NPR's Hagerty's narrow view of "Christian values"


In a May 5 report about religious conservatives who believe that separation of church and state is inconsistent with the principles espoused by the country's founders, National Public Radio (NPR) religion correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty concluded by intoning: "While many Americans may travel a middle road, they are caught in the crossfire between those who believe that asserting Christian values is the greatest hope for America's future and those who see it as a threat."

Hagerty appeared to have learned nothing from her own report, on Morning Edition, which illustrated that many believe that a clear delineation between church and state is a Christian value. Hagerty's conclusion is particularly baffling given her preceding interview with a congregant at a Northern Virginia Baptist church whose "Christian values" seemed to include that very principle. The congregant, Kathy Baskin, denounced the posting of the Ten Commandments in government buildings, describing such public displays of particular religious principles as "a metaphor of feeling excluded and alienated from my own public institutions." She added, "I guess I think that does do harm to a citizen."

Indeed, Hagerty played a clip of Baskin's minister praying that the church would continue to "walk with Christ," even as Hagerty noted that not all Christians agree with religious conservatives who advocate tearing down the constitutional wall between church and state. The clear implication of the clip is that "walking with Christ" can mean believing it's wrong to insist that public institutions walk along with you.

A November 13, 2004, Kansas City Star article, reporting on a post-election discussion with "religious progressives," illustrated the diversity of views about what constitutes "Christian values":

"We need to stand firm and be courageous and be willing to say publicly that the fundamentalists do not define all the terms," said the Rev. John Tamilio III, senior minister of Colonial Church in Prairie Village, a member congregation of the United Church of Christ. "There are other ways of looking at Christian values, and there are other values that haven't been addressed."

Thus the need for "respectful, ecumenical dialogue," he said, which moderate to liberal Christians can model to the broader church and the world. These Christians must articulate their beliefs while respecting the beliefs of others, he said.

"People are going to have to decide whether the moral values that are inherent in religious diversity and freedom are something worth fighting for," said Caroline McKnight, executive director of Mainstream Coalition, a separation of church and state advocacy group in Johnson County.

Hagerty's concluding statement would have been far more representative of the diverse views Hagerty's story presented -- and less dismissive of those who believe that Christian values are best defined as love, tolerance, ecumenicism, and concern for the dispossessed -- had she said something like this: "While many Americans may travel a middle road, they are caught in the crossfire between those who seek the government's imprimatur on their particular beliefs and those -- Christian and otherwise -- who believe a true separation of church and state is the greatest hope for America's future."

Several blogs have detailed the apparent conflicts of interest in Hagerty's reporting for NPR, including what seems to be Hagerty's violation of NPR's ethics guidelines. Eschaton (a blog run by Media Matters for America Senior Fellow Duncan Black, but otherwise unaffiliated with this organization) and others demonstrated Hagerty's failure to disclose the right-wing backgrounds of people she interviewed in a piece about Sen. John Kerry's (D-MA) Catholicism. Another blog, Better Angels, posted a series of items about Hagerty and NPR's coverage of religion in May 2004; see in particular this post, this post, and this post.

At the 2003 Baptist Press National Student Journalism Conference, according to an October 13, 2003, Baptist Press article, Hagerty discussed with conference attendees the effect of her religious beliefs on her reporting:

When you or I as Christ-followers go to work each day, we have to perform our jobs in a fundamentally different way from other people because our employer is Christ, and everything we do has to be run through the filter of this question: How does Jesus Christ view my performance? It raises the bar higher than the most demanding editor or supervisor could possibly do.


What's important is that [one's colleagues] begin to think differently about Christianity. And I actually think that's what we're supposed to do as Christians. We're supposed to draw people, through the power of attraction, to Jesus Christ just as He drew people to Himself.


Early in my career at National Public Radio, I decided that being true to my God had to be the nonnegotiable. If it meant losing my job, so be it. ... In the long run I had to think, is a story or even is a career ... more valuable than my relationship with God and eternal treasure in heaven? And I think the answer is no, and the decisions we make count for eternity.

Posted In
Diversity & Discrimination, Religion
Religion, Separation of Church and State
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