The Role of the Christian Journalist (Robert Case)

A speech given to the students at the New York City course of the World Journalism Institute.

by Robert A. Case II

Several years ago, at a national convention [1] of college newspaper editors and advisers, former New York Times journalist and current Nation journalist and provocateur, Chris Hedges (American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, 2006) spoke on war and the journalist. The point of his speech was to argue, to a largely receptive audience of 700, that the role of the American journalist was to combat and challenge the politically powerful in society, then the Bush Administration. I sat in the audience thinking that there was a need to articulate a distinctly Christian (that is to say, biblical) perspective which would encompass a more responsible role for the thoughtful mainstream journalist, than just being the contrarian.

Since that convention, survey after Pew survey has evidenced the observable political and religious bias in the metropolitan and national mainstream press. These surveys show that Hedges is mainstream and someone who thinks like I do is on the journalistic fringe.

I feel like an Indian among the Swedes. Peter Berger, the Boston University sociologist, famously wrote in an article some time ago that if Sweden is the most secular culture in the world and India is the most religious, then America is best described as a nation of Indians ruled by Swedes. The Berger insight applies to the American newsroom where the Swedes edit and report the news consumed by us Indians.

With that as a rationale for my thoughts, let me briefly touch on what I see as the prevailing (but overlapping) self-justifying roles of journalism (excluding blogs which are even more indulgent and self-absorbed) before I get to the Christian’s role. Many of these roles are a variation of the Hedges’ view, the role which I call "The Equalizer." In these roles, the journalist is to be a cynic. Not just skeptical, but selectively cynical. The journalist is not to believe anything the powerful and privileged say. The modern journalist is to bring down the high and raise the low. But it is more exhilarating to hate, thus it is more fun to bring down the high, particularly if you find their views repugnant.[2]

Now the problem with this journalistic orthodoxy is that it is disingenuous. Each journalist (or editor) decides who the powerful are and whether or not the powerful are using their power for the public good, as defined by the journalist. The post-modern journalist subscribes to no external standard for her judgments. If power is held by a friend with the same worldview, the “Equalizer” journalists keep their mouth shut and their pen shuttered. With the post-modern loss of the quest for objective truth, journalistic judgment is subject to personal whim, and thus manipulation by the media elite who have their own perspective on truth.

The Role of the Journalist

As I said, there are several variations of this "Equalizer" role that I see at play today:

1) Gatekeeper

This variation argues that the role of the journalist is to be the gatekeeper of society. We journalists set the cultural agenda by organizing the social issues for discussion. Journalists don’t tell people what to think, but tell them what to think about. We raise, define and contextualize the issues to be discussed. This is “Journalism 101” stuff and not particularly profound.

2) Sentinel

As sentinel, the role of the journalist is to be the watchdog over government. Keying off James Madison and Thomas Jefferson (c.f., Thomas on Democracy, Saul Padover), journalists are to keep a watchful eye on those in political power. Journalists are the constitutional “Fourth Estate” (after executive, legislative and judicial), making sure the interests of the people are safeguarded (First Amendment). Those that hold this view are engaged in enormous hand-wringing and navel-gazing at the moment as they believe democracy is in peril with the decline of the newspaper. As Mark Bowden has so understatedly written in an article on Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. and the New York Times in the May, 2009 Vanity Fair, “American Journalism is in a period of terror.”

As guardian, the journalist is to give voice to the voiceless, presence to the invisible, power to the powerless and mainstream to the marginalized. This is feel-good journalism.

3) Consent generator

This role of the journalist is to maintain established politically ideology. This role is on the ascendency at present. These are court journalists or royal lackeys, and those in power use these journalists to manufacture and sustain the consent of the governed. Every government, liberal and conservative, seeks media affirmation.[3] This role is ancient and gave rise to our constitutional amendments. This role currently bears close watching with the Obama administration which the national press supported, and continues to sustain. We are now in the era of consent generators with royal retainers posing as journalists.

4) Conversation fosterer (awkward)

This variation of the “Equalizer” role argues that the journalist is to enhance and encourage public conversation about issues so that truth can emerge from these conversations. This role is born out of pragmatism, the one American contribution to philosophic systems, and thus it is important to briefly look at this role.

