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Evangelicals rate only so-so press treatment

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Not a single evangelical leader thinks that members of his or her faith always get decent treatment by the press. Not one. And many hope that journalists would stop using “evangelicals” as a generic political label.

When asked in a new poll if they think the media portrays evangelicals fairly, zero respondents said that was always the case, according to the November Evangelical Leaders Survey, a monthly poll of the National Association of Evangelicals’ board of directors. The group includes CEOs of denominations plus a broad range of leaders from missions, universities, churches and publications.

The survey found that another 5 percent said there was “usually” fair treatment. Another 63 percent said sometimes, 29 percent said rarely, and 3 percent said never.

“Treatment by the media often comes down to which media? Many writers really try to fairly represent evangelicals. I see it often,” said Leith Anderson, president of the Washington-based association. “There are others on the margins who like to spin and twist to make their point and can skewer the truth in the process.”

“There can be a liberal bias in the media that mocks or ridicules evangelicals. It’s equally true that some evangelicals portray themselves as condemning, judging ‘againsters.’ I don’t even like them. Why should the media?” asked William Bohline, lead pastor of Hosanna! Lutheran Church.

Some respondents noted that journalists often err by using the term “evangelical” as a political label.

“The media would do well to recognize that evangelicals are identified by our religious beliefs, not our politics. In fact, our political preferences are quite diverse,” said Carl Nelson, president of Transform Minnesota.

The association itself includes members from the Salvation Army, the Assemblies of God, the Wesleyan Church and 40 other distinct denominations.

“I believe that when the mainstream media stumble in their portrayal of evangelicals, it is usually through ignorance. A little reporting could cure that. Getting to know some evangelicals personally would be even better,” suggested David Neff, vice president of Christianity Today International.

But some bring the responsibility for the misunderstandings back to the membership.

“Really, this is on us to find our voice in an increasingly complex world – communicating in ways that result in both understanding and graciousness,” suggested Ken Hunn, executive director of The Brethren Church.

The association can be found at http://www.nae.net.

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