Thirteen Essays: Exploring Communication and Journalism from a Biblical Perspective
by Kerry L. Morgan
Multiple Reality Journalism
“Let the prophet who has a dream tell his dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully.” (Jer 23:28)
“The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.” (Prv 15:2)
For the journalist, there are ultimately two ways to see and report everything. The first sees reality from God’s perspective. Since God created reality, it is logical that He has insight into the way the world is put together. The second perspective, however, sees reality from the point of view that either God does not exist or that He is irrelevant. One’s world view is the crucial factor in journalism.
Some of the previous essays have discussed seeing reality from God’s perspective. This essay reemphasizes the false views discussed in Essay 2. One variety of this false perspective can be described like this: “If God exists, he is irrelevant to journalism.” God is assumed to be of no consequence to the reality being reported by a journalist.
Another variety of this second perspective is a belief in multiple reality, i.e., that reality is what you think it is. “I think, therefore I am” is an expression of this perspective. Contradictory realities are permissible with this outlook. The key aspect of this view is that we begin with what we think, not with what exists. In philosophy this is regarded as existentialism, in the social sciences, autonomous theory.
For the journalist who believes that “God is irrelevant if He exists,” the event observed and reported will not relate to God and is biased in that respect. For the journalist who believes in multiple realities, differing and conflicting accounts of the same event are acceptable since there is no fixed standard of reality by which to exclude false perspectives. If there are multiple realities, the journalist must endeavor to report as many versions of an event as possible. Of course, he cannot record all possible realities since he himself is limited, and therefore his report is necessarily biased according to his own assumptions. He will inevitably leave out someone’s “reality.”
An additional variety of this false perspective is that there are multiple realities but God is relevant to some areas. This is the position presently held by most Christian journalists.
In those areas which are “religious,” the journalist who holds that God exists and may play a hand in an event, might include Him in the report in some way. Though this journalist believes that God exists, he also believes in multiple realities. He is under an obligation in this framework to report differing and contradictory perspectives on what part God may have undertaken in the event being reported. Because multiple realities are assumed, even though God is included, there can be no consensus on what He is doing or why He is relevant.
One predominant variety of so-called Christian journalism is built on this sandy basis. The Christian journalist believes in God and in multiple realities in general, but there are two exceptions where multiple realities are rejected–they are the areas of religion and morality.
If the story is on something religious, then what God says controls. This is because in religious cases, the Christian journalist rejects multiple realities. Thus if the story is on a murder, a moral question, it is reported as wrong because God said it was wrong. If the story, however, is on what went on today at Town Hall, or some non-religious, non-moral area, it is back to multiple realities. Here the journalist seeks to be ‘objective,’ thus reporting multiple and contradictory realities of today’s events in government.
Another variety of the false perspective involves the Christian journalist who “respects the beliefs of others.” When he or she reports an activity or a situation, and another’s beliefs happen to be involved, he or she reports them as equally viable options with God’s perspective. Now if they happen to be true, there is no problem. And if they happen to be within the area of liberty which God has established for that belief, there is similarly no problem.
I am not talking about a journalist who wants to force others to believe what he believes. What I’m talking about is a journalist who, because he “respects the beliefs of others,” no matter how much they do not conform with the liberty God has given us, or the reality which He created, reports such beliefs as true. The objection, however, does not lie in the fact that he reports the belief. The objection lies in the fact that he reports the belief as true without resolving whether, in fact, it is or is not true.
The net effect of this type of reporting, because the reporter happens to “respect others beliefs,” is that the reporter does a disservice to his neighbor. The reporter places by his report in the observer’s mind, that competing and antithetical propositions about reality can be consistently held in one’s mind. He reinforces the proposition in his reader’s mind that there is no objective standard for truth, or if there is an objective standard for the truth, it is not within the province of the journalist to comment on. If there is no objective standard of truth, then the journalist who is a Christian has denied the first principle of journalism from a Biblical perspective. That principle is that, “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God.” That proposition is an objective truth. When Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” that was a declaration of an objective truth. That truth has certain implications. It means certain things. Because we believe in antithesis, it does not mean exactly the opposite thing at the same time.
