There was an article in the Washington Post recently that described how a pastor competed against Fox News and the “conservative” media which claimed the coronavirus is a hoax. What do you do when the Fox News competes against a pastor and the Bible is nothing more than a prop. Its not the word of God, its just a prop for display? This blog would like to pose the question when the COVID-19 pandemic is in the history books will white Evangelical Christians have died at a much higher rate due to their dependence on Fox News? Is the Southern Baptists about to needlessly lose a significant part of their convention especially if the United States starts to turn like Italy?
“Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live.”
“A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
Ephesians 6:10-11 NIV
There was a fascinating article in the Washington Post last week that I finally have been able to get around to analyzing and writing about. It deals with the COVID-19 epidemic and evangelical culture. The name of the article is called, “Without guidance from the top, Americans have been left to figure out their own coronavirus solutions.”
When Fox News Competes Against a Pastor in a Congregation
In The Washington Post on March 15, 2020 they had a disturbing article about how some people were left to figure out a way forward with the coronavirus. Josh King is the lead pastor at Second Baptist Church in Conway, Arkansas which attracts 1,100 members a week for evangelical worship. Josh met with five other nearby pastors to discuss should they cancel their services? Or should they continue meeting? When Josh King discussed the coronavirus some of the members of the churches claimed the virus was a hoax. They quoted President Trump or Fox News and stated that the Democrats were overblowing the danger of the virus. According to the Post Josh King stated that, “One pastor said half of his church is ready to lick the floor, to prove there’s no actual virus.”
But King and others still were concerned. They believed the virus was a serious threat to the community and the church. Mass gatherings seemed to propel the virus. So on March 15, 2020 they held worship services. And while they did hire extra cleaning teams they took precautions on their own. Greeters would open the doors so members of the congregation would not touch the doors. People were asked to give online and coffee after the service was canceled. Hugs were prohibited as were handshakes. The way it was explained is that you could not cancel or close church, Its giving into liberalism and goes against the evangelical culture. Here is how Josh King described it in the post. “In your more politically conservative regions, closing is not interpreted as caring for you. It’s interpreted as liberalism, or buying into the hype.”
Laura Ingraham from Fox News downplaying COVID-19.
Evangelical Christians and Fox News, Plus What has Fox Been Saying About COVID-19?
Fox News which has had its highest ratings in its 24 year history has also been a player in evangelicalism. Over the years and I observed this in a couple of evangelical churches many white evangelicals made Fox News their primary news source. In the course of time Fox News began to compete against the pastor and even the Bible in some of these congregations. Evangelical Christianity has long been known to be hostile to science and facts in many ways. A couple of years back the public opinion firm did a profile of Fox News viewers. It was found that those who watch Fox News are more likely to be employed. And not in the context of managerial or professional roles. Fox News viewers are also not as educated. Many Fox News viewers have a high school diploma or less or some college. These statistics would also correspond with many evangelicals. According to the Pew Forum the breakdown of evangelicals corresponds with the Fox New viewer. 78% of evangelicals had some college or less, but not as many graduated from college. The income description is also in the ballpark as well.
In the New York Times in 2017 an interesting column was written about how Fox News is creating a new kind of evangelical. Amy Sullivan called it “Fox Evangelicalism.” A network was competing with pastors in teaching basics Christian truths and established principles of the faith. For example whereas the Bible tells people not to fear, Fox teaches people to fear a large group of individuals. From immigrants, Muslims, non-whites and more the over arching message that white evangelicals have subscribed to is fear. Fox News did this with the so called “War on Christmas.” They do it frequently with other topics. Is there any coincidence that LifeWay Research which does research for Lifeway of the Southern Baptists came out with an interesting survey in 2017 which showed that a number of evangelicals didn’t have basic beliefs of faith. What is basic to the Christian faith? Issues like belief in the trinity, grace through faith alone, not having fear if one has faith in Christ, etc…
Consider what Amy Sullivan says in this older New York Times piece.
But if the conservative media has created a category of Fox evangelical converts, it has also influenced the way a whole generation of churchgoing evangelicals thinks about God and faith. On no issue is this clearer than guns.
In fall 2015, I visited Trinity Bible College, an Assemblies of God-affiliated school in North Dakota, to join the conservative evangelical students there for a screening of “The Armor of Light,” a documentary by the filmmaker Abigail Disney. The film followed the pastor and abortion opponent Rob Schenck on his quest to convince fellow evangelicals — the religious demographic most opposed to gun restrictions — that pro-life values are incompatible with an embrace of unrestricted gun access. I found Mr. Schenck compelling, and my editor had sent me to see if his target audience bought the arguments.
It did not.
As two dozen of us gathered for a post-screening discussion, I was both astonished and troubled, as a fellow evangelical, by the visceral sense of fear that gripped these young adults. As a child in the Baptist church, I had been taught to be vigilant about existential threats to my faith. But these students in a town with a population of some 1,200 saw the idea of a home invasion or an Islamic State attack that would require them to take a human life in order to save others as a certainty they would face, not a hypothetical.
