Christians as folk

A bunch of stuff crossed quickly through my hands last week when I was too busy — either working on getting the week’s pages out while shorthanded, or traveling to Pennsylvania and New York and back — to take note of them, and a couple of them are blogworthy. Here’s one, which came in as e-mail all the way back last Tuesday.

Orin P. Smith of the Palmetto Family Council sent out this note to members and/or friends, taking note of my recent column in which PFC board member Hal Stevenson played a prominent part:

Columbia businessman Hal Stevenson is a
tremendous encouragement to me. Maybe that’s because I have the sense that
he "gets it." By that I mean I think he has a deep understanding of the
connection between faith and public policy and he articulates it in a winsome
way. Because that is the whole
idea behind family policy councils, I
was glad to see Hal return to the board of
Palmetto Family
a few years ago and agree to serve as
Chairman of the Board from 2004 to 2006. 

The column that follows was
the featured editorial in The
[Columbia, SC] newspaper Sunday before last. I share it with you
not for Hal’s specific impressions of particular candidates for President (which
PFC does not necessarily endorse) or any other specific content or words he has
chosen, but to show how Christians can make a difference in the public square by
being accessible, fair, principled, and just plain interesting to talk

I think you will appreciate the final sentence of the article
above all. 

Happy Thanksgiving.


Here’s what strikes me about this, and not for the first time: Traditionalist Christians are not accustomed to being written about by the MSM as actual folk — real, thinking, breathing human beings — when they interact with the political sphere. They are used to being categorized, caricatured, flattened out into two dimensions at best.

Another way of putting it is that they are not accustomed to seeing themselves written about in ways that they can recognize themselves. Hal said something about this to me in reacting to the column in a conversation I blogged about, and in thanking me for getting him straight.

I say this not to brag on myself — I know I have plenty of flaws as a journalist; one of my few virtues is that my subjects usually say I get the context of what they’re saying right, and this is an example of that.

I say it to marvel at yet another example of the ways we fail in this society to engage each other as we truly are, in the realm of politics. This is another of the many flaws in our partisan, conflict-oriented, anti-intellectual way of choosing up sides so that we won’t have to think.

It’s really a pity that something as simple as what I did — show a "conservative Christian" (which in itself is an inadequate term) as a thinking person instead of a Pat Robertson cartoon — should stand out so that a couple of people who’ve been burned in the past should see it as worth remarking upon.

In other words, it’s not that what I did was so good. It’s that so much else that you see is so bad.

3 thoughts on “Christians as folk

  1. Karen McLeod

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I know for myself that while I have many conservative Christian friends, I don’t tend to think of them that way because I know them as persons. I may disagree with them, but we respect each others’ beliefs and positions, because we know each other, and know the other to be a good, reasoning person. But when I meet someone who is a ‘Pat Robertson cartoon’ (i.e. someone who, over a period of time, repeatedly exhibits a refusal to reason, an insistance that his vision of ‘god’ is the only valid one, and an ability to leap vast distances to a questionable conclusion) I tend to label that person as a ‘conservative christian’ (assuming of course that the person is a christian). That somehow leads to the lamentable tendency to view anyone labeled a ‘conservative christian’ as a ‘Pat Roberstson cartoon.’

  2. Harden Gervais

    You can make that “two-dimensional” argument about any special interest group. It could be students, waiters, columnists – anybody. It’s not that “conservative Christians” are always portrayed that way, it’s that everyone is always portrayed that way. You can’t present a nuanced view of every source in a given 500-word news story.

  3. Brad Warthen

    Whaddya know? Somebody out there who’s actually understanding of the plight of us ink-stained wretches…

    Seriously, though, Mr. Gervais (are you related to Ricky?): You’re absolutely right that everybody is portrayed that way. That was sort of my point in saying this was but "another example" of the overall problem, which is rooted in "our partisan, conflict-oriented, anti-intellectual way of choosing up sides so that we won’t have to think."

    What you can do is form a more nuanced view yourself before you write that 500-word piece. You can resolve not to refer to the "religious right" or "the black vote" as though you were speaking of a monolithic bloc that did not consist of independently thinking human beings. Of course, that DOES make it harder to write news stories, or to supervise others writing news stories, which is related to why I gave up supervising reporters to move to editorial 13 years ago. Now I’m not as limited in what I get to say with my limited number of allotted words, rather than having to meet the "who, what, where…" standard, which leaves little room for depth perception.

    The news format leaves little room for honestly writing what you see and hear, because so much of what we honestly see and hear is subjective, and the subjective is actually important to truly capturing a subject, and truly relating what you have observed to someone else. At least, that’s the case for me. Others, I believe, do not find the news format restrictive. But for me, it doesn’t work.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *