The Valuable Value of Values

A fine example of the uncritical approach the mainstream press takes to most religion stories can be found in today’s Denver Post, in a report on a Christian academy that’s been forced to look for a new home by its parent church. The issue seems to be one primarily of finances, and of local interest only. But the tone is illustrative. “School loses space, keeps faith,” declares the headline, although the story offers little evidence of the latter. Rather, it begins with the premise that “Christian values” are so widely-agreed upon that no explanation of what the school actually teaches is necessary. Most of the students are black, and they’re neatly dressed. In the mainstream press, that codes as pious, and to be preserved. The article mentions in passing that the academy is based on its founder’s memory of a one-room schoolhouse in Mississippi, which might lead some reporters to ask more questions about the “African-American values” the school is said to teach in addition to “Christian values.” Of course, no journalist can get too bogged down in defining every term. But this kind of story — “poor, pious black folk” — is a stereotype, a narrative so deeply embedded in the mainstream press that reporters need only dress it up with the latest set of details and names. Real, hard questions — about “Christian values” and “African-American values,” about private and public education, about black churches instead of an implied, monolithic Black Church — those go unasked. It’s not about reporting. It’s about keeping the faith. The irony is that such tautological stories keep the real substance of faith out of the news.

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