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A fellow blogger by the name of Chris Ridgeway visited my blog over the weekend, and made some thoughtful comments regarding my post that was critical of statements recently made by Hillary Clinton and the ensuing media coverage (or the lack thereof).

Chris says the following:

[As] a Christian pastor-in-training (insert evangelical buzzwords for credibility here), I’ve got a question. I accept your facts: Jerry Fallwell speaks, and media laughs. Hillary Clinton invokes Jesus, and maybe there isn’t a backlash.

I’m just not sure I am with your assumptions: which unexplicitly but generally seem to be 1) the media is liberal like Hillary Clinton would be considered liberal 2) the media gives favorable coverage to liberals because they belong to the same club.

Obviously, it would be silly for me to assert that every single member of the American media is sympathetic to liberal ideology and causes; clearly, that’s not the case. It’s equally untenable for me to say that all members of the media are in political lockstep with Sen. Clinton. However, research on the media covering the past several decades indicates that 1) the vast majority of the media is sympathetic to political liberalism, 2) by extension, they are unsympathetic (or hostile) to competing ideologies or political perspectives, viz. traditional, conservative, or even Christian thought, and 3) the majority leftist orientation of the media frequently colors the reporting they do.

For this reason, Chris, I’m not willing to grant that what I implicitly stated in my post was mere assumption or, as you later state in your response, only a “theory.” Yes, I intimated by my comments that the media leans to the left, but that’s only because it’s a fact that can be soundly demonstrated by research and statistics, as well as statements and admissions made by journalists themselves.

Chris continues:

“[Your view of the media is] the prevaling oppressed evangelical theory. But pardon me [for] taking a quick try at neutral bias: aren’t there any other factors that could affect media coverage?

What differences in content exist between Jerry Fallwell’s (or pick another) last religious proclaimation, and Hillary’s?

How about differences in presentation and tone?

How about differences in source credibility in a pluralistic society?

These are good questions. Let me try to tackle them one at a time:

  • What differences in content exist between Jerry Fallwell’s (or pick another) last religious proclaimation, and Hillary’s?

    If I understand your point here, I think it is well taken with respect to Rev. Falwell and Pat Robertson — they tend toward the open-mouth-insert-foot syndrome, and their public statements are sometimes lacking in civility or grace. But in a way, that very fact also serves to bolster the original point I was making. Hillary flamed those in favor of immigration reform as “contrary to the spirit of the Scriptures” and favoring laws that would ultimately criminalize Christ Himself. The implication is that if one favors getting tough on the illegal immigration problem we have in this country, then he or she is motivated by the same unwholesome ideals and and prejudices that ultimately incarcerated Jesus Christ. How else is one to take such comments? In terms of content or meaning, I don’t see how this differs significantly from many of the controversial things that Falwell or Robertson say (not counting calls for assassination of foreign leaders, of course). That’s why I felt the need to highlight the hypocrisy inherent in the pass the media gave to Hillary when she made these statements. If any Christian minister of national prominence called a press conference and accused anyone who supports laws restricting abortion protesters of being contrary to the spirit of the Scriptures and tantamount to criminalizing Christ Himself, how do you think the media would react? Favorably? How much would the separation of church and state get mentioned in the ensuing coverage? Did we hear anything like that vis-a-vis Hillary’s comments?

  • How about differences in presentation and tone?

    For the most part, I think I answered this above.

  • How about differences in source credibility in a pluralistic society?

    I’m not exactly sure what you mean by this question, but I’ll do my best to respond. I assume that you intend “source” to refer to whoever is making public comments — in this case, Hillary Clinton and certain Christian ministers of national prominence. Your reference to pluralism seems to imply that, in a pluralistic society, higher levels of credibility will by default be conferred upon certain individuals based upon prevailing social proclivities. So, as I understand it, your question appears to raise the following issues: 1) how favorably or unfavorably Christian ministers are typically viewed through the pluralistic lens of society at large, 2) by extension, how specific Christian ministers (i.e., the Falwells, Robertsons, and Dobsons of the world) are typically viewed by our pluralistic society, and 3) whether or not Christians should expect anything different. If I’ve understood your question correctly, answering it is a bit of a sticky wicket. One could write pages in response! In a nutshell, my thoughts are as follows:

