Christians flocking to religious media

Dallas, USA - When FamilyNet reported on the recent Miss Universe pageant, the Fort Worth-based Christian TV network edited out footage of the swimsuit competition.

When World magazine wrote about a church embroiled in controversy, the Christian publication noted that the "mainstream media had badly garbled the story."

And when the Christian Broadcasting Network covered founder Pat Robertson's trip to India, a reporter matter-of-factly described miracles that had been delivered.

In the world of Christian news, you'll find a biblical perspective on the day's events and a notable lack of skin and celebrity gossip. "We're sort of the goody-two-shoes network," said Lorri Allen, news director for FamilyNet.

Some Christians say that's exactly what they want. Many are turning to religious media for their news, and they're finding a growing number of outlets – from TV newscasts and magazines to radio shows and Web sites.

Sacred media is more trustworthy than its secular counterparts, some churchgoers say. Christianity is a worldview, they say, and religious news outlets provide an alternative for those who reject mainstream media.

But some religious and journalism experts caution that those who rely exclusively on Christian media aren't getting the full story. The quality of religious news outlets varies, and some are focused on evangelizing and advancing a political agenda, they said.

In general though, Christian news filters political and cultural issues through a religious lens and addresses such topics as the evolution debate in Kansas and whether God would frown on stomach stapling.

The quote that headlines a religious Web site says it all: "The press ... just doesn't get religion."

Terry Mattingly, who writes for the GetReligion Web site,, said that writing about religion and reporting from a Christian perspective are unique challenges. He likens the tasks to interpreting opera – many people don't know what they're talking about.

"The press can sit in the middle of highly intense religious situations and just not understand what they're watching," he said.

Mr. Mattingly, a national religion columnist and senior fellow for journalism at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, said studies have uncovered astonishing anger among churchgoers about inaccuracies in media coverage of religion.

Accordingly, many Christians are seeking out alternative sources of news, and not just for information on religious topics. With the number of Christian television networks, radio stations, Web sites and magazines on the upswing, they have plenty to choose from.

The number of religious radio stations grew by 14 percent in the last five years, from 1,769 to 2,014, according to Arbitron. And a recent report by The Barna Group found that more people use Christian media than attend church.

Technological advances, a polarized electorate and the increasing prominence of evangelicals have spurred the growth in Christian news.

Striking balance

Melinda Matthews, who lives in Allen and attends Christ Church Episcopal in Plano, said she relies on a mix of religious and secular sources for news. But Christian radio reports and Web sites allow her to break down complex issues.

"It helps me make better decisions," said Mrs. Matthews, who does marketing for Southern Methodist University. "I appreciate the connections that are made on something like assisted suicide. I appreciate knowing the underlying biblical principles."

The Rev. David Roseberry, rector at Christ Church Episcopal, said that his church is built around the premise that Jesus is Lord, and that should affect every aspect of Christians' lives.

"Christianity is not just a religion; it's a worldview," he said. "If I look at the events through a Christian worldview, they make sense."

While Mr. Roseberry seeks out some mainstream news sources, he said that most seem to muddle the news with bias and spin.

"Christianity Today [magazine] starts out with a moral base that some things are right and some things are wrong," he said. "The secular magazines start with a view that everything is flat."

Still, Christian media must strike a delicate balance. Many religious journalists said they strive to be fair while adhering to core beliefs. Some do a better job than others, said Martin Marty, emeritus professor of religion at the University of Chicago.

"Their political coverage is utterly biased," he said of some Christian news outlets. "You can go 15 years without a fair comment about Bill or Hillary Clinton. If you're a Democrat, you're dead."

Mr. Mattingly of GetReligion said those who rely exclusively on Christian media are insulating themselves and often hear only one side of the story. The result is a fragmented media landscape and a growing disconnect among news consumers who can't even agree on basic facts.

"It's as scary to me that there are people out there who only watch alternative television as it is that there are people who get their views from Michael Moore," he said, referring to the liberal filmmaker.

Story selection

Rob Allman, news director for the Virginia-based Christian Broadcasting Network, said his news operation provides fair coverage of a wide range of issues.

"We covered the presidential debates last year, and we did not air four minutes of President Bush to 30 seconds of John Kerry. That's not fair," he said.

CBN, the giant among Christian broadcasters, differs from mainstream outlets in its story selection, said Mr. Allman, who previously worked as assistant news director at KTVT-TV (Channel 11).

The network best known for The 700 Club focuses on stories that appeal to Christians, he said. And its journalists have the opportunity to do more in-depth reports, with some stories extending seven minutes or longer – an eternity in TV news.

Mr. Allman said that making the switch from secular to religious broadcasting also opened his eyes to common terms that many Christians find offensive.

"We don't use 'right to die,' " he said.

During the media coverage surrounding Terri Schiavo, many journalists spoke of "allowing" the brain-damaged Florida woman to die. "To me, if you were to not give me food or water, that would be forcing me to die," he said.

Noticeably absent from the Christian newscasts are celebrity updates. Viewers won't hear about Paris Hilton's engagement on CBN's NewsWatch .

"I haven't had to run a Michael Jackson story yet, and that's refreshing," Mr. Allman said.

While Christian outlets have eschewed Hollywood news, they haven't shied from politics. Mrs. Allen, the news director at FamilyNet, said that her network presents a balanced report.

"We try to do it very objectively because we know that there are Christians in both parties," she said.

Still, FamilyNet and other Christian media stake out clear positions on some key issues.

"FamilyNet is pro-life," Mrs. Allen said.

Owned by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and seen in more than 32 million homes, FamilyNet pledges that it won't report stories that parents would be uncomfortable watching with their children.

Good news and family-friendly fare are priorities, Mrs. Allen said. That means cutting out images of Miss Universe contestants strutting in swimwear. And it meant virtually ignoring the Scott Peterson murder trial until he was convicted of killing his pregnant wife.

"It was just so tragic," Mrs. Allen said. "Mothers are such a large part of our audience. I was just trying to help viewers avoid discussing that issue."

'More pleasant'

That sensibility attracted Andrea Clemmons to Christian news. The accountant from Midlothian who attends Grace Church of Ovilla said that mainstream media outlets seem consumed with blood, gore and assorted bad news.

"There are children missing, children being killed by their parents, killed by each other," she said. "I know it goes on, and I know we shouldn't be blind to it, but it kills me to watch it."

Once a regular reader of, Mrs. Clemmons said she now listens to Christian radio – a source she deems "more pleasant" – and frequents an online Bible forum.

"I'm a little too tenderhearted, and when I do watch the news, I get really upset," she said.

Marvin Olasky, editor in chief of World magazine, said that Christians count on publications such as his to report stories that inform rather than shock.

"What we consider to be the important news is mediated through our worldview," he said.

Dr. Olasky, who is also a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said the magazine's approach to news, which he characterizes as "biblical objectivity," has helped boost circulation from 20,000 in 1992 to 140,000 today.

"We tend to have a high trust factor among our readers," he said.

Buzz Kolbe, a business and personal life coach who lives in Plano and attends Christ Church Episcopal, describes Christian media as "honest and straightforward." He reads newspapers and tunes in to cable news but views some of their reports with skepticism.

"I'm not saying I don't trust CNN," Mr. Kolbe said. "But I have a tendency to trust Christians."