Thursday, November 19, 2009

With God on Our Side (2004) (Mainstream Media Attitudes Towards Christians)

To me, one particularly intriguing segment of With God on Our Side was the film's focus on the news media’s reaction to Jimmy Carter when he first burst onto the national political scene. Carter professed that he was a “born again” Christian and declared that the most important thing in his life was his relationship with Jesus Christ. The film shows the media’s confusion over such statements.

Ken Briggs, the Religion Editor of the New York Times, explained that Carter’s profession of faith caught most mainstream reporters off guard. They had no idea what he was even talking about. Most reporters didn’t know what an Evangelical was. Briggs mentioned that to most reporters Carter’s description of his faith appeared “back-woodsy,” Southern and thoroughly suspect.

Cal Thomas, an Evangelical TV reporter and commentator, noted that the Washington Post had written that they didn’t know much about “this sort of thing” (referring to Carter’s faith) because they didn’t know any of “these people.” Thomas was incredulous that Evangelicals were referred to as “these people” and a major newspaper was unable to find any. He asked rhetorically, “What does [this] mean? Are they from another planet? Do they not have telephones? Are they unable to read books?”

Actual news footage is shown of Harry Reasoner asking Carter what that “born again business” was all about and whether Carter’s cabinet would be filled with Baptists. There was also footage of John Chancellor on the NBC Nightly News assuring viewers that the news program had investigated the religious meaning of Carter’s born again experience. With a note of surprise, Chancellor announced they had determined it was apparently not a rare phenomenon and others had experienced it as well.

Cal Thomas noted that millions around the country guffawed at the media’s need to investigate Carter’s faith experience to determine it was not odd. He analogized it to a hypothetical situation where the media investigated African Americans to determine they were indeed human or investigated women to determine they were in fact equal to men. Thomas said, “It is amazing to hear something like this from an educated person.”

Carter’s Press Secretary, Jody Powell, commented that most reporters at that time would never have gone to church every weekend unless it was going to advance their career in some fashion or otherwise produce some tangible benefit. As a result, the media were skeptical about Carter’s faith. Powell explained that they could not imagine Carter’s faith was sincere and felt there must be a cynical, exploitative motivation to going to church.

John 3:1-8 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

There was a man from the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Him at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher, for no one could perform these signs You do unless God were with him."
Jesus replied, " I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
"But how can anyone be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked Him. "Can he enter his mother's womb a second time and be born?"
Jesus answered, " I assure you: Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you that you must be born again. The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don't know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."

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