By Andrew McCarty

How to Read the News as a Christian

I don’t know about you, but I just love Fox News.

I don’t even need to see you right now to know what you’re thinking! Roughly half of you want to close this window immediately because you judge me for upholding the stereotypes of White men while others silently applaud my right-side enlightenment. The truth is that I don’t even have the capability to watch Fox News at my house currently. I also don’t intend to disclose what my preferred network is today; I’m simply proving a point: each of us carries gut-reaction biases to the CNNs, ABCs, or ESPNs of the world. Whether the news is delivered by Lester Holt, Sean Hannity, or Oprah, few—if any—of us are consistently able to approach the news with genuine openness when it comes to the source.

And yet, Jesus himself calls us to be ready and aware. At least eight times in Matthew, Mark, and Luke Jesus uses the phrase, “be on your guard.” The apostle Paul uses the phrase again in his last exhortations to the Macedonians (Acts 20:31) in a letter to the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 16:13) and in his final writing to his beloved apprentice Timothy (2 Timothy 4:15). Even the apostle Peter—who once sliced a dude’s ear off before fully assessing the situation—says in 2 Peter 3:17, “Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away . . . and fall from your secure position” (italics mine).

When it comes to the news, I'm often tempted to receive an admonition like "be on your guard" as a call to arms, almost as if Jesus is calling me to be ready to go to battle against my opponents—both real and imagined. We can easily begin to vilify, slander, or even hate others. While Jesus certainly called his followers to boldness and sacrifice, I wonder if this call to "be on your guard" is also a call to simply be aware and ready. What if our reading of the news was fueled not by a desire to fight but by an inward motivation to have our eyes opened? What if each app we download or article we read was done so with a deep desire to be ready, to discover God's movement in our vicinity, and to prayerfully listen for God's will in our response? We must increasingly learn to balance appropriate guardedness with humility and love for others as we get up to date on the latest events and debates in our papers, on our phone, and especially on social media.

My guess is that you aren’t radically different from me. Being “guarded” against opposing ideas actually comes shockingly easy to me. It’s the calls to humility in Colossians 3:12 (“clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience”), Ephesians 4:2 (“be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love”), Luke 14:11 (“for all those who exalt themselves will be humbled”), Proverbs 12:15 (“the way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice”), and all over Scripture that give me trouble.

Jesus indisputably calls us to be on our guard. He and his followers who knew him best also call us to love, humility, and patience. Furthermore, so many of us get so riled up by “disagreeable” news outlets and opponents we deem as biased in all the wrong ways. Guardedness on the one hand. Love, humility, and patience on the other. All this begs a question: How should we read or listen to the news?

Here are a few suggestions.

1. Get your news from a variety of sources.

In every Gospel, Jesus interacted with the religious leaders of the day who disagreed with him. Jesus wasn’t bothered by dissenting opinions or news he didn’t endorse being part of his conversations. It wasn’t simply “rival” teachers whom Jesus went out of his way to interact with either. In Jesus’ day, many Jews took a special road around Samaria because these folks had intermarried with neighboring peoples and thus defiled themselves in the eyes of traditional Jews. Jesus though took a different path – literally! In John 4:4, the text says that Jesus “had” to go through Samaria. Though these people were considered enemies, Jesus intentionally made space to interact with a woman at the well that day. What if we intentionally made space in our schedules to listen to the voices of our “enemies” or those we disagreed with?

Of course, we all have preferences. I’m in no way advocating that we subject ourselves to repeatedly reading the opinions of those heathens at ____ (see what I did there, still not making my own bias known??). What I am advocating for is that we each get better at respectfully venturing out of our preferred lane of news consumption. If you lean blue, what could you learn from Fox News? If you know in the pit of your bowels that NBC is “Fake News,” what would it take for you to watch a Lester Holt clip once a day? What if we got a completely third-party opinion of our American situation from a source like BBC, Reuters, or Al Jazeera? Until the past year or two, to my shame, I’ve honestly never thought about the ethnicities of the reporters or sources I consume. What if I—and you—were more aware of this and diversified even the cultural perspective of the news we consume? The broader the base of information we draw from, the greater our chances of building bridges and discovering what’s actually true are. What might it look like for you to diversify your sources of news in the next week?

