ABC Covers Resurrection!

Even wonder how a major news organization
would cover the claim of resurrection that is at the heart of the Christian

ABC’s 20/20 is about the
answer the question.
(revised May 19)

I’ve often wondered how the resurrection would have been covered if it had occurred at a time in history with modern media. Given the tendency to simplify and sensationalize among some media, it would be an interesting experience.

ABC News is taking a look at the resurrection of Jesus in a 20/20 story according to Ethics Daily. This is not ABC’s first foray into religion. At one time they were the only network I’m aware of that had a fulltime correspondent dedicated to the religion beat. She’s gone now. But the network has continued to cover religious stories in other ways.

In the recent past religious stories hardly ever received serious treatment, so this openness by ABC is a step forward. One concern I have is that the stories about religion in the mainline media often treat complex subjects too simply or look too superficially at subjects with deeper meaning.

There is a fundamental challenge in the visual media about how to cover these stories. It’s practical and natural to cover them visually, but the depth of the stories may not be visual they may be cerebral. Cerebral doesn’t work so well on TV. It takes a tremendous amount of thought and creativity to get beyond this natural context.

The ABC story will air on Friday evening.

Turning Around

There’s been a lot of attention given to the
rise of the evangelical church. It’s as if the mainline has been written of.
But I think that’s a mistake. i wouldn’t count them out just

I’ve just spent several days with people from The United Methodist Church looking at the future. We didn’t gather for a futuring conference, conversation just moved in this direction.

The discussions were deep, honest and straight. I didn’t detect a lot of pretense or hesitation to identify challenges and I certainly identified a desire to address challenges. There wasn’t a lot of “ain’t it awful” talk. In fact, there was no talk like this.

There was realistic discussion of several well-known issues such as the need to reach younger audiences, the need to use the web more effectively, the need to use language that makes messages understandable to people who don’t know religious terminology, and the need to use media. On the whole, this is not the kind of thinking that is tired and without vision. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I didn’t hear defensiveness about the present state of the organization, nor hesitancy to look honestly at it. That’s more than refreshing, it’s healthy.

So, I’m inclined to give this another look sometime down the road because I believe I’m seeing something start to stir that hasn’t been identified yet, and it’s a portent of renewal. It’s a tad bit too early to know for sure, but the kind of assessment and thinking I’ve been hearing is not the kind that leads to stagnation and death, it leads to creativity and openness to new ways of going about the practices of ministry and mission.

If something is stirring, quietly and purposively, we won’t know it for awhile because such movements sometimes don’t get identified until they’re further along the way toward visible activity. This movement is still in its pre-embryonic state. But I think–and feel–something different happening. When I can put a finger on it with more clarity, I’ll say so. Until then, I’m living in hope. Watching. Encouraging. And preparing for a turnaround. There’s something astir.

Moyers, PBS and the Right Wing

Bill Moyers told the Media Reform Conference
in St. Louis that democracy is being muted by a political agenda to control

In the past year, noted journalist Bill Moyers has come out swinging against those he perceives are attempting to impose a political agenda on Public Broadcasting in the U.S. He minces no words. Moreover, he identifies his faith commitment as a foundation for his commitment to democracy and free speech.

Here is the text of his speech to the Media Reform conference given last weekend in St. Louis.

Hubris and ignorance

The deeper issue the Newsweek fiasco raises
is hubris and ignorance. Hubris in an attitude that Americans don’t need to
understand and be sensitive to other cultures, especially after 9/11. Ignorance
of those cultures and how they give meaning to the lives of the people who are
shaped by them.

Islam is under
attack in the
name of the
war on terror.
–Mr. Imran Khan

Reaction to the Newsweek article continues. This is what Katharine Q. Seelye and Neil A. Lewis write in the New York Times this morning: “It reflected the severity of consequences that even one sentence in a brief news article can have at a time of intense anti-American sentiment overseas and political polarization, as well as extreme distrust of the mainstream media at home.”

