The Main Reason Christians Are So Divided Over Politics

It’s obvious to us all: Christians today are deeply divided over politics. This growing rift is hurting friendships, families and whole churches, as believers disagree on how Christian concerns should best be voiced in the public square and at the ballot box.

At one level, this is a predictable reflection of events taking place in the West more broadly. Recent studies indicate that the level of political tribalism in the U.S. is reaching levels seen in Bosnia and Kosovo, or Israel and Palestine. This division cannot help but impact the Christian subculture.

Things are not so serious in Australia. But historically, culturally and via social media, we are closely linked to America. We don’t need to look hard, therefore, to find similar political fractures on home soil.

Many things can influence a Christian’s political outlook. Two worth mentioning are theology and personality.

Influenced by these, a Christian might be drawn to concerns like collectivised welfare, environmental action, or more relaxed national borders. A different believer will find their theology and temperament draw them to a different set of concerns like personal responsibility, national integrity, and limited government.

But I want to suggest to you a more immediate influence on a Christian’s political outlook in the 2020s — and that’s media trust.

The freedom of the press is a pillar of democracy. Without a free press, governments cannot be properly held to account, and this allows tyranny to take root unchallenged.

What many in the modern world have forgotten is that our Western liberal democracies were originally a Christian project. Many of their features can be traced back to the Bible.

The free press is one example. The role of the media in holding governments to account has a precedent in ancient Israel, where prophets were called to hold Israel’s leaders accountable without fear or favour. This meant giving God’s affirmation when a leader did what was right, or providing sharp rebuke when they acted unjustly.

Since their founding, nations like the United States and Australia had a built-in trust that the press would carry out its function by holding each successive government to account, regardless of its political leaning.

This was because Western cultures enjoyed a strong Christian consensus — and a byproduct of this was a belief that truth is objective, and that the media’s role was to tell the truth as objectively as possible. That didn’t happen perfectly, of course, but the media nevertheless demanded far greater levels of public confidence than it does today.

But as our Christian consensus has withered and postmodernism has flourished in its place, truth is increasingly seen as relative. Today’s crop of editors and journalists swam in a sea of postmodernism at university. As a result, they are much more likely to see journalism as a way to express their own views as “truth” and thereby shape public opinion. Doubtless, many are well-intentioned in doing so.

This has become more pronounced in recent decades, and it was especially obvious in the U.S. during the transition from Donald Trump to Joe Biden as President.

A media that had scrutinised the former president at every turn (one study revealed 94 percent negative coverage of Trump on cable news) quickly switched to praise as Biden took office. “Biden stimulus showers money on Americans, sharply cutting poverty” read one recent headline. “Biden’s historic victory for America” read another — even as Biden’s many foibles have continued to be overlooked.

Former Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi (a liberal), is among those calling out this favouritism — a phenomenon he labels the Sovietization of the American Press. “Coverage of Biden increasingly resembles official press releases, often featuring embarrassing, Soviet-style contortions,” he writes.

Taibbi cites instances where, depending on whether a certain decision was made by Trump or Biden, the American press gave “two opposite takes on exactly the same thing”. One he missed, but that other commentators noted, was the recent switch from characterising the policy-setting at America’s southern border as “Kids in Cages” under Trump, to “Migrant Facilities For Children” under Biden.

Another is the media’s coverage of the 2020 riots in comparison to the January 6th raid on Capitol Hill. The latter was a dark day in American history that rightly deserved blanket media condemnation. What was glaring, however, was near silence from the media during the previous year as 32 people lost their lives and US$1 billion of damage was inflicted in over a hundred American cities. When the press did cover these events, they were pitched as “mostly peaceful protests”.

These examples only highlight what has long been known: American newsrooms are crowded with liberal coastal elites who live in a different world from most of their readers, creating a media echo chamber.

Further evidence of this bias came to light in 2020 as outlets like the New York Times, The Intercept, Vox, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Variety gagged and even expelled prominent journalists for failing to uphold a narrowing set of political viewpoints.

The situation in Australia is only slightly more nuanced. In a survey of Australian journalists, almost two thirds indicated that they’d vote Labor or Greens, while only 30 percent said they’d vote for the Coalition.

