Last week CNN devoted nearly five days of prime time broadcasts to discuss religion in the United States. Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals and Jews each had some representation. By my count there were at least five different specials, repeated strategically during the holiday weekend. This network has not historically had a pro-evangelical editorial bent. Therefore, many members of the faith community have felt that FOX or other networks were more supportive of their values.
CNN’s most recent religious specials mark a departure from their typical modus operandi. Evangelicals often expect poor treatment and stereotyping from the liberal press. These programs, however, seemed extremely even handed and objective in their journalistic style and approach. At times they even seemed faith affirming and inspirational. Suffice it to say, their approach to the Easter holiday season may yield many new viewers for their news programs.
CNN’s programs ranged from quasi-documentary pieces to issue oriented discussions. One comprehensive presentation was a two part series hosted by the network’s primary news luminary, Anderson Cooper. "What Is a Christian?” explored the tension between science and faith. The segments were diverse, fast paced, and informative. The tone of each vignette was, for the most part, very objective and civil - despite the occasional outburst of impassioned debaters. Cooper, himself, displayed intellectual curiosity and openness to each presenter. One question seemed to be a unifying thread to the presentation, “How is the faith community in the U.S. changing in both force and focus”?
A second, well-produced program was entitled “What Would Jesus Really Do”? The program was engaging and the host, Roland Martin, was utterly charming. Although this program was more overtly critical of the evangelical Christian movement, the host asked important questions about evangelical views on global warming, the Iraq War, and the divide between the rich and poor. Martin featured Bishop T. D. Jakes, Pastor Paula White, Rick Warren, Rev. Jerry Falwell, and other evangelical ministers. Without blatantly declaring that there is a major difference between the majority of black evangelical clergy and their white counterparts, Martin (an African American) gave space for new faces to present their positions. Martin is to be commended that he resisted the temptation to trot out Jessie Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton as “black experts.”
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.