These fears are far removed from the reality of life in North Dakota, a state that saw a total of 21 homicides in 2015. Of those deaths, seven were caused by firearms, and only three were committed by someone unknown to the victim. Yet the students around me agreed unreservedly with Wayne LaPierre, chief executive of the National Rifle Association, who was seen in the film asserting that “in the world around us, there are terrorists, home invaders, drug cartels, carjackers, knockout gamers, rapers, haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers.”
This worldview is familiar to anyone who has spent time watching Fox News, where every day viewers are confronted with threats to their way of life. It’s also profoundly un-Christian. One of the most consistent messages of the Bible is the exhortation “Do not be afraid!” Before young evangelicals can read, we memorize verses reminding us to “be strong and courageous” and “trust in the Lord.” “Fear,” says Mr. Schenck in the documentary, “should not be a controlling element in the life of a Christian.”
Fear and distrust of outsiders — in conflict with numerous biblical teachings to “welcome the stranger” — also explain Fox evangelicals’ strong support for the Trump administration’s efforts to bar refugees and restrict travel to the United States from several majority-Muslim nations. After Mr. Trump’s initial executive orders during his first week in office, more than 100 evangelical leaders, including the head of the National Association of Evangelicals, published a full-page ad in The Washington Post denouncing the refugee ban and urging the president to reconsider. But those leaders didn’t speak for most white evangelicals, three-quarters of whom told Pew pollsters they supported the refugee and travel bans.
That disconnect underscores the challenge many pastors face in trying to shepherd congregants who are increasingly alienated from traditional Gospel teachings. “A pastor has about 30 to 40 minutes each week to teach about Scripture,” said Jonathan Martin, an Oklahoma pastor and popular evangelical writer. “They’ve been exposed to Fox News potentially three to four hours a day.”
It’s meaningful, Mr. Martin says, that scions of the religious right like Jerry Falwell Jr. are not pastors like their fathers. “There was a lot I didn’t agree with him on, but I’m confident that it was important to Senior” — Jerry Falwell — “that he grounded his beliefs in Scripture,” Mr. Martin said. “Now the Bible’s increasingly irrelevant. It’s just ‘us versus them.’”
The result is a malleable religious identity that can be weaponized not just to complain about department stores that hang “Happy Holidays” banners, but more significantly, in support of politicians like Mr. Trump or Mr. Moore — and of virtually any policy, so long as it is promoted by someone Fox evangelicals consider on their side of the culture war.
“It explains how much evangelicals have moved the goal post,” said Mr. Martin. “If there’s not a moral theology or ethic to it, but it’s about playing for the right team, you can do anything and still be on the right side.”
You can read the entire New York Times column in, “America’s New Religion: Fox Evangelicalism.”
But getting back to the COVID-19 pandemic what has Fox taught about the coronavirus? This is a religious blog and not a political blog and there are a number of articles that raise concerns about Fox News. You can read a few here, here and here. When it comes to the coronavirus Fox News has had some troubling reporting about the pandemic. As the coronavirus broke out of China and spread it was Fox News which downplayed and ridiculed the threat. While the brass who runs Fox News takes the coronavirus threat seriously many of its most popular talk show hosts have not. On Fox News Sean Hannity has stated that the coronavirus is no different than the regular flu. Hannity has also said that its the newest claim by Democrats to go after the president. It was also claimed that the coronavirus is liberal hysteria in an effort to bring down the stick market and disrupt an election. Laura Ingraham has also claimed that the coronavirus is a political weapon by the Democrats. If you would like to read more about how Fox News has covered the coronavirus you can do so in the following articles.
- Business Insider, “Fox News is downplaying the coronavirus even though its older audience is more vulnerable to the virus.”
- Vox, “Fox News’s dangerous decision to downplay the threat of coronavirus.”
- CNN, “How Fox News misled viewers about the coronavirus.”
- CNN, “How Trump and his Fox News allies are infecting the public trust amid coronavirus concerns.”
- Max Boot in the Washington Post, “The right-wing media’s contempt for truth has never been more dangerous.”
When This Coronavirus Pandemic is Over This Blog Would Like to Know the Death Rate of White Evangelicals Who Followed Fox News
Over the years I have long observed how Fox News was viewed in evangelicalism. As I type this I can recall being in pastors, para-church ministry homes, and other homes waiting for a social function or Bible study to kick off. Fox News was usually the news network on in those environments. Here is a question that is dark and difficult that this blog would like to raise. As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads if the United States starts to turn into Italy and experiencing a massive horrific spike in deaths to the point where the bodies will be hard to bury or deal with. Will the evidence show that a large number of white evagelicals who trusted Fox more than their pastor or even Bible will have died in much higher amounts? Will there be a much higher death rate inside the Southern Baptist than say the gay community who took the coronavirus warnings more seriously? Will states like Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi which have a higher retirement rates will have a much high death rate than need be? When the COVID-19 pandemic is over and in the history books this blog would like to access the information and see what the death rates in the COVID-19 pandemic are among the white Evangelical Christian movement. It will be tragic and troubling but all the warning signs were there. With that said, I hope I am proven wrong in my hunch in this area. Trust me I want to be wrong, and don’t want to see that loss of life take place.