Slightly OT: Politics and Chrisitan entertainment

Via reader CH, a study from the Annenberg School for Communication’s Lear Center on politics and Christian entertainment. Lots of interesting stuff (and plenty of silly things too, to be honest … the red, blue and purple oversimplifications are grating), especially in light of some of the conversation we’ve had before about the place of politics in Christian entertainment and gospel music. The upshot though: conservative audiences are less likely to be interested in political viewpoints different from their own. This isn’t a shock mind you. It’s exactly what most anyone who has spent prolonged periods of time in conservative circles has known forever: there are a lot of good, decent, thoughtful people in all those “red states” who will listen and engage and take seriously the perspectives of others (and some of them read and post here regularly … thank you), but conservative culture in general still remains in thrall to a conservation-stopping brand of anti-intellectualism that rules the day among talking heads and figures of authority (ahem … Fox News … and yes, I know there are plenty of close-minded libruhls out there, so spare me the speck-in-your-own-eye lectures). Anyway, one thing reading this study reminds me of is that there’s a certain self-interest in politically aggressive conservatives refusing to engage with other perspectives. Especially in conservative Christianity, where persecution narratives and faith-under-assault theories are so central to religious identity, shutting out civil engagement with your ideological or political opponents allows you to create the very sense of antagonism and isolation that’s necessary to keep the persecuted majority mindset alive, without really having to do the heavy-lifting it takes to think through your beliefs and understand their implications. (This chart also suggests such a worldview also has seriously distorting effects on people’s perceptions of others)

Which is another way of saying that for most of these spittle-flecked bloviators carrying on loudly about the latest perceived outrage (and alas, I’m sure we can all think of a few sg personalities who fit this bill), the content of what they’re saying is probably less important than the fact that as long as they’re shouting, they don’t have to have a serious conservation with anyone, much less think seriously about their own ideas. So please, no caps lock.

Update: since it’s come up in comments, let me just say that cable news in general is pretty horrific when it comes to dumbing down and otherwise distorting life into sound-bite-sized conflicts oversimplified for the sake of entertainment and ratings (though this is just one of many problems; James Fallows’ classic essay on the topic - “Why Americans Hate The Media” - remains the definitive indicment of the overall out-of-touchness of television news and a blistering take-down of the infotainment mentality that has overtaken mainstream media). Certainly there is alot to loathe about CNN (e.g. Wolfe Blitzer: Worst. Debate moderator. Ever.) and MSNBC (e.g. Chris Matthews, the dirty old uncle of cable news commentary) and television news generally (”if it bleeds it leads!”), just as their is about Fox News. My point in the post above was not to suggest that Fox News is is alone in its propensity for intellectually dubious behavior (they aren’t), only that the network is particularly loathesome for its special brand of phony balance.

All may not be lost for conservative discourse though. For one thing, Fox’s ratings are declining (Later update: O’Reilly is no longer top dawg of the prime time cable pack), a promising sign (not just for progressive and liberals but, I’d also imagine, for serious conservatives who value honest engagement with the world). This decline seems likely connected to the concurrent decline of Republican political power under the Bush administration. If I were a conservative or a Republican wondering how to reestablish the party’s and the movement’s credibility post-Bush II, I’d certainly be hoping that the decline of Fox-driven Bushism will clear some space for smart and honest conservatives (like George Will and Andrew Sullivan, for instance) to help right the right, so to speak.

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  1. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    “conservative audiences are less likely to be interested in political viewpoints different from their own.”

    I wonder how much money they spent to figure that one out. Nothing ever quite compares to the length intellectuals will go to state what ordinary people already know.

  2. RF wrote:

    Kind of reminded me of all the press about Scott Fowler “meeting” Mike Huckabay. Who cares? Not me. I like Huckabay the times I’ve seen him, but he really doesn’t have a clue about how to govern. But, he’s a Christian and you can always count on Scott to gravitate to whoever puts that label on for support. No tolerance, that’s the key!

    It will be interesting when Scott has a choice between a Mormon and a guy who doesn’t seem really religious on his ticket and an African-American with a Muslum sounding name and a (gasp) Methodist woman who had an unfaithful husband. Poor Scott…:-)

  3. CVH wrote:

    Nixon did it. Falwell did it. Robertson does it. Too many would rather engage in noisy rhetoric in order to avoid any
    constructive dialogue that would require, at the least, a base level of respect for the other side’s point of view. We all suffer, no matter what realm it happens in, because of the polarization.

