What is our responsibility as followers of Jesus to media outlets?
Secular media outlets have a freedom-of-speech right to publish whatever their editor thinks will draw consumers to them. However, do Christian media outlets have the same right to freedom of speech? Or are Christian media outlets obligated by their personal walk with Jesus and their membership in his church to not publish information that could be detrimental to God’s church?
Over the history of the church, there have been many controversial issues that have divided and destroyed the church from within.
The first was the issue of circumcision, 2,000 years ago. At the time, the Bible—which, back then, was only the Old Testament—said the identity marker for being an insider with God was male circumcision. However, the new movement of the Spirit was saying male circumcision was no longer the identity marker of who was in and out.
As you can imagine, this debate caused a very sharp division and had the potential to blow up the church. Paul writes in Galatians 2:2 that he has had a private conversation with the leaders about it, “so that our concern would not become a controversial public issue, marred by ethnic tensions, exposing my years of work to denigration and endangering my present ministry” (The Message Bible). Having a public debate over something that was ultra-controversial would have damaged both Paul’s work and Peter/James/John’s work. The debate would have got way out of hand and damaged the church.
Divisive issues are like atomic bombs. We need experts to go in and diffuse the bomb, because, if we send everyone in, the bomb will blow up and take everyone with it.
The second wise decision Paul and his cohorts made regarding controversial issues is found in Galatians 2:9, where they extended the right hand of fellowship to each other. They each had different views, but rather than fight endlessly about it, they agreed to disagree, and extended their arms, essentially saying, “I embrace you and your stance, even though I think you are wrong. Let’s find a way to at least work parallel to each other, so that God’s church doesn’t get blown up by this issue, and his kingdom work can continue.”
In the end, who won the argument? Everyone did. The church did, because God’s kingdom work continued and the church didn’t get blown up.
The church will always have controversial issues. Instead of making ultra-divisive issues into public forums, where anyone can say anything, regardless of their lack of knowledge about the complexities and the implications of the resulting nuclear church fallout, Christian media outlets would do well to respect Paul’s wisdom in Galatians and keep the divisive and destructive issues within trusted church leadership. Our churches depend on Christian media not to bomb the church by perpetuating division, destruction and bitterness.
Kevin Barkowsky is interim pastor of Sherbrooke Mennonite Church, Vancouver, and Mennonite Church British Columbia’s church engagement minister.