If the reporter reports something which is a matter of liberty, and the belief is within the area of liberty which God has granted to us, and that is a very broad area, then this objection does not apply. But if the reporter reports it as something which can be considered of equal validity with a true perspective, then the reporter violates the liberty he has been given as a Christian. He turns his liberty into license which is wrong.
He does wrong because his content is not true in the final analysis. He also does wrong because he has not employed his professional capacities to bring life and life more abundantly to his reader. Instead, he has brought death and death more quickly to his reader.
What do I mean when I say “death?” By death I mean he has either reassured his reader that God has not constructed reality in the way in which He said, or he leads the reader into that proposition. He puts a stumbling block in the reader’s way. If the reporter is responsible for what he writes, then he must consider the effect it has upon the reader. And though he cannot be ultimately responsible for the reader’s action, there is a Scripture which says “Woe to those who cause these little ones to stumble. It were better that he was not born.” This should provide encouragement for journalists to examine closely what is written.
Thus, the Christian who fails to stand up for an objective standard of truth in his reporting because he “respects the beliefs of others” is just a Christian journalist, that is, a journalist who is also a Christian. But journalism and Christianity shall never meet.
In practical terms, the journalist must ask himself when he advocates this doctrine of “respecting the beliefs of others” whether he in fact “respects the beliefs of God.” If that’s too much for the journalist, then at least he can ask himself, “What is this report doing to my neighbor? Is it helping my neighbor to become aware, or is it altering the way my neighbor sees what’s happening in the world so that he begins to deny that God created it, that He is involved in its day to day affairs.” Does it lead my reader, in certain instances to come to accept that black is not also white, that right is not also wrong, and that truth is not also falsehood?
The truly objective reporter will want to see reality from the Creator’s perspective as best as he can. That is something that we all struggle with, but because we struggle with it does not prove the popular notion that it is totally beyond our reason and we can know nothing of it. The fact is that we can know sufficiently certain propositions and we have a duty to be responsible to the knowledge that we have been given. Not all reporters possess the same knowledge, but they are responsible for that which they have been given.
One final comment. No Christian journalist has the liberty to sacrifice Biblical principles of journalism for religious unity. We mustn’t go out of our way for disunity, as that would violate basic Biblical principles. But we have to realize that we have no authority to set aside the commands of God to honor the traditions of men. Not even good religious men. Jesus expressly rejected the elevation of religious tradition over the commands of God (Mark 7:8). Every man must judge for himself, but the fact that every man judges for himself is not to say that every man will not also be judged according to an objective standard. Sketching what has been said looks something like this:
1. God’s perspective – Jesus the way, truth, life
2. Other perspectives
a. The one reality is the physical, material world – God is irrelevant,
b. Multiple realities – God is irrelevant and is not one of the realities,
c. God is relevant – multiple realities in all areas, God’s perspective is one among many,
d. Same as (c) but in morality and religion there is only one reality as per God’s Word,
e. Same as (c) but all realities are not objectively real. The task for the Christian journalist is to identify and reject every variety of option 2, develop option 1 and practice it. That is the challenge for a Christian university and the schools of communication and journalism –to let the one who has God’s perspective speak it faithfully (Jer. 23:28).
“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” (1 Pet 2:22)
“Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good, he must seek peace and pursue it.” (1 Pet 3:10-11)
Authority and Deceit
The scope of this essay concerns itself with the following question: What authority does a journalist have, and is that authority broad enough to include deceit?
It has been argued that in certain limited instances a journalism may employ deceit in order to get at the truth. This question and argument present an interesting inquiry into the scope of the journalist’s authority. Acknowledging that God has not left us without sufficient guidelines to enlighten our thinking upon this subject, several Biblical principles apply.
