HOW We Tell the Story Matters

For the past few weeks, I’ve watched a power struggle play out between those on the Right who are opposed to the inclusion of the 1619 Project in public materials (a project that tells the story of systemically racist pieces of the United States’ history) and those on the Left who want the curriculum included in public materials.

Some of the coverage makes it sounds as if it is a struggle between those who only want to tell the “positive” aspects of American history (“positive” at least from a white, heterosexual, middle-class perspective) and those who only want to talk about the “negative” aspects of American history.

The larger issue for me in this issue is the challenge for us all to examine the WHOLE of American history – both what we deem to be “positive” AND “negative”.  It’s so much easier to tell only the pieces of a story that reflects OUR personal experiences or values.  It’s much more difficult to tell a story that reflects the personal experience and values that are different from our own.

I was reminded of this today when a friend sent me an article titled “Religion Both Helped and Hurt During the Pandemic.”  The article talked about the ways in which Christian churches helped (by offering spiritual and emotional support for their members), as well as the ways in which churches hurt (by making decisions about reopening church doors at times when it was not medically responsible to do so).

When compared to the coverage of the 1619 Project, I was thrilled the authors’ of the religious article  did not paint the role of all Christian churches with one brush.  They presented a more balanced overview of the situation.  The article, however, raised a different issue for me regarding a balanced telling of the story.

In a sizeable amount of media coverage, whenever people talk about Christianity they often lead with the Evangelical segment of Christian community.  They either leave out the moderate and progressive voices – or tack them on at the end of the article as an afterthought.  This frustrates me beyond belief.

Why?

It’s because there are HUGE differences that exist between the Evangelical community and the Moderate and Progressive communities.  And nowhere was this truer than during the COVID situation.  

You see large segments of the Evangelical community decided early on to fight the medical measures that were being instituted to protect public health.  They claimed that shut down orders, mandatory masks, and social distancing were all attempts to eliminate their First Amendment rights.

Moderates and progressive Christians, on the other hand, took a very different approach.  Our communities understood that as people of faith we had a serious obligation to our members to ensure their safety and wellbeing.  That’s why we were more than willing to comply with state and federal guidelines – and find ways to practice our faith that didn’t risk the health of our members.

And when our Evangelical siblings complained that we were being discriminated against because many businesses were allowed to reopen before churches – we moderates and progressives pushed back because we understood this was because most businesses had the resources to clean their facilities between use that most of our local churches simply did not.

The article reminded me that when it comes to telling the whole story, we not only have to balance the positive and negatives aspects of the story.  We also have to be extremely careful in our portrayal of the “players”.  We cannot simply pick one segment of a religious community and portray their actions and values as indicative of all those within the larger community.

So as we go forth and share our stories about events ranging from systemic racism to COVID-19 to any number of issues, we must make sure we do so in a fair and balanced ways that steers us in the direction of deeper, more nuanced conversation and away from snap judgments of others.

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 53-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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