Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Christine Wicker responds

Christine Wicker, author of The Fall of the Evangelical Nation, posted two comments on my blogging about her use of a statistic. I truly appreciate her doing so because this type of exchange helps to clarifies and informs the questions under discussion.

Christine raises some useful points about how and why we use statistics about religion, and I'll respond to them. First, however, here are her comments in her own words:

Comment 1:

"Let me correct your error.

You are able to find other statistics that don't back this one up. That doesn't make this one inaccurate.

It simply means that you would rather use other studies. Just as you accuse me of being sensationalist, I'd say that you are biased toward evangelicals and Christians. Your own use of statistics in other parts of the blog show that quite clearly.

In that bias, you have a huge amount of company. In fact, selling books that favor evangelicals is much easier than selling critical ones because there's a motivated, organized audience for favorable books.

Giving evangelicals what they want is an easy path to money and power.

To return to the question of statistics, you often quote statistics without researching them fully. Or presenting contrary data. For instance your blog on marriage shows one study. You like that study. You quoted it. There are many others.

But you didn't apply the same rule to yourself that you applied to me.

As for the attitudes about born-agains, in that section the book is looking at evangelicals as they are perceived in the public square. They themselves know quite well that their reputation has dipped, particularly because of their political activities. I quote a number of them saying so."

Comment 2:

"I'm not so great on blogs, I guess. I didn't mean for my post to be anonymous. In case this one is too, I'm Christine Wicker. I wrote the book you're calling inaccurate. See my post below.

I agree with Helen's idea that you could easily find out what the rest of the world thinks about evangelicals. If you live near an evangelical megachurch, go into social groups where people don't know you, don't bring up your faith, and bring up the name of the megachurch. You won't have to do that for long before someone will tell you what they think.

One of the most memorable of my experiences came after having written a three-part series about a megachurch in Dallas when I was a reporter some years ago. I was searching for something in the library when a librarian said of the series, "I don't know why they had to put that mess on the front page of the newspaper."

When I asked why what I'd labored over for months was a mess, she gave me an earful about her opinion of evangelicals.

Here's another idea, announce to people who don't know about your faith, that one of your relatives has become an evangelical. Say it in a despairing way if you want to encourage honesty. See if anyone defends them. Or even tries to pep you up. Chances are good that they'll have a pack of horror stories to tell you about holidays ruined and relatives insulted.

Being defensive and denying the problem won't solve the problem.

BTW, reporters aren't popular either. But I don't try to kill the messenger for saying so."

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