I suppose you
could say we
should have
foreseen the
consequences of
the report, but
we didn’t.
— Mark Whitaker
Newsweek Editor

The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz yesterday focused on how the story affects the credibility of mainstream media. “But the story is already showing signs of becoming the latest in a high-profile series of media blunders involving plagiarism, fabrications and questionable documents at such respected news organizations as the New York Times, USA Today and CBS News.”

The story and its consequences will be analyzed from every angle, but it strikes me that, important as the story is, it’s one part of a much larger whole. We in the United States don’t know much about cultures beyond our borders, in fact, we know little of those cultures within the U.S. different from our own. I think it’s a result of a long history of neglect of global education in our schools and even our churches.

That neglect, compounded In public life by the lack of understanding how our policies affect the rest of the world is a double whammy of ignorance and hubris. I’ve heard for as long as I’ve been interested in public policy the claim that nations don’t have friends, they have interests. That is used as a rationale for not providing resources to those nations that have great human need but don’t represent any strategic value to the U.S. When we elevate our own nation’s interests above those of others to the point that it appears they don’t matter, or they are neglected, as is often the case with Africa and South America, we risk hubris. They do matter and their concerns are important, if not for strategic reasons, for humanitarian ones.

We live in an interdependent world. That an editor of an international publication could say his staff didn’t perceive beforehand the impact of a story loaded with such cultural freight at a time when the whole world is critical of U.S. policy, there is skepticism about U.S. media and we’ve been through Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo scandals, can only be understood in this larger context. Hubris and ignorance.

Newsweek and the Koran

The religious and cultural damage done by
the Newsweek story has been done. But how long will it linger?

Newsweek has apologized but the damage has been done. Lives have been lost and extremists have gained another cause to fuel anti-Christian, anti-U.S. feelings across the Muslim world.

The Christian Science Monitor lays out in clear fashion why disrespect for the Koran is such an offense to Muslims. So much is offensive about this story it’s nearly beyond comprehension how it could have slipped by editorial scrutiny. Of course mistakes are made. And there’s no need to pile on the bandwagon criticizing Newsweek at this late stage. So this isn’t a polemic against Newsweek.

What comes to mind, however, is concern about Christian-Muslim relations around the world especially in those places where the relationship between moderates and extremists–the Middle East, parts of Indonesia, Pakistan, India and north Africa–is delicate. Christians are a minority in many Muslim states and even where moderates are in power, they face discrimination or worse. I’ve met with many who speak quietly of the influence that those of us outside their societies have upon circumstances within. They urge caution in language and action that would offend Muslim majorities.

In Imperial Hubris, Michael Schereur explains that Christians are identified, inaccurately, with U.S. policy toward Muslim states. When President Bush explained, sincerely and honestly, how his personal faith influences his moral decisions in office, this was read by many Muslims as proof that U.S. Christians are engaged in war against Islam.

Of course that’s not true, and of course that’s not what the President intended to communicate. But that only reinforces the point. Communication around the issue of Christian-Muslim relations is delicate and it has life and death implications.

Add to this the anti-Islam comments of Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell that were interpreted as representative of the whole of the Christian community, another inaccuracy, and the hole that’s being dug gets deeper and wider. In this situation perception is reality.

That’s why the story is tragic, in my opinion. It will provide extremists the fodder they need to harm innocent people who have no connection to U.S. policy but who are implicated simply because they are Christians. The Pentagon has denied the story from the outset, but that will fall on deaf ears in the inflamed passion that has developed anyway. I see no way to repair this harm. Christian leaders can disavow abuse and disrespect of the Koran; that’s paltry, I know, but what else can be done now that the damage is done?

Manipulating Religion for Secular Power

The Rev. Mike MacDonald, an evangelical
pastor at Broad Street United Methodist Church in Mooresville, S.C., writes of
his concern that politicians who manipulate religion for secular gain are
affecting the ability of the church to speak to people about commitment to the

I do have a
problem when
politicians try
to use faith
as a club
to beat up
their opponents
–The Rev. Mike MacDonald

It’s good to know that there is real diversity of opinion in the public conversation about the influence of religion in the political arena today. It’s just too simplistic to treat the loudest right-wing evangelical voices as if they are the only voices to be heard.

