Mitt Romney the Mormon. Mike Huckabee the Southern Baptist. Barack Obama the United Church of Christ with Muslim relatives. Do people really care that much about religion? Hardly.
The media should be ashamed of themselves (“media” is still plural for “medium,” which even people in the media seem largely to have forgotten) for all the hoopla over the religious commitments of political candidates. If you notice, there is precious little of their actual commitments made known by the media. The references are mostly a way of categorizing people, which then prompts the stereotypes: “If Huckabee’s a Baptist, will he try to make everyone Christian?” “Is Romney as wacky as those alleged co-religionist polygamists making the news?” “Is Obama really a Muslim just pretending to be a Christian?” And playing on stereotypes is a way to get people riled, which means more people watching the program. Gosh, poor Hillary is starting to look boring!
And that’s the point. Nothing is worse for cable news networks than becoming boring. I know that I’m far from the first to say it, but because of the 24 hour cycle, TV news has been reduced to melodrama. It is a clownish, cartoonish, caricature of actual news. Even with the better programs we get little. It’s mostly speculation. Journalists may be close to the action in Washington, but they’re still outsiders trying to get a glimpse of what’s going on on the inside – in the policy meetings where actual decisions are made.
I know: we’re not going to change the way the news media work. They are mostly huge business conglomerates who must make a profit. But I hope we Christians can learn how not to fall prey to believing the garbage. We all have our political leanings, but we could make a powerful witness by not participating in the allegations and innuendo that make up 90% of what passes for news.
Even more importantly, I pray we don’t ape their tactics. I fear we sometimes do. The church is not guided by the profit motive (are we?) and our mission is about redemption and reconciliation, not controversy and “gotcha.'” Jesus told his disciples not to engage in empty oath-taking or swearing by. “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes,’ or ‘No, No;’ anything more than this comes from the evil one,” (Mt. 5:37). If ever there was a time for Christians to practice rigorous honesty with ourselves, the time is now.
And on that note, I’m thankful for groups such as the United Methodist News Service and others like it, who maintain a level of even-handedness that I wish we found on the evening news. There are venues for church-related opinion-making, even bloviating (after all, what are blogs for?). However, in the season when we are thinking about the Prince of Peace, may we be especially careful to be truthful to ourselves and charitable to our opponents – in every possible way, including politics.