the church speak out on important issues?” I’m told, ” I hear the evangelical
right political agenda but I don’t hear the mainline church speaking on the
issues that are important to society.”
I’m often asked why the denomination in which I’m a member isn’t more visible in the public media. This is especially true when a crisis occurs. It’s virtually assured that I’ll receive e-mail asking why the church isn’t more visible. The question is about news coverage, not about advertising.
After working with this question for the last several years, I’ve come to believe that the mainline denominations have, with a few exceptions, lost the ability and skill to effectively address the major social issues that affect quality of life through public media today.
I believe this is the result of long-term disengagement from the media by these denominations. There are several reasons for this, some the direct result of decisions by the leaders of these communions and others the result of policy changes advocated by the media freeing them from community access.
From the 1960’s forward mainline leaders have made explicit decisions to disengage, in large part because media production became more expensive and leadership felt it wasn’t a good investment.
At the same time, televangelists embraced media aggressively, building media empires. In addition, as mainline groups closed out staff positions for radio, television, print news and public affairs, evangelical groups were buying radio stations and creating networks for radio programming. Evangelicals also funded training in journalism and media at schools such as Wheaton College and Oral Roberts University, to mention only two of the best known. Students are trained in technical skills from scriptwriting to broadcast program operations.
This means that students had a job market to move into when they graduated and broadcasters had a supply of well-trained professionals to choose from.
It also means there is creative and critical thinking about media and its place in communicating about faith. This critical thinking is, for the most part, virtually absent theological education in mainline seminaries. Certainly there is no equivalent media training designed for Christian communicators with a ready job market in mainline communities. As a result, this is not even on the agenda of many mainline communities and we tend to regard media as if it’s optional. We are better at critiquing media than actually doing it.
I have much more to say about this issue, but I’m doing my best to shorten these posts (obviously not successfully) to make them readable. So I’ll write more later.