John Dewey argued that we are concerned only with the present, not with the past. “Let the dead bury the dead” he was fond of saying, quoting Jesus (Matt. 8:22). We must not let the dead hand of past truth dictate what shall be present truth for us who live in a newer world. To be sure, many past truths are also present truths. But the only real life in these past truths belongs to their present usefulness. These past truths hold true today, not because they were good enough for Dad, but because they happen to be still good enough for me. I am the only judge of what works for me and what is, therefore, true for me. So far as I am concerned, any ideas that have ceased to meet my current needs have ceased to be true and have become therefore, false. In short, truth must be kept pliant and supple if it is to serve the needs of current humankind. Dewey wrote,

“Truth is a relative thing that is worked out through experience, through life.”

Editorial pages and opinion magazines are expression of this role. Journalists are not obligated to report and write news that fit the facts (truth), but rather news that is useful for public discussions and consensus building since “truth,” “democracy” and “goodness” are communally useful concepts which arise out of public discussions.

There are elements of all these roles (and more) in a Christian conception of the role of journalism, which I call:

Truth tellers

The dominant role for the journalist who is a Christian is an unrelenting "striver for verifiable truth." That is, the journalist is to discover and observe 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. This role is so unremarkable and self-evident to the evangelical community that it hardly bears mentioning in our circles, except that it is revolutionary in our current mainstream journalistic community and widely misunderstood as it concerns Christian journalists in mainstream newsrooms.

There are at least three reasons why journalists of faith are to be irrepressible strivers after truth:

A) We have an overriding obligation to Jesus Christ our Lord to be strivers for truth.

The glory of God is that He is the God of truth; the glory of humankind is that we are the image bearers of God, and so we too are to be of truth. Jesus said before Pilate:

“I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37).

Admittedly, the Bible is complex in how it teaches the sanctity of truth, but suffice it to state for our purposes here, the consequences of reporting the truth are to be left to our sovereign creator God.

B) We have a private obligation to ourselves to be strivers for truth.

John 8:32 tells us what the truth will do for us:

“Then you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

It is important for us as journalists to know ourselves: our strengths, our weaknesses, our habits of thought and action, our sins – in order that we might become more conformed to the image of Christ (John 13:15; Rom. 12:2; Phil. 2:5), and therefore better journalists.

C) We have a public obligation to each other to be strivers for truth.

In my talk today, I want to expand on this third obligation to each other since I think the first two obligations are relatively clear to Christians.

In the Old Testament, the prophet Zechariah records the words of God,

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 (Zech. 8:16-17).

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul picks up on this passage when he writes to the Ephesians,

Therefore, each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor (4:25; c.f., Ex. 20:16; 23:1, 7).

Why is reporting the truth to our neighbor so important for us? Why can't we improve on or soften reality with a little nuanced equivocation? Particularly if shading the truth advances a righteous cause. The reason we can’t is because the God of truth will use the truth in any given situation to eventually bless our neighbor. It is part of the way God created human society – truth always leads to blessing (John 8:32). Christian journalists must never be afraid of reporting the truth of a given situation, even when the truth is ugly and unpleasant (which it is many times), because ultimately, God will use the reported truth to work His good and perfect will for our neighbor. If falsehood is permitted to stand by our failure to report or deliberately twist the truth (Prov. 24:11-12; 1 Peter 4:15-16), human society will break down and the blessings of human culture will be lost.

God created us humans to live in peace and tranquility and harmony with each other and with the created world. But because of the lies of Satan in the Garden of Eden, all this was lost. To diligently report the truth in whatever situation (1 Peter 3:15; Col 4:5-6; 2 Tim. 2:23-25; Titus. 3:2), is to take part in the cosmic struggle to redeem human culture. To be truthful with our neighbor is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 5:44; John 13:34). Our God tells us our neighbors deserve the truth because truth is the power of the incarnational lifestyle.

