Who you callin’ a Christian?

The recent case before the U.S. Supreme Court about birth control coverage required by the Affordable Care Act brings up one of the biggest faults the U.S. media have when they cover religion — namely, “Christian” equals “religious right.”

This observation isn’t new. This media habit probably started in the 1990s, during the rise of right-wing media. Still, it’s lazy, it’s judgmental, it’s overly simplistic. And it’s wrong.

Just to refresh: The craft store franchise Hobby Lobby disagrees with the requirement that the health insurance it offers its employees must include contraception for women. Hobby Lobby has stated that providing contraception as part of its health insurance plan is a violation of the company’s “religious freedom.” Hobby Lobby calls itself a “Christian-owned” craft supply chain.

(It’s worthwhile to note that most of Hobby Lobby’s merchandise comes from China, where abortions are provided by the government and religious freedoms are widely restricted. In other words, Hobby Lobby has no problem restricting religious freedom when profits are concerned. Hobby Lobby also has no problem investing in drug companies that manufacture emergency contraceptive medicine like Plan B and devices it claims can cause abortions, like IUDs. But that hypocrisy is another story. As is the whole notion that a corporation can have a religion. But we digress.)

While the media continue to push the meme that the “Christian” point of view is that mandatory insurance coverage of birth control is wrong, you may be surprised to learn that many church groups take the opposite approach. They support the mandate that requires companies to provide birth control coverage, because they see such services as basic to women’s health care. According to Juicy Ecumenism, a blog by the Institute on Religion and Democracy:

“The United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, along with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, which includes the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Church of Christ (UCC), have endorsed the HHS mandate that requires employers to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives and abortifacients. So too have the UCC’s president, the Reformed Church in America’s general secretary, the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, D.C., the president of Union Seminary, the dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School, and the president of Episcopal Divinity School, plus the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.”

Well, that’s quite a few Christian groups and churches! All in support of insurance coverage for birth control. Of course, it’s not unanimous. The blog also reports:

“In contrast, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, National Association of Evangelicals, Southern Baptist Convention, Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, National Religious Broadcasters, and Council for Christian Colleges & Universities have identified the HHS Obamacare mandate as an assault on religious liberty.”

In 2012, a group of Christian pastors collected more than 80,000 signatures on petitions against Hobby Lobby’s suit. They represented an activist online group called Faithful America and demanded that Hobby Lobby drop the lawsuit. No, not much coverage of that, either, except in far-right media that claimed the whole thing must have been funded by billionaire George Soros.

I bet this is news to most people reading this post. I suspect that in all of the coverage of the Hobby Lobby case, you didn’t read one word that many, many churches support coverage of birth control as being part of basic women’s health care, and many, many didn’t. I would bet that you thought ALL churches must support Hobby Lobby’s position because otherwise, it’s an “assault on religious liberty.” And why? Because the many news reports about the Hobby Lobby case never reported on any split. Anything the religious right proclaims is “Christian”; anything else can get ignored.

The story of Noah takes up only a few chapters in the Book of Genesis in the Bible. Yet the movie Noah is “controversial” because “Christian” leaders object to it. (Full disclosure: I haven’t seen the film yet, although the publicity sent me back to read the story in Genesis.) Yes, Noah gets drunk after the ark lands, but the objection that he is portrayed as a drunk who only cares about climate change is beyond silly. The movie has attracted a wide audience so far, and people of different faiths have different opinions about it. Many Christians have different opinions about it. Is there any surprise there? No. Should there be? No.

I’m not talking about movies or TV that give positive or negative portrayals of Christianity, from Bible-beating killers to holier-than-thou types. I’m talking about news media, which should be doing a more thorough job.

One of the pastors at my church recently attended a conference on church youth programs. She said a major problem churches face in engaging young people is that many don’t want to be labeled or seen as a “Christian” because they equate the term with conservative evangelicals. Given the prevalence of the media to paint all Christians with a broad brush, I understand their hesitation.

A recent Pew Research poll showed that the Millennial generation, Americans ages 18-29, are considerably less religious than older Americans. One-quarter are not affiliated with any faith. They are less likely to attend church on a regular basis, even though the poll showed that many have the same basic beliefs as their elders.

Unless there is a more honest portrayal in the media of the differences in the way people believe and worship, I fear this trend will continue. Is that a good or bad thing? I remain agnostic on the issue.

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