Saturday, May 17

Pecksniffs Of Providence

Though perhaps not always appreciated outside the bounds of the Christian community, those pursuing more traditional forms of Christian ministry such as preaching or counseling hold a place of respect within the church attributable to the dignity of their positions. However, those finding it their mission to proclaim the truths of Christianity through the outlets of the mass media often find themselves as castigated among believers as they are from without.

Part of this disdain usually stems from certain misunderstandings as to the nature of the Christian religion.

One common complaint often arises when Christians in media are required to present and disseminate information regarding less than pleasant realities or discuss the implications of said events and ideas.

Christians in mass communications, as a result, are accused of fostering a negative tone. They are then admonished to take a "distinctively Christian approach to the news" or "work to supply ... a uniquely Christian news flow."

Usually this means either mimicking the spin taken by more traditional secular news sources or confining one's coverage to more acceptable religious fair such as bakesales, choir robes, and sermons so inoffensive in nature as to be devoid of any real theological content.

Employing such a standard, the Bible itself would have to be tossed out with the other offending publications.

John 8:32 says, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Biblical figures did not embrace this notion in some abstract sense without any bearing on everyday life.

The prophet Nathan did not hide behind the false distinction between the public and private lives of government officials when criticizing King David's shortcomings with Bathsheba. Paul did not back down from the Athenians on the Acropolis or the Jews on the Sanhedrin.

It may come as surprise, but not all criticism of rigorous Christian and Conservative media stems from the leftwing of the theological and ideological spectrum. A great deal is in fact generated by those classifying themselves as Fundamentalists.

Even though he does not usually address issues considered distinctively religious in nature, Rush Limbaugh's social and political philosophies are close enough to those regularly found among civically engaged Evangelicals that many of the criticisms leveled against this particular radio personality by Fundamentalist researcher David Cloud in his O'Timothy magazine and website readily apply to Christian mass communicators who address issues of the day in their publications and broadcasts.

David Cloud argues that Rush Limbaugh is in violation of Scripture by disrespecting and stirring up discontent against divinely appointed rulers.

In support of his case, Cloud quotes verses such as Titus 3:1-2 among others which says, "Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work. To speak evil of no man..." As well as from I Peter 2:13 which says, "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man, for the Lord's sake; whether it be the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for punishment of evildoers."

To utilize these verses in condemnation of Conservative media is to misunderstand the nature of the current American political system.

Those opposed to Christian social and political engagement often point out that these passages were written at the time of the Roman Empire. But in all due respect, what of it?

The United States is a completely different political animal. In the Roman Empire, power and authority were vested in the Emperor. In the United States, the people have assented to place final authority in the Constitution. The President, members of Congress, judges, and an increasing array of public officials manning the bureaucracy are merely servants under the Constitution and answerable to the American people through the Constitution, a major clause of which guarantees the citizen the right of free speech.

Rush Limbaugh and his fellow conservative media personalities are in no sense undermining authority duly constituted in the American context.

According to Marvin Olasky in Telling the Truth: How to Revitalize Christian Journalism, such writers are practicing a craft that can be traced in this country back to the days of the Puritan forefathers.

One early American commentator steeped in the Judeo-Christian worldview Olasky quotes sounds strikingly similar to one of the many cogent conservative voices one might find along the radio dial or on the editorial page in our own day. William Leggett wrote in the New York Evening Post during the 1830's regarding government redistribution schemes, "A government administered on such a policy may be called a Government of Equal rights, but it is in its nature and essence a disguised despotism."

It has been said that one ought not unnecessarily discover the sins of others. However, it becomes one's obligation to expose these transgressions when they hit one's pocket book or come to impact the physical and/or moral well-being of one's family or country.

If anything, the actions of mass communicators taking these kinds of stands are more in compliance with the moral order than those taken by government officials who transcend the bounds of their delineated authority in the pursuit of individual aggrandizement or the imposition of freedom-curtailing ideologies.

If Conservative and Evangelical mass communicators are to refrain from criticizing government leaders since to do so would be speaking evil in violation of I Peter 2, then by what right does a pastor have to chastise the shortcomings of the congregation? Like the pastor calling for a return to righteous living, the commentator is simply admonishing wayward officials to return to the principles of just leadership.

Critics of Evangelical cultural involvement have also failed in understanding the multifaceted threat faced by Christianity for the soul of America. David Cloud asserts in the O' Timothy article, "Limbaugh does not understand the root problems with America's ills, which are spiritual and moral rather than political."

The assessment of the nature of the problem is correct, but it fails to account for the fact that the nature of totalitarianism is to infect and smother all areas of existence. Under this system of social organization, those involved with the administration of political affairs take it upon themselves to exert control over those aspects of existence considered more spiritual in nature.

Limbaugh and others like him do not necessarily advocate political answers to nonpolitical problems. What they do insist upon is for political leaders to disentangle themselves from other social spheres and to return to America's founding principles.

David Cloud continues, "The Christian's primary business is to preach the Word of God to the ends of the earth and to be ready for Christ's return." He also adds that what we need are preachers and not radio entertainers.

Such statements reveal the kind of ignorance regarding the nature of Christian and Conservative media and mass communications alluded to earlier. It also exhibits a serious failure in realizing that not everyone is called to promote God's message in the same way.

Ephesians 4:11 says, "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers."

While it is the duty of every Christian to promote the saving message of Jesus in their own way, not everyone is to do it in the same way. Broadcast personalities and print correspondents can address topics and issues not necessarily appropriate coming from behind a pulpit such as the threats posed by terrorism or the intricacies of education policy but that do have bearing on the implications of God's will for man in the world.

Even though Christ's return is imminent in that it can occur at any time, there is a world to occupy and evil to hold at bay in the meantime. Certain Christians excuse their social quietism on the grounds that prophecy predicts conditions will grow increasingly more evil. Did they ever stop to think such foretold apostasy was the result of Evangelicals abandoning the culture willy-nilly to the forces of the adversary without a fight?

This self-imposed dichotomy between the sacred and the profane advocated by certain brands of fundamentalism was not the position taken by the Protestant Reformers who saw all of creation and culture as part of God's handiwork to be enjoyed by His children.

Therefore, all labor undertaken in His honor was to be as equally important. Be it as a farmer behind the plow or as a preacher in the pulpit. Somewhere along this spectrum there must be room for Christian commentators, broadcasters, and journalists who look to both the concrete realities of this earthly life as well as to the eternal principles by which the affairs of the universe are governed.

by Frederick Meekins