Where did you hear that?
From whom do we get our news, and what is the authority of that source?
When should we allow our views to be influenced and changed by expert testimony, and when should we confidently rebel against a wrong interpretation?
If we do not want to be manipulated away from living out our faith, we cannot underestimate the importance of checking our sources in this volatile political and social climate.
Lately, I am leaning on my tradition’s approach to interpreting scripture to help me sift through all the voices vying for my attention in each news cycle. One of the key principles of the Lutheran Reformation was that lay people should be able to read and interpret the Bible for ourselves, not depending on a clergy class that read Latin. Yet, understanding the scriptures requires discernment. We humbly acknowledge that everyone who reads also interprets what they are reading. And not every line preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Martin Luther described the Bible as the swaddling clothes and manger in which the Christ Child is laid. We follow and worship Christ, not individual verses of scripture or even the Bible as an idol itself. Yet, we look to the scripture accounts in order to get to know Christ; he is our non-negotiable as we discern what God must be saying through scripture and our life experiences. If somebody’s take on scripture does not reveal the unconditional love and forgiveness of Christ for all of God’s children, then we must learn to distinguish that interpretation as separate from the gospel.
We may similarly evaluate what we hear about current events alongside what we know from key documents such as the Constitution of the United States, the Bill of Rights, or even the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, if we are not going to dig in deeply to research these primary sources ourselves, then we need to be clear about the intentions of those we rely on to interpret them for us, and those experts’ level of integrity or reliability.
Heather Cox Richardson‘s summaries of everyday news are keeping me connected without becoming overwhelmed these days. For a preacher or Bible teacher, we would want to ask if they keep the grace of Jesus Christ and his resurrection at the center. Our first step in choosing which news sources to trust should also be identifying their biases. Nobody is completely objective in presenting the facts about current events, but some come much closer than others. So we must ask:
- What is their agenda?
- Who is funding them?
- Do they represent one political party exclusively?
- Can we distinguish what is a presentation of facts from what is commentary?
- What are the commentator’s credentials?
- How can we hear broader perspectives that do not just confirm our own biases?
The Bible is not one book, but a library that includes multiple genres of writing, and different kinds of writing are meant to do different things to the reader. For example, a creation story, a history of ancestors in the faith, apocalyptic literature, and epistles (letters) to a specific audience all have different aims and should be read in the way they are intended, if we can figure that out. Is a creation story meant to be read as a science textbook? Is a letter to an ancient church meant to dictate women’s societal roles in the 21st century? We not only hold our readings of scripture up to Christ, but also identify where they came from, and for what purpose they were written.
Why should we not also evaluate the knowledge base, funders, history, and agenda of the media sources we consult? There are way more genres of “news” out there besides objective reporting of facts. Surely, the only qualification for sharing a story is not that it reinforces our own opinions.
Is a particular segment or article meant to be presenting unbiased facts, or is it “commentary”? If it is commentary, what are the credentials of the commentator? What effect does the way they present the story have on us? Just like it is not fair to read metaphor as a literal description, or poetry as a newspaper account, sometimes it is unfaithful to accept two sides of an issue as if they are equally valid.
For example, should the media coverage of a human rights issue give equal air time to those who would dehumanize an entire group of people, denying the image of God living in them? I’ll answer my own rhetorical question, in case there is any doubt: No. It is NOT a valid position to espouse that other people do not have a right to exist, free from oppression.
Interpreting current events, especially identifying biases and navigating when we should be questioning or pushing back against a particular interpretation, is best done in community. Not in an echo chamber of like-minded folks, but in a community we can trust to stretch us while remaining faithful to Christ, the center of our faith.