When it comes to engaging in public policy and challenging today’s culture, one of the least likely strategies for success is one built around criticism. The growing number of churches and ministries that are constantly “against something” has always been a disturbing trend. On a regular basis, I see an avalanche of direct mail campaigns and magazine articles by organizations upset about the latest movie, court decision, TV show, cartoon series, or mad about same sex marriage or some other issue or group.
But while a healthy debate is the cornerstone of a vibrant democracy, the truth is, just being critical changes very little. After all, as Christians, we of all people should be known as being for something. We have the greatest story in the world, but instead of focusing on that story, we continually get distracted by turning our focus on issues peripheral to our real calling.
Yes – many of these issues are important. Christians are American citizens, with every right to vote our conscience and speak in the public square. It’s one of the reasons I support My Faith Votes. We also have the right to campaign against candidates or issues for which we disagree. I’m a strong believer in energetic social discourse, and we need to speak up. However, because we’ve focused so much of our time, money, and resources lately against the entertainment industry, political parties, the culture, the media, and other groups, the world is simply turning us off – because we’re just singing the same old song.
I believe a big reason for the rise of this phenomena is the growth of non-profits. I’m all for the non-profit IRS designation, usually for churches and ministries that survive through contributions. Christian ministries and other non-profits do an amazing work in the world, and would certainly be crippled if that status were revoked. But having worked with media ministries for three decades, one thing I’ve discovered is that “being against something” really gets the phones ringing. Creating an enemy – Hollywood, the gay community, abortion clinics, liberals, or others really gets people worked up, and the money comes in. By contrast, being for something really doesn’t get much response.
It’s a real paradox that we criticize mainstream news organizations for reporting on negativity, rather than paying attention to positive stories of hope. For the networks, it’s all about ratings, and negative, sensational stories score higher ratings. But the fact is, when it comes to fundraising, Christians do the same thing. The negative, the lurid, and the evil gets a bigger response.
In fairness, it’s not just religious organizations that should be blamed. Political groups, activists, environmentalists, and others are just as guilty. Demonizing an enemy gets the supporters worked up and the cash register rings.
That’s why the point of my new book: “The Way Back: How Christians Blew Our Credibility and How We Get It Back” is so important. I suggest we begin re-thinking why we’re here and what our real assignment is on the earth. Are we supposed to reach the lost or complain about the lost? And second, we need to understand that constant criticism – even if we’re right – isn’t always the best strategy for actually changing things.
In other words, if all we do is complain, the culture will simply tune us out. At some point we have to reach out a hand and start a conversation.