My Deep Disappointment in “Christianity Today”

Christianity Today (CT) is doubtless the most influential media outlet within Christianity (The 700 Club notwithstanding), but it regularly proves that its point-of-view is decidedly political and of the right-wing, evangelical variety. Would that it would define itself as such, for the world view it promulgates often drifts over into false witness, and readers need to understand that CT is a long way from “thus saith the Lord.”

Founded by Billy Graham, it defines itself as follows:

Since 1956, Christianity Today has been a trusted beacon spotlighting the way in which Christians can live gospel lives for the strengthening of church and society.

Christianity Today consistently demonstrates through all its media how the true, good, and beautiful gospel can not only transform lives but bring hope and flourishing to individuals, cultures, and communities.

This movement now directly reaches over five million Christian leaders every month.

Christianity Today advocates for the church, shapes the evangelical conversation, brings important issues to the forefront, and provides practical solutions for church leaders.

Time and again, CT proves its anti-ecumenism bias and its rooting for the haves (always remember that ministries need those big contributions) in what is represented as “strengthening” society. Even when articles are offered that seem to present the opposite, a careful reading reveals they are always selling their politically conservative point-of-view. This week for example, Christianity Today provides an article about how Christians should respond to Palestinians with “Beyond the Nakba: 7 Ways Christians Can Affirm a Positive Future for Palestinians.” The subhead is “How to understand the “catastrophe” of 1948 and its impact on today’s Israel.” By using the word “Nakba” in its headline, the editors hope to show their understanding and empathy for the Palestinian people, but in the end, this is just another piece in support of the Zionist political narrative about the region.

Here are the “7 Ways:”

1) Recognize that it happened—and why. Sounds like a good start, but the “why” drifts a bit into propaganda (the Arabs started it).
2) Recognize the humanity of all Palestinians. Wow, this might really be good after all.
3) Recognize the Palestinians as a real people who deserve security and self-determination. Can I get an “Amen?”
4) Push back against demonization of the Jews. Wait, what? Where did that come from? I thought we were talking about the Palestinians.
5) Reject support for violence. This one seems hopeful, but it turns out to be about violence against the Israelis. I feel like I’ve been duped.
6) Support those seeking peace. Again, this is about supporting Israel’s view of peace.
7) Encourage a positive vision for the future. Here we have an apologetic for a view that doesn’t “negate” Israeli rule, saying, “It may be that the best response to the Nakba is to help Palestinians to move beyond it.” So there it is, Palestinians. Get over it already. That’s the sum total of Christian advice.

I guess what galls me the most is that here we have a document alleging advice for “Christians” on how they should approach “their Palestinian friends” about the “conflict” in the Middle East. Nowhere does it offer even a word about Israel’s behavior in the extra-judicial executions of Arabs that occur seemingly every day. Neither is there a word about the living conditions the Palestinians must endure, the ghettos and open-air prisons they are forced to call home, the severe restrictions on water and electricity, the expansion in the West Bank, or anything even remotely causal assigned to the Israelis regarding the conflict. In the narrative that Christianity Today embraces, Israel is always seen as defending themselves and Palestinians are always presented as aggressors holding some unjustified grudge against the good guys.

The Nakba isn’t something that can be assigned to the dustbin of history, for it is ongoing. For people who are commanded to judge righteous judgement, this so-called “Christian” article is hot off the press of evil. Why don’t we have the same “get over it” attitude with regards to the Holocaust? Yeah, it happened, but that was history, so just “move beyond it.” Can you see the sloppy thinking on display here? Well, Terry, you can’t compare the Nakba with the Holocaust. After all, one was genocide; the other just moving a few people out of the way, legally I might add. Right.

So what is our truly best response? To love them as we love ourselves. Get over it? Sounds like a typical right-wing plank in the platform of mischief towards the poor and disenfranchised.

And, remember, folks, the U.S. gives Israel $10 million every day, including weekends.

Postmodern Fame

Mean Mary James, a terrific talent you’ve probably never heard of. She makes it in the new world through a deep connection with her fans.

In the mass marketing world, fame is determined by many things, but perhaps the most important is the size of the audience one can grow or the amount of money one can make in so doing. The two are inexorably connected, and this fits nicely with the processes and systems of modernism. Logically, it’s possible to create wealth by accumulating a mass audience that will directly purchase products or allow their eyes to be exposed to advertisements from third-parties. Whether it’s a stadium concert or an Instagram following, this is the historical path to fame.

