Today over at ToddRhoades.com Todd has a guest post by a former Baltimore colleague, Matt Steen. Matt did a great job helping to plant a church downtown prior to moving to New York. He and I keep in contact and he recently assisted me by pointing us to a company to help with some business needs.
I want to address Matt’s article but I believe the response takes more than a quick reply on Todd’s blog so if you’re interested, check out Todd’s article and then come back here for my thoughts. Otherwise, this will just be free therapy for me and I’ll move on
(Some of the kids at our inner city East Baltimore Campus. Our ministry gave away nearly 300 gifts to kids in East Baltimore. Additionally we provided a Christmas celebration luncheon to 110 faculty and staff at a local public elementary school. These types of things don’t make the news but they happen all around our city by many great evangelical churches among others.)
The issue is the question of Evangelicals in Portland working with a homosexual mayor for the good of the city. Matt asks ‘Why Is This News’. He then gives his answer which in my opinion is a little too critical of the local church. By the way, Matt is welcomed to post here or I’ll link to any follow up he shares. He’s a friend
Here is my take:
This is news because stories about churches serving their city do not have enough conflict. Matt and I were colleagues in the same church-planting network during his time here in Baltimore. I agree with him that there is plenty being done for the good of the city. Where I disagree is with where to lay the blame for lack of coverage.
This article seems to surmise that the blame rests with the local church. Frankly, I see that as an old line of thinking. In the last 10-15 years we have seen an enormous shift in the way the local church serves and loves their cities. A major component around the nation in church planting and revitalization has to do with serving your community. We do a ton of that here at Captivate Church in Baltimore.
Why then is this church/gay mayor cooperation news? Simply put: It fits the agenda of the journalist.
Journalists get paid to draw eyes. Unfortunately, positive stories void of conflict do not draw readership/viewership.
In a money-driven business your local city paper would publish a daily devotional if they thought they could monetize it with ad revenue.
There must be a fight, there must be blood, there must be conflict. Local churches living in harmony with their city do not represent conflict. The conflict you see in this story is inherent in the church seemingly embracing a homosexual mayor. As long as you do that, you’ll get your story.
A journalist in our city who wrote a story on me about two years ago shared this understanding with me. He said something to the effect: ‘A positive story without conflict will not make it past the editors. Even if your church does something good, I have to find someone who will give me a quote to say that you’re wrong. Editors do not view positive stories as news, they view that as promotion. As a journalist, my job isn’t to promote people or products, it’s to draw readers and readers love conflict.’
So going back to the premise… why is this news? It’s news because the evangelicals appear to have ‘bent’ on their principles. The story is counter-narrative to what’s been reported so many times before. ”Evangelicals hate gay people” has been the normal fall back position of lazy journalists and people with an axe to grind. This story is not so much counter to reality on the ground, just to what is normally in the press. In a way the reason this story is news is because the lazy attack is actually not true in many cases and this is just one such example. Whether or not you agree that what they’ve done is compromising… that is your ‘news worthiness’ angle.
The conflicting questions the story raises: Did Evangelicals surrender their values? Are Evangelicals finally embracing that gay is okay? Will they finally shut up about having a direct line to ‘Absolute Truth’? That is the news worthiness of the story. It is not news because this is unique to Portland. It’s news because the reporter felt it had a curious controversy attached.
The narrative that evangelicals are inward, selfish and bigoted is a distorted reality of the evangelical church.
Why do you think Westboro “baptist” “church” gets all of the media coverage even when they only have about 8 inbred people at every protest? It’s not because they are more ‘news worthy’ or that they represent a vast section of America evangelicals. They get the ink because it fits within the prescribed narrative.
What’s the Solution?:
We as Evangelicals must write and promote our own narrative. We must get better at communicating the good our churches are doing around the world. The problem we have is that self-promotion is also frowned upon (in scripture and society). So if we want to humbly serve our cities without pointing out how great we are, we’ll just have to deal with the fact that ‘if it bleeds, it leads’. That may make us less worthy of the news paper but more worthy of the heavenly Kingdom we are attempting to advance.