A side-bar at this point:

One important aspect of truth telling which is incumbent upon Christian journalists is that they are to shine light where there is darkness. If there is one practical calling of a journalist of faith it is to investigate. Our lives should be transparent and so should be our story telling (Is. 45:18-19; John 18:20; Act 26:26). As children of light (Eph. 5:8) we should be purveyors of light in dark places, exposing corruption, evil, injustice, malfeasance and, dare I say it, sin. Christian journalists are called to be fearless modern muckrakers who are insatiably curious.[5]/[6]/[7]

Any discussion of the truth-telling role of the Christian journalist would be incomplete without noticing the following key components.

1) The Importance of a Worldview

If it is true that journalists write the first, rough draft of history (Mark Twain, Phil/Don Graham) then it is critical for us Christians to be epistemologically self-conscious. Why is that? Robert Russell Drake (World and Life, 2004) reminds us that historians have an advantage over journalists because historians select an event or person to investigate, after the fact. This historical selection is possible because writing history starts with a known goal, and then looks back from that goal to see how the goal was reached through events. So the historical investigation always has guidelines and an intellectual gyroscope directing the content and interpretation of the historian's story telling. That historical intellectual gyroscope, cognitive guideline, is missing for the journalist because the journalist is writing contemporary, instant narrative, on the fly narrative. So the journalist is excluded from using a historical event or personage to guide her story telling.

Both the historian and the journalist deal with facts. The historian though can wait for hindsight before fact selections and interpretations are made. The journalist cannot wait because fact selections and interpretations are made daily, under the pressure of deadlines and competition. Since the journalist cannot see the final consequences of a reported event, the journalist's pre-existing interpretive framework (i.e., worldview) must guide story and source selection, ledes, nut-graphs, voice and framing all in the midst of the story telling itself. As John McCandlish Phillips, the well-known former New York Times man and Christian journalist as said, “Christian journalists are always chasing after truthful information.”

Michael Polanyi, the famous British chemist and royal scientist, wrote that “we must have foreknowledge sufficient to guide our conjecture with reasonable probability in choosing a good problem and in choosing hunches that might solve the problem.” It is the journalist's “foreknowledge” or worldview which not only selects some stories and ignores others, but also guides the reporter in which facts and sources to pursue and how to pursue them. This is why a journalist's presuppositions (or foreknowledge, worldview or interpretive framework) are critical to a story. Worldview governs the journalistic process, regardless of who the journalist is.[1]

Walter Lippmann (Public Opinion, 1922) the famous 20th century journalist, recognized this fundamental hermeneutical principle when he wrote, “For the most part, we [journalists] do not first see and then define; we define first and then see.”

In some respects, being a journalist who is a Christian is no different than just being a Christian. There is no private/public split in living a Christian life. However, as journalists, we do project to a public audience what our private worldview is, and so we must be self-conscious about our worldview.

The acknowledgement of this pre-suppositional aspect to journalism is largely suppressed and denied in today’s major mainstream newsrooms as they pretend to be objective.

A second key understanding for the Christian journalist:

2) Common Grace or Borrowing from the Egyptian Newsroom (Ex. 3:22; 12:35-36)

If we are to understand our role as Christian journalists in a post-Christian newsroom, we need to be willing to think independently from the current pieties of the profession. We cannot allow those outside the Christian faith to completely define our role.

But it needs to be stated very clearly that while we Christians must be bold to think independently, we must be prepared to be informed and corrected by those excellent in the profession, Christian or not. A Christian view of the role of journalism in a post-Christian newsroom that is so completely at odds with the prevailing view in our journalistic culture will:

*First, miss the benefits of God's grace which informs our minds and practice,

*Second, will miss the opportunity to take our rightful place in the journalism culture because we will be excluded.