It’s in this light that a recent Bloomberg story can make the claim, “‘Success’ on YouTube Still Means a Life of Poverty.”

New research out of Germany billed as among the first to review the chances of making it in the new Hollywood shows a vanishingly small number will ever break through—just like in the old Hollywood.

In fact, 96.5 percent of all of those trying to become YouTubers won’t make enough money off of advertising to crack the U.S. poverty line, according to research by Mathias Bärtl, a professor at Offenburg University of Applied Sciences in Offenburg.

Breaking into the top 3 percent of most-viewed channels could bring in advertising revenue of about $16,800 a year, Bärtl found in an analysis for Bloomberg News.

The article goes on to say that “One in 3 British children age 6 to 17 told pollsters last year that they wanted to become a full-time YouTuber. That’s three times as many as those who wanted to become a doctor or a nurse.” This is all based on the fame=wealth paradigm of mass media, and it’s a losing formula in today’s age for two reasons. One, as a business model, mass media is hanging on by a thread. Targeting has replaced it in an effort to overcome Wanamaker’s dilemma of half his marketing budget going to waste on the assumption that his customers would be a part of the crowd. Two, the web is a miracle of horizontal connectivity, and new models for the arts are being developed regularly. A big part of the problem is our addiction to formulas in the West. The whole system is corrupt and serves the few, and there simply is no process that’ll replace hard work and interaction.

I’ve written before about Kevin Kelly’s brilliant “1,000 true fans,” and that model is being exploited by entrepreneurs who sense opportunity. To all makers of content, hear this: scarcity cannot be assumed in an age when anybody can make content, and if that’s the case, then your content must be used in other ways to make money. Patreon is a brilliant website designed to help creatives make money through the support of fans – even Kelly’s “True Fans.” In this way, support for artistic endeavors is garnered without directly selling the products being created. Patreon’s software does all the heavy lifting, but smart creators (or their business managers) have the tools to work with those supporters in making their experience worthwhile. According to Wikipedia:

Patreon is a membership platform that provides business tools for creators to run a subscription content service, as well as ways for artists to build relationships and provide exclusive experiences to their subscribers, or “patrons.”

Websites like Concert Window or StageIt provide artists with a way to interact with fans while performing from anywhere, including their own living rooms. There’s a suggested “offering” for participation, and artists can provide prizes for the biggest concert donor. It’s a great way to promote anything and to please those 1,000 true fans.

People (and institutions) will always support the arts, and we have to get it out of our heads that there’s only one way to do that. The lure of Kardashianesque stardom tugs at the egos of many, but isn’t it really about living a reasonable lifestyle while using the gifts we’ve been given to share with others? So what if a second job is required for a season? The passion to share what’s within is driving change as the Great Horizontal presses onward.

Let us not despise the day of small beginnings.

The Horizontal Church

Chris Justice, Pastor Lee Park Church

The future of Christianity will include communities of believers meeting online in what I call the Horizontal Church, meaning that the connection of these people is sideways instead of top-down. On Sunday, I participated in what may have been a first, the taking of communion via an online connection with Lee Park Church in Monroe, North Carolina. The church is pastored by my old co-worker Chris Justice, and I “attend” services there via Facebook live streaming. This isn’t what I imagine fully as horizontal, because the event originated at Chris’s pulpit and spread out to many, but it was still a noteworthy exercise.

I participated in the parking lot of a neighborhood Kroger store via my Android phone. Can you imagine? I took communion using the same waver and grape juice kit that parishioners inside the church used. I prepared my heart, ate the bread, and drank the cup just as scripture teaches, in my car in jeans and a t-shirt, out in the middle of the world. The church had mailed me the elements ahead of time, as it did others who chose to participate remotely. The only thing I didn’t do was leave an offering, but that’s easily fixable.

If Lee Park Church continues as I think it will, it could easily become a super church via online participation. They have everything necessary: a preacher who used to be a TV News anchor and who delivers sermons with a homespun humor that is quite magnetic, a world class band and choir with excellent leadership, and now viewers can actually participate in one of the most important sacraments of the church. This is only the beginning. The technology exists to do weddings, baptisms, funerals, and just about anything else we can imagine.

Remember that what the web does best is connect people, and that connection is sideways. The web redefines the word “community,” both to the betterment and detriment of geographical communities. Who needs class reunions anymore when high school friends stay connected regardless of geography? The web will bring the world together, no matter how many bumps and potholes we discover on the road from here to there. Just look at what young people were able to accomplish this weekend using social media to organize marches to protest the inaction of our government regarding mass killings at places where young people gather, including our schools.

