acela Zone between Washington, D.C., and New York City. Odds are, when you see headlines that say “Religious groups” gather to protest this, that or the other, you are talking about these groups, often accompanied by progressive Catholic nuns dressed in pant suits.
What’s my point? Well, it is not that reporters should avoid covering them. GetReligion has been calling for increased coverage of the Religious Left — especially on religious issues, not just political issues — since we went online in 2004.
No, liberal believers matter. However, experienced reporters know that these groups are small and that portraying them as diverse, influential groups that represent mainline Christianity is, well, just about as fair as saying First Baptist Church, Dallas, and Liberty University are perfect voices for all of American evangelicalism.
That brings us to a very normal Religion News Service story with this headline: “After Senate clash, Kavanaugh nomination an occasion for prayer.” The overture:
(RNS) — In the last hours before the Senate Judiciary Committee held its vote to send Brett Kavanaugh’s U.S. Supreme Court nomination to the full Senate, the Rev. Susan Hayward fiddled with her cell phone as she headed to the office of Sen. Susan Collins, the Maine Republican seen as a potential swing vote against Kavanaugh.
Hayward, a United Church of Christ pastor in Washington, D.C., has friends in Maine, several of whom oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination. Her friends weren’t able to get through to Collins’ office, but Hayward planned to hold up her phone when she arrived at the senator’s office, so her friends could explain their concerns to the staffers there via video chat.
Hayward said a number of the clergy who have been protesting Kavanaugh’s nomination are survivors of sexual violence, including herself.
The next voice in this drama?
Across the Hart building’s atrium, the Rev. Katie Romano Griffin held up a sign that read “Feeling triggered? I am here to support you!!”
The Unitarian Universalist minister said several people had already come up to her during and after the protests to talk about their experiences with abuse.
“As much as I’ve been engaged in other aspects of this work today — in prayer, in witness — this is the core of my ministry,” she said.
Now, here is the key paragraph in this piece. Read carefully:
At a demonstration in the Hart building …, a coalition of more than 20 faith leaders from across the religious spectrum stood outside the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting as lawmakers arrived for the vote. Afterward, as they gathered before a crowd in the building’s atrium, the gaggle, assembled by the National Council of Jewish Women and other faith groups, prayed for victims of sexual assault.
“I am here as a pastor and as a woman. I know what it feels like to feel helpless and alone and not believed,” said the Rev. Amber Henry Neuroth, United Church of Christ pastor in Alexandria, Va. “I have cried with many women who have felt the same. And I know in my heart that that is not God’s truth.”
Now, what do you think “faith leaders from across the religious spectrum” means? Does this mean that, in this case, religious conservatives and liberals are united in opposition to Kavanaugh?
I would guess: No.
It probably means that liberal Christians, with liberal Jews, liberal agnostics, liberal Muslims, etc., were meeting at an event that captured the religious views of the progressive, and pro-abortion-rights, left.
Where is the Religious Right in this story? Are there no doctrinal conservatives making the trip to Beltway-land to pray for the nominee and his family? There are no Southern Baptists, Latino Pentecostals, African-American Baptists (on the conservative side of that culture), traditional Catholics and others there?
Doesn’t this story need to include women from those traditions?
Well, the story does include this:
If the tone of outrage was relatively muted among conservative Christian commentators — Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of the influential First Baptist Church of Dallas, told Lou Hobbs on Fox News … that he had “sympathy for Dr. Ford and the pain she’s obviously in” — both sides were aware of the stakes for their faith communities.
“We all know that (the Democrats’) No. 1 objection to Judge Kavanaugh is that he might restrict in some way the murder of 700,000 females every year in the womb through abortion,” said Jeffress.
Well that sums up the views of millions of conservative women in a host of different traditions.
One quote, taken from Fox News — not even an actual interview — with the Southern Baptist who has become one of the iconic figures of the Donald Trump side of evangelicalism. At this point, Jeffress isn’t even a solid symbol of the Southern Baptist Convention, as a whole.
The bottom line: Where is the rest of this story? Will RNS listen to the other voices and do a second report and then maybe package them together?