By Steve Klein
The American public’s perception of Christ and Christians is, to say the least, flawed. This fact is of great concern to those of us who believe that men and women must come to truly know Christ if they are to have a hope of eternal salvation.
America’s misapprehension of Christ can, in part, be attributed to the news media. The reason is that the news media fails to cover or miscovers many religious events as well as the effect that religion has on the lives of Americans.
Religion is a major part of life in America, but you could not tell it by the amount of news coverage it gets. Statistical evidence reported in the June 1994 AFA Journal and the August 6-12, 1994 TV Guide attests to this fact. It was reported that 90% of Americans say they believe in God or a higher power, and eight out of ten pray regularly. Money contributed to religion in 1992 equaled $56.7 billion compared to $4 billion spent to attend major league baseball, football, and basketball combined. According to a Gallup Poll, attendance at religious services in 1993 totaled 5.6 billion, about 55 times greater than the total 103-million reported by the three major professional sports leagues. One ABC media executive said, “on any given weekend there are more people in houses of worship than attend major baseball games all year long.” Yet, in 1993, evening TV news shows on ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, and PBS offered only 212 stories on religion out of a total of more than 18,000 stories aired.
To add insult to injury, besides the lack of coverage, the stories which are carried by the news media often leave wrong impressions. From the news, one might get the idea that every person with a pro-life conviction based on Scripture is prepared to murder abortion doctors. Or that, anyone who wants the evidence for creationism taught in our public schools is an ignorant, uneducated bumpkin who has never examined the evidence for evolution.
This kind of problem is not really new. The published reports (and thus the public perception) concerning Christ and his followers were off the mark in New Testament times as well. In Matthew 28:13-15, we find that the story told by the guards (that Jesus’ disciples had removed his body “while they slept”) was “commonly reported among the Jews” for years. In Acts 17:5-8, the Jews in Thessalonica claimed that Paul and his companions were “acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king; Jesus.” No doubt, these false reports and others like them skewed the opinions of those who heard them.
There is evidence from outside the Scriptures that this was a pervasive problem in the first and second centuries A.D. Tacitus, a Roman historian who was born about A.D. 52, reported the following: “(Nero) punished with the most exquisite tortures the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius, but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time, broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also . . . a vast multitude were convicted, not so much of the crime of incendiarism, as of hatred of the human race.”
In his History Of The Christian Church Philip Schaff explains that the common people of the Roman Empire “readily gave credit to the slanderous rumors of all sorts of abominations, even incest and cannibalism, practiced by the Christians at their religious assemblies . . .” The charge of cannibalism resulted from false reports concerning the nature of the Lord’s supper observance.
Public opinion regarding the true nature of Christianity was at least as flawed in New Testament times as it is to-day. What was done about it? The apostles and other New Testament Christians recognized that it was not the job of unbelievers to accurately report the message of Christ. It was theirs. Today, it is not the news media’s job to present an accurate picture of the religion of Jesus Christ to the public. It is ours.
The gospel, the good news, is to be proclaimed to all, so all men might know Christ (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:16). In the days of the apostles, this charge was vigorously carried out. The gospel “was preached to every creature under heaven” (Col. 1:23). Edward Gibbon, in Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, wrote, “When the promise of eternal happiness was proposed to mankind, on condition of adopting the faith and of observing the precepts of the gospel, it is no wonder that so advantageous an offer should have been accepted by great numbers of every province in the Roman empire.”
Our quest, in the words of the Psalmist, is to “Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples” (Psalm 96:2b-3). We can sit back and complain about the slanted misrepresentations of Christianity in the news media, or we can become “lights in the world, holding forth the word of life” (Phil. 2:15b-16a). What are you doing to spread the news?
Guardian of Truth XL: 9 p. 10-11
May 2, 1996