Recently, a friend complained about Christians involvement in politics, public policy, and contentious issues such as same-sex marriage. He cited an article about a lesbian woman who graciously supported a Christian owned Indiana pizzeria that was mercilessly attacked over a ridiculous hypothetical. He made a simple statement, “I’d like to see more articles about Christians showing love and grace.”
The problem with his statement and many others floating about the Internet complaining about how Christians are covered is that it assumes the primary problem is with Christians themselves: “Darn it, if Christians would be more loving and gracious, people would see how awesome Christianity can be.”
The problem is, it’s not so. I’d contend, in America today, there’s no greater source of relief and compassion to a suffering world. I’ve helped ministries that provide for hundreds of H.I.V. orphans in India. There are millions fed by church soup kitchens and food pantries. When people find themselves down on their luck in an unfamiliar town, they’re far more likely to look for help at a local church than they are the Human Rights Campaign or the ACLU.
Nevertheless, the media continues to paint a negative picture. Why? Let’s consider the following reasons:
Media Bias Against Christian Kindness
This reason will lead to some eye rolling but I think it’s a defensible idea. There are two biases at work.
The first biased belief is at the core of news gathering. Old axioms like, “News is when a man bites a dog,” and “If it bleeds, it leads,” don’t give Christians acting like Christians an opportunity to shine. It’s not worth covering.
If a church goes to an impoverished country and builds a dozen homes for poor families, that’s not news. If a church serves thousands of meals to the homeless during the course of the year, that’s not news. If Christians rally together and help two children suffering with cancer, that’s not news. If millions of Christians sponsor children in foreign lands and change their lives, that’s not news.
Little acts are out, too. I’ve lived in small towns but I have yet to see one where a headline reads, “Christian Shovels Snow Off Elderly Neighbor’s Sidewalk.” Another one of those things that doesn’t happen because it’s not on TV, someone didn’t write a news article, and it’s not on a major website.
There are exceptions to this. Every week or so, newspapers run human interest pieces on positive stories. TV stations in the midst of the nightly news might throw in a positive story every fortnight or so to allow the editorial staff to pretend they’re serving some purpose other than making the public cynical. These stories will appear in obscure sections of the newspaper or at the tale end of little watched broadcast. A few of these pieces will be about Christians, but usually the religion of people being covered is ambiguous. If you’re watching television or reading the article, you might conclude some Christians are not completely loathsome human beings.
But that brings us to the other biased belief many people in the media hold. This one is directly about Christians, namely that we are hateful, moralizing hypocrites. Invariably some people who identify as Christians are. The result is these people are trotted out for far more news coverage than they merit.
In my home state, the trial of a Northern Idaho youth pastor at a small church received statewide coverage. I remember once reading a national news story about a pastor who cheated on his wife. The pastor in question led a church of thirty people in a small town in Ohio that I’ve never heard of. Yet, the story got national coverage. In contrast, most of the media has downplayed the indictment of Terry Bean, the founder of the gay rights group the Human Rights Campaign, being charged with the sexual abuse of a fifteen-year-old boy. That doesn’t fit into their metanarrative.
Other things neatly don’t fit, either. Hence they’ll view sexual abuse by a few Catholic priests as an “abuse scandal” while the string of public school teachers having sex with students are viewed as a long series of isolated incidents. The media might think parents should be uneasy about sending their kids to Catholic churches, but the media doesn’t want parents to feel unease about public schools.
The Newsies Version of Christianity
In the Disney film, the Newsies, the newsboys declare in song, “We’re a union just by sayin’ so.” The same thing is true in America of Christians and churches. Anyone can say they’re a Christian. Anyone can start a church with no oversight and no accountability. This is a side effect of America’s religious freedom, but I wonder why it is progressive Christians think the Church should engage in public self-flagellation whenever anyone who claims to be a Christian does something bad.
