There was quite a brouhaha on Christian Twitter over the holidays focusing on the scandal-mongering of Christian magazines. Christianity Today released its Top-20 news stories of the year , based on readership (online clicks, I think) and as you might imagine, the vast majority of these focused on scandals within the church – a good number of them on Southern Baptists and our troubles with sexual abuse. My article on giving standing ovations to men like Matt Chandler, which appeared here and then was carried there, made the list at #9 (yeah, it was a tough year for me so I’m bragging a little).
A Christian journalist named Patrick Miller stoked the debates with a now-deleted tweet that took Christianity Today to task for its emphasis on scandals. He specifically criticized the fact that of the top-20 articles, 17 of them (I think that was the number) focused on negatives. Another blogger named Derek Radney had asked the key question.
Which harms the church’s witness more: the corruption in the church or those making a living off of exposing the corruption in the church?
It is no surprise that this set off many people, who accused Miller (no relation that I know of) of seeking to suppress dissent and protect abusers and others who would harm the church. I don’t think that was his intent but I believe there is a serious flaw in the way he framed his question.
As a blogger who has written for a national SBC blog now for nearly 15 years, I can tell you that the Christian public has an insatiable taste for scandal. I haven’t checked the stats but I can guarantee that if I did a “Top 10” or “Top 20” at SBC Voices for the past year, that list would be dominated by articles about scandals and problems in the SBC. People have even told us, “That’s all you write about.”
That is simply not true. Look at our posts. We write about ministry. We publish sermons and theological issues and uplifting discussions. We even do comedy now and again. The simple fact is that the only time most of our readers read is when we write about scandals, about troubles, about controversy.
That’s all folks read about!
If Patrick Miller or anyone else wanted to make a valid criticism of Christianity Today, they should study every article written or published at that site. Look at what was written. If you look at the old Pulpit and Pen or sites like that, the criticism is valid. They were scandal-mongers. All they sought to do was find scandals, to tear someone, anyone, down. They were wolves among the sheep. That is not the case with Christianity Today. They publish a wide variety of articles.
Who is at fault for the fact that the articles that are widely read are those about scandal, about fights, about abuse? Who reads them?
A while back, SBC Voices was faced with a choice. There was a lot going on within the SBC and we were hopping, having our best numbers ever. Someone contacted me with a set of recordings that would “destroy” one of the biggest names in the SBC. We spent a lot of time discussing what we wanted to be as a blog and decided that muckraking and story-breaking wasn’t going to be our jam. We would opine on stories after they broke, but we stopped seeking to be “Breaking News” in the SBC. It’s definitely hurt us in terms of traffic, but my blood pressure is better these days.
It’s a tough issue. How much do you cover controversy and how much do you “edify the saints?” There are problems in the SBC that need to be addressed.
- Women (and some men) have been abused, horrifically, and that abuse was covered up. We cannot seek God’s blessing without shining the light of truth into the darkness. Those who say that people who expose sin and call attention to abuse are the problem while giving cover to the abusers – they are part of the problem themselves.
- Racism is still a problem in the SBC. You can say it isn’t, but I have had too many deleted comments here that say differently. When a friend was fired from a church for inviting black children to VBS, we were attacked for publicizing that and many came to the defense of that church right here! We are far from solving racism.
- False doctrine and gospel compromise are real issues. I reject the idea that every disagreement is heresy and that we should anathematize everyone who varies from our doctrinal constructs, but we’d be fools to believe that the conservative resurgence delivered us from doctrinal error.
- There are divisive and dishonest people who sow discord by their dishonesty. They need to be confronted.
- Political idolatry is a problem, in which some people forget that our citizenship is in heaven and that our first loyalty is to that kingdom.
We have real problems and we should address those. We cannot be Pollyannas. I try to use the weed-and-feed principle. Spend most of your time fertilizing the grass (insert your inappropriate joke about fertilizer here…) and then use a little weedkiller here and there as needed. It is easy to avoid confronting evil when it is necessary, and it is also easy to go overboard and become a scandal-monger. Both of these extremes should be avoided.
My point here is simple. Christianity Today should not be criticized because its top-20 READ posts were negative in cast. If all they wrote about was negative, that’s on them, but the fact that the posts that people READ were mostly negative says more about the readers than the writers.
Most Christians have an insatiable desire for controversy, for conflict, and for scandal. Most people say they hate it, but they gobble it up like mint chocolate chip ice cream.
Tell me I’m wrong!