The Media and Evangelicals – More Alike than They’d Like to Admit
Criticizing the media has long been a preferred pastime of conservatives and evangelicals over the years and with the “marriage” between Donald J. Trump and many within the religious right leadership hierarchy, it has become an almost blood sport.
And let’s be honest, most of the media has reached a point where they don’t even pretend to be objective when it comes to issues important to many evangelicals like abortion, a traditional definition of marriage, rejection of normalizing mental illnesses under the guise of “transgender rights” and the protection of religious values in the marketplace among business owners. However, what used to be merely a bias turned into open warfare with the emergence of Trump onto the political scene and near nuclear warfare when he was elected. Then came the Trump epithet “Fake News” making the conflict a routine tactic in the war between the media and Trump.
Evangelicals have largely (about 4 out of 5 by some estimates) decided to hitch their cabooses to the Trump Train and were very much a major factor in his election in 2016. But the access to the halls of power that Trump’s surprise victory brought came at a great cost. For in the religious right’s embrace of the President, they also now have to deal with the vile, arrogant, rationally-indefensible debris that constantly surrounds Trump past, present and assuredly, in the future. Gone is any claim to the moral high ground, principled conservatism and philosophical consistency. The rationalizations required to justify their support of Trump put many evangelical leaders into a credibility tailspin with people who otherwise thought them driven by strong religious and moral values that weren’t for sale at any price even if they didn’t agree with them politically. To many, the words “evangelical” and “Trump” and “Republican” have now become near synonyms and they aren’t the least bit interested in being associated with any of those in word or deed.
So, how are the Trump-bashing voices of the vast majority of media outlets and voices similar to the Trump-praising voices of the vast majority of evangelical religious leaders and churchmen? What in the world could Jake Tapper, Morning Joe, Wolf Blitzer, Joy Behar and Rachel Maddow have in common with the likes of Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, David Jeremiah, Paula White and Pat Robertson?
Every day, it is easy to observe additional damage to the institution of the media and the reputation of evangelical Christianity. To deny it shows a disconnect or lack of discernment that is nearly hopeless. Trump’s recent list of “Fake News Awards” was a vulgar, but accurate exposure of some incredibly egregious phony, flawed or outright false news reports that would simply have been impossible to imagine a generation ago. At the same time, every time I turn on a newscast to see the current pastor (Robert Jeffress) of the historic First Baptist Church of Dallas, (where the venerable W. A. Criswell once thundered the Gospel and exegeted the Scriptures with clarity), praise and defend the character or conduct of the President, my heart aches and frankly, my skin crawls.
Our deeply-divided nation is no longer divided over Truth and morality and principles or a Biblical worldview. We are divided along political lines and the very institutions intended to make sure that we as a people could debate, discuss and dialogue over matters of conflict are no longer trusted. The Founders thought that having an independent press and non-governmentally attached church were so important, they used the very first section of the Bill of Rights to establish that fact. Now those same institutions seem intent on obliterating their platforms and as result, fewer and fewer citizens are taking their core messages and even their necessity seriously. Some are even beginning to challenge their unique protected status.
The media has a duty to shine the light on corruption, inform the public, establish the facts and communicate the details to the populace in defense of the constitution and the greatest system of governance the world has ever known to date. The church has an even higher calling and one that will last longer than the Republic – to preach the Gospel to every creature, to model what a Biblical worldview looks like in action and to continually point the creation to the Creator.
The media loses its credibility when it appears to have an agenda, when it is perceived to be one-sided or unfair and when it makes errors of fact whether intentional or not. The church loses its credibility when it is motivated by ungodly impulses for power and exaltation, when it accepts or ignores hypocrisy in its leaders and practitioners and when it demonstrates a lack of theological and philosophical consistency and integrity.
Let’s face it – both these institutions are not meeting the marks of their design and in that, they stand on common ground. Politicians come and go. The internet and general (non-news) media magnifies and dramatizes political to-and-fro as if every election cycle determines whether or not the world will end or America will continue to exist. Leaders in the religious right make a case that if we don’t make compromises of principle in order to elect the least of two evils, all will be lost – as if God is sitting idly by watching us muck things up and incapable Himself of controlling the decisions of rulers and the flow of history. It is a short-sighted view that is willing to sell our current calling and reputation for a few minutes of fame and influence and power.
It is past time that the Media and Evangelical Christianity do some soul-searching before they make themselves irrelevant to at least half of their potential audience and eventually, perhaps, all of it. (I speak only to and for Evangelical Christianity because I consider myself a part of it and am separate from other religions and Christian branches.) I am not a member of the media, nor am I a real journalist in the tradition of the institution of the professional Press. I am a disgruntled identifier with the Evangelical Right, but other subsets of Christianity and political partisanship have even less appeal to me. Perhaps it is that sense of “not fitting” that allows me a more measured perspective of the need for and dangers to these 1st Amendment institutions necessary to a successful Constitutional Republic.
The Media and the Evangelicals are both protected by the 1st Amendment – they have that in common. The Media and Evangelicals are essential to the health of this nation – again, a point in agreement. They are both damaged by their own arrogance, wrong motivations and loss of perspective as to what their real jobs are to be.
With those things in common and acknowledging that the differences are also myriad, we can only hope that cooler and wiser heads will soon prevail and refocus these two movements back to their original callings and missions. Which hinges on one other point of commonality – a deep-seated commitment to exposing lies, identifying and promulgating the Truth and nothing but the Truth.
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