2. Take in the news with a learning posture.

One of my favorite stories in the book of Acts begins in chapter 17, verse 16. Paul was waiting around in Athens for his coworkers to join him, and we find him “greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.” As a result, he wound up reasoning with a wide range of people in the synagogue as well as in the marketplace. Paul didn’t need a smartphone app or a news clip to watch the news and get distressed. He was literally immersed in the distressing cultural news everywhere he walked!

The beauty of this passage comes in verses 22–23, when Paul stood up in a gathering and said, “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.”

Here’s the difference between Paul and many of us. Paul’s distress from what he saw, read, and heard broke his heart and ultimately allowed him to know his potential listeners better. Our distress by what we see, read, and hear often makes us angry and disgusted, which alienates us from others. The more we approach the news as an opportunity to learn about people, events, and brewing debates, the more helpful news consumption becomes. With this mindset then, rather than sending some of us into a fit of rage, an editorial by a Black Lives Matter advocate becomes an opportunity to discover a shared value or experience, for example. Or, as another example, instead of providing fodder for the personal war against conservative policy, the State of the Union address gives some of us a window into what Republicans care about enough to verbalize (which might be different from our assumptions about what is most important to them). Having a learning posture isn’t easy, but it increases my chance at helpful future dialogue. How might adopting a learning posture toward the news improve conversations and relationships in your sphere of influence?

3. Dial back your judgment of “the other” while acknowledging your own bias.

To be honest, while on sabbatical, I’ve mostly been getting my information from two sources: theSkimm and the Tribune Star of Terre Haute, Indiana (please feel freedom to judge me, roll your eyes, or respond however you deem appropriate). Being aware of bias in myself and in these two sources is most helpful when it comes what’s happening in our nation and in politics, in particular. If I’m aware of bias, I can read a bold headline about a situation or person and not form an entrenched opinion before I’ve even read the article. Rather, I can ask myself questions like, “What’s the author’s goal in writing this article?” and “What are the word choices and overall tone of this article producing in me as I read?”

As the App Store and digital content increasingly saturate my life, podcasts and YouTube exacerbate my information-excess while simultaneously making it possible to insulate myself with pleasing sources and avoid upsetting sources. If I’m being honest, the problem isn’t so much that a particular source is “wrong”; it’s that I am a fragile recipient. My biases too often determine what sources I read and then simmer under the surface, galvanizing me without me even realizing it. What if my attitude was more like David’s in Psalm 63:1 as he prays:

You, God, are my God,
     earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
     my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
     where there is no water.

What if such a prayer was my core bias? How might my days be altered if expressed desire for God was my first thought each morning rather than mindlessly biased, unaware scanning of the news?

4. Allow the news to fuel your prayer life.

Can I confess something to you? In Matthew 5:43–46, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love you enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?” The call of Jesus isn’t simply tolerance of those we label our enemies but love and proactive prayer for their good. This was true even during Israel’s exile in Babylon as God used the voice of Jeremiah to call his people to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7).

Few responses are more polarizing than reading or listening to a news source we dislike and slandering them as “Fake News” or writing them off as such, even if that exact phrase isn’t used. And yet many of us, no matter where we are on the political spectrum, are guilty of this. This is far from the call of God to his people, however. When we ostracize entire groups of people without engaging with their content genuinely, I have to wonder about the source of our motivation. If love of my enemies and a desire to pray for them was permeating my heart, how might this affect my response to news outlets or reporters I don’t agree with? How might my reactions change if I scoured the news for content that would fuel my prayers for the day? I often find that my response to news reveals something deeper going on in my heart. What if God cares less about my righteous indignation as I read an article and more about the work he can do in my thoughts and actions as I bring those responses to him?

Reading or listening to the news has a great hold over many of us. Our phones alert us constantly with local, national, and global updates while social media anxiously awaits the next viral story to plant on my screen. Friends, it’s possible for Christians to be the most informed, firmest planted, and zealously truth-pursuing people on the planet–all while humbly and patiently loving those with different viewpoints better than anyone else on the planet. If we truly desire for the truth of God to permeate every corner of our society, then let us approach the news as learners, receive news from a broad array of sources, deepen our awareness of our bias, and have the humility to pray about the news long before we react to the news. Our God parts the seas, heals the paralyzed, and spoke creation into existence. I think we can trust him with the headlines from yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

 

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Andrew McCarty serves as an Area Director with Mid-Indiana InterVarsity.

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