NY Times columnist’s ‘discovery’ of evangelicals draws Mohler reply

Communications Staff — April 1, 2003

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–A New York Times columnist’s “discovery” of evangelicals demonstrates just how far out of touch the media elite are from mainstream America, R. Albert Mohler Jr. wrote in the March 22 edition of World magazine.

Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote a response to a column by Nicholas D. Kristof in which the longtime journalist took his media colleagues to task for being “completely out of touch” with evangelicals.

Kristof called on his media brethren to take into account the growing influence of evangelicals and stop sneering at them, though Kristof made clear his own alarm at their clout. “I tend to disagree with evangelicals on almost everything,” Kristof wrote, “and I see no problem with aggressively pointing out the dismal consequences of this increasing religious influence.”

As evidence of an upswing in evangelical influence, Kristof cited a December Gallup poll in which 46 percent of the respondents described themselves as “evangelical Christians” and the faith of President George W. Bush.

The “elite national news corps,” Mohler observed in response, “is so far removed from ordinary Americans that evangelicals seem to have emerged from a forgotten ‘fringe’ into the national spotlight.”

“The fact that something like 100 million Americans claim to be evangelicals is almost unbelievable to journalists.

“They simply don’t know any evangelicals. Who are these conservative Christians anyway? And why don’t they just go home, and leave public debate to journalists and their liberal friends?

“Every few years the secular elite rediscovers evangelicals,” Mohler wrote, “and then treats conservative Christians like National Geographic announcing the discovery of an exotic new tribe. ‘These people are very interesting to watch,’ the secularists explain, ‘but just don’t let them get close to public policy and influence. They look dangerous.’”

Kristof chided journalists for mocking the faith of evangelicals and accused his colleagues of “showing more intellectual curiosity about the religion of Afghanistan than that of Alabama, and more interest in reading the Upanishads than in reading the Book of Revelation.”

Kristof wrote, “I cannot think of a single evangelical working for a major news organization.”

Mohler pointed out that Kristof’s obvious shock at evangelicals moving from the fringe to the mainstream reinforced the stereotypes the columnist has set out to dismiss.

“Well, elite journalists may take secularism to be normal, but that just demonstrates how distant they are from Main Street America — the country outside the elite schools, clubs and newsrooms where reporters and editors decide what ‘normal’ is,” Mohler wrote.

“Some evangelicals see the Kristof column as a step forward. After all, his column asks fellow journalists to show conservative Christians some respect. But it’s hard to see how Kristof’s approach is anything but a well-intended failure. He ends up reinforcing all the stereotypes he sets out to dismiss.

“Nevertheless, his column is noteworthy,” Mohler wrote, “because such an influential journalist is now on the record in The New York Times accusing his colleagues of being ‘completely out of touch’ with evangelical Christians. But when it comes to this kind of bias, America’s elite journalists and news executives are not only out of touch — they’re also out of excuses.”

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