I am sure that most Christian communicators regularly review, as I do, the treatment we receive across the media landscape. Since the explosion of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, that landscape has generally followed the same negative course with only one qualification; the pace and vehemence of attacks seem to be accelerating. Yet, in that respect, it is not all downside; in fact, there is a hidden upside to this trend as well.
When I checked my online news sources this week, hitting “Evangelical” as the search term, I viewed the same pattern of negative headlines I have seen for years, with the vast majority of them usually hooked to a political or social issue. Recently, Newsweek ran a story criticizing one large faith-based funding organization because, in its reporter’s opinion, it was sponsoring non-profit entities that are deemed “hate groups” under the ultra-flawed and highly discredited rubric of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Some of the non-profit groups cited for “hate” are members of National Religious Broadcasters – peaceful, law-abiding, and responsible organizations whose only offense is that they have taken moral positions out of step with a secularist climate of opinion.
I first began taking stock of this trend almost 15 years ago after reading the May 2005 cover of the Harper’s Magazine, where it highlighted its cover article, titled “Feeling the hate with National Religious Broadcasters.” Having attended the NRB Convention that was the subject of the article, I found its coverage both bewilderingly hostile and sadly biased.
With the burgeoning growth of online publications, a vast number of critical voices have joined the mainstream media chorus. This week an online publication called CounterPunch (tag-line: “We have all the right enemies”) included an opinion piece by a Unitarian Universalist minister who criticized an interview that aired on one of NRB’s television members, and then accused another of NRB’s members of having “weapon[ized] the Bible by proclaiming it is the literally true word of God.”
This month The Harvard Political Review ran a generally positive article called “The Billy Graham Effect,” analyzing the beloved evangelist, but in the end the author attributed most of his success to the logistics of his approach, concluding that he “strategically capitalized on the opportunity” presented by the rise of television while skillfully avoiding political and social controversy.
Of course we can’t expect the secular media to promote the Great Commission (that is our job), nor to fully understand the power of the Gospel that is the dynamic behind the work of Christian communicators. But whether the response from the media industry is blatant hostility, or simply a superficial misunderstanding of why we do what we do, both extremes expose the increasingly crucial opportunity that lies before us. It underscores the fact that we have a distinctive voice that America needs to hear, as we apply the truth of God’s infallible Word to the daily issues of an overwhelmingly fallible world. That is the part that is missing in the media business that touts its journalistic pursuit of facts and truth. That is the all-important “rest of the story,” and NRB’s members are the ones who are privileged to share that story. As for those of us at the National Religious Broadcasters headquarters, we are honored to simply support and defend them in their pursuit of that great task.
By Craig Parshall, General Counsel, National Religious Broadcasters