An Open Letter to All News Agencies that Will Run or Have Already Run Stories on Jesus This Easter Season

Dear all news agencies that will run or have already run stories on Jesus this Easter season,

It looks like you have quite a feast this year. With the success of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and the upcoming movie version of the book, enthusiasm for tales of ecclesiastical conspiracy seem to be as high as ever. In the span of the last week I have heard two new versions of what may have “really happened” 2,000 years ago, only to be subsequently suppressed by the truth-hating, agenda-pushing church. According to one new “scholarly” theory, Jesus did not actually die on the cross. Instead, he had a secret agreement with Pontius Pilate to fake his own death. On the cross he was given an anesthetic that knocked him out, making him appear dead. He was quickly taken down from the cross and rushed to the tomb, where he received immediate medical care and ultimately survived the whole ordeal. This is how he was able to convince the world that he was raised from the dead. And now the so-called “Gospel of Judas” is also in the news, telling the story of a Jesus who commanded Judas to betray him. According to proponents of both theories, the church knew the real truth but has engaged in a 2,000 year conspiracy to hide it from the world.

When are you going to realize that this template for covering stories about Jesus is getting old? While there are dozens of theories about what “really happened” in the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection (presupposing that the accounts given to us in the New Testament are historically dubious), these theories are mutually contradictory, and more often than not based on pseudo-scholarship. You always approach this topic as though it is an impenetrable mystery that no one will ever solve, thereby casting the shadows of doubt on the historical accuracy of the Bible. Why must we presuppose that as long as there are different opinions on something that it must therefore be considered a mystery? As far as I’m concerned (and millions join me in this opinion, including a number of reputable scholars), “what really happened” 2,000 years ago is fairly clear and is substantially reported in the four Gospels of the New Testament. When you report on every conspiracy theory as though it has the potential to shake the church to its foundations and overturn the orthodox consensus of two millennia, you do not engage in fair reporting; instead, you only expose your own bias. Don’t get me wrong: I often enjoy watching the reports. I find them informative, even in spite of the fact that they are hopelessly skewed and usually involve commentary from reporters who are not competently educated in the field of New Testament studies. To the average American watching on television, this bias and incompetence may be interpreted as scholarly consensus, which is a distortion of the truth, not a fair reporting of it.

And then there is the attempt to appear objective. It usually emerges at the end of the report, where you always conclude that we will never know what really happened, but it doesn’t matter for the faith of believers anyway because faith does not rest on historical fact. Again, this only exposes your bias. You are children of the Enlightenment, divorcing faith from real life, passing on the classic doctrine of liberal Christianity, but greatly offending orthodox believers of all ages. Tell my brothers in China who worship in secret that they have given up their lives for a man who was not really raised from the dead, and see if the kind of liberal “faith” that you are so fond of describing will be enough to sustain them. Liberal Christianity, which has the (inexplicable) luxury of holding on to a faith that is based on fiction, never flourishes in places where Christians die for what they believe. “What really happened” certainly does matter, and it always has. If you could ever learn to step out of Kant’s shadow, you might be able to see that. Instead, every year at Christmas and Easter you continue to perpetuate his faith-reality dichotomy as though it is the only sensible way a human being could think.

I invite you to use your investigative curiosity for a new purpose: investigate yourselves. Take a step back and notice how your biases seep through every single time you report on this issue. No matter the network or the reporter, the template is always the same, and the reports are quite predictable by now. I don’t ask that you subsitute my biases for your own. I am only asking that you recognize your biases and stop passing them off as though they are the settled consensus of the collective wisdom of humanity. There is a world out there that you view from afar, a world of committed, faithful, orthodox Christians (“orthodox” with a little “o”), who have always believed that questions about the historicity of the Gospels really do matter for the Christian faith. Your continued attraction to the latest far-fetched conspiracy theories, combined with your persistent distorted and incompetent reporting on them, is constantly making you more and more irrelevant to people like me. Learn how to report more fairly, and then we’ll talk.

Sincerely,
Aaron O’Kelley

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17 Responses to “An Open Letter to All News Agencies that Will Run or Have Already Run Stories on Jesus This Easter Season”

  1. Cogito Says:

    Did you say historical accuracy of the Bible?

    I read an article about the “Gospel of Judas” in USA Today this morning. I found it pretty interesting, not really the text, they only needed to give one quote from the manuscript for you to quickly realize that it was a Gnostic text and would likely give you more insights into Gnosticism and other pre-Orthodox forms of Christianity than to what happened between Jesus and Judas, but the story behind how the text was purchased was interesting, as well as the reactions to it. Your boy Mohler was quoted in there by the way.

