NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Christians in journalism have a prophetic mandate to take the Great Commission into the marketplace by illustrating man’s need for God through the stories of life, Michael Longinow said at the sixth annual Baptist Press national Collegiate Journalism Conference Oct. 5-7 at the SBC Building in Nashville, Tenn.
“To profess journalism is to enter it confident that it is knowable, doable and effective as a tool for Christ,” Longinow said.
Longinow along with Peter Kerr of Asbury College and Dawn Eden of the New York Daily News were the conference’s keynote speakers, while a variety of workshop leaders focused on news and feature writing, photography, broadcasting, graphic design and public relations. Worship was led by Christian recording artist Jaime Jamgochian.
The conference’s “Capture the Vision” theme encouraged participants to capture a vision for glorifying Jesus through their craft and their Christian faith.
“I think the conference was very successful,” said Will Hall, vice president for news services with the SBC Executive Committee and executive editor of Baptist Press. “The workshops, worship, fellowship, professional networking and other events combined to present a sense that God has a vision for each of our lives and that includes our work in journalism.”
Longinow, who teaches journalism at Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., said Christians belong in journalism and should work to dispel common myths propagated in the media about followers of Christ. Some of the most common myths are that that passionate Christians are frightening and should be investigated and that Christians in journalism should leave their faith out of their profession, he said.
Attempting to exclude Christians from journalism is absurd, Longinow said, because much of modern journalistic practice was initiated by Protestant evangelicals as they established new publications around the turn of the 19th century. That push for responsible media originally was a Judeo-Christian concern, he added.
“You belong there,” Longinow said to Christians in journalism. “Don’t feel like, ‘Can I really do this? Can I have a press pass? I’m a Christian. Is that alright?’ Yes it’s alright. It’s more than alright. You belong there.”
Journalism can be a calling from God, and the best journalism “pursues truth, highlights the mind and soul and shines truth where darkness prevails,” he said.
Christian journalists can be a witness for Christ without talking about God in every story by illustrating the consequences of sin and how much humans need a Savior, he said.
“That’s the place of journalism: saying, were it not for God’s grace, here’s a picture,” Longinow said. “Look at this picture and realize how much we need a Savior.”
In every arena of life — business, entertainment, sports and the arts — journalists can show people’s hunger for God and how they express it, he said.
Kerr said Christian journalists have the power to start a cultural revolution by upholding truth in an industry where truth is eroding.
Christians should pursue careers in journalism because journalism sets the agenda of what people think about and needs a Christian influence, he said.
“If you wanted to change the world, I would say that journalism is one way to do it,” Kerr, who was in charge of media relations for President Ronald Reagan’s funeral, said. “Responsible Christian journalists … are the kinds of people that can actually change the world for the better.”
In past generations, religion provided common themes and values that held American culture together, but today the media assumes that role, Kerr said, adding that the media is an important tool to preserve the nation’s Christian heritage.
“You are the frontlines to defend Christianity in many ways,” he said. “I don’t mean that you do all your stories on Christianity. I mean by preserving the culture you’re in, by telling stories that are true, by believing in ideals and things that are greater than yourselves.”
Because of the media’s influence, churches and pastors should learn to use the media as a tool to spread information and positive news, he said.
Speaking from his own extensive research, Kerr said the media does not portray Christianity as negatively as some conservative evangelicals sometimes think. He described the media’s portrayal of Christianity as “a mild but consistent antipathy” and said there is an opportunity for churches to capitalize on journalists’ desire to tell more positive stories.
“I think that our pastors have been blinded basically into not thinking that they can use the media to get out messages about the church,” he said, noting that he encourages pastors to use press releases to tell journalists about positive ministries of their churches.
“Can you imagine if twice a month a TV station actually ran a good news story about Christians doing good things?” he asked. “[Pastors] don’t have to mention their church. It’s not about recruiting. They just have to mention their God.”
Christian journalists who find positive stories and value truth can lead a cultural revolution, Kerr said in concluding.
“This is a challenge to you,” he said. “I hope that you will not just get behind this coming revolution, this Christian wave, but that you’ll be leading it, that you’ll be at the forefront of it. As Christians who are journalists and journalists who are Christians, you’ll be the ones who write it into history.”
Eden said God gave her what she wanted in journalism many times but she was only satisfied when God gave her what she needed — a relationship with Him.
“What I find is that very often when I do get what I want, I’m not satisfied,” said Eden, an award-winning headline writer. “But God enables me to use this restlessness to remember my dependence on Him, and in remembering my dependence on Him I’m able to ultimately get not what I want but what I need. And when God gives you what you need, it is what you want.”
Eden told how she came to faith in Christ as an adult in the journalism industry after growing up Jewish. Being a Christian in the New York media world was difficult at times because many of her coworkers were wary of Christianity, she said.
When working in 2005 as a copy editor at the New York Post, Eden said she began writing about Christian themes on her personal blog and gave interviews about her faith to two publications.
As her faith grew, Eden’s situation at work became difficult. When Eden was assigned to edit a story about in vitro fertilization, she added to the story that embryos which fail to implant in a mother’s uterus “die.” The story’s author became angry that Eden inserted this information and wanted the paper’s editors to fire Eden. When Eden was not fired, the angry reporter showed Eden’s supervisors an interview she gave about her faith and photocopies of entries from her personal blog.
After reading the material about Eden’s faith, her editors fired her and accused her of inserting “her rabid anti-abortion views” into the paper when, in reality, she had inserted a simple fact.
But God used the experience of her firing to focus Eden on His will and set her on a new path, she said. Soon after her firing, Eden found a new job at the Daily News and has now written a book on chastity scheduled to come out later this year.
“When you fall, if you put your eyes back on Him; even if your eyes were off of Him, He will pull your feet out from the net, as He did for me,” Eden said, referring to Psalm 25:15.