By Mark Penninga (first printed in Reformed Perspective magazine, November 2009): The Reformed faith is challenged on many fronts. Some of these challenges we are well aware of. I’m guessing that everyone thirteen and older who attends a Reformed church has been warned many times of the danger of “Arminianism” and how we ought to be on the lookout for its ugly face in songs, books, and almost everywhere else. But other challenges we hear little about, regardless of whether they are even a greater threat to the faith. The influence of the secular media in Reformed homes is one such challenge that we are aware of but seem all too hesitant to respond to.
In the spring of 2009 I was travelling with my family and a board member of ARPA Canada, holding events in Reformed churches and schools. One of those events stands out in my mind. It just so happened that a NHL play-off game was scheduled for the same night. As soon as we heard about this we knew that we might have a tough time getting a crowd. When 7:30pm came around and the event started, we were surprised to see a good turnout. But upon a closer look at the audience we made an interesting discovery. Only about half (or fewer) of the audience came from the Canadian Reformed Church where it was being held and where it was advertised. The rest came from neighbouring churches that are part of a denomination that has no ties to the CanRC and which generally stays away from functions put on by other churches. Incidentally, it is a known fact that these churches speak out strongly against TV’s in the home. Those who came out that night were not even aware there was a hockey game going on at the same time and were dismayed when we thanked the crowd for coming out given that the event conflicted with a play-off game.
This lone experience doesn’t prove much in and of itself. But I’m afraid that it rings true to something that is happening on a much bigger scale. The secular media, be it through TV, movies, the internet, newspapers, or magazines, preaches a very different message than what we hear off the pulpits on Sundays. Yet we seem to be more than willing to bring the pulpit of Secular Humanism into our homes and give it plenty of time and finances so that it can evangelize us with its doctrines.
Don’t mistake me – I’m not advocating that everyone despise the NHL, or throw out their TV’s, DVD’s, computers, newspapers, and magazines. I make use of all these things like most other people do. What I’m asking for is some reflection about how we as individuals, families, and churches are responding to the challenges that come from these sources of media. My experience with interacting with Reformed Christians about current social and political issues has convinced me that we are not nearly discerning enough when it comes to putting our time and money towards secular media and at the same time are overly discerning when it comes to investing in quality Christian resources.
A Closer Look at Secular Media
There are many studies I could point to that reveal the increasing sexualisation, violence, profanity, commercialization, and anti-Christian bias in all sources of secular media. If you are interested in some staggering statistics, check out www.commercialfreechildhood.org and click on the “issues” menu. But I’m sure we are already aware of this danger, given that it is impossible to avoid. Yet it still doesn’t turn us away from these media sources. The reply we often give is that there is junk in the secular media but there are also good things that we can benefit from. We can’t escape from the world so we have to discern what our families should be taking in or avoiding. As true as this is, I can’t help but wonder how discerning we are and how oblivious we are to the influence that the secular media is having on the church.
Our secular world likes to believe it is being neutral and “value-free”. They claim to be unbiased in their “news” coverage and attempt to accomplish this by promoting “diversity” in their hiring practices (being sure to fill their quotas of feminists, homosexuals, environmentalists and “spiritual experts”). But this “diversity” doesn’t seem to include anyone who holds strong Christian convictions, conservatives, or anyone who is willing to challenge the liberal status-quo. Is it any surprise then that the news becomes a sensationalized effort to wow our senses or reaffirm the blessings of secular humanism and the evils of traditional morals or beliefs? If you don’t believe me, do your own study. Check out the front page of the next few issues of the leading newspaper in your area. (This would be a good project for a Social Studies or Worldview class.) What worldview is being endorsed in the selection of the stories? What bias is coming through in the content of the stories? My family subscribes to the Vancouver Sun. The last few issues were devoted to glowing coverage of “His Holiness the Dalai Lama.” Any articles that mention Christianity seems to be about the latest priest who was alleged to have abused children, or about the threat of “right-wing fundamentalists” imposing their faith in politics, or possibly about the United Church’s latest campaign to promote unhindered sexuality (as if it isn’t being promoted enough!). Basic biblical truth is nowhere to be found. But when the Dalai Lama comes to town, promoting compassion and diversity without any absolute moral strings attached, he gets pages and pages of coverage and praise.