    1. Disciples of Christ are forewarned in the Scriptures that we will typically experience persecution and rejection from the world:

      “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19)

      Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you. (1 John 3:13)

      So, as you seem to intimate by your question, it is no surprise that a pluralistic world would be predisposed to regard orthodox Christianity and its proponents with disdain. According to the Scriptures, that’s a fact of life for a believer. However…

    2. The Scriptures also teach that the world is culpable before God for this same predisposition:

      He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. (John 1:10-11)

      This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. (John 3:19)

      He who receives [My followers] receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. (Matthew 10:40)

      Although we are told to expect that the world will persecute the Church just as it persecuted Jesus, clearly it is something that ought not happen. So, while a pluralistic society may naturally tend toward actively discrediting Christians, the Scriptures do not sanction such a phenomenon. Quite the opposite, in fact.

    3. It seems, therefore, that we are caught on the horns of a dilemma. Messengers of the Gospel ought to be received and respected by society at large, but we are taught that, for the most part, we will not be. How do we respond?
    4. Forgiveness and forbearance are prescribed, of course. I think the contention implicit in your question is that many Christians (particularly those with large public ministries) do not respond appropriately — that the tone they tend to strike merely compounds the prevenient intolerance the world has for Christianity, thereby opening them even more to things like ill treatment in the media. I have to admit that in many instances, your point certainly applies.
    5. Nevertheless, the fact still remains that Hillary used religious rhetoric that was strident in its own right. The very point your question raises ought to apply to her comments as well. If the media were consistent, she too would have been held up to scorn and public ridicule for appealing to Christianity in such a manner to justify her political stance. That didn’t happen, leading me to conclude that the media has a template for what Christians ought to believe, or that they are okay with Christianity only as long as its practical outworking harmonizes with their own worldview. This constitutes clear and willful bias, and I think it’s both reasonable and fair to call attention to it — especially when said media purports to be unbiased and impartial in its reporting.

Chris sums up his thoughts:

I guess my point is this: as a devoted Christ follower – I’m willing to assume that there is some biased reporting out there. But sometimes I can’t help but feeling that we can’t get off the “we’re” oppressed block, and possibly forget that we’re making brash assumptions about the political party of true Christianity, the words of a US Senator vs. a TV preacher, the purity of our own motives when being frustrated on criticism, and the way humility typically wins over whining.

As for the “we’re Evangelicals and we’re oppressed” sentiment, modern circumstances often make it easy to lose sight of the fact that we serve a victorious Christ who has overcome the world. But I can honestly say that I wasn’t motivated by such feelings when I criticized the media’s handling of Sen. Clinton. My purpose was to highlight obvious duplicity and bias which belies the external veneer of impartiality that the media attempts to maintain. Why? Because I think biased reporting is a harmful and ultimately deceitful practice, and the media should put a stop to it. Should I let it get to me? Probably not as much as I do. But pointing it out is truth telling in my book, and I see nothing wrong with that.

Regarding the problem of “making brash assumptions about the political party of true Christianity,” I can’t help but think that you are lumping me together with people who believe God likes conservative Republicans better than liberal Democrats. That’s a silly and offensive notion, and I don’t ascribe to it. As a Christian who looks to the Bible as the chief and final authority not only on matters of faith and practice, but also ultimate truth, I will say that I find the political ideology of liberalism to be in conflict with Christianity far more often than it harmonizes with it. That’s not to say that political conservatism always harmonizes with it either. Clearly, it does not.

I see some finger pointing in my direction in your final sentence. Are you trying to characterize my post on Hillary and media bias as whining? If so, I don’t think that’s accurate or fair. If your overarching point is that Evangelicals often complain with ungodly tone and frequency about media bias, you might have a good argument to make. As for your point on responding to media bias with pure motives and humility, I wholeheartedly concur. The late Ed Cole used to say that believers need to learn how to contend for Christianity without being contentious — Paul calls it speaking the truth in love. I strive to do that, and I admit that I do not always succeed. If you or any of tMR’s readers wish to offer me some constructive criticism in this area, I’m open to hearing it.

Thanks, Chris, for taking the time to visit my blog and share your thoughts. I hope you’ll come back often.


aka The MonT-SteR