- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The mass media are ignorant when it comes to matters of religion, often leading to distorted coverage on issues that touch on the subject, including the polling results for presumed Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, a prominent Christian author said Tuesday.

In a talk at the Family Research Council on Tuesday, Michael Cromartie pinned substandard religion coverage on the environment in which media members are educated. He said the majority of journalists attend elite progressive institutions where they scarcely come in to contact with those who hold religious beliefs, leading to a conspicuous blind spot when it comes to writing on related matters.

“We’re like an anthropological project for them: ‘We’ll go study these people, because I’ve never met one’,” he said.

Mr. Cromartie, who is the vice president at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and has authored 15 books, pointed to coverage of Mr. Trump’s popularity as an instance in which the media’s ignorance of religion hurt political coverage.

Pointing to polls showing self-identified evangelicals flocking to Mr. Trump throughout the primary season, he said pundits regularly called him wondering how the billionaire businessman — who is twice divorced and has bragged about bedding married women — could attract a voting bloc explicitly dedicated to family values.

Mr. Cromartie said the issue was not with the consistency of devoutly Christians, but with unknowing pollsters who used an overbroad, catch-all term. When other polls asked respondents about the frequency with which they attend church services, he said, “the numbers for Trump go down.”

“There’s kind of this cultural overlay of cultural Christians in the South who say, ‘Well, maybe I’m a fundamentalist, maybe I’m an evangelical,’” he said.

“Evangelicals who attend church more than once a week — or once a week — in numbers do not vote for Mr. Trump.”

Exit polls bear out that premise. While a plurality of self-identified evangelicals turned out for Mr. Trump in the Super Tuesday primaries, those numbers were diluted when voters were asked whether religion mattered “a great deal” in their choice of candidate. A plurality of voters who answered “yes” to that question voted for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

As the culture wars intensify and political parties increasingly draw their battle lines on Judeo-Christian versus secular values, Mr. Cromartie said how religion is portrayed in the mass media takes on heightened significance. He said the media often fail to grasp why Christians believe what they believe, turning nuanced issues of theological importance into a contest between heroes in white hats and villains in black ones.

“Unfortunately, all too often, this results in ‘good guy, bad guy’ simplifications that ends up distorting reality and impedes healthy public discourse,” he said.

In order to mollify the situation, Mr. Cromartie started the Faith Angle Forum, an annual retreat comprised of 20 journalists, who attend educational seminars and lectures led by prominent religious scholars, such as Rick Warren, Tim Keller and Russell Moore.

“They come away usually, mostly with — ‘Wow, that’s impressive. I didn’t know you people were so nice and generous and decent,’” he said. “One of the things that we’ve been able to do with our work is to bust stereotypes and to break down some of these misunderstandings. And that’s been a real joy for me to see.”

• Bradford Richardson can be reached at brichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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