In the coming months, as presidential debates and politics take center stage in the American media, it’s likely that there will be a common refrain among some in conservative Christian circles: There is anti-Christian bias in the media; faith is under attack; “Christian” values are eroding.
As recently as this spring, Rev. Franklin Graham used this very argument following a contentious on-air argument between Family Research Council President Tony Perkins and CBS Face the Nation Host Bob Schieffer during a discussion about marriage equality. Graham said the argument showed that those who oppose gay marriage “are targets of the liberal media’s anti-Christian bias.”
But it’s a message that goes beyond a polarizing issue like same-sex marriage. It is a foundational ideology of the culture wars: Christianity is under attack from culture, and it’s our job to defend it. The “mainstream media’s” so-called “anti-Christian” agenda is just one battlefront in the large war between us and them.
Like the counterproductive, “us vs. them” message of the culture wars, viewing the media as some sort of ideological enemy only further isolates Christians from the people they are trying to reach.
Not to mention, it simply isn’t true.
The Fall of the ‘Mainstream Media’
The idea of an underlying bias against Christians permeating the media is predicated on the idea that a relatively small number of media conglomerates control the message. It’s based on the premise that the “media” is made up of a handful of powerful TV networks and newspapers that have a specific political and social bias they try to impose of audiences.
But, even if it were true that the leaders of the biggest newspapers and TV networks somehow work together to influence the masses with “anti-Christian” messages, since the rise of the Internet, the media no longer has as strong of a “mainstream.”
Blogs, individual Twitter feeds and Web start-ups often wield more power than cable news outlets or traditional “news media” channels. Articles on sites like Vox and BuzzFeed often attract more attention than pieces in The New York Times.
A recent Pew Research center study found that Millienials and Gen-Xers in-take more of their political news from Facebook than any other source. The once powerful “mainstream” media from a generation ago has become so fragmented and personalized that it’s harder and harder to believe that there is some conspiracy to communicate an underlying bias. From Pew:
As the research continues, these data suggest that younger and older generations espouse fundamental differences in the ways they stay informed about political news—differences of particular interest as the 2016 election campaigns ramp up.
If you were to believe that—despite the rise of social media and leveling of the playing field created by online publishing—traditional outlets like television wield the most media power, the idea of a single anti-Christian agenda behind the overall message falls apart if you look at real numbers.
Fox News—a network whose own anchors claim that Christians are victims of media bias—is the No. 1 highest rated cable network in the country. Fox News owns a far bigger viewership than any news competitor, and is known for its overwhelmingly socially conservative lineup of personalities. In the 25 to 54 demographic, it reaches a bigger primetime audience than CNN and MSNBC—combined. In radio, conservative hosts routinely top lists of the highest-rated shows.
Choosing Selective Examples
When critics of the media attempt to show an “anti-Christian” bias among the media, they typically point to several examples: Political issues aligned with social conservatives; the prevalence of sex and violence in movies and television; voices from other faiths that also receive a platform.
The problem with claiming certain stances, certain personalities or certain programming is “anti-Christian,” is that it reduces Christianity only to certain issues. Using such a broad, sweeping term—“anti-Christian”—to describe an entire industry marginalizes the message of the Gospel. Sure, a paper may run a column that comes from a pro-choice perspective, but inside the same issue, the same paper may run pieces exposing an injustice, praising an individual who has helped his or her community or reporting on conflicts that devastate populations.
If outlets are labeled “anti-Christian” for taking an occasional position on a single issue that runs counter to a traditionally Christian one (while other “pro-Christian” values are ignored), it makes Christianity seem only about a select issue.
Using terms like “anti-Christian” to label people or institutions—as opposed to specific ideas or actions—is not only inaccurate, but it runs counter to the message of Christ. It creates an “us vs. them” scenario when, in reality, we are all on the same team. We have a common enemy—and it’s not each other. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Everyone has biases. And some of those biases show up in the media we consume. That’s why understanding nuance and the ability to think critically—not defensively—are so important.
An End of the Victim Complex
For decades, the culture war mentalities positioned Christianity as an opposing force, pushing against social trends. But creating false conflicts and manufacturing persecution where it doesn’t exist only furthers the gulf between Christians and our neighbors.
Yes, the Bible does warn against cultural opposition. In Matthew, Jesus tells His followers, “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
But there’s a difference between sharing the airwaves and the Internet with people with think differently and genuine persecution.
In some parts of the world, Christians die for their beliefs. When American Christians—who are not only free to practice their faith openly, but are also a majority of the population statistically—create false senses of “persecution” we risk diminishing the impact of actual persecution.
Jesus did warn against opposition, but he didn’t do it to make His followers feel like victims. He did it to give context to the message of the Gospel: It’s radical, and it goes against human nature. A few verses later, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Our enemy was never meant to be people or corporations.
The idea of being targeted by an “anti-Christian agenda” is the wrong message for Christians to perpetuate: We should see ourselves as part of bigger conversation, not the victims of conversations we don’t like. Our “enemy” as the “anti-Christian” media industry is an ideology that goes against Christ’s message of grace.
Because that’s the most powerful message of them all.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.