Sunday, May 08, 2005
Does press accurately cover religion?
THE ROANOKE TIMES
Who speaks for religious folks?
A little later in the column I'm going to ask you to respond to that question, but let me set it up first.
Recently, I was asked to participate in a panel discussion at the annual meeting of the New River Valley chapter of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. The center, based in Richmond, is an education and lobbying organization representing a spectrum of 21 faith groups and organizations - Christian, Jewish and Muslim.
One example of its work last year was to successfully lead the fight against a misguided bill in the Virginia legislature that would have rewritten church law for several denominations by giving congregations the exclusive right to hold their property. The effort apparently was aimed at allowing some Episcopal congregations to break away from their diocesan leadership and keep their church buildings, even though Episcopal polity - like church law for United Methodist, Catholic and many other churches - vests authority over property in the larger church.
In addition to those kinds of questions, the center focuses on issues such as tax equity, poverty, health care and insurance, capital punishment, and housing and homelessness.
The organization represents such a variety of interests that it avoids taking a position on some of the more controversial social issues of the day - abortion and gay rights, for instance - on which its members have disagreements.
Nevertheless, it is often characterized as voicing a "liberal" or "progressive" Christian perspective on issues in comparison to "conservative" Christian activist groups such as the Family Policy Network.
Who is heard?
At last month's meeting of the New River Valley chapter, I was confronted with a question I don't hear all that often: "When will the media stop listening only to conservative Christian voices and hear ours?" the members asked.
It takes only a cursory reading of the letters to the editor of The Roanoke Times to know the far more common question is exactly the opposite: "When will the media stop listening only to liberal Christian voices and hear our conservative ones?"
My response, in part, was that readers' (and listeners' and viewers') reactions to presumed media bias are determined - in large measure - by what they bring with them to the reading.
If I am an advocate of abortion rights, I'm liable to be at least mildly dissatisfied with a story that presents voices against them even if it also includes supporters. The opposite likewise holds true.
The question of covering "moral values" took a high profile, of course, after exit polls following November's election found that voters placed them high on their list of concerns - and motivations for voting.
Unclear was exactly what "moral values" people were talking about. While opposition to abortion is a moral value for some, support for abortion rights is a moral value to others, to name one example.
So, what's a reporter to do?
That's our question for you. What kind of job are the media doing in covering "moral values?"
Do reporters talk to too many conservatives? Too many liberals?
Is there a media conspiracy to subvert moral values? Or one to impose a conservative agenda?
Respond by Friday to firstname.lastname@example.org or by post to The Back Pew, c/o The Roanoke Times, P.O. Box 2491, Roanoke VA 24010-2491. We'll print a sampling of your opinions later this month.