The question of what authority does a journalist have is not quite the right question. The question which precedes it is a simpler one. That question asks, What authority does a human being have? Biblically, man is created in God’s image, male and female. Accordingly, God endows men with certain rights and duties. God created the office of man and empowers men to discharge the obligations of that office. Broadly speaking, the duties of this office include loving God with one’s heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving one’s neighbor as oneself. We are speaking here of man individually, not as man in any other collective capacity. In other words, I am not discussing at this time the office of man as a husband or wife, nor am I referring to the office of man as an elder or deacon. Likewise, I am not referring to the office of man which is civil in nature. In other words, free to exercise the civil power of the sword to punish those who do wrong.
At this point I am simply looking at what each one of us as human beings created in God’s image have liberty to do as human beings. As the requirements of the moral law to love God and our neighbor are lain down at creation, all men everywhere are bound by them. Concomitant with that law is the liberty which we enjoy to fulfill the requirements of that law.
The basic rule in this instance is that men should avoid sin. The Old Testament records many of the items which should be avoided, including the list in Exodus 20 prohibiting men from giving false testimony against their neighbor. Likewise the New Testament contains a laundry list of sorts, Romans 1:28-31 among them. These include several common sins which the Scripture exhort us to avoid, including sins of the mouth, such as strife, deceit, gossip, slander and boasting. Beyond this the Christian faith grants a tremendous breadth of liberty, for what we may do is that which obedience to God requires.
Now we may return to our original question concerning the authority of a journalist. It is apparent that a journalist by definition is also a human being, and therefore has full authority to exercise all of the power concomitant with the duty and office of a human being as we have noted. It is likewise clear that the journalist by definition does not possess any original authority to act as a parent, a husband, a wife, an elder, a deacon, nor a civil magistrate. Journalism is not an institution of God in the sense that a journalist steps into the shoes of an office which is ordained by God. Like the lawyer or the doctor or the mechanical engineer, journalism is a profession apart from a specific office with a given type of authority. Thus unless the journalist clothes himself with the authority of one of these additional offices, he may not exercise additional power.
There is a great belief today that the duty of a journalist is to protect the virtue of the people. Sam Donaldson has said that since Watergate, the duty of the journalist is to uncover the ‘greed and corruption’ of government, to show the people that the government is lying.
While many journalists in this capacity are self-appointed, having neither been elected nor possessing an office through a legitimate means, they nevertheless as human beings have the liberty to investigate these matters. But that is the point. Any authority which the journalist claims must be an authority granted to all men everywhere, for by virtue of his profession the journalist does not accrue any inherent rights or duties.
Freedom of the press is the right of the people to print or communicate their views and to investigate a matter which is within their jurisdiction as human beings and with respect to the government as citizens. The freedom of the press presents no special right or privilege which a few professionally trained journalists somehow may possess or claim. Indeed the very wording of the First Amendment proscribes Congress from making any law respecting the freedom of the press. It does not per se grant a right to a journalists to the exclusion of others to do this or that. Any right which appertains is accordingly a right given to all men to investigate that which suits them. It is very popular in our day to suggest that lying or deceit may be employed to get at the truth. In other words, deceit and deception are legitimate vehicles for protecting and defending truth. These friends of truth argue that to hold up the high standard of truth, they must deceive their neighbor, who in many cases is admittedly a liar. The question, however, of whether a journalist may lie or deceive his neighbor is one which is essentially a question of whether a human being may lie or deceive his neighbor, for no rights or privileges or exemptions from the law inherently accrue to a journalist simply because of that profession.
If a journalist has a special right or privilege exclusive to journalism, it must be by contract or it must be by agreement or it must be by some other legitimate means by which all men, if they desired, could enter into and obtain. The lawyer, for instance, has a right to represent a client in a case where a non-lawyer would not. The reason is simple. The lawyer has been retained by the client to defend him in this cause. As a matter of fact, the lawyer stands in a less preferred position than the journalist, as lawyers are licensed whereas journalists are not. But simply by being a journalist, he has no warrant whatsoever to act beyond the authority which all men possess as human beings.
