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Can the church learn to love the media?

By David Sanford

Evangelist Luis Palau grieves that too many Christians characterize the media as ‘the enemy.’

Try asking 80 church executives if the “secular” media are friends or foes. Every time I take this poll at a church leadership conference or seminary, one or two hands timidly go up for “friends.” The rest go sky high for “foes.” What’s your vote?

Over the course of his prolific career, Cal Thomas has been one of America’s most popular media commentators on television, radio and in print. While the mainstream media often is biased, Thomas believes the bias “isn’t always deliberate.” Often, a reporter’s bias is borne out of a bad church experience or personal tragedy that produced deep feelings of disappointment with God.

In one of his hundreds of articles, Thomas shared, “Unlike many Christians I meet, I’ve decided not to be content with cursing the media’s spiritual darkness, but to devise a strategy for doing something.” That strategy involves getting to know others in the media, develop genuine friendships, and then share the love of Jesus Christ.

Reach a journalist
“I’m not really advocating anything new. Jesus is the pattern. He spent most of his time with people who didn’t know him,” Thomas says. “This pattern works with anyone, regardless of profession or position.” After all, “You don’t have to be a journalist to reach a journalist.”

Another Christian leader reaching out to mainstream journalists is former banking executive and evangelist Luis Palau, who has led a growing number of television directors, news anchors, cameramen, editors, reporters, and photographers to Jesus Christ.

Palau says, “Frankly, it grieves me that so many Christians characterize the media as ‘the enemy.’ Yes, journalists on the whole admit they’re rather liberal. Most don’t see eye to eye with us on many issues. Many haven’t darkened the door of a church since their wedding. But, if we’ll give them half a chance, they’ll do more good for the cause of Christ in one day than we could do in half a year.”

Sadly, most Christians don’t know anyone in the media and some refuse to give them the benefit of the doubt. The results can be disastrous.

Graham reached out
At the urging of Billy Graham, for instance, The (Portland) Oregonian newspaper hired a full-time religion writer named Mark O’Keefe, gave him a great deal of freedom to cover the religious side of news stories, and often featured his articles on page one.

A religion reporter’s dream job? Hardly.

O’Keefe started receiving scores of hate voice mail messages and hate letters via post, fax, and e-mail from so-called “Christians.” Many of these zealots completely missed the point of his in-depth articles. And almost all were clueless that O’Keefe himself is a committed Christian.

After O’Keefe moved to Washington, D.C., to work as a national correspondent for the Newhouse News Service, The Oregonian hired another religion writer, Nancy Haught, who has received the same volume of hate messages once directed toward O’Keefe. Thankfully, a handful of Christians have befriended her and made it clear that the hateful minority don’t speak for Jesus Christ or his church.

“It’s imperative that Christians build positive relationships with real individuals in the local media,” says Palau. How to do that?

Recognize your own biases. Ask God to change your heart and give you a love for individuals working in the media.
Don’t forget that fellow Christians probably work at almost every major mainstream media organization in your city. Find out who they are — and support them.

Ask your colleagues if they know anyone in the media. If so, ask for that reporter’s contact information. Then take the initiative to contact him or her, introduce yourself, and schedule a time to meet. If the reporter doesn’t know the Lord yet, that’s great. Schedule a second time to get together. Become friends. Pray for him or her. Expect God to draw that reporter to himself.

When a journalist calls, take a minute to find out who the reporter is and then ask for his or her contact information. If you need time to gather your thoughts, offer to call the reporter back in an hour. After the interview, immediately send a quick “Thank you” note to the reporter via e-mail. Don’t ask to see the story before it runs.

If the reporter’s story contains a glaring error, gauge not how wrong the error is (99 percent wrong?) but who cares (1 percent of readers?). In most cases, those who care already know the truth. If you absolutely must ask for a correction, do so politely in writing.

So, what’s your decision? Are the “secular” media your friends or foes? Make friends and you’ll see God work in some amazing ways.

David Sanford is a Portland, OR-based media consultant who helps pastors and other Christian ministry leaders learn how to work effectively with mainstream broadcast, print and online media locally, regionally, and nationally. www.credocommunications.net

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