Is it Fair for Journalists to Use the Term 'Religious Right'?

Many Religious Right figures reject the term Christian Right, but that doesn't mean journalists should.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

Christianity Today ' s Sarah Pulliam has a story questioning the legitimacy of the news media's use of the terms "Religious Right" and "Christian Right," given that many of those to whom the label applies reject it.

It's a good question and one I struggle with as a reporter. In fact, the U.S. News Stylebook discourages the use of "Right" unless it is part of the official name of a political group. I often rely on such terminology but realize that many of the movement's leaders wince at it. I've developed a habit of using the terms Christian Right and Religious Right in stories and blog posts—when I feel it accurately describes the movement I'm writing about—and foregoing them during interviews with Religious Right activists.

That might sound like a copout, but I don't think journalists should avoid using labels—when they're accurate—just because certain people reject those labels because they're politically inconvenient. If journalists wrote what our sources wanted us to, there'd be no need for us. Our job is to aim for objectivity, which means taking sources' viewpoints into account. It doesn't necessarily mean parroting their views.

Similarly, reporters shouldn't stop using the word liberal just because many liberals think it's become a bad word politically. Journalists shouldn't carry water for our sources.

The same goes for using "Religious Left," a term that many members of that burgeoning movement have become more vocal about rejecting. I've argued that journalists shouldn't stop using that term just because some members of the Religious Left reject it. If it's accurate, use it.

Many of the Religious Right activists Pulliam quotes reject the terms Christian Right and Religious Right without giving reasons, other than their negative connotations. Many blur their responses by complaining of being branded American Taliban, Christian fascists, or fundamentalists.

They're right to be upset over those loaded, incendiary terms (though a small number of those in the Religious Right proudly identify as fundamentalists). The terms Christian Right and Religious Right, by comparison, are descriptive.

Do the news media sometimes misuse terms like Christian Right or Religious Right? Absolutely. With the emergence of a more forceful religious center in recent years, it's getting trickier to use such language. Rick Warren doesn't fit into the Christian Right box, for instance. But there are plenty of folks who still do, including many of those quoted in the Christianity Today piece.

Journalists should be careful about using such labels, but they shouldn't abandon them just because they don't serve the political purposes of Christian Right leaders.

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