PoliZette

Why Can’t the Elite Media ‘Get’ Christians? Most Americans Do

Somebody please tell The New York Times that its opinion editors need to take Faith 101 to separate fact from fiction

New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet was more right than he knew when he told NPR in a Dec. 8, 2016, interview that this country’s elite media don’t understand why most Americans are or at least claim to be religious.

“I think that the New York–based, and Washington-based, too, probably, media powerhouses don’t quite get religion,” Baquet said. “We have a fabulous religion writer, but she’s all alone. We don’t get religion. We don’t get the role of religion in people’s lives. And I think we can do much, much better.”

Things haven’t changed since Baquet talked to NPR, at least judging by a recent op-ed that appeared in The Times’ opinion section, written by a Katherine Stewart and titled “The Museum of the Bible is a Safe Space for Christian Nationalists.”

“Safe space” may be the most inaccurate description that’s ever been written or will be about the Museum of the Bible and the beliefs of Christians in America. The op-ed is comprehensively wrong in its description of — well, pretty much everything and everybody it addresses.

Having served for six years of my long journalism career as an editorial-page editor, I was especially struck by the fact this incredibly flawed op-ed appeared in Baquet’s newspaper. The opinion sections of all media outlets are no less obligated than the news pages to be factual and accurate. Somebody was asleep at the wheel on this one.

Here’s the op-ed’s basic argument: “The museum is a safe space for Christian nationalists, and that is the key to understanding its political mission … Given the theologico-political goals of its founders and patrons, it isn’t hard to see that the location of this museum was an act of symbolic and practical genius. If you’re going to build a Christian nation, this is where you start.”

The phrases “Christian nationalists” and “Christian nation” are the keys to understanding the op-ed author’s purpose — to raise the alarms about a sinister purported conspiracy among a bunch of religious fanatics who, any minute now, will impose on all Americans an oppressive return to the dark era of the Salem witch trials.

The problem is that the op-ed’s author is trying to slander tens of millions of conservative and evangelical Americans as devotees of an obscure sect numbering in the dozens and inhabiting a far corner of theological opinion.

The problem is that the op-ed’s author is trying to slander tens of millions of conservative and evangelical Americans as devotees of an obscure sect numbering in the dozens and inhabiting a far corner of theological opinion.

Besides “Christian nationalists,” the sect’s adherents sometimes refer to themselves as advocates of “Dominionism.” Under either label, the sect is light years out of the mainstream of American Protestant and Catholic belief and practice.

One man the op-ed singles out for particularly harsh and mean-spirited treatment is Rev. Ralph Drollinger, founder and president of Capital Ministries Inc. and, according to the author, “one of the most politically influential pastors in America.” Funny, I’ve covered politics for four decades, am an online seminary student, and have been an active Southern Baptist most of my life — yet I’ve never met Rev. Drollinger.

But Drollinger is a bad guy because, in a paragraph that spectacularly illustrates the author’s lack of understanding of even the most basic tenets of biblical Christianity, he believes, among much else, that “‘the institution of the state’ is ‘an avenger of wrath,’ he explains, and its ‘God-given responsibility’ is ‘to moralize a fallen world through the use of force.’”

Drollinger doesn’t need me to defend him, but allow me to translate what he means in that statement: If you are robbed and call the police, who then catch the criminal, turn him over to the courts for prosecution, where he is convicted and sent to jail for punishment, you have asked “the institution of the state” to “moralize a fallen world through the use of force” in your particular situation.

But back to the issue of Christian nationalists and the Museum of the Bible.

A statement emailed Monday by Capital Ministries to its supporters and donors said:

Ralph Drollinger is not a Christian Nationalist, nor is he a Dominionist.

Drollinger:

DOES NOT believe Christians have a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ.

DOES NOT believe Christians are to have dominion over government.

DOES NOT believe in a political ideology that posits a Christian right to rule.

DOES NOT believe in a revisionist history that holds that the founders were devout Christians who never intended to create a secular republic. (Drollinger believes that many, not all, of America’s Founding Fathers were Christian and that their beliefs are reflected in much of our nation’s history.)

DOES believe in separation of church and state. (See “Clarifying the Continual Confusion about the Separation of Church and State” Bible study.)

DOES NOT believe separation of church and state is a fraud perpetrated by God-hating subversives.

DOES NOT believe in the restoration of a Christian nation.

It’s hard to imagine how an op-ed could be so wrong on so much the author presents as fact unless the intent is to mislead readers. Only the op-ed’s author would know her heart’s true intention.

But the opinion editor of one of the world’s most influential media outlets had the obligation to readers to make a few phone calls, maybe do a Google search or two, to fact-check this submission. Had that been done, I have no doubt this op-ed would not have been published.

Senior editor Mark Tapscott can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.