The Influence of Christian Media

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Jason Bivins, a Professor of Religious Studies at North Carolina State, reflects on the power of Christian media to shape American evangelicalism.  Here is a taste of his op-ed syndicated at The Conversation:

The power of these programs is more than simply the stories covered or guests interviewed – it is their social impact on religious beliefs.

Christian news is effective in conveying its views because it repeats claims that viewers already believe, and provides them with particular emotional experiences that are described as facts. This way of viewing the world has moved closer to the center of conservative politics since the 1980s, a period of time when the Christian right acquired more influence in American politics.

Consider how in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan began to be depicted as God’s agent on Earth. In the 1990s, the growth of multinational corporations and trade deals was decried as part of a demonic “new world order.” And today, when Islamophobia is on the rise, Christian television channels depict and celebrate President Trump as the fighter-in-chief, who defends Christians despite his personal faults.

The growing regularity of such examples has significant implications for American politics.

By presenting itself as authoritative, trustworthy journalism, Christian news reassures viewers that they do not need to consult mainstream media in order to be informed. More dangerously, it authorizes a particular, often conspiratorial way of viewing the world. It denounces neutrality or accountability to multiple constituencies as burdensome or even hostile to Christian faith.

Sadly, tens of millions of its viewers are left without a sense of two of democracy’s most necessary foundations: the value of multiple viewpoints and shared political participation.

Read the entire piece here.

What if College Classes Had Corporate Sponsors?

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What if the 700 Club sponsored a university course on Comparative Religion?

As universities become more and more corporate, writer Suzanne Fernandez Gray wonders what it might look like if academic courses eventually get corporate sponsors.  Read her very funny piece at McSweeney’s.

Here are a few of my favorites:

A-H 350 TWENTIETH CENTURY ART

Sponsored by Hobby Lobby

Through lectures, readings, discussions and research, this course examines major issues raised in art and criticism from 1900-1999. Students will learn that Georgia O’Keeffe’s flowers are definitely just flowers, and that Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ is proof of the collapse of American morals and the need for prayer in public schools.

 

JOU 532 ETHICS OF JOURNALISM

Section 001: Sponsored by Fox News Network

Section 002: Sponsored by CNN

An examination of ethics in the media. Students will reason through issues that arise in the practice of journalism like how to cut off the mic when an opposing guest’s argument gets too credible and how to draw fancy charts to make nonsensical points look like facts.

PS 440 THE PRESIDENCY

Sponsored by Koch Industries

This course explores the political genius of the 45th President of the United States through his relationships with foreign leaders like Little Rocket Man, Mad Alex and The Dopey Prince, while also demonstrating the ineptitude of those who hate America, including Cryin’ Chuck, Sneaky Dianne Feinstein and Pocahontas. Part of the class will be devoted to the President’s tweets and how people in the fake news media, including Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd, Psycho Joe Scarborough, Little George Stephanopoulos and Dumb as a Rock Mika can’t pull anything over on the man Sen. Orrin Hatch recently called a better president than Lincoln or Washington.

RS 130 INTRODUCTION TO COMPARATIVE RELIGION

Sponsored by The 700 Club


Comparative study of major world religions of which there is only one: Christianity. Students will explore the merits of the Spanish Inquisition and learn how something similar should be implemented in the U.S. in the interest of national security, only with Evangelicals in charge instead of Catholics. Course fees cover a field trip to the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY where students will be able to see a diorama of dinosaurs aboard an exact replica of Noah’s Ark.

Read them all here.  Enroll now! 🙂

“Trump plays him like a piano”

RobertsonIf you have not seen it yet, VOX is running Tara Isabella Burton‘s revealing interview with Terry Heaton, the former producer of Pat Robertson’s The 700 Club.   Heaton is the author of a new book on his experience with Robertson and his Christian Broadcasting Network titled The Gospel of the Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP.

