Having been on hiatus, I have resumed a periodical column with Evangelicals Now. The current edition carries the most recent article. I reproduce it unedited and in full here.
Fox News has reached a US$787.5 settlement with the voting equipment company Dominion. The case concerned a dispute over whether the network and its parent company knowingly broadcast false claims that Dominion sought to swing the 2020 American presidential election. Dominion accused Fox of airing claims that their machines were involved in a plot to steal the election away from Donald Trump, alleging that the network knew such claims were false but aired them anyway because they feared losing viewers to rival networks.
Dominion discovered a significant number of internal communications from Fox stating that those who were announcing these false claims on air concerning Dominion and a stolen election knew what they were saying to be untrue. The CEO of Dominion, John Poulos, said that Fox had “admitted to telling lies”, whilst the network said they “acknowledge the court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false.”
There are echoes of this story in the church. There are churches who teach what they know the Bible does not say because they fear losing members to other churches. Much like Fox News, rather than preach the gospel and teach what the Bible clearly says, many churches soften the hard edges of scripture. They affirm what people want to hear, tickling their ears as Paul puts it in his letter to Timothy, all whilst teaching what they know the Bible does not say.
No doubt many will be thinking of liberal churches who have departed the gospel. Others will think of once sound churches and denominations who now openly affirm a false gospel. But let’s not pretend sound Evangelical churches don’t fall into this same trap. It is all too easy to shy away from teaching what we believe the Bible says because we fear our people will not endure it and may go elsewhere. There are plenty of baptistic churches who refuse to follow the logic of what they believe about baptism and membership because they fear losing some to other churches who treat the issue as altogether unimportant. It is very easy to purposefully not do what we believe scripture says because we fear people may go elsewhere, and it is by no means exclusively a liberal issue.
Nevertheless, let’s not pretend there aren’t also those who are only too willing to believe lies because they wish they were true. Many were adamant the election in question was stolen because they couldn’t countenance the loss. They didn’t want to admit they had backed a loser. Whilst the network amplified the lies, they did so because there was a ready audience waiting to lap it up threatening to get their news elsewhere if their unfounded beliefs were not affirmed. The network may be cowards, but they kowtow to those who prefer a comfortable mirage to objective fact.
Most churches who depart from what scripture teaches are not the authors of the particular views they spread. They may preach what they know the Bible doesn’t affirm, but let’s not pretend there isn’t a willing audience threatening to take their membership elsewhere if their wishful thinking is not affirmed. If these churches don’t give the people what they want, you can be sure they will go and find another church that will tickle their ears instead.
The irony, of course, is that those who do pander to these things soon find that those they were trying to retain leave anyway. In the case of news organisations, being exposed as having knowingly presented falsehood as fact will cause people to wonder why they should bother tuning in anymore. If you are looking for the facts, why would you get your news from a network proven to knowingly air lies?
By the same token, churches who pander to these things soon find they lose the people they wanted to retain too. If your church merely parrots back what you may hear from any secular group you might care to attend, you could be forgiven for wondering what value you get from this church. It is little wonder that the figures for the UK church bear out that those who depart from orthodoxy and biblical teaching are those most likely to be in decline. Indeed, why would anyone give up their Sunday to hear what can be heard anywhere else and told God’s Word says what even a cursory reading shows is not the case? Knowingly preaching what we know to be untrue in order to retain people is, and always will be, a fool’s errand.