    It reminds me of the scene toward the end of Aaron Sorkin’s 1995 film ‘The American President’ in which Michael Douglas’ character, President Andrew Shepherd, finally answers his chief critic, blowhard Sen. Bob Rumson. An excerpt:

    For the last couple of months, Senator Rumson has suggested that being president of this country was, to a certain extent, about character…
    and although I have not been willing to engage in his attacks on me, I’ve been here three years and three days, and I can tell you without hesitation: being President of this country is entirely about

    Everybody knows American isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating, at the top of his lungs, that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free,
    then the symbol of your country can’t
    just be a flag; the symbol also has
    to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest.” Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free…

    I’ve known Bob Rumson for years. I’ve been operating under the assumption that the reason Bob devotes so much time and energy to shouting at the rain was that he simply didn’t get it. Well, I was wrong. Bob’s problem isn’t that he doesn’t get it. Bob’s problem is that he
    can’t sell it. Nobody has ever won
    an election by talking about what I
    was just talking about…

    We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious men to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, friend, I promise you, Bob Rumson is
    not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win

    You gather a group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family and American values and personal character. Then you have an old photo of the
    President’s girlfriend. You scream
    about patriotism and you tell them
    she’s to blame for their lot in life,
    you go on television and you call her
    a whore. Sydney Ellen Wade has done
    nothing to you, Bob. She has done
    nothing but put herself through law
    school, prosecute criminals for five
    years, represent the interests of
    public school teachers for two years,
    and lobby for the safety of our
    natural resources…

    We’ve got serious problems, and we need serious men, and if you want to talk about character, Bob, you’d better come at me with more than a burning flag and a membership card. If you want to talk about character and American
    values, fine. Just tell me where and
    when, and I’ll show up. This is a time for serious men, Bob, and your fifteen minutes are up. My name’s Andrew Shepherd, and I am the President.

  4. Wayne wrote:

    There is more than just a little inconsistency in extolling the virtues of inclusion, open-minded discussions, dissent and debate, criticizing exclusion and non-diversity of thought and opinion, yet maligning the only network that makes a careful effort to include both sides in every discussion rather than just pandering to the opinions of the monolithic, liberal, left-wing journalistic community. I would wager that Doug would receive much better treatment at the average church or Gospel singing than someone who proclaimed the evidences of intelligent design, the value and necessity of free markets and the counter arguments to global warming would receive in the average college classroom. The academic left can consider themselves enlightened if they wish, but there is no way they can claim tolerance of opinion contrary to their own.

  5. oldtimer wrote:

    RF - If it comes down to the choices that you referenced above (#2), then Scott is not the only one to be pitied.

  6. idoc0602 wrote:

    Amen to Wayne. I couldn’t have said it better .Doug likes to claim his conservative Christian roots in his writing, but loves to be negative to Fox News as if to say that he has been liberated by his political swing to the left.If you’re gonna be fair please put down the liberal CNN or MSNBC with equal furvor.

  7. Jim E. Davis wrote:

    Wayne is right.

    Saved me from having to write a 750 word essay. Thanks!