There’s no doubt that America is divided right now and that the world is a very dangerous place. I remain optimistic, because I feel that we have to get through this as a people, or we’ll never reach our full potential. When life senses that something is wrong, it will force us to deal with it over and over until we get it right. The church’s role here could be unique in driving people together, but we must first get over ourselves and a gospel that only divides. A church that represents the haves and doesn’t place a premium on the care of the poor and the afflicted is, in fact, a big part of the problem. This is reflected in the eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup, and it was for such that Christ paid the price of the cross.

Again, welcome to the dawn of the postmodern age.

The Underlying Fallacy of Fake News

Courtesy Austin Schmid

A vast wave of intellectual dishonestly is cresting above us in the argument about fake news. That it is actually taken seriously by the press is perhaps the most dangerous event of the postmodern era, and each day I pray that somebody important will say, “Stop!” My voice simply isn’t big enough for this to be heard, so somebody else is going to have to have the revelation.

Let me repeat what I’ve said in my book The Gospel of Self: there is no such thing as a right-wing press, because it was birthed, nurtured and remains a conduit for conservative political propaganda. For it to be recognized as legitimate, albeit alternative members of the press, it would have to make a solid case that the press is itself a conduit for liberal political propaganda, and that is a specious argument. “The news” by definition is progressive, because it consists of thoughts and activities that are new. There is no such thing as “the olds,” which is what we could expect from a conservative “press,” if such a thing were even possible. “Conservative press” is an oxymoron and as such presents a false logic. The press must at least make an ethical effort at fairness or as we used to say objectivity. This takes it outside the political process, while those claiming the status of a point-of-view news entity are just the opposite.

Political point-of-view journalism can’t be both.

An intellectually honest press would not even try to defend the accusations of liberal bias, which are, again, propaganda from the right. For, in defending itself, the press is agreeing that the argument needs defending. This has academia and the other intelligent institutions of the West reeling in a battle of cosmic consequences that can’t possibly end well for the cause of freedom. Are you hearing me? The mere suggestion that the press needs a conservative alternative, because the press pursues a liberal political agenda is foolishness gone to seed. It’s a dangerous fallacy, people, and we feed it by adopting its narrative.

Remember, I was there when we at CBN promoted ourselves as an entity of point-of-view journalism. WE made the claim and assigned ourselves a position within the mainstream – but to the right – because we presented “the news” with a conservative agenda. So WE, by behaving from a point-of-view, convinced our followers and those to come that even though we had an admitted bias, we still belonged on the same societal plane as the rest of the press. This may be a very slick justification, but it’s still blatantly false.

The professional press has been striving for a sense of fairness or objectivity within the news for at least the past century. As historian Chris Lasch brilliantly argues, this shift was motivated by economics, for advertisers wanted a sterile environment within which to present their ads. Nothing has changed about that, although advertising itself is now again shifting due to new challenges that are irrelevant to this discussion. The point is that the mainstream press may have begun with a great many personal biases, but the modern professional press is represented by ethical guidelines that don’t allow for political propaganda from any so-called “side” in the debate of political matters. That belongs on the editorial page or in commentaries so labeled.

To some, perhaps even many, that sounds absurd. When I spoke of it to a group of very conservative voters last summer at a Colorado Springs book event, the gasp of disbelief was loud. I was ridiculed, scorned, and dismissed by people who were completely convinced of their own narrative. This is the degree to which the public – and now the press itself – has been deceived by propaganda masters now running Washington and beyond.

Think of me as crazy, naive, or whatever you’d like, but until we all begin honestly dissecting what’s taking place around us, we’re going to continue to be buffeted about by this wave. Nothing is to be gained by measuring the trustworthiness of individual news organizations, as is being promoted by New York entrepreneurs Steve Brill and L. Gordon Crovitz with their green, yellow, red guidance system. The right has already labeled Snopes as a player of the left, and it will do the same with ANY attempt to frame them as false or even biased.

Instead of moving deeper into this black hole, journalism needs to end its defensiveness and simply do its job. Tell it like it is and not couched in mushy language designed not to offend conservatives.

