I have Muslim friends and work with Muslims students at GW. And if you were to ask me to describe Islam, I would probably focus on submission to God and regular prayer. I would also mention how much I have learned about caring for the environment from Imams in my area.
Yet, the film focused on some of the most radical aspects of Islamic fundamentalism. I shifted in my seat, frustrated by the gaping disconnect between what I saw and the Muslims with whom I work. For instance, there were clerics defending FGM in great length: a practice that most Muslims would adamantly oppose.
When the film ended and the discussion began, someone asked a constructive question: “Is there any way that the labeling could reflect where the cleric or scholar is coming from? I mean, when we watch the news and see that Jerry Falwell is representing the Christian perspective, everyone knows that Falwell is a fundamentalist and that’s not mainstream Christianity.”
I suddenly became even more uncomfortable as I thought: No they don’t.
The truth is, in a new generation, almost twenty percent of college students have never been to church, so they probably don’t understand the wide spectrum of Christianity.
In my denomination, we assume that everyone knows the difference between PCUSA, PCA and EPC, but many people I encounter don’t know the difference between Presbyterian and Pentecostal. And there is a good number of people who see a commentator with Rev. in front of his name and believe that one man stands for a monolithic Christianity.
I always assumed there was some sort of media conspiracy. You know, some plot to make all Christians come off as sexist and war-mongering as possible. We seem to always fight against poverty and want to destroy creation. And there’s no question about it, if you didn’t vote for W, then you’re going to hell.
But, recently, I spoke to a friend who works with the news, and he assured me that there is no media plot to portray Christianity as a group of whacky fundamentalists. He said, “Carol, those are just the people who are quick with sound bites and easily accessible.”
So, is any one else bothered by this? I know that Diana Butler Bass writes about it a lot. What can we do about it? Is there any way that we can begin training media-savvy progressives? Can someone start an on-line think tank for talking points? I’m not saying that we should start a Religious Left, but how about working for some balance in the way that Christians are covered by the media? Why haven’t mainliners been more active in pursuing media coverage?
The photo of Tinky Winky is by Amontillado 42. Unlike Christianity, Tinky Winky’s public image was greatly enhanced by Jerry Falwell.