  8. Alan wrote:

    Ah…another opportunity taken to bash any and all of us who dare to take the name of conservative, or to admit that we watch Fox News. And best of all, a link was provided to trumpet the wonderful news that FNC’s ratings are in a slump - except that it’s dated October 1, 2006. Indeed there were changes, and they evidently worked - Fox again trumps all cable networks across the board. Well, some of us have lived long enough to see the horrendous results of liberalism and progressivism in this post-modern world. And we grew tired of the slanted bias of network news, CNN, and the MSNBC’s of the world. So, I have to wonder how many Christians old enough to remember American society thirty or forty years ago believe that we’re better today than we were then…? Evidently this post began with a look at some sg artists who espouse political views of a conservative nature, but it has evolved into a more serious look at what we’d have to believe should we “change sides”. And believe it or not, Doug, but quite probably, the majority of your readers have indeed thought long and hard about issues like the slaughter of 1.5 million innocents per year - which is a fairly central platform of those who are progressive and/or liberal. We’ve taken a long look at many - if not all- of the core issues of liberalism. And I’d bet that most of your readers haven’t found them to be society’s panaceas, but rather, to be a large part of the decay of American society. Why? Because of what the Bible teaches. It is, after all, our Owner’s Manual. While we aren’t called to try and improve society, we are called to herald a message that can change it, and it’s the Gospel. Nor can we legislate morality. But we can - and must - stand in support of those who will try and govern with a seemingly-forgotten maxim, the reverence of God. Why is it that secular “stars” can use the power of their bully pulpits to endorse and support the most liberal candidates, but those who carry the Gospel should be silent in speaking out against sin? So, we’re back to the Fox byline - “Fair and Balanced”. Are they perfect? Probably not. Whenever humans are involved, nothing will be perfect. But FNC gives a voice to the thinking Christian as one of the only media outlets that dares to speak those things which we believe. We honestly aren’t the mush brains of formative youth, Doug. We’ve lived, we’ve seen the middle results of progressive and liberal thought and action, and we have the common sense to see the end result of it all…a society without God, a nation where every religion is tolerated except for Christianity; and we’ve decided that it’s time for us be be the “salt”. I find it sad, really, that a blog about Gospel music requires some of us to post what we’ve had to. Having said that, and to try and be be fair and balanced myself, those who have represented conservatives haven’t done a very good job with environmental issues, feeding our poor, and a few other areas in which I find them lacking. I have no clue who to support for President in November…for the first time in my adult life. But I do know this - it will be the person who tries to stand for things that honor God and His Word, and not those whose ideas have failed, and can only lead our country further down a slippery slope away from God.

  9. brad wrote:

    Huckabee for president.
    Liberals are the down fall of our society.

  10. RF wrote:

    Ah, more of this liberal-conservative argument. When it comes down to arguing about labels, I always say I don’t like arguing about labels, since people are so reluctant to argue about specifics
    when their position has been handed down to them in some party line.

    I like to think for myself. Thus, I’m conservative on some issues middle of the road on others and liberal on others. Following a list some politician made to say that’s what I believe is ludicrous to me.

    But enough of this off topic stuff.

  11. Joe wrote:

    (This is part of a private email I wrote to Doug, who graciously and kindly answered me back. He urged me to post it ( I did so in part…), and have included some of his comments first, in his response to me.)

    DH - “I do wish you had posted the comment below online though, if only because that’s part of the what the site is about. I think I’ve got a pretty solid record of taking all comers as far as perspectives go, and I really do value the range of views that get an airing on my site in the comments. In fact, I’m proud of it. Plus, it’d be a shame, I think, for others not to have the benefit of your thoughts on the subject. You’d probably be speaking for a lot of others in what you’ve said here. I hope you reconsider your decision to stop visiting avfl. I’ve always valued your comments publicly and privately and appreciate your insights, even or especially because they’re often different from mine.”


    (Joe-) I would like to just tell you privately, that I am greatly disheartened and saddened by your recent posts, ! and by many of the responders.

    It seems as if your “longstanding tensions or unresolved ambivalences” about your upbringing in conservative fundamental Christianity, has caused you to lash out at same publicly…and since it is your blog, this is…your right.

    But I cannot tell you how intensely I disagree with what you have written.

    Any who would add the counsel of God’s Word to a discussion on your blog boards, or bring in the spiritual or Scriptural viewpoint, now are
    characterized here, by yourself, as…

    1. “A conversation-stopping brand of anti-intellectualism.”
    2. “Spittle-flecked bloviators”.
    3. Not able to have “a serious conversation with anyone…”
    4. Having “disdain for or condescension to dissenting views.”
    5. “Hopelessly self-destructive.”
    6. Causing threads to be “hijacked by people quoting Scripture…”
    7…. “preaching mini-sermons in ways clearly meant to function as conversation-stoppers…”
    8. “…narrow- and small-minded”
    9. characterized by the “scandously
    trifling qualities of the fundamental mind.”

    Add to your comments, a few of your posters who took your tensions, and ran with them.

    10. …being “blog police”.
    11. …”pontificating…”
    12….stopping threads by “quoting Scripture”.

    Doug- please sit back for just a minute, and reflect on these lines and feelings.