The Scriptures are full of examples of the Egyptians and the Babylonians teaching the Old Testament Israelites, and the Greeks teaching the New Testament Christians. There was much sanctified borrowing by believers of the ideas and processes from the non-believing world surrounding them.[8]/[9]/[10]

The conclusion I draw is that journalists who are Christian must be prepared to learn from our non-Christian colleagues because it may please God for us to do so. We should take good clues from the world as to how to act in the world.[11] Here is just a sampling of what our best secular counterparts can teach us:

*Use words carefully and love the English language

*Be tenacious and competitive in pursuing a story

*Be open to the latest technological advances in communication

*Be compelled by great story telling

*Be insatiably inquisitive and follow the rabbit trails of a story

The tricky part is that while embracing the good and instructive aspects of the prevailing secular and ever-changing journalism kingdom, the Christian journalist needs to hang on to her citizenship in the eternal kingdom. And that challenge is never ending.

I define common grace (gratia communis) (Matt 5:45; Acts 14:17; 17:25f) as:

all that God does to restrain the influence of sin in the world, and all that He does to maintain, enrich and develop the natural life of humankind, generally and individually.

The existence of common grace is a result of God’s goodness and graciousness towards His creation. For us Christian journalists, common grace means that God

*curbs the destructive power of sin,

*maintains the moral order of society,

*distributes creative gifts and talents among all individuals, and

*develops science and medical art.

In short, God’s common grace generates and sustains human culture, and this hopeful understanding should infuse our reporting and writing in appropriate language.

The kingdom of God advances by the Christian journalist being a careful, accurate and verifying journalist, and not by being a proselytizer with a missionary mouth. Christianity teaches that if journalists take care of their vocational calling (i.e., factual and compelling story telling), their testimony will take care of itself. Work for the Christian journalist is a sacred stewardship, and in fulfilling his job as a reporter he will either accredit or violate his Christian witness. The labors of the Christian journalist should be the priestly good works that radiate from a serious spiritual life. What distinguishes the Christian journalist is the sense of missionary zeal for the truth, however unpleasant that truth may be. We will fail time and time again to get it right, but the honest attempt to get the facts right is at the core of a Christian view of journalism. And because of common grace, the Christian journalist never loses his sense of hope in the midst of his story telling.

One final note on common grace: Christians are not the only truth-tellers in the profession. Non-Christians can also speak the truth (Acts 17:28-29) and Christians can lie (Joshua 2:1-6). That’s not the point. The point is: It is our obligation, our sacred duty as Christians to always strive to write true statements which are verified by credible sources (Prov. 25:28; 2 Cor. 10:5). Anchoring the truth-telling role of the journalist who is a Christian is the sixth sense – the illumination of the Holy Spirit to guide the journalistic process (John 16:13; Luke 12:12; Acts 16:6-7; 20:22-23; et. al.)[12] Is He the competitive edge?

Another side-bar:

When the Christian journalist reports the truth of a given situation, the reaction to that reporting is for another calling to make (unless one has been called to be an opinion writer). Critical to this understanding of journalism is the biblical sense of what we Calvinists call “sphere sovereignty” and Roman Catholics sometimes call “subsidiary.” That is, each sphere of life has its own distinct responsibilities and competencies, and each sphere stands equal to other spheres of life (Matt. 22:21). Christians believe in an all encompassing created order, designed and governed by a sovereign God. This created order includes many societal communities and their abiding norms, such as communities for education, worship, civil justice, agriculture, economy and labor, marriage and family, artistic expression, journalism, etc. We Christians need to affirm and respect these creational boundaries, and historical differentiation.

No one area of life is sovereign over another. Each sphere has its own created integrity. After all, if God created everything “after its own kind” (Gen. 1:24), diversity must be acknowledged and appreciated. For instance, the different God-given norms for family life and economic life should be recognized, and thus a family does not properly function like a business, or visa versa. Similarly, neither should a journalistic vocational calling with its creational and historical norms (i.e., American media vs. European media) function like a pastoral vocational calling with its norms. Christian journalists are not Christian pastors.