    You’re right (and right in line with other pastors quoted in the article) that this manuscript will have no affect on the faithful or on Easter celebrations. After all, the vast majority are in line with the Synod of 382, which obviously excluded this text. (and for obvious reasons) Why would the reappearance of the text change anything now?

    But that’s a lot of stuff that your post wasn’t really about.

    News agencies are news agenicies, and it isn’t likely that they’re going to change. Everyday I read headlines and think, “I don’t believe they could have worded that any differently to get the wrong–biased–meaning across”

    But alas, what can you do other than hope that people will actually READ and THINK for themselves and sift through all the mumbo-jumbo? (Maybe that’s why the Founders didn’t want us directly electing the President…who knows)

  2. Aaron Says:

    That’s just the problem: I don’t expect that most people will actually read and think for themselves. News agencies are in a position to greatly influence the way ordinary people think. I only wish they took this responsibility more seriously by recognizing their own biases instead of naively believing that they are only objectively reporting the facts.

    But, you are correct that individuals bear responsibility for making up their own minds.

  3. jenA Says:

    I’m a reporter. The story of the Gospel of Judas is news because it is just that. New.
    This is something that counters longstanding Christian tradition.
    It’s not bias to merely deliver information that counters traditional beliefs.
    We can’t win with anyone, ever, because you all want us to write in a way that makes you sound right, and your opponents sound wrong. But that is bias.
    Our only obligation is to be fair, to let everyone who chooses to participate in the discussion have a little space.
    If someone involved in a “news” medium chooses to ask questions and interview certain people who provide color commentary, to add some degree of perceived slant, that’s the prerogative and the “fault” of the powers-that-be for that particular network or station or publishing company or publication.
    You wonder why news media don’t dispel the “truth”. Christianity is your truth, friend. Agnosticism is someone else’s, and reincarnation still someone else’s.
    Reporting is and should be about the facts. That’s what a report is. The simple dissemination of information about our world that does no more than inform. Not educate, not influence, not advocate. Not our job.
    We dispel our personal (not organization-wide) perspective in editorials, the oppportunity for journalists to comment on the issues they must merely report in the other 45 percent of the paper (50 percent must go to ad space, to pay for things like ink and paper).
    Back to this Gospel of Judas business.
    You never know which sources will be able or willing to speak to you by your deadline, but the bottom line is that they have to have some relevance to the story.
    Suppose the text had merely supported the gospel books already used?
    would you feel the reports were biased then? Keep in mind, my friend says, the canon was established by a bunch of elite men who essentially did the choosing for themselves.
    If New Testament scholarship disputes the validity of such a text, by all means offer it up to the nearest publication in a letter to the editor.
    After all, your goal is to influence others in the way of Christ, and the Gospel of Judas apparently doesn’t help your case.
    As a reporter, I could care less that this news story rubs you the wrong way. You’re one of a million Christians who scorn my profession because it doesn’t scratch your back.
    I don’t watch television news with an ounce of respect, because I know how money and makeup have erased basic reporting principles.
    As a Christian, I believe what I believe. No new gospel or discovery, or mystery of the church that might “shake” the foundations of Christianity would make me think differently about my faith.
    And it wouldn’t make me feel as though my evangelical efforts had been dealt a harmful blow by biased anti-Christian liberal reporters.
    If you would like to read some fairly “intelligent” reporting, try the Christian Science Monitor. It actually is a pretty respectable publication.

  4. Aaron Says:

    Thank you, Jena, for your comment.

    I think you have misunderstood my argument. I am not saying that The Gospel of Judas should not be covered as a story. Nor am I saying that it should be covered from a Christian perspective. I am saying that this story, and dozens of others like it that I have seen, are usually covered with a very noticeable slant that stems from both bias and incompetence.

    Take this example:

    With regard to the Gospel of Judas, the story (I think it was on “Primetime”) talked about how experts have verified that it is, indeed, an ancient document and not a modern hoax. Now, that’s news to report, and I find it quite interesting. But the reporter went on to say something like this: “This means that the text is authentic, actually written by Judas.” None of the experts made that claim, and if you asked them I would suspect that most, if not all, would explicitly repudiate it. The Gospel of Judas is a Gnostic text that dates from the third century, not the first, but you wouldn’t know that from watching Primetime. You would think that this was something on par with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, in terms of its proximity to the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection. In truth, the Gospel of Judas tells us nothing about Jesus, but it does provide us with information about what early heretical Christian sects believed. In that regard, it is interesting and fair game for news. But news agencies always report on these things as though they overturn everything we thought we ever knew about Jesus, which is simply not the case at all.

    But the worst part about it all is when reporters sum up their story with the “we’ll never know what really happened, but it doesn’t matter because Christianity is based on a fairy tale anyway” line.

