MediaWatch: June 29, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 10

Pounding the Primitives

"Seldom has a religious statement been so misconstrued," assessed Newsweek religion writer Kenneth Woodward after seeing the media reaction to the adding of a new plank to the official "Baptist Faith and Message." Dan Rather, for instance, declared on the June 10 CBS Evening News: "New changes in the church's official formal statement of beliefs are sparking big debate today across religious boundaries. Southern Baptist leadership now takes the view that quote, 'a wife is to submit graciously to her husband's leadership.' CBS's Bob McNamara has chapter and verse on this controversial interpretation of a woman's place."

As Woodward explained in the June 22 issue, the "Apostle Paul set forth rules for godly family relationships. 'Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord,' runs a typical passage that later became sacred scripture. 'Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly,' he continued." But, he observed, "when delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution saying that a wife should 'submit graciously to her husband's leadership' -- a paraphrase of Paul -- the media reacted as if the Baptists were promoting heresy. From a secular perspective, they were."

The Baptist statement, Woodward pointed out, "twice mentioned the equality of husbands and wives," but "this was barely noted in media reports." Indeed, of the network stories, only ABC's Peggy Wehmeyer told viewers: "The husband and wife are of equal worth before God" and "a husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church."

Instead of bringing understanding of religious doctrines to their viewers as Woodward had to his readers, NBC propounded a nefarious interpretation. Leading into a clip from the Dean of the Wake Forest Divinity School, reporter George Lewis brusquely charged: "The Southern Baptists quote the Bible, the Book of Ephesians, to back up their contention that women should follow men, but other theologians point out that in the 19th century the Southern Baptists used the same scripture to justify slavery."