Tuesday, May 23, 2017
About two years ago, when I was working at WTOK, we missed a story that a lot people thought we should have covered. It happens. No one is perfect. Someone posted something on our Facebook page complaining, and I owned up to it. I apologized and told them we would do better in the future, and were taking some specific steps to do better. In the past, that more than likely would have been the end of it. But not in the era of social media. The post was shared hundreds of times by people who were angry we hadn’t covered the story. I was blasted from every conceivable angle. And at that moment, I discovered what it was like to have a Facebook posse come after you. Let me tell you – it makes for a rough few days. I hope my mom didn’t see some of the things I was called.
Since that time, I’ve watched again and again and people have taken part in what looks a lot like what the guys in the picture above used to do – frontier justice on a digital scale. One person is upset about something. They don’t like the way they were treated at a business. They are frustrated by a person they see in a news story. They’re angry at a politician. They hear a rumor that a mother whose child died might have been involved in the death. They see someone taking pictures at a park and assume he’s a pervert. And they want the whole world to know about it – whether it is true or not. There are real world consequences for digital justice like this. Reputations are destroyed. Real people are hurt. It’s like squeezing toothpaste out of the tube – there’s no way to get it back in once it’s out.
Christian, don’t join a Facebook posse. And certainly, don’t start a Facebook posse. No good can come from this. Today I want to give you four reasons you shouldn’t take part in digital justice like this.
1 – You usually don’t know for sure whether it is true or not. The vast majority of the time that you come upon a post that has been shared numerous times about some kind of injustice, or about some person who has wronged another, you only have one side of the story, and you have no idea whether or not that side is true. “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” (Proverbs 18:17) In a worst case scenario, you are simply slandering someone by telling lies about them – whether you realize they are lies or not.
2 – It is usually nothing more than gossip. This is extremely important. The apostle Paul includes gossip among a long list of sins that prove the absolute depravity of man:
“They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
We don’t treat gossip that way – we treat it like something we know we shouldn’t do, but is simply a guilty pleasure. But notice that last part – “they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” When you participate in a Facebook posse like this, very often you are participating in gossip – spreading rumors for no other reason than the rush you get from talking about it. And by participating with others, you are giving approval to the others who take part in it also.
3 – It shows a lack of grace in your life. Many times, situations like this include people competing to think of what the worst punishment for the person involved can be. “Throw him in jail!” one says. “No, throw him under the jail!” says another. “He doesn’t deserve a trial! Forget jail! Someone needs to take care of him right now!” screams another. Christian, this is no way to live. Even if the person is guilty, it shows a lack of grace to scream for this kind of justice. “But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47) Those without grace need to check their hearts to see if they have received it.
4 – It will hurt your witness for Jesus. Think of the last time you went off on Facebook about someone. If you come face-to-face with them today, will you be able to tell them about Jesus, with a clean conscious? Even more so, would they be willing to listen to you if they knew what you said about them? Paul said, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.” (2nd Corinthians 5:16) What does he mean? God wants us to first see people not simply as who they are – but as who they will be for eternity. He wants us to mainly see them as people who are going to live forever, and desperately need the grace of God. If you think of someone this way, it will be very hard to go off on them on social media.
So here is what I’m asking. Before you post, think: do I know this is true? Is this right? Is it slanderous or libelous? Will it hurt someone? Am I showing grace? Am I trying to dispense my own kind of justice? Am I only writing what I am writing for the cathartic release? (And yes, I’m asking myself these same things as I write this.) Your witness, your soul, and the souls of those who are being hurt are all at stake. I beg you – don’t join a Facebook posse.
Thursday, May 18, 2017
I hate cable news. I haven’t watched 10 minutes of it in the last five years. When I say that to certain people, they’re surprised. I think they assume because I worked in TV news for 20 years, that I’m a cable news junkie. I do keep up with the news – but cable is not the place to get it. It is a microcosm of what is wrong with our politics right now. If I turn to one network, I get everything slanted in one direction – if I turn to another, it’s slanted in the other direction. And on both, I get people calling the other side names, instead of engaging in ideas. I know this is what gets ratings, and that ultimately is the problem. Social media is just as bad if not worse when it comes to politics.
In an increasingly secular culture, politics has become a functional savior. People see new laws or new regulations, or repealing those laws and regulations, as the ultimate path to salvation for our country. And by doing that, politics or the politicians themselves become gods. This happens on both sides. And when you see your politics or a politician as god, then you have suddenly stepped into a battle of good versus evil – where the only chance good has is to defeat evil.
This is where our biggest problems lie in politics in America right now – we have elevated politics to a place it should have never occupied. Don’t get me wrong – the political process is important. It’s just not that important. It’s not of ultimate importance. See, the only real solution to our problems is that God’s kingdom come, and there are no political solutions for that. God’s kingdom will come when Jesus returns, and until then, we will all live in broken, messed up societies. We can try to improve them in the meantime, but with the understanding that all our systems will always be broken in some way.