Let’s say that a story is brewing and the journalist realizes that unless he lies he is unable to get to the truth. It is on this basis which he therefore concludes that in order to save the virtue of the community, “I must lie.” But I ask, what is the virtue of the community? Has not the community spoken to their lawful civil representatives to get at wrongdoing? Have they not entrusted the police with the power to be their representatives to ferret out wrongdoing?
But let’s make the hypothetical more difficult. Let us say the police are corrupted and are unwilling to expose the wrongdoing in a community. Then I answer, Is there a Grand Jury which is present? The people by the Grand Jury method have reserved to themselves in these United States a broad investigative tool of which the prosecutor of a given county may employ at his discretion. It is the Grand Jury which will return an indictment if criminal wrongdoing is performed. But let us say that no one will return an indictment on a Grand Jury, that the people in a community do not care, that the prosecutor himself is corrupt.
If all these things be true, what is left of the virtue of the community of which the journalist is now going to lie to preserve? I answer that the community is itself corrupt and the journalist deceives himself, that he is setting a standard of anything by his deceitful conduct. In such a case under such a hypothetical, the journalist himself is part of the problem. It is a sham and hypocrisy to declare that we love truth so much that we are willing to lie to obtain it. This sets no standard. This elevates no virtue.
What can the journalist do? The journalist should be wise as a serpent, but innocent as a dove. I particularly like that reference to innocence. A journalist who goes in and lies and is deceitful in order to obtain his information cannot be innocent. In such a case, there is no difference between being wise as a serpent and the serpent itself. But I posit this: By the journalist’s innocence, he will convict wrongdoers in their hearts. And if their hearts be hardened beyond that point, his wisdom will perceive it.
Herein shines the magnificence of this Biblical principle. For the journalist who lies or practices deceit to get at the truth, hardens himself and so hardened, is unable to perceive or discern between right and wrong matters.
“Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good. He must seek peace and pursue it.” This is the mandate for the journalist. I must caution again that the journalist who deceives, with the belief of gaining an advantage, hardens himself so that in the end result, he is unable to see and unable to perceive. This is a Biblical principle in action. Though a short term benefit may accrue, the long term loss is great. And who is our model in all of this?
“He committed no sin and no deceit was found in his mouth.” It was Christ who could discern whether men were lying; whether their lips spoke the truth because He himself had no deceit in His mouth.
I will admit that there have been some general discussions about a passage in the Old Testament where spies were sent into the land into which Israel was to go, to spy it out. But this has nothing to do with the present discussion, for spies sent by a civil government in the legitimate exercise of its power to maintain foreign relations or obtain that which has been given to them as a nation differs in kind than the present discussion.
January 15, 1988
The Present Challenge
Truth in journalism should stand at the core of The 700 Club, CBN News, the School of Communication and Institute of Journalism. The University’s statement of academic freedom testifies for truth. It declares that “the truth which makes men free is God’s revealed word in the Holy Bible.” The University’s purpose is to find the truth which makes men free. That includes the truth which makes journalists free. Indeed, the Bible is the truth which governs the University’s various disciplines and schools. The Bible gives us the universal truths which define each of its disciplines, including communication.
The Bible is the true and objective standard by which the University’s disciplines can be measured, by which they can be found consistent, and by which their shortcomings can be gauged. It is the Bible which is the plumb line of truth, for it contains what God has clearly spoken–spoken about news, journalism and communication, both for the University and the Network.
I want to make three points. First, I want to tell you how and why I came to write these essays. Second, I want to tell you briefly what these essays say. Third, I want to offer some concluding remarks on why we as a University cannot afford to sacrifice the minds of our students to the philosophy of our age – a philosophy which renders God incapable of clear objective communication to his own creation – man.
In 1983 I was faced with a choice–attend a university in the midwest or attend CBN University (now Regent University). I chose CBN University because it held out the promise of articulating a Biblical view of government, law and rights. I already possessed a non-Biblical view.