A third key understanding for the Christian journalist:

3) Metaphysical Bias vs. Methodological Bias in Reporting Truth

What do I mean by that? Just this: There is no epistemological objectivity possible for the journalist. All humans are subjective and biased in their thinking. Due to our finiteness we can only know what’s in front of us, what our senses or intuition or rationality tell us. Due to our sinfulness, our thinking has become corrupted and cloudy (noetic effect of sin, Rom. 1:21-23; 2 Cor. 4:4). Even Homer understood that we humans are limited in our understanding of the world around us, as he wrote in the Iliad (Book 2, line 484-5), “Enlighten me now, O Muses, tenants of Olympian home; for you are goddesses, inside on everything, know everything. But we mortals hear only the news (reports, rumors), and know nothing at all.” The only way we can know "total truth" (as Nancy Pearcey says) is if we have access to uncontaminated knowledge outside of our finiteness and our sinfulness. And we do have access to such external knowledge in God’s word.

But still our rational process is smoky and confused because of our personal sin. So we must hold to our notions of objective reality with a bit of humility. The Apostle Paul tells me that as a journalist of faith I look at the world as if I were looking through a foggy glass (1 Cor. 13:12; Prov. 25:27), so as a Christian journalist I ought to be asking lots of questions and giving few answers.

Journalistically, does that mean that since we can only be biased and subjective in our thinking, that we are constrained to report then from only a biased and subjective, a predisposed point of view? That is, since epistemological bias is our only option, is journalistic bias our only option? To a certain extent, I think so. But methodologically we can approach journalistic fairness, accuracy, veracity and, yes, objectivity to a reliable and useful measure. I say that because the Lord of the universe has so structured reality and the human mind that we can observe reality and report on what we observe, in such a manner that enough truth will emerge from multiple human reports that we can claim that journalistic fairness, accuracy, veracity and objectivity can be largely achieved. (Moses tells us this in Deut. 19:15; Jesus tells us this in Matt. 18:16; Paul tells us this in 2 Cor. 13:1.). Absolute objectivity achieved? No, there are simply too many subjective decisions made in any story by the journalist and the editors, and you can always find corroborating sources if you have a mind to. But there can be enough objectivity in a verified story that we can, in fairness and humility, claim to present an approximation of the truth of a situation. Gen. 2:15-20 teaches that God has given humans the ability to use language to accurately define reality as we name names. We cannot know reality fully, but we can report on reality sufficiently to enhance our flourishing as human beings (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

I can think of nothing more gallant or valiant than attempting to get at the verifiable facts of a given situation and tell that story in a compelling way to a needy audience. It’s the Jimmy Hoffa role of the journalist. We are in the transportation business: we transport the reader from his arm chair to the scene of the action.

One final key point to be made for the Christian journalist:

4) Say it Ain’t So, Marshall (McLuhan)

I am indebted to Carl F. H. Henry for making me see this point. We are witnessing a massive breakdown of cultural confidence in verbal communication. In our post-modern world, language is used not to reveal and enlighten, but to conceal, deceive, and obfuscate. Francis Schaeffer pointed out that the task of comprehending and conveying truth and reality has been profoundly complicated by the fact that words have been emptied of traditional and commonly understood meaning, and words are now marketed toward subjective and self-serving ends.[13]/[14] Symbols and images have become more important than words.[15] We are regressing to the Middle Ages when stain glass images suffice as truth-tellers.

In our post-modern age (or is it pre-modern age), non-verbal communication increasingly clamors for attention, and anti-intellectual and existential approaches to life concentrate on sound and imagery to secure emotive rather than cognitive response. We are a YouTube culture. When the notion flourishes that words are not to be trusted as carriers of the truth and reality, definitions are allowed to run wild. Christianity, because it is a religion of verbal revelation from a self-disclosing, living God, suffers more than any other worldview. The claims of Jesus to be, to know, and to proclaim the teaching of God the Father are nonsense if words are inherently distortive and deceptive (John 14:10; 8:47; 10:35). Therefore, the fight of the Christian journalist must be on the pre-modern front of words as carriers of truth. (Matt. 28:18-19; Rom. 10:14-15; Acts 17; 18:4, 12, 18, 28; 19:8-9; etc.).[16]

We need to remember the insistent Biblical demand that every person tell the truth and keep his word (James 5:12; Matt. 5:37). The Bible makes the binding connection of all equivocation and falsehood with the Evil One in John 8:44. What has happened in our post-modern society is that our culture, egged on by the secularized mass media, has largely programmed out of our public discourse concepts like final truth, changeless good and the inflexible nature of the created moral order.[17] There was a time when the major newspapers of this country reflected these concepts.

