February 11, 2011 / Mediation, Uncategorized
In 1991, the Academy Award for Best Picture went to the disturbing psycho thriller, The …
February 8, 2011
On September 29th, 2010 Fresh Air host, Terry Gross interviewed The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart at the 92nd Street Y in New York City.i Though September 29th, 2010 seems ages ago (in media time), some of the content from that interview has lasting significance and relevance concerning our perspective on media and (in parallel) on the Church.
About halfway through the interview, Gross inquired as to whether or not Stewart felt more politically engaged due to his involvement with the show and its subject matter. Interestingly enough, Stewart asserted that he felt “less political and more emotional” as a result of his work on the popular late night satirical television show. He went on to explain that his visceral charge was due, largely, to the corruption he witnessed. But not corruption in politics, as one might expect, but corruption in the media (e.g. their spinning, bias coverage, and business influenced practices). He claimed to expect corruption on the part of politicians. After all…they’re politicians. However, he suggested that the media have a greater sense of integrity and responsibility to the public, which they are supposed to serve. The lack of integrity and responsibility with which the media conducts itself (as suggested by Stewart) seems to have many parallels to the current situation of the Christian Church in the postmodern climate of the West (particularly in America).
Few would doubt the media’s “corruption,” as Stewart called it. In fact, it is almost common knowledge that if one wants Conservative bias, they look to such and such a media outlet, and if they want Liberal bias, they turn to another. Few media outlets (if any) would even still claim to present fair and balanced coverage of newsworthy events, issues, current affairs, etc. What’s provocative about all this, however, is the thought that the Christian Church has possibly, under the influence of the media, acquiesced in its responsibility to present the message of the gospel – the “good news.” And the “possibility” here is not merely imagined. Quentin J. Shultz highlights the undeniable connections between the Christian Church and Mass Media.ii He observes the pendulum like swing between the media and the Evangelical Church in America – the power of influence which one holds over the other is constantly shifting. Currently, it would appear as though the media has the upper hand.
Let’s face it, the sphere of the media’s influence is very great today, as media is increasingly being steered and (directly) impacted by the common person. Things like Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and other social utilities have become the bull-horn through which the public voices their interests and opinions. Consequently, if those in media are to have any success, they must placate to these people. And though this has always been the case with media, the influence of social networks has drastically upped the ante, as they say. With media, then, pervasively pandering to the people (i.e. failing to adhere to a more esteemed level of responsibility to present eminently significant information to the public), has the Church also found itself guilty in presenting a “tailor-made” gospel? Is this what the controversial “Emergent Church Movement” has done? What about other, less ostensible movements in the Church?
Making any direct parallels between the media’s influence upon the Church (and its responsibility to the world, in the Church’s case – see Matthew 28:18-20) can be argued for or against, and people have done so. In the end, however, we are plunged into a debate over Niebuhrian categories, particularly the “Christ of Culture” model,iii which suggests that the Church has made an unhealthy level of compromise in its responsibility to the mission of the gospel for the sake of postmodern sentiments such as tolerance, community, inclusion, (ambiguous) spirituality, and so on.iv Maybe the current mainstream American church has made such compromises…maybe not. And the media may or may not be a causal factor. The evidence seems to suggest that media has, in fact, played a role. However, the floor is open for you to think about such issues as it pertains to your own situation within the church. They are certainly good questions for one to ask and explore. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________
i.The transcript from that interview can be read here: http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=130321994
ii.Quentin J. Schultze, Christianity and the Mass Media: Toward a Democratic Accomodation, (Michigan State University Press, 2006)
iii.H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, (Harper & Row, 1956)
iv. On this point it is worth reading D.A. Carson’s Christ & Culture Revisited (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2008)