When I graduated from law school, I looked around the Christian legal community for a hint of the relationship between law and the Bible. I found Christian lawyers who loved Jesus; they had a desire to do what was right. I also learned their minds were unrenewed on the subject of law, government and rights. They thought like evolutionists, like positivists, like relativists, and so did I.
I did not come to the University because it was a spiritual refuge or for religious experience. Far too many of our students come here for that purpose alone, and much of what we do as a community wrongly perpetuates this image. No, I came to the University to change the way I think about law and government. What I came for, I obtained.
When I arrived here, however, I also learned there was no unity of knowledge which existed among the different schools. The vision to define the disciplines of law, policy, education, business, counseling, communication and Biblical studies upon a Biblical basis was not really accepted; it was not widely discussed and it was not championed. The rigors of academic inquiry guided by the Holy Spirit gave way to prayer before and after class with a plethora of non-Biblical theories squeezed in between. A superficial unity of the Spirit – an undefined mystical and often anti-intellectual approach to academics – did business for renewing the mind.
As a joint Public Policy/Communication major, I decided to try my hand at developing a Biblical view of communication. As my professional training is not in this area, I had no expectations as to what such a Biblical approach should look like. I went in and sat down with the Bible and wrote the essays now before you. I turned (as Thomas Jefferson would say) to neither book nor pamphlet while writing them. I did not consider it as any part of my charge to invent new ideas. Indeed, I sought to express the common sense of the subject from the scripture, in words so plain and simple as to command their common assent.
Now what do these essays say? They are founded upon three propositions: first, “God has spoken clearly to men through His word;” second, God has spoken clearly to men about the nature of communication and journalism; and third, that what God has spoken is true and adequate, though not exhaustive.
Reflecting this, essay one declares that God’s interest in communication lies in not only its process, that is, how we communicate, but also with WHAT and WHY we communicate. What God communicates is truth; and why He communicates is to bring life to all people. Of course, if you don’t believe in God, He can hardly be expected to say anything, let alone say it in a given way or for a given purpose.
If you do believe in God, but think He has a problem in saying something clearly, particularly about communication or journalism, then how can you, the creature, the one who is made in God’s image, say anything clearly? How can you, the creature, say of the Creator, “God has these ideas about communication in His mind, but alas He just can’t seem to find the words.” Indeed, the one made in His image seems to have found the words! And are we to conclude that, “Well, whatever limitations God may have, this man made in His image seems to have overcome them. Indeed, this good fellow has excelled even God in clarity and erudition.” What I am suggesting by all this is that the Christian man who says the problem of communication lies with God, must think himself a great communicator and God a poor one. This I submit is a sin, not a virtue. It is not something to be taught at a Christian university.
Now one may respond that it is “arrogant to assume God would stoop to speak clearly to fallen man.” God, however, gave the scriptures to fallen man for doctrine, correction, reproof and instruction. It is not arrogant to take God at His word. It is arrogant, however, to deny that His word is good for instructing journalists and communicators in what to say, how to say it, and why it should be said.
Let me move to Essay Two. Whereas Essay One said God has clearly spoken the truth to man, Essay Two indicates that man can clearly know what God has truly spoken. John 16:12-15 is all the proof one needs. Let me read that passage to you:
I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own (that is, from His subjective impressions); he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.
For a University such as ours, which professes the Holy Spirit, we are painfully deficient in championing this proposition–that the Spirit will take what is God’s and make it known to us without contradiction.
Does communication belong to God? Does journalism belong to God? Is God the Word? If so, then the Spirit will make His perspective on communication and journalism known to us. Our present encounter with the Holy Spirit as purely a means of self-edification or subjective experience, will never fulfill our mission statement–to cover the earth with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. Our mission, our very reason for existence, will never be accomplished unless we also come to see the Holy Spirit in the sense of John 16:12-15. This second essay shows how that mission can be fulfilled in the area of communication and journalism.
In the second essay, I also illustrate four false perspectives of communication. I want to emphasize one of these, namely, the information perspective. The essence of this perspective is that Christian communication is the reporting of significant events and opinions from a variety of perspectives, occasionally with resolution.
