What We Talk About on Easter

News Stories That Network Talk Shows Could Have Covered on Easter Sunday

Sally Steenland and Catherine Woodiwiss chide the mainstream media for ignoring stories of justice that are at the heart of Christians everywhere.

A view of St. Peter's Square at the Vatican during the Easter Sunday Mass in 2001. (AP/Massimo Sambucetti)
A view of St. Peter's Square at the Vatican during the Easter Sunday Mass in 2001. (AP/Massimo Sambucetti)

For Christians around the world, Easter is a time of hope and rebirth. It represents a moment in history when the power of divine love conquered doubt, cynicism, and death. After 40 days of fasting and self-reflection, this holy day for Christians is similar to what New Year’s Day is for most Americans—a time for renewed confidence, transformed purpose, and hope in the future.

Unfortunately, if you skipped church last Sunday and only watched the network morning talk shows, you’d never have known it. Multiple major networks, including CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, and FOX, hosted religious guests on their Easter Sunday broadcasts. But the producers’ Rolodexes must be very meager because the guests were all conservatives who sang from the same talking-points hymnbook. Their partisan chorus was the fabricated “war on religion,” and they all chimed in with gusto.

Far from the joyful meaning of Easter, what viewers got instead was a lineup of attacks on “liberal policies mischaracterized as attacks on religion”—such as the Department of Health and Human Services regulation in the health care law that requires contraceptive coverage in health plans. Actually, the opposite is true. The regulation protects the religious liberty of religiously affiliated institutions that oppose contraception, while also protecting the religious liberty of individuals and institutions that support contraception.

Missing altogether were the voices of nonconservative faith leaders who represent the vibrancy and diversity of religion in America today. Also missing was any discussion of the most pressing issues facing our country—economic inequality, poverty, immigration, racial justice, and health care. Faith leaders have a great deal to say about these newsworthy issues, given their prophetic advocacy and involvement on the frontlines.

One of the promises of Easter is to “make all things new.” In that spirit we offer four worthy issues the talk shows could have addressed on Easter Sunday.

1. Hope for a transformed future: Reducing economic inequality

Easter helps us believe that all things are possible—even transforming stark levels of inequality into a more just and fair economy that works for us all. It is morally indefensible for there to be such a chasm between the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans and everyone else. When the top 1 percent own as much as the bottom 90 percent combined, it is wrong. When more than one in five children are poor, it is wrong. And it is wrong when a budget proposal from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) for fiscal year 2013 exacerbates these injustices by cutting essential safety-net programs for the middle class and poor, while providing unneeded tax cuts to the wealthy. These are challenges that can seem insurmountable, but in true Easter spirit, faith groups across the country have loudly denounced Ryan’s budget as a moral disaster and are calling for more equitable, merciful spending.

2. Restoration of the body: Increasing access to health care

Christians hold that Jesus bodily rose from the dead after a lifetime of healing the sick, many of whom were outcasts in their community. Indeed, healing others is not only figurative but a literal calling for many followers of faith. Two years after passage of the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans are benefitting from increased access to health care, and we find hope in the promise of more affordable and universal care for millions more, especially the young and the poor. Faith groups were on the front lines of the fight to pass the Affordable Care Act two years ago and continue their efforts to support it today. For people of faith, health care is a right not a privilege, and just as Jesus did not shy away from healing his brothers and sisters, many religious organizations have vowed to keep working for access to health care for all.

3. Women as tellers of the good news: Treating women with respect

At the time of Jesus’s resurrection, women were marginalized in society, often treated as property and as less valuable than men. Yet the Bible tells us that women were the first to go to Jesus’s empty tomb early Sunday morning, were the first to see the risen Jesus, and were the first to share the miraculous news with the other disciples. Sadly, the current battle to deny women access to contraception and reproductive health services exposes the kind of rhetoric still used to shame and disgrace women today for their choices about health and family planning. Despite the determination of some religious spokesmen to couch reproductive health care as an issue of religious liberty, faith leaders across the country are working to protect and safeguard women’s reproductive health and rights—and their religious liberty—doing so out of their religious calling.

4. “Be Not Afraid”: Building community among all Americans

Confronted with the baffling and disconcerting sight of an empty tomb, Jesus’s friends were calmed by an angel who told them to “be not afraid, but rejoice.” In an America that is too often divided by fears of the “other”—whether that is immigrants, Latinos, African Americans, or gays and lesbians—the Easter message reminds us that we are all God’s children and members of God’s family. It is too late to bring Trayvon Martin or the three black members of a Tulsa community murdered on Good Friday back to life. But in the face of troubling divisions, it is not too late to act on the truth of the Easter message—to move beyond prejudice and fear toward hope, trust, and restoration. Religious leaders have faithfully held vigils to support immigrants’ rights in Alabama and Arizona, and they continue to press for racial and criminal justice. Working together, they are helping to build God’s beloved community here on earth.

These four issues are close to the heart of Christians of all denominations who see justice as the core of the scriptures. What a shame that the Easter Sunday talk shows ignored such stories. By exclusively featuring conservative, partisan talking heads who sowed fear and discord, the networks did a major disservice to the Christian holiday of hope and new life. May we remind television producers that Pentecost falls on Sunday, May 27, this year. Surely that is plenty of time to expand their Rolodexes of issues and guests.

Sally Steenland is the Director and Catherine Woodiwiss is the Special Assistant to the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress.

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Sally Steenland

Former Former Director, Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative

Catherine Woodiwiss

Special Assistant