Here is a taste:

Tara Isabella Burton:

In today’s political climate, it seems like there’s an even stronger relationship than ever between CBN and the current administration. Pat Robertson’s been landing exclusive sit-down interviews with Trump, and CBN’s new shows like Faith Nation are further blurring the line between news and opinion. What do you make of that?

Terry Heaton:

First of all, regarding Pat and his relationship with Donald Trump — I think that’s very, very scary. As smart as Pat Robertson is, and as good as he is at marketing, he is also highly susceptible to his own hype. In that way, Trump plays him like a piano. If you watch his most recent interview, some of the things that Trump says to Pat are really way out there in terms of manipulating Pat. He builds him up like a salesman would, and Pat is susceptible to that, I think. But he wouldn’t be susceptible if Trump didn’t speak the language that Pat wants.

There is such fear on the right about the Supreme Court. I remember one show that we were taping in which Pat prayed that God would kill the Supreme Court justices. We had to stop the tape and advise him that he couldn’t say that on TV. But that’s the way he felt. Trump really sings Pat’s tune when it comes to the Supreme Court, also on the issue of religious liberty. When Trump starts talking about how Christianity is going to be “great again,” people like Pat sit up at listen. And they’ll support him whenever necessary — even if it means blowing up North Korea!

Read the entire interview here.

 

David Swartz on the “Homeless” Evangelical Left

 

7b96a-swartzMost of the so-called evangelical left is theologically orthodox, progressive on economic issues, and pro-life (in a way that extends beyond just abortion). I think it is fair to say that the evangelical left is divided on the question of same-sex marriage, but mostly unified on the defense of religious liberty.

This, of course, often leaves those on the evangelical left without a political home.  David Swartz, writing at The Anxious Bench, captures this sense of homelessness quite well.  He also offers some great observations about his recent visit to a taping of the 700 Club in Virginia Beach.

Here is a taste:

And yet the evangelical left, at least as represented by the organizations and personalities that dominated in the 1980s and 1990s, has been rather impotent.

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s difficult October helps explain why. The student ministry is roiled by controversy over same-sex marriage. Many more are still concerned about abortion. Despite being clearly progressive on #blacklivesmatter, poverty, and other non-sexual issues, many evangelicals have found themselves disqualified from participation on the left. At debate watch last week at my institution, evangelical students were tracking with Clinton—until she began defending partial-birth abortion. A conservative sexuality has left moderates politically homeless.

Where have all the pro-life Democrats gone? They’ve been bounced from the party. Doubling down, the Democratic Party doesn’t even use the language of “safe, legal, and rare” anymore. A triumphant celebration of rights supersedes any acknowledgement that abortion is a very sad and often tragic reality for all involved. There is no room for other narratives. There is no space for conversation.

They’re finishing the job started decades ago. As I described in Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism, Democrats, who were arguably more pro-life than Republicans, in 1980 adopted an explicit pro-choice position and began to strictly enforce the new orthodoxy. Formerly pro-life, Ted Kennedy had declared to a Massachusetts constituent in 1971 that “wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized—the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old.” Within a decade, Kennedy reversed course. Other pro-life politicians with evangelical or Catholic backgrounds such as John Kerry, Dennis Kucinich, Mario Cuomo, Bob Kerrey, Dick Durbin, and Bill Clinton, also become leading defenders of the right to choose. In fact, five of the contenders for the Democratic nomination in 1988—Jesse Jackson, Joe Biden, Paul Simon, Dick Gephardt, and Al Gore—had flipped to a pro-choice position under party pressure.

This putsch, as political scientists Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio put it, poisoned many Christians’ perception of the Democratic Party. Regularly attending Catholics, a key constituency in the New Deal coalition, gradually but substantially left the Party. So did evangelicals. According to political scientist Lyman Kellstedt, the Democratic Party outpolled the Republican Party by a margin of 59 to 31 percent among evangelicals in the 1960s. By the mid-1980s, the Republican Party enjoyed a 47 to 41 percent lead. Evangelicals flocked to “God’s party” as the fault lines in the new realignment grew larger.

Read the entire post here.