The problem with the information perspective is not that it presents a wide variety of viewpoints, including a Biblical one; the problem is that it includes the Biblical perspective as simply one among many. Or to say it differently, the view that God exists and created the world is considered equally valid as the view that He does not exist and did not create the world. The reporter must act as though these views are equally viable. This is not Biblical communication.
We are not called upon to render significant reports or opinions from a variety of perspectives. We are called upon to render, in a true way, a true account of reality from God’s perspective.
I will not dwell long on the third essay (number ten in the series of eleven), which focuses on the notion of multiple realities. Multiple realities says that every man (or professor) defines reality for himself–that reality is only what is subjectively perceived. Communication theory calls this “being objective.” Objectivity in this sense is taught at the University and practiced by the Network.
Objectivity as used in the sense of multiple realities means first, that God’s perspective is simply one among many, but who’s to say what is true or what is false. Or second, God’s perspective on religion or morality is true, but His perspective is only one among many in all other areas of life.
This is not objectivity at all. It is man, making God’s reality in man’s own image. It is man constructing reality purely in terms of his own perception. Objectivity, however, in the Biblical sense is this: seeing all reality from God’s perspective. But if objectivity is just presenting a bunch of viewpoints, then God must be the most biased person in the universe. He would hardly be someone to model a University after.
The one who is objective sees all of life from God’s perspective, for what may be known about God is plain, because God has made it plain, so that men are without excuse. Indeed, our University is without excuse if it doesn’t have a Biblical view of teaching the universals of God’s word.
In conclusion, God can talk. He created us to hear His voice. He gave us a mouth to speak the truth to a watching world. Not just religious truth, but the truth of all of life, including truth in journalism.
What is a Christian Liberal Arts Education?
Philosophy of a Christian Liberal Arts Education
The fundamental mission of any educational institution is to discover and teach Truth. Discovery of truth begins with knowledge of God. It involves an examination of the universe and world He has created. This knowledge is found written in the Bible and is affirmed in God’s Creation. Truth can be sufficiently and reliably known by mankind to the extent necessary to rightly order our lives and cultures.
The distinctive purpose of a Christian liberal arts education expands on this mission. Such an education applies the truth–that body of knowledge–to every field of academic inquiry. It compares that body of knowledge with prevailing presuppositions. It does its best to understand every field of knowledge from God’s point of view and demonstrate the superiority of that unified Biblical knowledge to a watching world. Through intellectual discipline, inculcating habits of study, and by the personal example, the graduate should leave the institution ready to teach others that truth which has been committed unto them.
The distinguishing challenge of a Christian liberal arts education in today’s world is to discover and teach these matters in an intellectual and cultural environment indifferent or antagonistic to the knowledge of God. Its challenge is to demonstrate to the culture the preserving characteristic and critical need for Biblical truth so that we may rightly order our lives and culture. In order to meet this challenge, a Christian liberal arts education must be concerned with renewing the mind. It must be concerned with development of the “mind of Christ” in each student, administrator and faculty member.
The actual practice of providing a Christian liberal arts education includes teaching students differing viewpoints, but not doing so in the broader epistemological context that all points of view are equally valid. Christian education does not involve the synthesis of Biblical truths with false ideas nor the weaving of Biblical principles with un-Biblical philosophies. A Christian liberal arts education should prepare a student to pursue his or her chosen vocation, occupation or profession. The institution, however, should not transform its curriculum into job training.
Finally, an indispensable prerequisite for a Christian liberal arts education is intellectual freedom. The discovery and conveyance of truth can be best pursued where intellectual freedom for both faculty and students is observed and where legalism in evaluating differing thought and conduct is eschewed. It is God who made the mind free and it is His will that it should so remain. Where freedom of thought is encouraged in the context of Biblical standards of right and wrong, the Holy Spirit is welcomed to continue the process of renewing the mind of the faculty as well as the student in both a corporate and individual sense. An important high water mark of intellectual freedom is open debate, free from personal acrimony or mere disputation.