Newsweek, the Bible, and Trash Journalism

Barb Wire

By Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D.

Newsweek, a once prestigious news magazine that sold for $1 in 2010, has published as its cover feature for the New Year (Jan. 2-9; online Dec. 23) what can fairly be described as trash journalism. The article, entitled “So Misrepresented It’s a Sin,” is a hit piece against evangelical/orthodox views of the Bible that offend the leftwing political sensibilities, particularly as regards homosexual relations. Its contents ironically illustrate the title, not by correcting misrepresentations of Scripture but rather by advancing them.

The author of the article is Kurt Eichenwald, who is a contributing editor of Vanity Fair and a former reporter for the New York Times. Eichenwald’s primary expertise is as an investigative reporter of business scandals, not as an interpreter of the Bible (a fact that the article makes abundantly evident). Eichenwald’s rant against orthodox views of Scripture rambles from the alleged faulty transmission and translation of the biblical text, to the presumed error of the Trinity as the stimulus for murdering others, and to the heinous act of public prayer. By the end of the article, if not before, the careful reader will see that Eichenwald’s ultimate bête noire is any Christian appeal to the Bible as a basis for rejecting homosexual practice as sin. Apparently, by undermining the authority of Scripture Eichenwald hopes to undermine any appeal to a male-female requirement for sexual relations.

Already in the first sentence Eichenwald states, “They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals”; then goes on to speak of “the illiteracy of self-proclaimed Biblical literalists lead[ing] parents to banish children from their homes … engender[ing] hate and condemnation.” The last two hysterical references are connected later in his article to the issue of homosexuality. Two large photos center on the issue of homosexuality, one showing “God hates fags” signs from the Phelps family—depicted as representative when in fact their rhetoric is repudiated by the entirety of American evangelicalism. The longest section by far of the article has to do with homosexuality (almost 200 words more than the next longest section). That’s not counting the concluding section “Judge Not,” whose theme fits better his rant against a male-female prerequisite for sex than his rants against school prayer, creationism, and the deity of Christ.

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Eichenwald’s rhetoric throughout is abrasive, clearly designed to make Christians ashamed of ever making such an appeal to the Bible again. Christians who regard homosexual practice as sin (or who—horror!—favor prayer in public school) “are God’s frauds, cafeteria Christians,” “hypocrites,” “Biblical illiterates,” “fundamentalists and political opportunists,” and “Pharisees.” Alongside Eichenwald’s abusive rhetoric is his one-sided and sparse “research.” He cites as his authorities left-of-center writers like Bart Ehrman and Jason BeDuhn (with a little bit of Richard Elliott Friedman thrown in).

With all this, Eichenwald has the temerity to say: “Newsweek’s exploration here of the Bible’s history and meaning is not intended to advance a particular theology.” I can only imagine what the article would have looked like if Eichenwald had allowed himself to become tendentious. Not that any of this is surprising for Newsweek. This is not the first time that the editors at Newsweek have made assaulting the scriptural stance against homosexual practice their crusading issue (for example, see here and here).

There is so much error and absurd reasoning in this 7600-word article that this review can hardly cover all the nonsense within the space limit of 1000, 5000, or even 7600 words. This is especially true because it takes longer to show patiently why heresy and incompetent exegesis are what they are than to spout such. The essay that follows is divided into two main parts: (1) Eichenwald’s missteps on Scripture, Christology, the process of canonization, and public prayer; and (2) Eichenwald’s missteps on the Bible and homosexual practice.

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