The Calling of the Christian Journalist
The Calling of the Christian Journalist
Urbana12 (December 2012)
Urbana12 (December 2012)
At a national convention (
Pew survey after Pew survey (started by evangelical Howard Pew of Sun Oil) has evidenced the observable political and religious bias in the metropolitan and national mainstream press. I will argue that truth is the answer to media bias.
As an evangelical journalist I sometimes feel like an Indian among the Swedes. Peter Berger, the
Let me briefly touch on what I see as the prevailing, but overlapping, self-justifying roles of journalism - excluding blogs and tweets which are even more indulgent and less reflective. Many of these roles are a variation of the Hedges’ view, the role which I call "The Equalizer" (after the wonderful Eddy Woodward TV series). Let me add a note here about journalism and cynicism: Dick Keyes of L’Abri has powerfully argued (Seeing Through Cynicism: A Reconsideration of the Power of Suspicion) Cynicism is sub-Christian and non-biblical. Jesus, who knew the hearts of those around Him, was never cynical; skeptical, but never cynical (Mark 3:5; Luke 5:22; 6:8; 9:47; 11;17, “Jesus knowing their thoughts”).
As I said, there are several variations of this "Equalizer" calling that I see at play in today’s newsrooms:
This variation argues that we journalists set the cultural agenda by organizing the issues for discussion. Journalists don’t tell people what to think, but we set the table for discussion.
As sentinel, the calling of the journalist is to be the watchdog over government. In
This calling of the journalist is to maintain established political ideology. These are court journalists or royal lackeys or retainers, and those in power use these willing journalists to manufacture and sustain the consent of the governed.
This variation of the “Equalizer” calling argues that the journalist is to enhance and encourage public conversation about issues so that nimble truth can emerge from these conversations. This role is born out of the pragmatism of John Dewey who argued that truth must be kept pliant and supple if it is to be useful in serving the needs of current humankind. We journalists are not obligated to report and write news that fit the verifiable facts (truth), but rather news that is useful for public consensus building, since all civic virtues, such as “truth,” “democracy,” “goodness” are concepts which are formed out of public consensus.
There are elements of all these roles (and other roles) in a Christian calling of journalism, which I term:
How pre-modern! I argue that the dominant role for the journalist who is a Christian is an unrelenting striver for verifiable truth. That is, the Christian journalist is to discover and report the truth in a given situation so as to inform the public in order that the public can make salutary decisions based on verifiable information. Tim Keller notes 6 instances of the searing honesty of the biblical reporters in the crucifixion account in his book The Reason for God. Reinhold Niebuhr wrote “Despite the storm without and the smell within, the Church points to a truth beyond its own stating of it” (The Theology of Reinhold Niebuhr, Finsteun). Christian journalists are the “staters” of that received truth.
This role of truth-telling is so unremarkable and self-evident to the
There are at least three obligations that truth-telling imposes on the Christian journalist. I want to expand only on the 3rd obligation since I think the first 2 obligations are relatively clear to us Christians.
1) The obligation to Jesus Christ our Lord to be strivers for truth.
“I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37).
2) The obligation to ourselves to be strivers for truth.
“Then you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
3) We have an obligation to our neighbors to be strivers for truth.
Zechariah 8:16-17, “These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other and render true and sound judgment in your courts; … and do not love to swear falsely. I hate all these things.”
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul picks up on this passage when he writes to the Ephesian Christians,
“Therefore, each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor” (Ephesians 4:25).
Why is reporting the truth to “each other,” to “our neighbor” so important? Why can't we improve on or soften reality with a little nuanced equivocation to advance a righteous cause? The reason we can’t nuance reality in our reporting is because the sovereign God of truth does not need our improvements, our nuance to eventually bless our neighbor. It is part of the way God created human society – truth always leads to blessing.
A side note here: The great Old Testament prophets tell us that if you want to report and write for a Christian audience, here is your mission: Be a Watchman, warn the Church to stay faithful to her Lord and Redeemer by reporting the truth - Isaiah 21:6 tells the Old Testament Church, “Go, post a lookout and have him report what he sees” (Jeremiah 51:12, “station the watchman”; Ez. 3:17, “I have made you a watchman of Israel”; 33:2, “choose one of their men and make him their watchman”; John 8:32, truth leads to liberty).
But to a broader audience, we Christian journalists must never be afraid of reporting the truth of any given situation, even when the truth is ugly and unpleasant, which it often is, because ultimately, God will use the truth to work His good and perfect will for our neighbor. To be truthful with our neighbor is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 5:13-16, “salt of the earth,” “light of the world”; 1 Peter 5:8, our “enemy,” the great liar Satan, is looking for people “to devour,” Judges 2:10-14; Is. 44:9-11; Rom. 1:20; 2:1, ignorance of truth is no defense).
If falsehood is permitted to stand by our failure to report, or deliberately twist the truth, human society will break down and the blessings of human culture will be lost (Prov. 24:11-12, “we knew nothing about this”; Matthew 7:12, Golden Rule). To diligently report the truth in every situation is to take part in the cosmic struggle to redeem human culture (1 Peter 3:15, give a reason for the hope; Col 4:5-6, conversation full of grace and salt; 2 Tim. 2:23-26, escape the trap of the devil; Titus. 3:2, slander no one) and stand against the Evil One (John 8:44, father of lies).
A short sidebar on truth: This truth-telling is our vocational requirement. The Bible teaches that because honest communication between humans is the created norm and thus a requirement for human flourishing and blessing, when a person seeks our destruction or harm that person destroys the gift of communication and we are not required to use that gift to tell him the truth (cf, Exodus 1:17; Joshua 2:4. Rahab; ?19:8-9; Luke 23:9, “Jesus gave him no answer”; Hugo Grotius, 17th c.). Truth has intrinsic value and is essential to human community. Lying is a coercive assault that robs us of freedom and dignity because mutual understanding in human relationships is part of the created order (David Clyde Jones, Biblical Christian Ethics). So, the harm-seeking person forfeits his right to know the whole truth from us (cf, Ex. 1:16-19, Moses; 2 Sam. 17:18-20, Johathan/Ahimaaz in the well).
But that is a tangent about the ethics of truth-telling and seldom impacts our vocational requirement to tell the truth as Christian reporters and writers.
This truth-telling calling of the Christian journalist is a four-legged stool with the following 4 key biblical doctrines as legs:
1) The Doctrine of Worldview
2) The Doctrine of Word
3) The Doctrine of Windows