Under the Fairfax umbrella, the bias was even more pronounced: 75 percent of Fairfax journalists favoured a Labor-Greens government, while only 20 percent would vote Coalition. At News Limited, the results were similar: 66 percent favoured Labor or the Greens, while only 27 expressed support for the Coalition.

The bias was most obvious at the taxpayer-funded ABC, where over 41 percent said they’d vote for the minor progressive-left Greens party (a rate four times the national average); 32 percent favoured Labor; and less than 15 percent indicated support for the centre-right Coalition.

Indeed, in a separate poll conducted last year, only 32 percent of Australians felt that the ABC represents the views of ordinary Australians.

All of this to say, when the media reports on politics in nations like the U.S. and Australia, it does so with a deeply entrenched political slant.

I empathise with any Christian who looks to the old guard media as Westerners used to; or indeed as ancient Israel looked to its prophets. We are right to hope for an institution with the resources and integrity to hold our political leaders to account without bias or agenda.

But the simple fact is that this is no longer happening.

That’s not to say legacy media is entirely untrustworthy: their reporting on local events, sports, weather, regional issues and much else besides is of ongoing value to the public. But when it comes to politics, we must listen to these outlets as though they were seeking to influence our views and our vote — because they are.

When a leader favoured by the press is in office, we can expect fluff pieces, fanfare, and low levels of account keeping. When a leader disliked by the press is in power, we must realise that every word and action will likely be scrutinised in an endless search for flaws and failures. This is not fair — but it is fact.

Because of this evident favouritism, a better analogy for the media in today’s world is Israel’s false prophets — those who had the nation’s trust, but who had traded truth for their own opinions.

The great Francis Schaeffer warned of this as early as 1977:

“When the perspective and the worldview of the elite coincides with some of the influential news carriers — it does not have to be all — then either consciously or unconsciously, the media becomes an instrument for manipulation.”

Let me be clear once more: my point isn’t to judge the intent of journalists and editors: for all I know, they see themselves as brave truth-tellers. But their fruit is what we should examine — and Jesus called for serious levels of discernment when dealing with false teachers and their bad fruit.

In a frightful example of this, a Christian writer recently took as gospel a Sydney Morning Herald article that suggested a conservative Christian conference was planting the seeds for a violent revolution in Australia! If the writer had done his due diligence, he would have discovered that the SMH journalist had not only taken quotes out of context — he also had a track record of expressing deeply anti-Christian sentiments on social media.

I contend that this simply wouldn’t have happened if the Christian writer had a realistic and biblically informed perspective of today’s media.

In short, our political formation needs to be taking place in our churches, not on the internet. We shouldn’t merely be asking how to approach secular entertainment like a Christian — we need to ask, “How do I consume mainstream news like a Christian?”

Like the believers in Martin Luther’s day who had for too long given their unquestioning trust to a corrupt church, numberless Christians today continue to count the legacy media worthy of their trust on political matters. Sadly, they are misguided. If this stronghold can be broken, I believe we will see far greater unity in the body of Christ.

[Photo: BigStock]

By |2021-03-16T18:44:57+11:00March 16th, 2021|Australia, Faith, Freedom, Identity Politics|27 Comments

About the Author:

Kurt Mahlburg is Canberra Declaration's Features Editor. He also works as a primary school teacher and a freelance writer. He blogs at Cross + Culture and is a regular contributor at the Spectator Australia, MercatorNet, Caldron Pool and The Good Sauce, among other online publications.

Kurt has published a book, Cross and Culture: Can Jesus Save the West?, with rigorous analysis of the modern malaise in Western society.

He has a particular interest in speaking the truths of Jesus into the public square in a way that makes sense to a secular culture and that gives Christians courage to do the same.

Kurt has also studied architecture, has lived for two years on a remote island in Indonesia, is fluent in several Indonesian languages, and among his other interests are philosophy, history, surf, the outdoors, and travel.

27 Comments

  1. Yvonne Walker March 17, 2021 at 12:20 am - Reply

    Thanks Kurt for this reminder again of our need to be conscious of this trend in our media.

  2. Jim McPherson March 19, 2021 at 9:43 am - Reply

    Oh, that we still had reporters and not journalists!

  3. Rob March 19, 2021 at 9:51 am - Reply

    Great spot-on article!