Rev. Mike MacDonald makes a good point in his commentary on when he refutes the claim that Christians can take only one political position.

He recalls the history of the Anabaptist movement, which sought to be free of government persecution over their refusal to practice government-sanctioned religion. That history must be taken seriously. It’s not only important because it contributed to the principle of separation of church and state that was embedded in the colonial writings that came to shape the U.S. Constitution, it’s also important because it demonstrates what can happen when religious principles are codified into public policy. Rev. MacDonald is correct to say that religion has more to gain by keeping these two (government and religion) separate than by joining them in policy.

Rev. MacDonald’s desire to distance religion from politics is echoed by the famous evangelist, The Rev. Billy Graham. In today’s USA Today Rev. Graham says, “If I took sides on all these divisive issues I would cut off a great part of the people I want to reach.”

These pastors are speaking from positions of faith that make imminent sense to me. Their voices are a welcome addition to the conversation.

A third set of voices, all diverse, is featured in a series in BusinessWeek. The cover story for May 23, Evangelical America. Big Business. Explosive Politics., tells of the culture wars at corporations in the U.S. and how evangelicals have taken a page from business in marketing books and other products. (The magazine is on the newsstands but it isn’t online at this posting.)

Tiger is GRRReat!

If you’re a Mac fan, Tiger, the new
operating system, is great.

I don’t know how many Mac users read this blog. But I think a few of you have not moved to the dark side. I loaded Tiger on two of our three Macs and there’s no turning back.

A few relatively minor utilities haven’t been updated yet, so they won’t work. One was a screen grab that I like but it’s not irreplaceable. The built-in screen grab works well enough for me. It’s a little less convenient, but that’s not a big deal.

An overlooked new utility that has caused me to mutter “thank you’s” under my breath is an automated network diagnostics tool. I travel a lot. I often have to futz around with wireless settings to get on the Internet and it’s a minor frustration when I’ve set something in the background that prevents the powerbook from connecting. I always forget those settings.

This happened again last night. But, after Tiger. A pleasant screen advised me I’m not on the Internet and asked me if I needed help. Of course.

So, I follow the next step and the next and before you know it, I’m on the Internet. I look at the settings and realize I could have done that. Of course, it would have taken ten minutes or more, I would have re-set something I didn’t need to change, used un-theological language and maybe gotten on-line before the new day arrived.

So, I’m pleased. Even more, I rested because I went to bed earlier and was in a better mood for sleep. I like Tiger.

Making a Difference Through Service

Dr. Guy D. Nave, Jr. told a group of United
Methodist church leaders that young people today want to make a difference and
he called upon the leaders to offer them the opportunity to experience service
through self-sacrifice as an expression of faith.

Young people are
looking for an
opportunity to
serve, to make
a difference in
the world
–Dr. Guy Nave, Jr.

“Young people are looking for an opportunity to serve, to make a difference in the world,” according to Dr. Guy Nave, Jr., assistant professor of religion at Luther College, Deorah, Iowa. He was speaking to a group of United Methodist leaders last night who are looking at the future of the church.

He told us his experience with college students on the Luther College campus leads him to conclude that young people want to be a part of a worldwide connection that is contributing something that makes a difference.

“It’s not about what we need, it’s about contributing something,” he told the group.

This is consistent with the results of research United Methodist Communications has done among non-church adults in the United States. There is, I believe, a growing desire to create change, especially change that makes life better for those who are poor, vulnerable and neglected in the global society.

This is a message we are hearing consistently but it’s one that has no quantifiable data behind it yet. We don’t know how many people feel this way. One economist who attended the meeting said he believes it may be at least 10% of the population, but that’s a guess, too.

