Last summer, I did something that I had been thinking about ever since the first years of this 14-year-old blog.
I read went to this website's archives and looked around a bit, glancing at quite a few topics and then scanning posts inside some key ones. It's pretty easy to spot big, repeating topics, since the press has a pretty consistent worldview when it comes to deciding what is news and what is not. As the old saying goes: The news media don't really tell people what to think. However, they do a great job of telling news consumers what to think ABOUT.
After taking lots and lots of notes, I wrote out an outline for a journalism classroom lecture entitled, "The Seven Deadly Sins of Religion Reporting." This weekend's think piece is linked to Deadly Sin No. 2:
* Assume that religion equals politics -- period. After all, politics deal with things that are real, as opposed to mere beliefs. Thus, whenever people claim that their actions are based on centuries of doctrines and traditions, journalists should assume that those actions are actually rooted in political biases, party politics, economics, sociology, etc. Whatever you do, go out of your way to ignore doctrine.
Examples: Too many to number.
This brings us to this weekend's think piece, which is linked to one of those topics that you know will appear in elite media at least once a week -- Donald Trump's loyal defenders among white evangelicals. Here's a key post I wrote on this topic, just before the election: "Listen to the silence: It does appear that most evangelicals will reluctantly vote Trump."
Now, please check out this National Review piece by David French, a Harvard Law graduate who is a religious-liberty specialist. He is also one of the nation's most outspoken #NeverTrump religious conservatives.
Now, this is the rare commentary piece that will draw negative responses from both sides of the Trump wars, with one response louder than the others.
Folks in Trump's faithful army will say that French's motivations are -- you got it -- political. At the same time, anti-Trump folks will either ignore this piece or interpret it in ways that ignore the fact that this is essentially a theological piece, trying to look at the relationship between Trump and old-guard evangelicals through a faith-shaped lens. Here is the overture:
A Christian’s primary purpose is not to defend his own religious liberty. It’s not even to fight abortion -- as vital as that task is. His basic task on this Earth isn’t protecting Christian education or preserving the freedom of Christian artists.
Each of those things is important. Each of those things is necessary. But their defense cannot and must not compromise our true purpose. And what is that purpose? I’m reminded of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.”
Or, I’m reminded of Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Or, let’s refer to Christ’s famous words: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”
The bottom line: This is a piece about when Christians should compromise and when they must not yield to that temptation.
French notes that believers are promised scorn from the world's powers that be. They are promised trials and even persecution.
This brings us to the thesis statement that journalists -- those who cover politics, in particular -- need to read. You see, there are lots of conservative religious believers, even some who were willing to cast a vote (while biting their lips) for Trump, who think this way. They are watching the stormy forecasts for this White House and saying, "What next?"
There are stories there worth covering. There are voices there that need to be quoted -- right now -- in pieces about Trump and the Christian Right.
Back to French:
We are not told, however, to compromise our moral convictions for the sake of earthly relief, no matter how dire the crisis. We are not told to rationalize and justify sinful actions to preserve political influence or a popular audience. We are not told that the ends of good policies justify silence in the face of sin. Indeed -- and this message goes out specifically to the politicians and pundits who go on television and say things they do not believe (you know who you are) to protect this administration and to preserve their presence in the halls of the power -- there is specific scripture that applies to you:
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”
Read it all. And think about it. Are you hearing this voice in pieces about Trump and evangelicalism?