This Easter, will news media do a better job of reporting the scandal and glory of the Christ-centered holiday? Or, will newspapers merely run stereotypical tales about Easter bunnies? Is there a way to tell the real story in terms that make contact with reporters?
The problem is clear. Even mainstream media thinkers at universities have acknowledged throughout the 1990s flaws in press coverage of religion and religion-related issues, and then debated whether the problem is bias or ignorance:
·Bias, said Brian Healy, a CBS senior political producer, during a conference at Columbia University's Media Studies Center: "Biases of liberal journalists often dominate newsrooms. Most of my colleagues are one-minded, and it's a mind that's made up."
·Ignorance, said a study commissioned by the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University: Journalists should "take religion seriously," and journalism students should "include at least one religion course" in their programs of study.
It seems bizarre to see media organizations plea-bargaining by asserting, as the Gannett-funded center at Vanderbilt did, that there is "more ignorance about religion than bias in the average newsroom." Aren't journalists supposed to be well-informed?
And yet twice in recent weeks, while producing articles on Christ-based welfare reform for The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, I've had to discuss particular wording with their editorial page editors. Both times I've seen that those experienced journalists were clueless concerning Christian distinctives.
Whether the problem is ignorance or bias or--in many cases--both, journalists generally treat the Christendom chunk of American society as terra incognita. (It's also unknown territory for most teenagers; in one survey, only 30 percent of them knew the religious significance of Easter.)
Many reporters, sadly, have little interest in exploration. But for those who may have a few minutes to listen, here's a quick way to explain what Christians believe, in terms any journalist should be able to understand: coverup, communication, cliffhanger, and crime.
The coverup: We see all around us evidence that the world was intelligently designed. None of us has enough faith to believe that everything is the product of time plus chance. Nevertheless, we ignore the giant headlines in the sky that proclaim: There Is A Creator. We also ignore the deep-throated whispering in our own brain: There is a creator.
That coverup is bigger than Watergate, Whitewater, and all the other scandals put together.
The communication: It would be strange if the Creator who gave man the ability to talk and listen and read would not communicate with his desperately needy creatures. An inquiring mind would expect God to provide a Bible of some kind, and one that would last. Forget the ancient myths of nations that died out--where are Hittite scriptures now?--and there are only three main candidate religions, all two millennia or more old: Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judeo-Christianity. Add Islam, and then suggest to reporters that they check out the scriptures of the Final Four for themselves.
The cliffhanger: Journalists--if God is opening their hearts--will be moved by the Old Testament's powerful majesty. But its ending leaves many questions hanging; for example, did God set up the elaborate sacrificial system, and then let it disappear in 70 A.D., with nothing to take its place?
Since God was not content to leave us twisting slowly in the wind, the Old Testament's sequel answers that question wonderfully--for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.
The crime: The New Testament story of an innocent man judicially murdered is big news. Other elements of the story: a brilliant and obviously sane man claiming to be the Son of God, and then suffering an execution even more gruesome (because more drawn out) than partial-birth abortion. And don't forget the most astounding news: After that man's corpse is wrapped in a burial cloth and placed in a police-secured tomb, many reliable sources report that he rose from the dead, and that they walked, talked, and ate with him.
Every journalist can appreciate a sensational story like that. Some may listen thoughtfully to the news that God came to earth to suffer with us and die for us.
God's grace determines which journalists do become Christians. But we can broadcast the Easter story to one and all, with confidence that it's a story worth reporting.