When it comes to engaging in public policy and challenging today’s culture, some of the least successful strategies are ones built around criticism. The growing number of churches and ministries that are constantly “against something” is a disturbing trend.
Every month, I see an avalanche of direct-mail campaigns and magazine articles by organizations upset about the latest movie, court decision, TV show and cartoon series, or mad at the homosexual community or some other special interest group.
But while a healthy debate is the cornerstone of a vibrant democracy, the truth is, just being critical creates very little change. After all, as Christians, we of all people should be known as being for something.
We’re sharing the greatest story ever told, but instead of focusing on that story, we continually get distracted by turning our focus on issues peripheral to our real calling.
Yes, some of these issues are important. Christians are American citizens, with every right to vote our conscience and speak in the public square. 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 in the same old way.
It’s quite a paradox that we criticize mainstream news organizations for reporting on negativity, rather than paying attention to positive stories of hope. For the television networks, it’s all about ratings, and negative, sensational stories score higher ratings. But the fact is, especially when it comes to fundraising, Christians do the same thing. Those things that are negative, the lurid and the evil get a bigger response every time.
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 is an easy way to get the supporters worked up and the cash register ringing.
But I suggest we begin rethinking 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 being against something—even if we’re right—isn’t always the best strategy for actually changing the world.
Sadly, there are instances where Christian protesting actually helped the very cause they were protesting. For example, director Martin Scorsese’s movie The Last Temptation of Christ was a poor film in 1988 that critics predicted would fail at the box office.
Its blasphemous story brought concerned Christian protesters out in droves. But the boycott campaign by these well-meaning believers generated so much press that the film actually became a box office success. It’s a perfect example that sometimes, even with highly offensive issues, it’s better to let the problem slide into oblivion rather than help increase its awareness.
I can tell you this—speaking from decades of studying the media and culture—if we don’t learn to put down the protest signs, we’ll never make much of an impact. As a television and film director, I learned long ago that if an actor yells all the time, people turn it off and the performance loses its impact. But when he speaks quietly, the occasional shout gets the audience’s attention.
When we do mission work, we don’t go to a Third World country and send missionaries to boycott and protest. We send missionaries to a Third World country to develop a trust relationship with the people, and to know and understand them. Through that, we earn their trust and we develop a relationship. And yet, we often go to Hollywood, the BBC or other networks and we criticize, boycott or complain.
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.
Phil Cooke, Ph.D., is a television producer and media consultant to churches and ministries around the world. You can visit his website at www.philcooke.com.