From Christian militias to Christian drug gangs

July 2, 2010

I have mixed feelings about media-criticism blog GetReligion. Its journalist-bloggers do fine work hunting religion ghosts in the mainstream media’s work, and they provide much-needed fact checking in those articles that do get into faith. But some of their smaller-bore critiques get tiresome—fussing about headlines here, copyediting published articles for style there.

however, I share Terry Mattingly’s strong reaction to a style issue: “I
have seen some wild religious labels in my decades on the Godbeat, but
I have to say that ‘Christian fundamentalist narco-gang’ takes the
cake.” He’s referring to a recent Time article on La Familia Michoacana. The infamous Mexican meth gang calls itself Christian. So should Time do so as well, without qualification? What’s in a label?

move the question from the newsroom to the church: Just how big is your
tent? When it comes to challenging someone’s claim to the word
“Christian,” we mainliners are often as reticent as news journalists
(though for different reasons). But if a gang of hyperviolent
terrorist-thugs can be Christian, what’s the word worth anymore?

The Century editorialized on this question in connection with the Hutaree militia story this spring. And, speaking of stylebook fussiness, see my post on scare-quoting “Christian.”


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