  4. Marianne van Esch March 19, 2021 at 10:16 am - Reply

    We as a country and community need to be very aware of what journalists report and decide if it reported in favour of their own bias

  5. Robert Colman March 19, 2021 at 10:37 am - Reply

    Thank you Kurt. Next time you may like to ask the media writers if we have a truth? The truth is, we do! The railway lines offer us a truth. The rock group or orchestra tune their instruments to truth. Our clocks and watches all hold us to truth. Women conceive – men don’t. That is truth. We don’t even have to choose these and they are truths. I choose to live for God through Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. That’ real TRUTH. Our prayers are with you.
    Carol & Robert Colman.

  6. Ray Robinson March 19, 2021 at 10:39 am - Reply

    Kurt identifies a central theme of “objectivity” which he allocates to a foundation of both the media and Christianity. May I submit that neither movement can claim such a position today. Stoning others is to deny the sin within, as Jesus identified.
    The Warrior Angel confronting Joshua (5:13 – 14) was neither for Joshua or the enemy, but for the Lord Sabaoth (of Hosts). Jesus said similarly in John 18: 36 that His kingdom is not of this world.

    The Christian community exchange stoning with other communities while they (Christians) remain outside obedience to the Righteous Spirituality that Holy Spirit of Christ brings to each one. Objective truth remains a characteristic of His Spirit and from within His Kingdom.

  7. Robert Colman March 19, 2021 at 10:40 am - Reply

    Thank you Kurt. Next time you may like to ask the media writers if we have a truth? The truth is, we do! The railway lines offer us a truth. The rock group or orchestra tune their instruments to truth. Our clocks and watches all hold us to truth. Women conceive – men don’t. That is truth. We don’t even have to choose these and they are truths. I choose to live for God through Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s real TRUTH. Our prayers are with you.
    Carol & Robert Colman.

  8. Wendy Boniface March 19, 2021 at 10:46 am - Reply

    So good Kurt! I often pray for the media to be reformed and I usually laugh when I hear the ABC call themselves Australia’s most trust news source! Not any more!
    As a converted reformed leftie (from Uni days), I understand their thinking, but I pray for them as I know my change came gradually after my conversion (40 years ago).
    It’s good to pray for our leaders, but let’s pray for the media to be saved too!

  9. Patricia Beard March 19, 2021 at 11:00 am - Reply

    Such a good article, thank you,

  10. Ky March 19, 2021 at 11:13 am - Reply

    Not sure where you get your stats from Kurt.. for truth to prevail the sources should be known. To make blanket statistic statements is a little disconcerting given the focus that is easily read in their publications.
    I think one thing your article does make clear is the people who read this from you or this site, and what their thoughts are – from these comments above… So very clear, so perhaps do stats on that my friend 🙂

  11. Ruth Lynch March 19, 2021 at 11:23 am - Reply

    Yes, thankyou for this article – you have confirmed my thoughts about the media which is very disheartening.

  12. Phillip Chalmers March 19, 2021 at 11:30 am - Reply

    We have a clue from New Testament pages where it is said, Some are apostles, some are prophets, some are evangelists, some are … – you know it.
    Equal in nature as human creature, equally held within the infinite love of God and each an unique individual subject one-on-one with the judgement.
    Now, all the rest is differentness.
    One of the pertinent diversities is, and remember these are preferences or you may prefer inclinations or tastes; the division between those who favour preservation and stability to keep what has been experienced as good and workable and those who prefer change considered to be for the better like growth or maturation.

    People of the world, both sexes, differ in the proportion of each inclination.

    This is not absolute but 60% conserve by preference and 40% crave change by preference.
    (allow different large groups to range between 55% to 45% and 65% to 35% but it is always more conservatives than change agents)

    This makes perfect sense to me – much blood, treasure, sufferings and effort have gone into forging a Christian civilisation in the West of where St Paul was when he planned to go east and was called in a dream in the opposite direction)

    I refer to Christendom.

    Everything was tested, and much good was held fast to and became the foundations of the Western tradition. It is and never was and never will be perfect but for goodness sake do we have to keep inventing the wheel over and over or decide if fire is suitable to harness?

    Satan so hated this that enormous effort has be put into what has been called the Enlightenment; aimed at mockery and trivialising of faith and spirituality and denying the reality of objective good and evil, right and wrong.