    This is a website that deals with southern GOSPEL music. I wrote it that way intentionally- I’m sure you picked that up. The definition of the word “gospel” comes only from Scripture, and i! t is very narrow-minded definition. There is only one way to be saved. There is only one pattern for NT church gathering. Paul enjoined his hearers, over and over and over, to “be of the same mind; be like minded”.

    Not a hint of diversity of viewpoints, with the Scriptural ones being excluded, almost automatically. If we, as professing Christians, have now brought ourselves to the point where any and all views, as liberal as possible, are to be accepted and expounded, but Scripture cannot be brought in as guide, counsel, correction, or revision of possible wrong thinking, what then, really, are we? We are no better than the unsaved, who disdain the Word of God entirely.

    And this, my good friend, is how your blog has recently been shaping up.

    I am really sorry you are “kicking at the goads” of your “puritanical upbringing”. I cannot speak for you. But my brother and I had a very strict and conservative upbringing from 2 very fun and personable and God-honoring parents, and we thank Him every day just for that.

    If we didn’t take this seriously, and did not uphold Biblical fundamentalism as we went about our lives for the Lord, we would be no better than the liberal thinkers of today’s post-modern world. Paul repeatedly told Timothy NOT to lose, discard, give up, discount, or devalue the doctrinal ideals with which he was raised.

    When I see professing believers rebel against the conservative values of Scripture, and even the very use of God’s Word itself, then my heart is truly saddened. This is simply giving in to “itching ears” - only hearing what I WANT to hear.

    I am not accusing you of this, mind you- but your own words put into print are pointing this way. I cannot change your mind, but neither will you change mine. I can only pray for you…and hope that you will get a different epiphany at 30,000 feet the next flight, and understand again that if God’s Word is not used in ALL of our discourse and thinking, then what we think and say really matters nothing at all.

    I write this as sincerely as I can, and in a friendly manner. If I were to double my IQ, I would not be as smart in these things as you are, sir. I bow to your intellectual intelligence- this is the main thing that has kept me here.

    But if you really do mean to exclude, or to at least repeatedly and publicly discourage Scriptural and spiritual discussion here, then I will not be participating.


    I have posted this, not to argue with anyone…but to state a point of view, and have done so at Doug’s request. There may be others here who generally agree with what I have written. For those who disagree, you may have at me…I will not argue with you.

    As Alan said so eloquently (above)…for those of us who ARE saved by grace, God’s Word is our “Owner’s Manual”. If we now have come to the place where we can disregard this book, and have developed the thinking that our own opinions carry more weight than what the Sovereign says, then we all need a wake-up call.

  12. art wrote:

    I’ve been on vacation and am, therefore a little late in joining this topic. I hope people are still reading this thread.

    I’m a moderately liberal guy and I know and accept that that puts me at odds with many in the SG audience. It bugs me when I attend an SG concert and the performers slide their political views into the performance. It’s their right, but it bugs me anyway because it detracts from the spiritual and worship part of my experience.

    We may have our political differences, but there is a place for liberals in Christianity. When I go to worship or enjoy SG music, I don’t want a political argument. I can get that somewhere else.

    To repeat and emphasize: It’s the performers’ right to voice their politics on their platform if they want. But I don’t go to SG concerts to hear it, and it’s my right not to like it.

    And to digress: If TV news and its oversimplification gets you down, spend more time with newspapers and news magazines. And for a fuller view of the world, read stuff you disagree with. I do, and I think I’m more thoughtful and open minded because of it.

  13. antipathy wrote:

    Yes, God forbid a group ministering bring up anything related to the political landscape of the day. Lord knows Jesus never did that when ministering….oh wait a minute….
    There’s a reason that the majority of Christians are conservative and a reason those who aren’t feel convicted when those views are expressed.

  14. JM wrote:

    I’ve never been comfortable with “tags” of any sort. Tags seem to devalue and oversimplify the complexity of who we are, as God’s creation. Am I conservative?…yes. Am I liberal?…sometimes, yes. Am I a fallen, disappointing and fragile creation?…All too often! Am I a victorious and forceful voice for Christ?…With his guidance, yes! It delights me when someone suggests that Jesus was this or that or another thing. Truth is that God, in his Son, gave us the perfect answer for all of our needs. He defied tags and labels and yet, he embraced them all. Our fear and insecurity drives us to congregate together in groups, which are like- minded. We decide that political views or church rituals or spiritual gifts will be the sacred totems that will segregate us from the rest of God’s creatures. And then, we organize ourselves around these totems and pronounce all who do not embrace our same sensibilities as non-believers or lost.