But now, by conditioning the public to accept moral decline, perversity and uncertainty – if it bleeds it leads - the secular media have aided the demonic concealment from the public of the gracious hope that is part of the world’s created order. But our secular culture also has concealed the coming judgment of a creator-God (Genesis 3:4; Micah 2:10-11).[18] Every journalist is a theologian – pro-Yahweh or anti-Yahweh.[19]

Concluding Thought

In this age of mass secular media, Christian journalists are to engage the journalism establishment at the frontier of gathering news to uncover the currently obscured truth of God by being faithful eyewitnesses to the truth in His creation. And the Christian journalist does this engaging by being involved in the mainstream media reporting and writing the verifiable truth of a given situation. To return to the Berger quote, we work for the Swedes but write for the Indians. And if we’re good, both groups will be pleased with our work.

The Christian journalist can, on one hand, help lift our spiritually impoverished neighbors to the renewing grace of God, and can, on the other hand, help the secular newsroom culture appreciate the existence of another worldview, the Christian worldview of grace and mercy and truth. The journalist does this by being excellent in craft and pious in life.

“Who trembles when God goes to press?” So asked Dr. Carl Henry of the Evangelical Press Association in 1984. In 1984, Henry replied, “Nobody trembles.” Today, there is not only no “trembling,” there is often no noticing when the Christian journalist goes to press, largely because the Christian journalist is not epistemologically self-conscious and professionally adequate. However, by God's grace and power and our excellence and piety, I submit to you that the Christian truth-telling journalist can provide hope and enlightenment to a needy public.

[1] Polanyi famously wrote, “The ultimate justification of my scientific convictions lies always in me. At some point I can only answer, ‘For I believe so.’”

[1] 3/04, Las Vegas ,NV

[2] According to Mark Halperin (ABC & Time journalist), his father [Morton Halperin, liberal political thinker and appointee] taught him that the role of the media was a simple one: 'to hold powerful interests accountable to the public interest.'" (The New Yorker, 10/25/04).

[3] Some call this the “authoritarian” role of the press (Fred Siebert)

[4] Tellers of myths. This variation calls for the role of journalists to be a “social dramatist.” That is, journalists are to report and write news as examples of the great, overarching eternal human useful myths: the victim, the scapegoat, the hero, the good mother, the trickster, the other world, and the flood (Jack Lu, le, Daily News, Eternal Stories), .

[5] John Stuart Mill (On Liberty, 1859), wrote, “The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of opinion is that it is robbing the human race . . . If the opinion is right, [those who dissent from the opinion] are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; but if [the opinion is] wrong, [those who dissent] lose , what is almost as great a benefit and that is the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth which is produced by [the opinion’s] collision with error.” Christian journalists are to be agents of “exchanging error for truth.”

[6] This might be called the “libertarian" rationale for journalists (Fred Siebert).

[7] Polyani influened both Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend, as well as Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Stephen Toulmin and many others.

[8] To cite one Old Testament example: Jethro, the pagan Midian priest, beneficially instructs Moses on how to politically organize the Israelite nation in the wilderness (Gen. 18). To cite one New Testament example: Paul approvingly quotes pagan poets and philosophers in Acts 17 in order to establish commonality with Athenian skeptics.

[9] There is also the biblical teaching that the sinfulness of human culture causes there to be a temporary modification of God’s perfect plan for human activity

[10] . To cite one example from both the Old Testament and New Testament: God permits the divorce from the holy union of marriage (under very limited circumstances) because sinful society won’t tolerate difficult relationships (Matt. 19). Civil marriage itself can be seen as a cultural institution approved by God in reaction to our sinful condition to mistreat each other (1 Cor. 7:1-2).

