When my son was in the thick of a particularly whiny phase, clinging to my legs like static electricity, I would turn on the TV to distract him and buy myself some time to cook our eggs.
One morning, I dashed frantically into the den to shut off the TV because the top stories included a former physician who was discovered to be a serial molester, allegations of abuse against Catholic priests in Pennsylvania, and the President of the United States referring to his former porn star mistress as “horseface.”
It was a parade of the crude, the revolting, and the wicked. I began to question if exposing my kid to certain images might prove riskier than a hot stove.
SHOULD WE EVEN BOTHER WITH THE NEWS?
It’s not just crassness we can expect in the news. In that same month our nation grieved both natural and man-made disasters. We heard tragic stories coming out of the migrant caravan in Central America, we mourned the victims of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, and we were left reeling from the destruction of Hurricane Michael.
These stories can take us to some dark places. We begin to utter this refrain to ourselves and each other: The news is depressing. It only leaves us feeling hopeless. Why read or watch it at all?
Many Christians have struggled with this question and some have checked out of the news cycle altogether. Some say it requires too much emotional energy. Others have perhaps concluded that keeping up with current events doesn’t matter to their daily lives.
Let me explain four reasons why I believe that to engage with the news—to consume it, to wrestle with it, to scrutinize it—is an important and productive pursuit in the life of the Christian.
ENGAGING WITH THE NEWS TRAINS YOUR DISCERNMENT
Despite ever-present propagandists and opportunists, I still believe there are men and women of integrity in journalism. I still believe in an independent free press. But even honest journalism often comes packaged with a perspective that is incompatible with Christian values.
This is the first challenge Christians face in reading the news: identifying messaging that contradicts the biblical worldview and then reframing the problem using God’s Word.
The problems don’t end there. In an article published last year, Christianity Today interviewed Kelly McBride, vice president of the Poynter Institute, a journalism and media think tank. “The public, over and over again, does not understand the difference (between opinion writing and news reporting), and who can blame them because it’s confusing,” McBride says. “These are difficult questions to answer for a seasoned professional. They are near impossible for the public to determine.”
CT continues, “This content then gets shared on social media, divorced from its original source, and it becomes even more difficult to separate fact from opinion.” This is the next challenge before us: separating the facts of a story from the reporter’s subjective commentary.
These hurdles loom large; we feel exhausted before we’ve even begun. But just like our muscles require physical challenges to build our strength, speed, and stamina, our discernment is a muscle that demands training in order to function at a superior level. It will take time, it will take focus, and you won’t find shortcuts.
But be encouraged by the fact that like any skill, it develops steadily with practice and discipline.
ENGAGING WITH THE NEWS EQUIPS YOU TO ENTER THE PUBLIC DISCOURSE
I was a teenager when a young White House intern named Monica Lewinsky began to make the evening news. It wasn’t the first time I had heard about our president getting into trouble with women who were not his wife, but the sordid details emerging were unlike any story I’d followed.
As a young woman myself, not far in age from Ms. Lewinsky, I was having trouble making sense of everything. Lurid descriptions of secret encounters, abuses of power from our own Commander in Chief, and something about a blue dress? I felt confused and utterly shook.
My parents have always been news buffs, and their knowledge of the unfolding story, combined with their proactive engagement with me, gave me a safe place to ask questions and process what was happening. Under their wing of protection and wisdom, we discussed what we’d read, we grieved the state of our government and our world, and we examined everything in light of what Scripture says.
We need more of this, not less. We need men and women of fortitude and grace, immersed in God’s Word, to engage with culture and current events and do the sacred work of critical thinking.
The next generation is counting on us. Where will we be in the marketplace of ideas if everyone with a biblical worldview opts out?
ENGAGING WITH THE NEWS HELPS YOU UNDERSTAND OTHER PERSPECTIVES
When my grandpa wanted to understand the news of his day, he concerned himself with two things: his local newspaper and whatever Walter Cronkite had to say about it. It’s difficult to overstate how much the world of news media has changed since then.
In the Internet Age, media companies create and disseminate news content with staggering speed. But instead of feeling empowered by this unprecedented information frontier, the average person feels overwhelmed by the variety and volume of it.
If you’ve been provided with the option to consume only articles that align with how you see the world, what incentive do you have to pursue other sources? Not much, so most of us don’t. We have so many channels and commentators to select from that most of us can easily spend an entire week never hearing an opposing point of view. We only hear our own opinions reverberating back into our ears.
Our “echo chambers” shelter us from people who have differing viewpoints, and sequestering ourselves from those we disagree with makes it all the easier to demean or even dehumanize them. This often plays out politically with a radicalization at each end of the political spectrum, both sides unwilling to listen or empathize.
How can we avoid creating our own echo chambers?
We must educate ourselves with a variety of perspectives. The voices that align with our worldview will inevitably attract our notice, but we cannot limit ourselves to the commentary that flatters and gratifies us. Not only does this type of engagement present opportunities for rigorous critical thinking, but it demonstrates humility and charity toward our neighbors across the political aisle.
ENGAGING WITH THE NEWS REMINDS YOU OF YOUR KINGDOM CITIZENSHIP
News sources declare that according to polls, most people believe the world is getting worse. Here in America, we are informed that we are more divided than we have ever been, and there is little hope for reconciliation. We are lonely, we are despondent, we don’t know how to fix our problems, and our news media feeds the narrative of the widening chasm between us.
None of this is news to God. He knows our desperate state, and his Word makes it known to us what our world is like: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23 ESV).
We can’t expect the world to be anything but what the Bible describes it to be. Its brokenness should not surprise us. Mankind is not suddenly in more need of saving than we were a decade ago. Adam and Eve rebelled in the Garden, and humans have been unrighteous and lawless ever since.
Do we grieve these sins? Absolutely, yes. But we do not let sin cause us to despair. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV).
It’s natural to grieve what is ugly and unjust in the world. In fact, it’s evidence of God’s common grace that even our non-Christian neighbors feel a strong sense of “this isn’t the way things should be.”
But that same feeling—that the world is broken and needs to be set right—points believers to another world where we truly belong. It reminds us that God has delivered us out of the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of light, the kingdom of his beloved Son, Jesus (Col. 1:13-14 ESV). He has changed our citizenship, and our allegiances must follow.
When we feel comfortable in this world, we must remind ourselves we really don’t belong here after all. Let’s allow the brokenness we see on the news to lead us to long for “Your kingdom come, your will be done.”
Nancy Bynum lives outside Raleigh, NC with her young son and her husband Brad. Nancy served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Intelligence Community for twelve years before taking the leap of faith to become a full-time stay-at-home parent. She enjoys serving in her local church, taking full advantage of the local foodie culture, and bingeing on podcasts. Nancy writes at http://www.thebookofnan.com/. Follow on Instagram: @thebookofnan.