Religious left needs strong moral issues?

The Washington Post advises the religious left on its need for strong moral issues:


"Why do reporters cover hateful and controversial religion stories but never the nice, good things that religious leaders do?” I’m inevitably asked this question by well-intentioned clergy members hoping to get more media coverage for their earnest interfaith work. There are two answers, and I always give both.

First, drama and conflict are essential ingredients in all stories, and religion stories are no exception. So while the decision to cover every inflammatory remark by an Islamophobic Christian pastor in Florida is journalistically questionable, a journalist’s impulse to cover religion with the same skepticism and eye for drama as he or she would bring to coverage of, say, politics is understandable.

But second, I say, pointedly, the religious left needs to do a much better job of making its priorities and activities newsworthy. Kumbaya is not a story. Why can’t we all just get along is not a story. Since the rise of the religious right in the 1970s in reaction to the Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade, the religious left has failed to gain any comparable visibility, traction, or voice on major issues in the political sphere.

News releases from the precincts of the religious left continue to emphasize niceness over moral authority. Just this week, the National Catholic Reporter ran the following headline: “Faith leaders want Americans to pray for collegiality.”

Should the religious left pander to the needs of the media to get attention? Or try to continue to have complex conversations about issues that have many dimensions?

Comments (7)

I notice the headline for this post takes the Washington Post headline and turns it into a question.

I get that, but I get why WaPo made it a statement. Headlines aren't perfect. It's not that the religious left lacks strong moral issues. The religious left has many "strong moral issues." But we don't all feel strongly about everyone of them.

Quoting from the WaPo: "Meanwhile, in some religious-left offices in Washington, activists work on 60 or 70 issues at once – diluting resources and message."

You can't say the same thing about the religious right. For example, nearly all on the right are fervently pro-life to use the right's terminology. On the left nearly all are pro-choice, but for fervent wouldn't describe a substantial minority of the left. And other issues are more diffusely agreed upon.

Another way to put this is the right has a few issues where they want they government to use command and control (abortion, same-sex marriage, engaging in wars, (Medicare?)), and the rest is left to an unregulated market and small government.

In contrast, many of the things the left want to accomplish are messy and complicated. How do we improve education, bring people out of poverty, the nexus of homelessness and mental illness, gun control, etc. (the list is long, each issue complex). These are real moral issues, but they don't have easy answers.

I think this is an excellent article. (Full disclosure, I am quoted.) Lisa Miller has great sympathy for the religious left and, like many others, wonders why it isn't more effective. She does a good job of elucidating some of the central issues. To those I would add that the religious left is just beginning to put together the kind of organizations that have helped the religious right make itself heard over the years. I wouldn't let a negative reaction to the headline stop you from reading an extremely savvy piece.

The religious left's failure to articulate passion and vision is, in part, what eggs on those who would do us harm. Consider, for example, the recent threats by Nigerian bishops against Canterbury, in which they state that they will attempt to seize assets belonging to the Church of England over the issue of human sexuality. Original source at http://is.gd/qAk5Ro

While some of this no doubt is posturing intended to influence discussion as the new ABC comes on board, clearly, we have not heard the last of conservatives who are not willing to afford us freedom of conscience.

Eric Bonetti

I don't know: it seems to me that the media needs a strong moral issue. That is, they're so looking for the fight (whether they discover it, or have to instigate it themselves) that they aren't interested in the facts. Now, my own news sources are pretty narrow. If I say I heard it on the news, it almost certainly means it was on NPR. I have been known to pay attention to PBS, too. Those sources do discover the disagreements, but they also spend some time investigating both the statements and the contexts.

The noisy media (and especially the Op/Ed channels - as I refuse to call them "news channels") have confused objectivity with hearing more than one opinion. As a result, we all have the sad experience of seeing talking heads repeating "You can have your own opinion, but you can't have your own facts," and then repeating assertions that are questionable at best, and all too often demonstrably false.

There are plenty of moral issues to talk about. So many folks in the media aren't waiting on us progressives to come up with an issue. They're waiting for us to simply walk with them into a Pythonesque argument sketch - which they will then somehow grade.

Marshall Scott

The Washington Post is an excellent newspaper but they are a little self-serving in lecturing the religious left about "making its priorities and activities newsworthy" Translation: Mimic the anti-choice fanatics who stalk, threaten, and harass doctors and women with crisis pregnancies, then we will cover you. I wish the Post would just admit they are looking for sensationalism, not necessarily moral goodness. It is discouraging that so many today equate how deeply a belief is held with its moral virtue. This is patently false (Example: 9/11 hijackers).

I also disagree with the comment that the religious left is pro-life. No mainline Protestant church has an official anti-choice position. Were the Episcopal Church to ever adopt one, I would leave immediately.

Bob Button

I think it's a good article. Clearly the religious left has been far less effective at owning and driving the national policy discussion for nearly thirty years, so I don't know that we can blame "the media" for this article (just as we can look askance whenever the political right begins to blame everything on the 'liberal media'). The left, both religious and secular, is less capable of working as a nimble block than is the right; it's not a religious problem necessarily. Perhaps progressives wonder and worry about nuance too much. A case in point comes from Bob Button's comment right above mine: our stated position on abortion is very nuanced and delicate compared to the "side" in the secular political abortion debate. Our view is quite balanced, and if we lose that balance - to either side - I'll be very concerned.

Evidence of my point that the right is focused and the left is not; the right is passionate about a few issue, the left is lukewarm about many:

"Republicans were significantly more likely to know the content of the Roe decision than Democrats – 68 versus 57 percent, respectively. Higher levels of education were also associated with more awareness. ... A full 74 percent of those who support overturning Roe consider abortion a “crucial issue” or “one of many crucial issues.” Among supporters of the Roe decision, that number stood at 31 percent. This is similar to previous research, conducted by NARAL Pro-Choice America, which found that young Americans who oppose abortion rights tend to be more passionate on the issue than abortion rights supporters.

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