[11] (Matt. 10:16; 2 Kings 10:29-30; 12:2; 14:3, 14-16, 20, 27; Luke 6:33-35; 2:14-15; Gen. 17:20; 39:5; Ps. 145:9, 15-16; Matt. 5:44-45; Acts 14:16-17; 1 Tim. 4:10;). Paul, the Israelite Jew, tells the European Gentile Corinthians, “To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.” (1 Cor. 9:20-22; cf, 10:32-33).

The point is that Paul accommodated himself to his surrounding culture when it was appropriate to do so. Of course, the supreme example of appropriate cultural accommodation is Jesus who accommodated Himself to humanity when it was good for Him to do so (Phil. 2; c.f., Jerram Barrs, The Heart of Evangelism).

[12] We have a crisis in our country of language and truth. While there has always been the cosmic struggle between truth and falsehood, between good and evil, between the authority of God and the claims of the Devil, between the best laid plans of man (e.g., tower of Babel) and the plans of God, this conflict of truth and language (word) has been intensified into an outright cultural war by the secular (Melvin Mencher’s introductory journalism text) or mass media in the last 50 years. Carl Henry has argued, “never in the past have the role of words and the nature of truth been as misty and undefined as now, God, Revelation and Authority, Vol. 1, p. 24.

[13] He is There and He is Not Silent, “The Epistemological Necessity.”

[14] Shamefully, the Church does not have clean skirts in this deprecating-of-the-word attitude. Jacques Ellul has argued that the Church promoted image-oriented messages at the expense of word-oriented messages as early as the pre-Reformation 14th century as the most effective way of communicating the gospel to illiterates.

[15] Understanding Media: The Extension of Man, The Medium is the Message.

[16] History’s most unusual and momentous news continues to be the message that the holy God provides sinful man a way of escape from the damning consequences of sin, and proffers him a new kind of life fit for both time and eternity. There is no more newsworthy event ever, and it ought to color every piece of reporting a Christian journalist does.

[17] To say nothing of the one, true, personal and living God.

[18] Christian journalists “have a duty to proclaim the revelatory truths and principles by which God will decisively judge every nation -- and we must strive to advance them. If the ideas we affirm are spineless, if we bend biblical principles to accommodate one or another modern deviation, then what passes for evangelical behavior will soon obscure and even subvert revelatory perspectives and reinforce a sub-Christian society,” Henry, Christian Countermoves in a Decadent Culture, “God’s Press Corps in the Cultural Crossfire.”

[19] If no effective counter-thrust of the gospel can be marshaled through the mass media, then it is unlikely that any remedy can hope to succeed in stemming the wayward winds of general relativism, skepticism, and nihilism. In this journalistic counter-thrust, it is inescapably important that the question whether divine and therefore enduring Christian concerns are granted visibility, or whether the worldview of the living God is suppressed. Christian concerns such as:

1) Justice and love sown towards racial, ethnic minorities, poor and the socially forgotten.

2) A peaceful and law abiding society

3) Cultural activities such as learning, commerce and subduing nature be done according to God's revealed will.

4) Moral standards be adhered to

5) Family and state be examined in light of God's word.

6) Definition of human essence

American culture and Western civilization depend on whether sight and sound are reserved only for human speculation and transitory temporal happenings, or whether the Word and truth of God are given equal time and space in the “public square” (Richard John Neuhaus, The Naked Public Square). Take note: I have not mentioned a word about quoting scripture, advocating censorship or plotting a theocratic takeover.

The fact that our self-revealing God is an abstract, non-sensory reality is hardly what gives Him a poor press -- after all, abstract concepts such as “justice,” “love,” “human rights,” “evil,” “hate,” beauty,” “courage” (and much else that makes the news) are also non-sensory. Rather, by thrusting upon viewers and readers only the perverse, wicked, violent, criminal, depressing, chaotic, greedy, dangerous, etc. as the decisively real world, the secular media foster an almost purely sensate misunderstanding of reality. Carl F.H. Henry reminded us that a mood of perpetual crises in the temporal socio-politico-economic sphere is nurtured by the press rather than the reality of the eternal spiritual and cosmic control of a gracious and merciful God. The mainstream media's denial of spiritual reality, it’s embracing of moral relativism, and its accommodation of materialist and sensate view of life, all increase its power to change society.