Media: Strangling the Christian Culture that Built AmericaMedia and The Blackout of Christian Worldview in America: Early Christian American Perspectiveby Wayne Sedlak
December 10, 2009
A study by New York Professor Paul Vitz found the vast majority of elementary and secondary high school texts go to great lengths to avoid any references to the Christian faith. For example, the Pilgrims are often described as “people who made long trips”. Similar distortions are found throughout standard journalism. Emery and Emery’s the Press and America, the most popular textbook used in the field never once mentions Christian worldview as an historic position in America’s early rise as the world’s media giant.
In contrast, you find statements like the following throughout 19th century American press-watchers:
“Of all the reading of the people three-fourths is religious… of all the issues of the press three-fourths are theological, ethical and devotional.”
New York City alone boasted 52 magazines and newspapers that referenced their own work as “Christian” and Christian worldview commentary. American journalism often was Christian journalism.
Media in Early Christian America: The Boston Recorder Nathaniel Willis was an editor of the Eastern Argus, and later the cofounder of the Boston Recorder. He was born in 1780. He was converted as a result of a speech given by a minister who was scheduled to speak publicly on politics. But the minister went back to biblical themes and Willis’ own recollection stated, “…was much interested, and became a constant hearer. The Holy Spirit led me to see… that the Bible is the Word of God – that Christ is the only Saviour, and that it is by grace we are saved, through faith.”
This change in his life provoked change in his Calling as a business and newspaper owner and reporter. First, he “…began to moderate the severity of party spirit in the Argus, and extracted from other papers short articles on religious subjects.” Because some local politicians who had backed the Argus did not favor his Christian views, he gave up the Argus and moved to Boston.
Willis did a survey of newspapers. He found some were mostly political and commercial, exclusively. Others were church public relations organs specializing in denominational or other ecclesiastical news. He knew there was a needed shift in the way Christians and churches handled the news. Most Christians simply did not deem the news to be “a worthy commentary from a biblical perspective.” In other words Willis was plagued by the same kind of Christian “outlook” which cannot bring itself to comment on the world around it from a biblical worldview position. Willis was often admonished, “only to write of Christ” and that would be spiritually sufficient.
With coeditor Sidney Morse, Willis then produced the first issue of the Boston Recorder on January 3, 1816. According to its own Prospectus, the Recorder was to be a newspaper with “the earliest information of all such events as mankind usually deem important,” as opposed to simple abstracts of sermons. In other words he believed he could write a newspaper that could present the news from the perspective of the consequences of sin and a need for Jesus Christ.
An article Willis wrote in 1819 headlined “Shocking Homicide.” reported that a man had murdered his son after being “for a long time troubled with irreligious fears, and a belief that his sins were too numerous to be pardoned.” What an opportunity to explain how sin and misperceived religion can be so damaging, while giving a biblical solution. Society was then less prone to be scandalized against faith, and more disposed to handle such problems from a Christian perspective. The Bible, for example, abounds in misperceived religious affections. God certainly did not “hide” the news of those days from His Word. Willis concluded Christian journalists have a great open door in front of them. Why not use it?
An 1820 article criticized naval hero Admiral Stephen Decatur for fighting a duel because he was afraid of being declared a coward: He forgot “that there is no honor, which is valuable and durable, save that which comes from God.” Dueling was murder, according to God’s Laws. Society should treat the “winner” of the duel as a criminal and prosecute it, driving the horrid practice into the woodwork. And that is precisely what did occur.
For Willis, in his own words, all kinds of stories provided “…occasion to record many signal triumphs of divine grace over the obduracy of the human heart, and over the prejudices of the unenlightened mind.” The Recorder, he wrote, was a record of “these quickened influences of the Holy Spirit.”
Willis was not the only journalist to think in these terms but he did produce a revolution in thought. His Calling, he perceived, was to handle the news as God has ordained it. It is the Christian’s stewardship to handle sin every bit as much as it is his or her duty to handle upright and devotional things.
But, for the Christian journalist, handling the news was to give his readers the very best of insights for the Truth. Handling the evils of society was a call to give readers, not so much a “sermon”, but to give them the “what” – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and then paint the solution in the vivid colors of God’s holy prescriptions for a fallen world, according to the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
How many of you have similar stories when dealing with the media of your work world… your schools…your libraries? Or are you blessed with "of all the issues of the press three-fourths are theological, ethical and devotional?”
- submitted, Wayne C. Sedlak, ICHR