    I do not agree with everything George Bush has done in his two terms, but I’ve prayed for him each day. And I don’t know whether Obama, Mitt, Hillary, John or someone else will be living in the White House next year. But, I do know this: God is in control and he wants me to continue to pray for the next President, too. He or she might be a conservative or a liberal or somewhere in between. But, regardless of tags, people need truth…people need Christ.

  15. wackythinker wrote:

    I’ve read this thread and am quite confused. Was Jesus a conservative? I don’t think so. He talked about tending to the sick, the poor, the widows, the imprisoned, etc. I don’t see many political conservatives doing that.

    And the apostle Paul didn’t say we have to agree on everything. He taught we should agree on the essentials (deity of Jesus, for example), even when we have differing views on non-essentials.

    Some Christians seem to think we should spend all our time and effort evangelizing. Others that we should spend all our time and effort getting involved with social issues (feeding the poor, etc). I believe Jesus taught we should do both. Read some of Tony Campolo’s writings. I think he makes a lot of sense. Issues are not always as cut-and-dry as we may think. Some issues are more complex.

    I see pastors (at the least) hinting that if you don’t vote their way, you’re not a Christian. There are fine Christian folks on both sides of the aisle. I, too, am one who is tired of this bullying from the pulpit. I really don’t think this is what God has in mind for His church.

    While I do agree with some of the political issues conservatives emphasize, there are other issues I feel they have ignored way too long. The liberals have some valid points, too. I probably could be labeled a conservative on Biblical matters, but a liberal on some social matters. The liberal/conservative labels are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

    The media does a great job of lumping all Christians into one category. We Christians are smart enough to know they’re often wrong. There is room for diversity in the Kingdom, but probably not room for dissention.

    And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

  16. Jim E. Davis wrote:

    Wacky thinker. You’ve bought into the myth that conservatives are heartless and cold. Think again. Recent study (by a liberal, no less) found that they give considerably more than liberals. Here’s the report…

  17. wackythinker wrote:

    Jim E Davis — Did Jesus instruct us to “give”, or to “go”? Does the Bible say we’re to give to charities who feed the poor? Now, don’t get me wrong, I realize there are some people whose spiritual gift is that of giving. I also realize there are some of us who use that as a cop-out. We give a little to the Salvation Army or the local rescue mission at Christmas time, just to ease their conscience.

    And what charities are the author saying they give to? This article generically says “all sorts of charitable activities”. Does that mean they give to their churches and Christian colleges? That could be more self-serving than “charity” (which is literally translated “love”). Do they give to the local food bank or “feed the homeless” programs? This article is pretty vague.

    Let’s face it, most evangelicals (and I’m guilty of this, too), on a regular basis, do not go out of their way to help a stranger, visit the elderly, take a meal to people who live under bridges, etc.

    Speaking of people who live under bridges, here’s a wonderful exception: Candy Hemphill Christmas and her husband Kent have a terrific ministry feeding and clothing the homeless. Check out their website:

    And Christians should not expect our government to do it all. In fact, if we did what Jesus requires, maybe the government wouldn’t need to do ANYthing.

    And I guess I went back on what I said. I did have more to say. :)

  18. antipathy wrote:

    Bravo, wackythinker. You hit the nail on the head. As one who thinks we need as little government interference in our lives as possible, I totally agree with your statement, or question, if the church did what Jesus requires maybe the government wouldn’t need to get involved. That all rolls back to each of us. The national average of church members who tithe regularly is about 20% of a congregation. Think how much more the church could do if they had 100% of the congregation paying their tithes. There would be no need for government intervention in helping the poor/addicted/abused, etc.

  19. Jim E. Davis wrote:

    Jesus taught us to both give and to go. Some people have nothing to give therefore they go - others are not able to go so they give. They work together and neither should feel superior to the other. The problem is those who do nothing. I think we agree, just a difference of how we say it.

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