Of Politics, Religion & Media

| April 3, 2016 | 0 Comments

George Mitrovich

Some time back the religion editor of “The New York Times” wrote a story about an openly gay United Methodist minister who lost her church over her sexual orientation. The reporter wrote the minister was in danger of being “excommunicated.”

The Catholic Church excommunicates; the Methodist Church does not.

However, excommunication is not the issue.

The issue is that a reporter for the world’s most important newspaper should be confused about a key doctrinal belief separating Catholics from Protestants.

But “The Times’” religion editor’s mistake underscores what is too often media’s appalling ignorance on matters of religion – especially the Christian religion.

That ignorance becomes concerning when religion permeates a presidential race, as we have witnessed with every Republican presidential candidates embracing the Christian faith.

Among those was Mike Huckabee’s, the former governor of Arkansas, but also an ordained minister in the Southern Baptist Convention, having pastored churches in Arkansas and Texas – big churches.

As a Southern Baptist the former governor is a fundamentalist Christian; meaning he believes in scripture’s inerrancy, that the Bible is infallible and without error – from Genesis to Revelation; that when the Bible says God created the world in six days, that’s what the Bible means. And, if it says, as it does, that God rested on the seventh day, well, God rested on the seventh day.

National media, however, never identified Huckabee as a “fundamentalist”; neither was Dr. Ben Carson nor Senator Marco Rubio.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who goes to this summer’s GOP convention in Cleveland second only to Donald Trump in delegates, is also a “fundamentalist,” but has never been called that by media; to media Cruz is an “evangelical.”

All fundamentalists may be evangelicals; not all evangelicals are fundamentalists.

Evangelicals believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, as do fundamentalists, but beyond that creedal covenant there exist vast differences – from Instant Baptism to the Second Coming of Christ.

To understand why this matters, why media has failed its responsibilities in distinguishing between fundamentalists and evangelicals, consider:

Many evangelical Christians opposed the war in Iraq from its inception, but few fundamentalists; many evangelicals believe issues of social justice critical to the church’s witness, few fundamentalists share a similar commitment. There are evangelicals who believe global warming requires immediate preventative measures by government, while many fundamentalists are climate change deniers. There are evangelicals who are pro-choice and fundamentalists who believe abortion is murder. There are evangelicals who believe sexual identity is DNA determinative, while fundamentalists deem it a damnable heresy. There are evangelicals who believe God’s redemptive grace is open to all men and women, irrespective of race, color or creed (see John 3:16), and fundamentalists who believe it’s only available to those predestined by God to be saved (as John Calvin argued in the “Institutes of the Christian Region”).

To mainstream media evangelicals and fundamentalist are the same, a merging of the two identities into one that began after 9/11; when the word “fundamentalist” took on a new and frightening meaning, and fundamentalist Christians opted for the more inclusive term of “evangelical” – with mainstream media’s willing consent.

In that transition profound historical, cultural, social, political, and theological differences, barely acknowledged before, were lost.

But fairness requires an admission that nothing is simple about the complexity of Christianity or its churches, especially in America.

A study by Global Christianity at Massachusetts’ Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, places the number of Christian denominations worldwide at more than 33,000; but the majority exist in one place – the USA.

In this myriad of denominations there are churches who believe in baptism by immersion and those who believe immersion unnecessary; churches that feature rock bands and those who believe musical instruments ungodly; churches whose members speak in tongues and those who worship in silence; there are churches who feature liturgy and those who have no formal order of worship; there are clergy who wear colorful vestments and those who deliver sermons in polo shirts, chinos, and flip flops; there are Christians who worship in great cathedrals and those who worship in store fronts adjacent to topless bars.

No one can grasp such varieties in one religion. No one can wholly know their histories or by what means their theological differences arose or by what circumstances such separations came about or how intense such divisions remain – but an acknowledgment of that by media would be helpful, beginning – with defining “fundamentalist” and “evangelical.”
While media is often clueless, so too are many Christians. Their knowledge of the history of the Christian Church is remembrance of things past – as in Sunday school past (it has been said many Christian lay people think the Epistles are the wives of the Apostles.)

And, yes, people say a candidate’s religion shouldn’t matter, but if it matters to them, shouldn’t it matter to us – and shouldn’t it also matter to media?

Especially when there’s a chance that one candidate, Ted Cruz, might win the Republican presidential nomination and go into the fall campaign believing the world was created in six days, that abortion is murder, that gay marriages are morally wrong, that Muslims are infidels, and that those who believe otherwise are Godless heathens.

It has also been said, “You shouldn’t mix politics and religion.”

Yes, but it’s a little late for that, don’t you think?

And shouldn’t media get it straight.

George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader. He may be reached at, gmitro35@gmail.com.

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