Getting this wrong leads to all kinds of disaster. Here’s perhaps the most problematic one. Politics at its best is about persuasion. I believe one thing about an important matter. Another person believes another thing. So it is my job to persuade that person to my side. We have mainly lost the ability to do this in our culture now. Instead, when the average politically-connected person sees someone who disagrees with them, they see it as their job to destroy them, to defeat them. And we believe this because we see politics as ultimate – it’s going to bring the “kingdom” that we’re looking for.
When you as a Christian fall into this trap, it poisons all your other relationships. If you see people with whom you disagree primarily as enemies to be defeated, then you will look at them a lot differently than you would if you saw them as people who need to be persuaded. See, as Christians, we are told to love our enemies, and we’re told to do that because God through Jesus loved us when we were his enemies. We’re told that it is our job to take the message of truth to people who disagree with us – perhaps angrily or even violently – and love them unconditionally and sacrificially to the foot of the cross. And when we do that – and only when we do that – we see in-breakings of God’s kingdom right here on earth. But the point of those in-breakings is to point us to a time when God's kingdom is going to come in its fullness, and no politician can bring that.
This is how Jesus can rescue us from politics. If we primarily see those who we disagree with us as people who need to be persuaded, rather than enemies who need to be defeated, then it will change the way we think about the political process. It will allow us to seek solutions for the common good – without believing that those solutions are ultimate ones. Then, a political defeat is not a disaster. Because Jesus controls our fate, and the fate of our nation, and the fate of the world, and he has promised us how it is all going to turn out. No political party or politician can give you this, no matter how much they promise.
Monday, March 20, 2017
I never wanted to be anything but a journalist growing up. I guess that’s not 100% true. At first, I wanted to be a super hero, but that radioactive spider never bit me. Then I wanted to be a professional baseball player, but I soon found out major league teams were not in the market for a pitcher with a 65-mile per hour curveball. So being a journalist was my first real career dream. I remember when my dad bought our first camcorder – I was probably 10 at the time. My sisters and I set it up and did a pretend newscast. I was a voracious reader of the newspaper. I grew up watching people like Bob Holland, Lisa Kittrell, John Johnson, and yes, even Lindsey Hall, thinking one day I wanted to be like them.
So to get to work at WTOK-TV, along with many of the same people I’d grown up watching, was literally a dream come true for me. I was a fresh-faced country boy from Sebastopol, a recent graduate of Southern Miss, and I was on top of the world. That great feeling of getting to come in and work in the TV business, telling people’s stories, sharing what’s happening in the community, keeping people informed about important events, it’s never gone away. I still get a rush every time there is a big story. But apparently the Lord has other plans.
It’s interesting how God works, and often very easy to see his plans – but only in hindsight. The first story I went on 20 years ago when I started here at the station was as part of a series called “Holy Growth,” looking at churches that were expanding because of their growth. That day, we traveled to Northcrest Baptist Church to see the new sanctuary that was being built. I met the pastor Malcolm Lewis that day, and I can remember thinking, “I need to come to this church.” I wasn’t even a believer at the time – I don’t think I knew what I believed about God. But something attracted me to the church. It took me two and a half years, but I finally worked up the courage to go, and I’ve been going almost ever since – save a 2-year hiatus when we lived and worked in Augusta, Georgia. During that time, I have served as a teacher, and usher, a deacon, and for the last year as the part-time Associate Pastor.
The path to being in the ministry has been a long one. It’s a calling I began to sense almost a decade ago. Discerning exactly what to do with has been a process. I started seminary 4 years ago, and finished up my Masters Degree last year – I’m now working toward my doctorate. During that time, my wife and I have spent an awful lot of time in prayer, trying to figure out exactly what God wants. We believe we now know that, and last night Northcrest voted to make move me to full-time Associate Pastor. My last day at WTOK will be March 31st, and I will begin work there on a full-time basis in April. I couldn’t be more excited about this move – I feel a great deal of comfort and confidence that it is the right one. Our church has experienced major growth in recent years, and there is a great need for more pastoral help. I believe God has called me to be just that, and I look forward to being a part of a great team there; focusing on teaching, preaching, ministering to people, and most importantly – making disciples in our community.
For years, I had one goal, and that was to take John Johnson’s place when he retired as News Director. So it was ironic that when John did announce his retirement last year, the first thing I had to tell my General Manager Tim Walker was that I was not interested in taking his place, at least not permanently. He has been incredibly supportive of me in this journey, and has allowed me to run the newsroom for three months while we found a replacement for John. It allowed me to reach my longtime goal, while moving to the next one.
Let me just end this by saying thanks to everyone here at WTOK. There are too many people to name at this station who have influenced me in more ways that I can count. It has been a great joy to spend the vast majority of my adult life so far working at such a wonderful TV station. It was a dream that came true. Now, I move on to the next chapter of my life. If it is nearly as satisfying as the first chapter has been, it will be satisfying indeed. Finally, I want to thank you, the viewers. I’ve grown up with you, and it has been a great joy to come into your homes every night. Thank you for allowing me to do that.