Unless you've been living under a rock, you'll have heard about the allegations against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. To keep a long and sordid story relatively short, Sandusky is accused of sexually assaulting boys participating in football camps run by his charity, Second Mile. The alleged incidents occurred after his retirement from Penn State, but did occur on campus. A then-graduate assistant, Mike McQueary, witnessed an incident, and told head football coach Joe Paterno about it. Paterno notified the Athletic Director. The facts aren't all in yet, but it seems relatively agreed upon that no one called the police, although McQueary is now claiming that he spoke to police at some point. The upshot of everyone's "turning a blind eye" to the incident was that Sandusky remained free and allegedly abused several more children before finally being arrested two weeks ago.
In the aftermath, the Athletic Director and the President of the University lost their jobs, as did coach Paterno. All of these things have been talked about in details elsewhere...indeed, EVERYWHERE else. I'd like to take a moment to look at the media's reaction to the story, and especially the nature of our news media itself, and then relate the "news" we want from our newspeople to the "news" we get from Christianity.
In a recent post, ESPN ombudsman The Poynter Institute questioned the nature of ESPN's reporting immediately following the publication of the grand jury summons. In sum, Poynter seems to be disappointed that ESPN didn't focus immediately on the moral outrage of the story on all its platforms, saving its praise for Howard Bryant, who it said wrote "a scathing column," and Jeff MacGregor, who it said "called out Paterno." In Poynter's analysis, "the indictment [of Sandusky] paints a picture of a moral failure of epic proportions at PSU, the kind of systemic blindness caused by misplaced loyalties, abject power and unwavering devotion to the wrong values," and ESPN should have been "steering the story, rather than simply reacting to it."
This post put me in mind of FOX News' oft-touted tagline, "We report, you decide." Whatever you might think of FOX's ability to abide by its slogan, isn't it a noble goal for a news organization? Should a news organization tell you what to think about an event (You should be outraged that Joe Paterno didn't call police) or simply tell you what happened, and allow you to decide for yourself what to do with that information? Has "analysis" trumped "news?" Bill O'Reilly, when challenged about the unbalanced nature of his show, often reminds critics that's he's an "analyst" and that FOX's "hard news people" aren't biased. In watching ESPN throughout the Paterno/Penn State coverage, I realized that the number of analysts outweighs the number of "hard news people" by a huge factor.
I, for one, am a little leery of a news organization that relies too heavily on analysts. I like "we report, you decide." When a news organization starts tell you what to do and what to think, I say be suspicious.
Even if it's the church.
Because that's what the church is: a news organization. We've been given an announcement, a press release, if you will. "The Gospel," as you may have heard once or twice, means "Good News." It's NEWS! The church needs only to announce it, again and again. It shouldn't steer the story. It shouldn't tell people what to do with the news. Just as ESPN, The New York Times, and other news organizations need to trust people to do with the news what they will, the church needs to trust people, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to live their lives with the knowledge of the News.
People turn off a church that tells them what to do for the same reason they turn off FOX News or MSNBC for telling them what to think. It's oppressive. It's judgmental. Churches ought to be true news outlets, announcing their press release for all the world to hear: Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners!