Sunday’s New York Times had a story on young evangelicals who are trending away from the priorities of the religious right. One of the churches featured in the story is a Southern Baptist congregation in St. Louis, Missouri called The Journey.
The NY Times‘ description of this congregation is a little perplexing. What I am about to say is not a critique of the church, but a query about the report itself. It seems self-contradictory. Let me show you what I mean.
The title of the article is “Taking Their Faith, but Not Their Politics, to the People.” The article goes on to say that “The Journey . . . is representative of a new generation that refuses to put politics at the center of its faith and rejects identification with the religious right.”
The part about rejecting the religious right is clear enough. But it’s the part about refusing to put politics “at the center of its faith” that doesn’t sound quite right. Why? Because the rest of the article is filled with examples of members of The Journey who are in fact very concerned about politics, just not the conservative kind.
The first paragraph of the story says that once a month congregants from The Journey gather to talk about “President Bush” and “the war.” Now I go to a pretty conservative church, but as far as I know there aren’t any official gatherings focused on discussing President Bush and the war.
The reporter surmises that younger evangelicals like those at The Journey want “to broaden the traditional evangelical anti-abortion agenda to include care for the poor, the environment, immigrants and people with H.I.V.” At a home Bible Study sponsored by The Journey, one of the members praises a recent speech given by Senator Barack Obama, “Did you see my boy Barack today? I thought he did well, really well.”
For sure, The Journey is not beholden to the religious right, but they still sound pretty political to me. Why then does the NY Times reporter describe these folks as being not very political when clearly the people she interviews have simply traded-in conservative political priorities for more progressive ones?
Could it be that the reporter herself shows no awareness of the political bias of her subjects in the same way that fish aren’t aware that they’re in water? We tend to view those who have the same beliefs as our own not as “biased” or unnecessarily “political,” but as objective and rational.
I suspect that the self-refuting description of these younger evangelicals tells us just as much about the biases of the reporter as it does about her subjects.