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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Thursday, March 06, 2003

Oh, For Heaven's Sake

TAPPED continues to amuse and confuse with this post:

HOW MANY EVANGELICALS, EXACTLY? Blogger Jerry Bowles fact-checks Nicholas Kristof's op-ed on (yawn) how the mainstream media has an "institutional bias" against evangelicals. Kristof inadvertantly illustrates the actual problem: most reporters don't know much about religion, period, especially the difference between an evangelical and a non-evangelical.

Now, the Kristof comment in question is his assertion that "nearly all of us in the news business are completely out of touch with a group that includes 46 percent of Americans.

That's the proportion who described themselves in a Gallup poll in December as evangelical or born-again Christians.

OK, let me declare my bias up front: I thought the 46% figure seemed high, and I love catching Kristof in error, but instead of double-checking this, I moved on. However, it is now a double-play - either Kristof or TAPPED is wrong, so I will have fun either way. And in an article about media ignorance of religion, it would be great if Kristof added together several categories of poll respondents and blithely (but inaccurately) called them "evangelicals". So, high hopes! And its off to the TAPPED sanctified de-bunking:

Just as the Bush-Ashcroft-Falwell God Squad is striving mightily to batter down the door between church and state and invade the bedrooms and hard drives of law-abiding Americans, along comes New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof claiming the mainstream media has an "institutional bias" against the "46 percent of Americans" who are evangelical or born-again Christians.

Hmm, this is analysis seems to have the slightest of political slants.

...The part about Bush being a true believer is certainly true but do nearly half of Americans really share the Holly Rolling, tongue-speaking, washed-in-the-blood-of-the-lamb, every-word-of-the-Bible-is-the-literal-truth, everybody’s-going-to-burn-in-hell-except-us faith of those simple folks who now occupy the White House?

Whoa, fella! That may be your understanding of "evangelical" or "born-again", but unless the Gallup poll defined it similarly, we may have a huge gap between your perception and the public self-perception.

...Since the Census doesn’t ask about religion, the most current and definitive information available on church affiliation is the National Council of Churches (NCC) annual Yearbook. In 2001, the latest year for which figures are available, the NCC found more than 159 million adherents in some 216 different Christian denominations. In other words, about 55% of America’s 281 million people are affiliated with one Christian church or another.

That leaves 45% of Americans who are either non-Christians or not active, church-going Christians. (Are you taking notes, Mr. Kristof?)

The 10 largest churches, in order, are:

• Roman Catholic: 65.2 million
• Southern Baptist Convention: 16 million
• United Methodist: 8.3 million
• Church of God in Christ: 5.5 million
• Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: 5.3 million
• Lutheran Church in America: 5.1 million
• National Baptist Convention USA: 5 million
• National Baptist Convention of America: 3.5 million
• Presbyterian (USA): 3.5 million
• Assemblies of God: 2.6 million

So if we eliminate as Bush-Ashcroft-Falwell born-again soulmates Catholics, Mormons, Presbyterians, Lutherans (they have a different conception of born-again) and most Methodists (other than our President and a relative handful of “hardshell” Methodists) we can easily identify 60% of America’s Christians as non-evangelical. Throw in the number of “moderate” Baptists and the figure comes closer to 70-75%.

Oh, I get the drift. Rather than troubling purselves to ask people whether they are "born-again", we will infer their beliefs from Census data. Catholics, for example, are not evangelicals. Nor, I suppose, are "Jews for Jesus". Well, this technique should save the Gallup organization a great deal of time in the future. In fact, since party affiliation is a matter of record for those reigistered to vote, we can dispense with a lot of silly political polls as well.

Well, we have the subtlest of straws in the wind here. Maybe "born-again" and "evangelical" should not be lumped together interchangeably, as both Kristof and the Gallup organization are doing? If that is the point being made, don't be shy! However, this debunking left me somewhat unsatisified, so I went back to my simple-minded scheme of attempting to locate the Gallup poll to which Kristof referred. Hey, a hit and a miss. Here is a Gallup press release describing the aggregation of five polls taken over the last two years. Payoff pitch:

About 8 in 10 Americans (79%) identify with the Christian faith in one way or the other, and about half of all Americans (47%) are Protestants. Forty-one percent of Americans say they are "born again," which is a New Testament term that evangelical or fundamentalist Protestants routinely use to signify a significant conversion experience.

Hmm, 41% over five polls. If Kristof is wrong, it may not be by much.

The December 2002 poll seems to be available only to deep-pocketed or truly committed subscribers. However, a Google search indicates that Google can see it, even if I cannot. This search - "site:gallup.com born again December 2002" produces two responses. The first response is:

... all Americans (46%) say they describe themselves as "born-again or evangelical ... interviews
with 1,009 national adults, aged 18+, conducted December 9-10, 2002. ...

However, both the link and the cached linked take me to a premium page.

So, Kristof sems to be spot on in his ability to read a Gallup poll. Extraordinary!

And what is happening at TAPPED? They have happily endorsed a piece which ends thusly:

But, the bottom line it this: Kristof is full of shit when he says evangelicals have become “mainstream” and that the press owes them some sort of respect for their narrow-minded, anti-scientific, sanctimonious holier-than-the-rest-of-the-world bigotry....

Does TAPPED do any independent fact-checking at all? This Gallup poll exists! Maybe the Gallup organization is wrong, maybe the question needs to be re-worked to accomodate the prejudices of the TAPPED reviewer, maybe TAPPED is trying to reinforece the notion of a media blind-spot with respect to religion. But Kristof survives this fact-checking intact.

Now, given the tone of the author, one infers an anti-Bush tilt. But Democrats, fear not! According to the Gallup information, evangelicals are well represented in your party as well - 41% of self-described evangelicals are Repubs and 31% are Dems. No prizes for guessing the racial breakdown.

So, TAPPED - try to get out in the world, or even in your own party, before you endorse this bigoted nonsense. Or even get a subscription to Google.

UPDATE: I will offer TAPPED a bit of comfort from the Left, and assure that that at least some evangelicals are acceptable. Charles Murtaugh and Atrios have posted on this. Mr. Murtaugh,at least, is able to distinguish between "evangelists" and "fundamentalists", unlike TAPPED. And we will give the last word to the Rev. Al Sharpton: "The Christian Right has to meet the right Christians."

UPDATE 2: This is far from over! If I ever get fully back from the weekend, I hope to have more, but let's just quickly note that Jimmy Carter describes himself as a "born again" Christian. He also told reporters he had seen a UFO, so go figure. BTW, has anyone asked him about Elvis?

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