Take the case of Westboro “Baptist Church,” a “church” that’s unaffiliated with any major denomination and has a whopping thirty-nine members. Yet, this group gets more coverage than most churches with thousands of members and Christian leaders are constantly asked to answer questions about and refute the actions of this fringe group.
Consider the infamous 2013 story of a lesbian waitress who allegedly received a note from a Christian couple criticizing her lifestyle in lieu of a tip. Many Christians were horrified and asked what this said about the state of the Church, and this became a horrid sign of how Christians had to be more loving.
If true, that “tip” was inappropriate, but the reaction was a bit much. Given the horrors of the world, does one waitress being stiffed really merit national news coverage? The only reason it did was because ,it played into the media’s metanarrative about Christians. It also seemed silly for Christians to act like this was a sign of a bigger problem. Across the globe, two billion people identify as Christians. In the US, eighty percent of the population identify themselves as Christian, though many lack a Christian worldview. What the lesbian waitress revealed is that regardless of what the rest of Christendom does, one unkind classless couple can make the news.
The only fix I see is unacceptable, if not impossible: one national church capable of controlling the actions and statements of self-identified Christians.
Let’s consider also that it turned out the waitress in question was lying and scammed tens of thousands of dollars with a GoFundMe. The fact it was a scam was either ignored or downplayed by the media and bloggers who brought us the original story. This makes me wonder if the liberal charges Memories Pizza is a “scam” are transference.
Gracious Christians Aren’t Trying to Get News Coverage
Christians trying to help others aren’t doing it for the news coverage. It’d be a pretty tacky person who did try to get coverage. Could you imagine a Christian saying to her husband? “Honey, I let our homosexual neighbor borrow a cup of sugar, call Channel 6.”
The people who do the most good are too busy doing good. When they do want to raise awareness, it’s of the people in need.
In fact, Christ commands us to go about our business of helping others in an usassuming way in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:1-4:
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
So, to summarize: Reporters aren’t looking for Christians doing good things. Christians doing good things aren’t looking for reporters to cover them, and our Savior commanded us not to seek the world’s attention. Is it any wonder non-hypocritical Christians doing good things don’t make the news?
Jesus Says We Won’t Get Good Coverage
So you’re a Christian and you want the media to cover how good and nice you are? Bad news, you chose the wrong faith.
Jesus said, “..you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” (Matthew 10:22). ““If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18 and 19) And Jesus has even more bad news for those who need everyone to like them in Luke 6:26, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.”
The legitimate Church of Jesus Christ and legitimate Christians are not going to get positive media coverage and glowing articles. If the hope of the world and the ability for people to come to Christ depends on the press and the powers at be covering how wonderful Christians are, then there is no hope at all.
Yet people came to Christ in previous years as they do today. Not because Christianity is loved by the world but in spite of the world’s hatred. It’s not too fanciful to imagine how those holy men of the First Century would have been covered had their enemies owned presses. It’s safe to say you wouldn’t have read about Jesus going around “doing good” or about Paul miraculously healing people.
John the Baptist would’ve been denounced by a Herodian newspaper for his prudish and self-righteous stance against King Herod’s expression of love to his brother’s wife and for not being a good representative of faith which should, after all, be all about love.
The Sadducee newspaper would denounce Jesus’ beliefs in something so absurd as the Resurrection of Dead while warning he threatened the peace in Judea.
A Pharisee radio station would be asking what all those women were doing around Jesus and warning about hygiene concerns with Jesus’ apostles.
The Apostle Paul would have been mocked by the Roman satirists and targeted by an Ephesian TV station and its sponsor, Diana Incorporated, for threatening their sales.
While the equivalent happened in their day, the Word of God grew nonetheless. People who God called saw the truth that others refused to report: that Jesus went about doing good and that his disciples loved one another.
It is futile to obsess over how the media covers us. It is better to focus on being faithful to God and let him empower us to show his love to those who can see beyond the lies of the powers who have stood against Christ for the past two thousand years.