For 20 years, I've used a service extensively that I've never bothered to pay for. Even when those who provide that service have asked me, I've stonewalled. In fact, the phone number-253-6875-is burned into my memory. I could dial it right this minute and, from one perspective, absolve my conscience. But from another point of view, I'd only burden myself with brand new guilt. So now, I share with you my ethical and theological dilemma.
It's all on my mind because WCQS, our local public radio station, just completed its spring fundraiser. Sometimes with a light touch, and sometimes a bit heavy-handedly, they succeeded again in surpassing their semi-annual goal by securing gifts of over $105,000 to subsidize their operational budget. But not a penny of it came from me.
So why do I listen at all? For one thing, I like the classical music. There are Christian stations within my radio's reach with generally edifying programming; but their musical tastes run the gamut from early evangelical to fading Christian contemporary-and when the secularists seem more serious about good music than the Christians do, I listen.
Besides, I'm a news junkie. So I like the in-depth coverage I hear on "All Things Considered" and "Morning Edition" from NPR. I appreciate Salem Broadcasting, Janet Parshall, Marlin Maddoux, and others who are trying to bring a Christian perspective to what's going on in the world. But in the end, nothing I get anywhere else on the radio lets me settle in with an hour or two of comprehensive news treatment the way NPR does.
Of course, I also tend to hate much of the way NPR does it. And that's why, even though I am a regular consumer of their services, I cannot see my way clear to adding even a dollar of charitable support for what they do.
For public radio in my area-and I assume this is the case in your locality as well-carries an agenda that is thoroughly and unabashedly anti-Christian. That may be a little less the case with reference to their news programming than elsewhere on the schedule, but even Bob Edwards, Noah Adams, and Scott Simon tip their hands regularly about what they think is in the common good.
On the Saturday before Easter, on his popular "Weekend Edition," Mr. Simon hosted a Unitarian minister to critique various contemporary efforts to find "the historical Jesus." But neither the urbane Mr. Simon nor anyone else at NPR seemed to worry for a moment that inviting a Unitarian on Easter weekend to comment on uniquely Christian themes was a little like inviting a member of the KKK to help listeners understand better how to observe the anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr.
On NPR's news shows, but especially on its other programs like the daily "Fresh Air" with Terri Gross, the weekly "Selected Shorts," and the weekend "This American Life," historic Christian positions on abortion, fidelity in marriage, homosexuality, and promiscuity in general are lampooned, ridiculed, and assumed to be without any contemporary basis. Even a supposedly practical program like "Savvy Traveler" thinks it's cute to take cheap shots, like the disdainful crack a couple of weeks ago about Branson, Mo.-a town described as a place so backward that a majority of its population is still heterosexual.
And much as I may personally enjoy the hilarity of "Car Talk," its two stars, Click and Clack, enjoy the double entendre a little too much and get too much raucous fun putting down their own or their guests' "ex's." The same must be said for "Prairie Home Companion," which has replaced way too many of its early naïve delights with dark humor, nasty aspersions at Garrison Keillor's own early evangelical roots, and less-than-nourishing sexual innuendo.
In other words, NPR has become a schedule from beginning to end of clever and talented people gnawing away at the fabric of my own belief systems. It would be one thing if it were just Nina Totenberg, Daniel Schorr, and Brian Naylor taking issue with my politics; that I could take, and maybe even find it profitable. But the consistent disdain for so much of what I've always been taught that the Bible presents as good and wholesome and desirable-that is no longer just a personal matter, but an issue of life and death for our whole society.
But then, as if mounting such a threat to our beleaguered culture were not enough, these folks also have the nerve to ask me to pay for their treason. What they don't know is that their very ability to make me feel guilty is rooted in something we call common grace-the idea that God lets His rain and other gifts fall on those who don't believe Him just as He does on those who do. The classical music I get on the public radio station, and the best aspects of NPR's news coverage, are part of that common grace.
I'm just thankful that the God who sends that rain so many unexpected places never sends me a bill for it, and that He doesn't do fundraisers either. Not in the spring, and not in the fall.