Like the frog in the boiling pot, Christians slowly become desensitized to the false-neutrality of the media that is coming into our homes. We begin to believe that the RCMP’s use of tasers is much more serious a moral issue than the millions of people slaughtered in the Sudan. Even if we are quite sure that we aren’t being desensitized, what effect is the secular media having on our children? I remember trying to speak with some Reformed youth about the current “Green” movement and being baffled that many of them didn’t seem to have any problem with it (though they did recognize that the amount of attention that environmentalism is getting is a little over the top). I have a hard time being convinced that the 3 hours of instruction in church and at catechism classes that Reformed youth receive is able to protect them from the dozens of hours that they are exposed to through secular TV, Facebook, movies, music, etc. It is easy to point fingers at the youth but statistics reveal that the older generation struggles with TV usage even more than the youth (for example, Statistics Canada found that adults watch about double as much TV as teens). Young adults in our Reformed circles seem to be much less likely to spend time watching the tube than their parents.
The Decline of the Christian Worldview
Increasingly our standards are being measured according to the current expectations that come from the secular media. If some Christians go out of their way to produce a quality, clean, wholesome movie we so easily dismiss it as being “amateurish” and not that great. It is pretty hard to compete with the multi-million dollar productions that come from Hollywood if we are going to rate them based on the “wow!” factor. Likewise, when speakers (be it pastors or otherwise) try to communicate a Christian message to an audience there is an expectation that it better either be kept short (no more than half an hour) or filled with videos and other sensory-pleasing stimuli. Whether we admit it or not, this is a result of the influence of secularized media.
While our reliance on secular media seems to increase, we are at the same time pulling away from Christian resources. After all, we only have so much time and money to go around. Maybe that is what explains the fact that a magazine like Reformed Perspective is losing subscribers and money even though the number of Reformed families is increasing and the quality of the magazine has never been better. We give up our subscriptions to Christian resources if we don’t like how they address or don’t address an issue that we care about. But we continue to pay for the subscription to cable TV that belches filth into our homes continually. Similarly we pride ourselves on our thrift behaviour by borrowing our Aunt Thelma’s copy of RP after she is done with it and yet spend hundreds of dollars bringing secular media into our homes.
If the Reformed community can’t sustain a magazine that covers social/political issues it isn’t just the magazine that will go under. It also means that the writers won’t be writing any more either. Or, if they continue writing it will likely be for non-Reformed audiences that want to benefit from their skills. Where will we go to for discussion papers, free topics, or family conversations? Likely it will be to wherever we are getting our news, opinions, and entertainment and consequently our discussions will gravitate toward whatever the secular media thinks we should be talking about.
A further consequence to the trend towards secular media is the increasing individualism and lack of accountability that accompanies it. We don’t even have to go to the store to download a movie or music. It can be done wherever we want through our internet connection. We do our research online for school paper, get our news online, and the list goes on. Although this has benefits there are also problems that come when we rely too much on this medium. For example, even if we are reading good things on the internet, one family member isn’t reading the same thing as another. There isn’t discussion on a particular article because we read whatever interests us. And we wonder why discussion around the coffee table is so difficult? A Christian book or magazine is something that can be put on a living room coffee table so that it can be read by a few people in the home or church. As a result, it spurs us to talk about important issues that we need to address.
Some people might argue that I’m exaggerating this whole matter too much. I hope they are right. But I’m not seeing any evidence to support that claim. Just this past week another pro-family organization closed its doors and is no longer able to serve as a resource for Christians who want to stand up for what is good in society. Many other Christian political organizations that I know of are struggling to receive the funding, support, or interest they need to continue producing their resources or even keep their doors open. The longer we don’t respond to this growing trend the more oblivious we will be to the spiritual attacks of the Devil. We seem to have this figured out when it comes to guarding against theological heresies. We need to apply the same discernment in response to the cultural, societal, and political heresies that are being introduced into our homes with our cooperation.