Star Gazing: another angle

My post last night about the untenable rational for SN’s brand of sunshine and roses reporting brought some objections that are most eloquently captured by my favorite antagonist, KM:

  • Why does everyone (not just your blog) obsess over SN and other SG publications/websites not being objective reporters and editors, like that should be the holy grail of these organizations? Do you really think they even view themselves as a legit news source in the tradition of say Fox News or New York Times or USA Today online? Of course not. I don’t understand why everyone gets so worked up over the fact that Danny Jones admits he isn’t the second coming of Walter Cronkite. That’s not what he’s about, and neither is SN. Yes, they report some news in their own way, but they obviously have no ambitions to be a real hard core news agency for SG with all the investigative reporting and editorial bells and whistles. I would say companies like SN, SoGospelNews, and others are really a hybrid of folksy news source, marketing vehicle, promotion vehicle, keeper of the SG flame, communication vehicle, and, yes, even MINISTRY (horrors!). Which leads to my second comment/question.
  • Why can’t you see the Biblical context of what Danny Jones is saying? Again, instead of holding him (and SN and others) up to secular journalistic standards of investigative reporting they make no claim to even care about (thank God), why can’t you see his comments in light of passages like I Peter 4:8 (”love covers a multitude of sins”) or Proverbs 11:13 (”a gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret”) or Ephesians 4:15 (”speaking the truth in love”). You see, as much as some people in the SG prognostication business hate to hear it, as Christians we ARE held to a higher standard of discourse and I think Danny was just fleshing that Bible-centered philosophy out in very practical terms.
  • The SG talking heads on the MBs love to decry the dreaded “M” word (ministry) as being a sham and one of the reasons SG music quality is so bad, blah, blah, blah. I agree with some of that, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water! What I (and I think many other fans) love about SG is that it is still trying to maintain a godly ministry balance while also being a business entity. If you look at it that way, you may form a less cynical opinion of Danny’s (and others’) motivation than that of being a self-serving, myopic preservationist. Maybe his (their) heart is in a different place. Say, a place that loves SG music and wants it to grow, but only in a Biblical way. A place that doesn’t think exponential, linear growth is the be-all and end-all of SG. Say, a place that wants Christ to be glorified first and worries about industry success second; and if that means SG remains a smallish, regional music industry, then so be it.
  • Of course, you and I and others can argue all day long about what constitutes Biblical business practices. We can wring our hands over the hypocrites in the business who give the whole ministry concept a bad name. And I would agree there are some real losers parading around in SG ministry robes, but the Bible never lets me off the hook for living right just because there are hypocrites in ministry. And it never lets me off the hook for pursuing my professional/business career in a Christ-like manner even if that approach might stunt my revenue growth or reduce my market share. So, in that context, if I’m SN or SGN I’m not going to publish gossip or pursue a story that doesn’t track with Philippians 4:8 (”whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest. . .”). I’m not going to publish exposes on Kirk Talley’s struggles with homosexuality (the Lord took care of that one just fine Himself). I’m not going to applaud new performers who try to ape the world’s performing style (James 4:4). If I think the industry needs to change, I’m going to work for that change in ways that are Christ-like and in line with I Cor. 6 — i.e. not confrontational (if it doesn’t need to be), not mean-spirited, not egotistical, not hurtful of others’ reputations, not open for public display so Christ’s name is besmirched, mindful of Proverbs 15:1 (”a soft answer turneth away wrath”). It’s just a whole different mindset which drives a whole different modus operandi than a secular news agency would have. And although maybe not as popular or as “open” as you would like, I think it’s closer to the Biblical model than some of the alternatives being spouted on the MBs and blogs.

If I were the SN or SGN, I’d hire KM right now to be my PR man, perhaps follow the Astroturf model of thinktanks so popular these days and prop him up with his own blog, because he makes a persuasive Biblical case in defense of Jones and his ilk. In fact, there’s nothing really to dispute in his argument (except perhaps his methodology of cherry picking scripture to support a position that could probably be contradicted by at least as many other carefully selected verses taken out of context). I completely concede that the SN and SGN and others like them speak a completely different language when it comes to news and coverage than I do (let another round of “are you saved?” emails commence). And I’m not naive or stupid enough to think I’m going to change the way they do things (though I continue to believe there is intrinsic value in the discussion itself). What people like me are objecting to is not the underlying religious conviction behind the journalistic enterprise at that SN. Rather, it’s the habit of journalists like Jones and Kirksey to retreat behind the screen of “biblical principles” (which in a conservative evangelical context are never up for discussion, thus being a kind of nuclear option in conversation) every time they want to deflect some criticism or lob a grenade toward their critics. That said, I’d be willing to call it a draw if Jones did even do half as much work as KM does to contextualize his position in the kind of scriptural context offered above. At least that would show a willingness to have a discussion in the first place (and KM, I should say, is more than a worthy sparring partner in these matters). But Jones doesn’t do that. Instead, he simply says “the SN’s work is Good because I associate with Good Christians and everyone else who says or does different than I do is bad.” C’mon. Is this really a model of Christian discourse we want to be defending? Why don’t we just throw down in the playground and duke it out till somebody cries uncle? Isn’t this precisely the kind of mindlessness that Ken Kirksey is eloquently critiquing on his blog right now? Isn’t there a way to have an intelligent, honest conversation about different approaches to covering gospel music rather than reaching for the nuclear option at the first sign of difference? Maybe not. Maybe the joke’s on me. Hahaha.

Anyway, as I said in my first post, the SN crowd really does believe they’re doing God’s work. Fine. It’s gospel music. I’d wager most people think that. But that doesn’t exclude the possibility that people do what they do from slightly less supernatural motives. Which brings us to at least part of the truth here (the part that always goes without saying and without being said): SN and SGN et al do what they do the way they do it in part because it guarantees friendly access to the people whose names and photos and quotes sell subscriptions and generate ad revenue, to say nothing of making mini-celebrities out of the reporters and editors (even if they are sg’s equivalent of Joan Rivers or John Tesh on the red carpet at the Grammys). There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with being that person: bidness is bidness, whether in Hollywood, Nashville or North Carolina (where the SN is located). But if you’re going to do bidness that way, be willing defend it on all its own terms and not just pretend to exalted ideals of Christian benevolence. There’s more to this than just doing it for the crowns in heaven. Put that another way: it’s much easier to play golf and go on tropical cruises with stars, rave about their generosity of spirit and wallet and pat yourself on the back for how you’re building up and not tearing down, than it is to fairly scrutinize the industry and culture of gospel music (heck, even People Magazine gives less-than-flattering reviews to stuff). Giving up the former to achieve some semblance of the latter does not mean abandoning journalistic standards of ethics (in fact, from a journalistic perspective, we could do with a little less coziness) nor does it mean giving up Christian principles and religious values. It just means fewer rounds of celebrity golf, less generous accommodations on the next cruise (though Jones’s most recent entry about sharing a room with Loren Harris is an amusing take on this very situation), and reconceiving of yourself as something other than just a mouthpiece for celebrities. (Many thanks to KM for his eloquent provocation, as per usual.)

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