But my thought goes to this. If 10% of the young adults in the United States are yearning to make a contribution and to create change, and if they are doing this through humanitarian service, as Dr. Nave says they are on his campus, that means a substantial number of people are already engaged in making the world a better place, and they’re doing it quietly, without fanfare.

There’s a lot to be gained from understanding this, if it’s true, and if it represents a harbinger of things to come. They’re not running from the world in fear, they’re seeing problems and trying to fix them. They’re not standing on the curb shouting to impose their views on others, they’re engaging with others to bring about change that makes life better. They’re not withdrawing into mindless consumption of material goods, they’re actually acting in counter-cultural, self-sacrifice to help other people.

I so want to believe this is true, and I so want to hope not only that it’s happening, but that it will increase.

Too Many Choices

With the plethora of media to read, view and
hear, we are presented with too many choices. It’s a wealth of information, and
it affects my level of guilt for things unread, unseen and unheard. The curse
of the richness of media today.

A feature of living in this information-rich environment is coping with too many choices and not getting all the reading, viewing and listening done. It’s not a tragedy, but it is a frustration. I’ve got four books started right now, just bought some movies on DVD that I missed when they were running at the theaters (Salaam Bombay! [I know it’s more than twenty years old, but I still missed it], Hotel Rwanda, Friday Night Lights and Osama) and there’s a great issue of Harper’s I’ve been trying to get through, not to mention an old Wired with a cover story on the death of radio.

It’s not even for lack of desire. My intentions are good. It’s due in part to the conditioning that comes from multi-tasking. We don’t do anything for extended periods of time. But to read a book takes time. It isn’t something I can do at uptempo or in short spurts.

I want to concentrate! But, there’s this thing I’ve left undone, that e-mail to answer, and, oh yea, there’s that note I’m supposed to write. You know the story.

I know I watch too much TV. I know I need to organize these tasks better than I have so far. I also know that the whole media culture is conspiring against me, and it’s winning. It’s seeking to attract my attention, as it is yours as well, and it works. I give 15-seconds here, 30-seconds there and move on to the next thing. Talk about short-term memory.

So, my best intentions get trashed by the helter-skelter of a short attention span and the flurry of busyness that probably could be managed with less compulsion–if I could just take the time to ponder how to do that.

Mainstream Media on Life Support?

Nancy Snow writes from the Media Reform
conference in St. Louis that mainstream media is on life support and this is an
opportune time for alternative media to get its messages out.

we need to approach
media reform as
a global public health
and education campaign
–Dr. Nancy Snow

Dr. Nancy Snow writes from the Media Reform Conference in St. Louis that mainstream media are on life support and this is a good time for alternative media to distribute messages to audiences as a dose of needed medicine.

Such claims have an element of truth in that major media are undergoing change and a major part of the change is demographic. The audience for traditional media is aging and it’s not being replaced by younger readers, viewers and listeners. That’s a cause of concern for editors, station managers and radio programmers. It’s not on life support just yet, but it could be close to it if trends continue (and there’s no reason to believe they won’t)

The test will come when major advertisers choose alternative media and skip broadcast, for example. A story recently in the New York Times identified the thirty-second spot as an endangered species. On the surface that’s not such a big deal, especially if you don’t like the glut of ads on television and radio. However, if it means that advertisers are choosing to use other forms of advertising to reach target audiences that are more accessible now because of the multiple media they use, it’s bad news for mass media operations.

There’s no doubt that we’re heading into a new era of communication. Citizen communication and civic journalism remain a hopeful gleam in alternative media’s eye. They haven’t yet achieved the reach and saturation of mainstream media. Of course, that’s not the only measure of their influence. If they target the correct audience and inspire action, they will accomplish as much, if not more, than they would by hitting large numbers of people who don’t have an interest in creating change.

And that’s the strategic point. Targetted messaging is possible today in ways that were not available in the past. Therefore, it’s not how many people you reach, but how many of the right people you reach who will act upon the information you share with them.

In the case of media reform that’s good medicine.