Why We Need More Christians in Journalism
During the first month of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I volunteered to coordinate the media office of a Christian relief organization. My role was to gather reports from Ukraine, write news releases, and send them to media outlets and churches.
As a Christian journalist for many decades, this was familiar ground for me. However, this time, I did not need to travel as I did before (I’ve covered stories in 31 countries) and could do it all from my office in California. I thank God for email, Zoom, Signal, and all the other information tools we have.
Being at a distance creates another problem: finding the truth in the information I received. I spent a lot of time in Ukraine, other parts of Eastern Europe, and in Russia, so I personally knew most of my sources and could depend on them. Nevertheless, the fog of war exists for even well-meaning sources, so it was vital for me to verify facts before distributing news stories.
A Questionable Report
One story was particularly dicey. One of my sources informed me that a Christian chaplain had been abducted by Russian soldiers from a Ukrainian village. There was an advisory that the person, village, and Christian partner organization should not be named for security reasons.
That raised a red flag to me. Security in such situations is a concern, but there is no story if there are no facts to report. Without facts, there is only hearsay and gossip. There had been no other reports of abductions by Russian troops at that point, and there was no way to verify it had taken place.
The world is filled with speculation, propaganda, and opinion, but Christian journalism is a higher calling in my view, and we must be more careful than others.
As a Christian journalist, I could not disseminate that story. The world is filled with speculation, propaganda, and opinion, but Christian journalism is a higher calling, in my view, and we must be more careful than others.
Then something very odd happened. The group that originated the story sent a follow-up email with more details. That email included the chaplain’s name, her street address, phone number, and her passport number. So much for security considerations!
News outlets like CBN asked me for details, but I did not feel it was ethical to spread an unsubstantiated story. The incident was not credibly presented to me.
I suggested a colleague check with the originating Christian organization, and he said they refused to discuss the alleged abduction. My journalistic instincts were good. I don’t know if the abduction occurred or not, but I was happy I did not spread a rumor as if it was news.
The Crisis in Media
Media is wide-ranging today. It can include everything from network news to an individual blog. It consists of the production of visual mediums too, whether a feature-length film, a TV program or a YouTube video. When I started, Wheaton Graduate School had just opened a Communications major, focusing on print—book publishing, newspapers, and magazines. My mentor was James L. Johnson, a missionary journalist, and author of the “Code Name Sebastian” fiction series.
We have come a long way since then. Newspapers and magazines have been declining for some time, and digital media is in full swing. Nearly half of book publishing is ebooks, and even print books are composed digitally. Nevertheless, putting words on a page is the core of all media, regardless of the delivery system.
While all mass media is in crisis due to a lack of values, journalism is in terrible shape. Integrity has been replaced by expediency. There is little objective reporting, and so-called “news” is riddled with the reporter’s or news organization’s political or social bias. As I wrote elsewhere, the truth of reliable reporting has been trashed in favor of the propaganda of “truthiness.” That’s why I like to get news from a site like AllSides. I can see what the Left, Right, and Center are saying, and the truth is easier to discern.
Christian Journalists Can Be Salt and Light
Is there hope for a free press in our era where “cancel culture” is a form of de facto censorship? Only if Christians hold places of power as media executives, producers, assignment editors, and reporters.
It has been nearly a decade since the respected Poynter Institute, an independent media research organization, reported on how many Christians were in newsrooms. Even then, they said the data was not good. The American Society of News Editors polls news outlets about gender and race, the Poynter Institute reported, but they ignore religious preferences.
The only credible figures Poynter could offer were from a 2007 Pew study. All those years ago, Pew said only “8 percent of journalists at national publications and 14 percent of those at local publications reported attending worship services weekly, compared with 39 percent of the general public who reported the same.”
There is no reason to believe Christian representation in newsrooms has improved in the years since the poll. With the current bias in news organizations, they are more likely to have Muslim or liberal Protestants if they have any religious staff members.
Andrew Beaujon, writing for Poynter, quoted Marvin Olasky, then the highly esteemed editor-in-chief of World Magazine. Olasky said that encountering a politically conservative and “theologically Christian” employee at a major newspaper is akin to “spotting a unicorn.”
One of the reasons we do not see more Christians in newsrooms is hidden in Olasky’s offhand comment. He said, “politically conservative and “theologically Christian.” Olasky’s error was that he intimated that political and religious views are monolithic. Olasky, and most others, automatically believe that contemporary Republican Party politics and Bible-believing Christianity are one and the same. Christians must reject that notion.
Conservative politics and our Bible-based beliefs intersect at times, but that is no reason to think they are the same. As I often say, “The Bible must influence our political and social views. However, we must never allow political and social views to influence our understanding of biblical truth.”
I learned a simple, profound truth from my undergraduate history professor, Dr. Glen Adams. He reminded us that “We are liberal in the areas where we want to see change, but conservative in the areas we think change will hurt us.”
Blessed Are the Peacemakers
That critical concept enables me to be a theological conservative and a political Centrist. A Centrist is not an Independent or Libertarian or anything of that sort. A Centrist believes that moderate Republicans and Democrats can and should work together for the common good. A Centrist thinks that the people and the principle are important to political discussions, so both Republicans and Democrats can be Centrists.
Centrist is defined as “a political outlook or position that involves acceptance and/or support of a balance of social equality and a degree of social hierarchy while opposing political changes which would result in a significant shift of society strongly to either the left or the right.”
Importantly, Centrists of both parties can bond to repel the hate and division promoted by political, race, and gender-based radicals who seek to subvert Constitutional values and disrupt society. We Christians believe in the Bible as the standard for all matters of faith and life, so it follows that we think the US Constitution sets the standard for the operation of our country. Chipping away at it with piecemeal laws or executive orders will eventually hurt us all.
However, if we Christians want credibility in newsrooms, we must not be identified with the extreme right-wing. We must become Centrists to rebuke the polarization of our society.
Encourage Christian Young People
to Become Journalists
I have a very traditional theological education. I wanted to be a pastor, and I served in churches before the Lord put me into media ministry many decades ago. As a pastor, I never reached more than 300 people per week. In media ministry, I have reached many hundreds of thousands for Christ over the years. With that kind of reach in mind, think about encouraging the best and brightest of our Christian youth to pursue a career in journalism.
There are Christian schools that offer journalism degrees. However, having a degree from such schools will only trigger the entrenched bias of the news establishment. Christian young people must go to the best journalism schools like Northwestern University, the University of Missouri, Columbia, or the University of Southern California. They will stay true to Christ in these places if we have raised them right.
We need Christian journalists embedded in news organizations as salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). In that way we can serve both man and God.