Leading With Bleeding

I worked in several hyphenated markets during my 28-years as a TV news manager and also in markets with more than one population center. This produces a phenomenon that I referenced in my essay 20-years ago, The Lizard on America’s Shoulder. The problem is this: when newsrooms cover numerous population centers, their newscasts provide a false sense of danger, because every story seems to be bad news, especially in what we call “the A-block,” the opening segment of news. To my knowledge, there’s never been a study of this phenomenon, but I think we’d find that the practice produces a frightened populace.

Let’s face it: bad news is easy to cover. It’s exciting and works well with the hyperbole demanded by marketing, whether it’s within the newscast itself or in promotional announcements for the newscast. The old saying is “if it bleeds, it leads,” but in contemporary newscasts, it often goes beyond just the lead, and that makes people nervous (like the Lizard of C.S. Lewis’s Great Divorce).

What we really ought to talk about, however, is what’s happening with social media, for this nervousness created by constant exposure to the darkness of life is much worse on Facebook than any broadcast newscast. Firstly, we now have the news-gathering process made public, including everything from the original dispatch of police on through the many iterations that exist prior to the story’s finished product (the newscast). Newspapers are in on this, too. Secondly, we have friends who are passing along links that they think might interest you, and very often these represent that same darkness. Then there are click-baiters, those God-awful sites that take an old story – and some are very old – and break every paragraph into a page, leaving the payoff to the hype until the very end. Blend in rampant politics offered by both amateurs and professionals, and there’s little wonder we’re all agitated and at each other’s throats.

Folks, this has a psychological impact, and it’s probably my top reason for not watching local news anymore.

The truth of the matter is that nobody is going to do anything about what we see, read, and watch, because “the media” still functions within a theatrical paradigm and not as invited guests to our individual parties. The web is not a mechanism that really caters to mass marketing, but it’s all that people in media management know, so we’ll just have to put up with it for awhile longer. Everything will eventually shift to pull, and those who only know push are going to find themselves on the outside looking in.

And, if they’re not going to do anything about the mass anxiety they create, then we’ll have to do something about that ourselves. Take note of what you consume and act accordingly.

“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”

Push. Dig. Push. Dig.

AP Photo

Sometimes, events in media are so bizarre that all you can do is just laugh.

The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University (a great school) has been given a $1.9 million grant from the Knight Foundation “that will provide funding over three years to fund initiatives aimed at ensuring TV news companies remain competitive in broadcast and digital storytelling.” The AP says the money will be used to “research the future of television news.”

Okay.

The story reports that part of the grant will be used to develop “an online hub where newsrooms can see the latest strategies their counterparts elsewhere are trying out.”

“The best way I can describe it is I think it’s going to be a resource where someone can come to this site from anywhere and get a sense of what new ideas are floating around in space, what works and what doesn’t,” said Cronkite Associate Dean Mark Lodato.

The school also plans to become a testing ground for improved local news content and dissemination.

“In an academic space like ASU, you can fail and understand the progress. It’s very hard to do that in a corporate environment when corporate dollars and people’s jobs are at risk,” Lodato said.

This reminds me of the failed “Newspaper Next” project by the American Press Institute over 10 years ago. One thing we learned back then is that it’s pure foolishness to ask the people digging the hole you’re in to come up with a solution to the hole. It’s impossible. They can’t stop digging, and that means every solution involves some form of digging. Dig. Dig. Dig. The money will be used to make sure that TV remains competitive in “broadcast and digital storytelling,” as if that’s a problem. Dig. Dig. Dig. Moreover, the hole doesn’t have anything to do with content in the first place; it’s about paradigm shifts in advertising, so why not study that? Our world today is all about pull strategies, because the devices we’re using to consume content these days are too personal to willingly permit pushing. Again, you can’t ask people pushing to come up with something different, because all they know is push. Push. Dig. Push. Dig. You get the idea.

And, I love how Dean Lodato has already pronounced failure. No need to say it after-the-fact if you admit it up front. Moreover, there’s no more competitive business in all the world than local television news, and if you think stations will drop their pants and reveal their “new ideas,” you’re effing nuts. Besides, that’s what consultants do, right? No, I’m not talking about dropping pants.

Maybe it’s just that I’ve become a total cynic when it comes to this stuff, but I view this as a colossal waste of time, attention, and resources. Besides, the industry doesn’t care. They’re far too busy licking their chops over the $8 billion that’s projected to be spent with them during this year’s mid-term elections. Most of that will likely go straight to the bottom line regardless of whether the fundamentals justify the candidate spending. Therefore, from a corporate perspective – is there really any other that matters? – there’s no problem.

And so it goes.