    Jesus was not a Communist, he was the King of the Jews in the line of King David.
    He was not political, his disciples are seen to have been rebuked when making this assumption.

  13. Ronda Roy March 19, 2021 at 11:57 am - Reply

    A great analysis of a growing problem. Many church goers do not question the media and are slowly being influenced by their bias. Keep up your writing.

  14. Gaylene Read March 19, 2021 at 8:00 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the article. Interesting survey results as to journalist’s political allegiances.

  15. Meryl Lee March 19, 2021 at 11:30 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this article. I have been grieving over the increasing political bias and resulting absence of true reporting in our media. The political allegiances of the journalists is helpful information which confirms my concern. Democracy is endangered when our media can be manipulated as is happening at present.

  16. John Pietila March 20, 2021 at 7:07 am - Reply

    What a compelling article. About time all Christians united to see our common enemy rather than our small differences.

    John Pietila

  17. Robert McKilliam March 20, 2021 at 2:54 pm - Reply

    Thanks again Kurt for another balanced and thought-provoking article.

  18. Diane McDonald March 20, 2021 at 3:40 pm - Reply

    Thank you for the article – it is good to recognise where people’s sentiments lie and how the media, as you say, endeavour to politicise their own beliefs into their stories.

  19. Anna Soh March 20, 2021 at 4:55 pm - Reply

    Kurt, you couldn’t be closer to the truth than this article about how to read the news … these words … In short, our political formation needs to be taking place in our churches, not on the internet. We shouldn’t merely be asking how to approach secular entertainment like a Christian — we need to ask, “How do I consume mainstream news like a Christian?”

    Like the believers in Martin Luther’s day who had for too long given their unquestioning trust to a corrupt church, numberless Christians today continue to count the legacy media worthy of their trust on political matters. Sadly, they are misguided. If this stronghold can be broken, I believe we will see far greater unity in the body of Christ.

    How important is this and when are our church leaders going to work this out first so that they can lead their congregation to change the state of our nation … we need to pray that our government will hold media outlets especially the ABC accountable or shut it down and spend taxpayers money on something that would promote unity and acceptance of differences of opinion.

  20. Warwick March 21, 2021 at 11:28 am - Reply

    This is a brilliant article showing the truth of the media bias. For those who don’t know, these figures are not new figures they have been around for a while. Over the last several months I have been shocked about the bias even within the so-called conservative news outlets. The false prophets are getting falser. Lord raise up the true reporters and truth tellers in JESUS NAME!!!!!!!!!

  21. Nat Marsh March 22, 2021 at 1:05 pm - Reply

    Spot on Kurt – Excellent work as always my friend!

  22. Mark Harwood March 22, 2021 at 2:32 pm - Reply

    Very well put, Kurt! You have summarised the situation concisely and precisely. Keep up the good work.

  23. Paul and Caroline Varendorff March 22, 2021 at 9:37 pm - Reply

    Very relevant topic at the moment, and so well explained! Thanks Kurt!

  24. Geoff Earl March 24, 2021 at 11:19 am - Reply

    Absolutely agree, but tragically most pastors refuse to teach a biblical worldview or equip their people to be discerning and fight the culture wars with truth.

  25. Con Michailidis April 7, 2021 at 10:32 am - Reply

    Great article Kurt!
    If the media is as you say it is, and I agree, this leads me to think that the church and even the pulpit is slowly becoming the only place left for objective biblically-based political truth. If political comment is meant to be prophetic as you point out, then why should that be precluded in the church?
    This leads to the main point of your article, that this highlights and has led to a great division in the church on the place of politics in the church . The division in USA is big and is continually being debated.
    There are temperamental differences as you point out, but the theological divisions on this go very deep. There are those who believe that a two kingdom theology should protect the church from politics. There are those who see flags in church as crass red-necked nationalism and a wet blanket over the true and pure gospel. Yet there are those who see the true prophetic spirit of the church as not just bringing the message of personal salvation and other worldliness, but as transformational of all the nation’s structures: its values,the media, politics and economics.
    For me the basic difference is how people see the gospel in relation to creation.

  26. Carmen April 18, 2021 at 10:42 pm - Reply

    Wise words and discernment.

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