I’ve long argued that U.S. journalism does a generally poor job of covering religion. There are, of course, good religion reporters, especially at the major papers (there used to be more). But that’s just the “religion beat,” where religion can be cordoned off from the rest of the ongoing story of politics and culture.
This is again made obvious in the case of religion and the Tea Party. A recent HuffPost piece on this by veteran religion reporter Deborah Caldwell presented some tantalizing evidence. For example, who knew that Ted Cruz’s father is a megachurch pastor? The article makes an even more telling and perhaps disturbing connection. Caldwell points out that Cruz Senior and other forces in the Tea Party movement are not just conservative Christians, they are allied with the darkly ominous Restorationist branch of Protestantism. Restorationists are millenarian but in a unique way. They long for an end times that involves the restoration of conservative Christianity as a kind of state religion in the U.S.
Now, this view does not seem to dominate Tea Party rhetoric. Some Prominent Tea Partiers seem far more populist than they are Evangelical. But, the core of Tea Party rhetoric, in particular its moralism and individualism, coincides nicely with the religious rhetoric of the Evangelical Right, and some of its rhetoric about the proper role of government echoes Restorationism.
My point is not to make that point, but to wonder aloud why there is not at least a bit more exploration of religion in the Tea Party in the mainstream media coverage of the movement.
It seems like journalism today is no better than the journalism of the past at seeing religion as a dimension of other stories—particularly politics stories—rather than just something that exists and persists at the margins.