    I am not asking you to report from my perspective. I am asking you to recognize the systemic bias that exists within your profession and do whatever is necessary to address it.

    You wrote,

    “Keep in mind, my friend says, the canon was established by a bunch of elite men who essentially did the choosing for themselves.”

    This is simply not the case. Again, this reflects incompetence within your profession as to the actual facts of history. Don’t get your facts on early Christianity from Dan Brown. Go to the real sources, and you will find that the canon was established over a few centuries, as it gradually emerged within the context of the entire church. Church councils only ratified what the church at large had already decided with its practice. In terms of dating, all 27 books of the New Testament were written much earlier than any of the Gnostic texts that conspiracy theorists go wild over.

  5. Adam Phelan Says:

    Aaron, don’t accuse jena of incompetance in regards to the formation of the canon. I can’t speak for all journalists, but I know her well enough to know she’s done her homework on this stuff.

    I can understand her frustration though, your post comes across as someone who’s angry that the media doesn’t protect the church.

    As for me, I’ve enjoyed the conversations that have come from my many friends and aquiantences that have read the Da Vinci Code or seen news reports regarding things like the Gospel of Judas. I point out the same inacuracies you do, but I don’t feel the need to protect the Bible like its my weakling little brother. God’s big enough to handle the questions.

  6. Aaron Says:

    Adam, I don’t think you have read me fairly either.

    Incompetence is as incompetence does.

    [Please, please, please, hear me out when I say this: The word “incompetence” is not a synonym for “stupid”; as I am using it, it simply means “unlearned on a particular subject”. When it comes to the ins and outs of journalism, I am quite confident of my own incompetence. I think the same is true in the field of New Testament studies and early Christianity for many journalists. To say that the canon was formed by a group of elite men is simply not true to the historical facts.]

  7. Aaron Says:

    I did find this comment of Jena’s interesting:

    “I don’t watch television news with an ounce of respect, because I know how money and makeup have erased basic reporting principles.”

    This “open letter” was aimed primarily at television news, since that is pretty much the only source of news I have at this time (well, except for radio). I don’t read a lot of newspapers. I know I should, but I have never gotten into the habit. I have never felt like I had the monetary luxury to pay for a subscription.

  8. jenA Says:

    as to my friend’s comment about the canon, her point to me was that in our theology classes, the discussion came down to whether men ultimately decided which texts would most relevant to the church based on their intuition, the trend among current church teachings or direct inspiration from God.
    It begs the question, had such a text as this supposed gospel been found, would it be included in today’s New Testament?

  9. Cogito Says:

    Jena,

    Had this text been found (I assume here that when you say found you mean known to Christians in the early church)it would have been excluded from Canon just as the Gospel of Thomas, the Acts of Peter, and various other Gnostic texts were excluded.

    Now, had Gnosticism “won out”, if you will, instead of the system of beliefs that did in fact become orthodox, then we would have an entirely different ball game.

    But Gnosticism isn’t orthodox. Sure, at a time Gnosticism was a competing form of Christianity, albeit very different from what we think of as Christianity today. Early beliefs, before we had the stamp of “orthodoxy” were quite various and diverse around the time of the writing of the Gospel of Judas. (By the way, I might take issue with Aaron’s calling the text heretical, depending on how he defines heresy).

    But discovering another Gnostic text has no bearing whatsover on modern day orthodox Christianity or Canon. But if one was not well enough informed of early church developement the point could be easily over looked.

    I think that this is the point Aaron was trying to make in the orginal post. Many news agencies are covering the story without either providing or having a well established understanding of the text’s place in church history.

    Although some bias plays a role (it always does), it does not necessarily mean that the apparent “slant” as Aaron sees it, is intentional.

  10. Aaron Says:

    You are right, Cogito, about the unintentionality of the slant in reporting. This is the main premise of Bernard Goldberg’s book _Bias_, namely, that the mainstream press thinks that Western liberalism is simply the normative, objective way to view reality. Therefore, without knowing it, they automatically distort news in a liberal direction, all the while thinking they are only acting objectively.

    I would disagree, however, with where you place the historical development of “orthodoxy”. I was just reading about this yesterday in Frank Thielman’s book _Theology of the New Testament_. Thielman’s point is that even prior to the completion of the New Testament, an orthodox Christian tradition emerged, as is evident in such statements like Jude’s reference to “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). So much of the New Testament is written to combat heresy that I am driven to the conclusion that there was, indeed, a settled orthodoxy even in the first century.

    Jena, if I am not mistaken, I believe the Gospel of Judas was cited in a writing of Irenaus. Actually, I must correct something I said earlier: if Irenaus does cite the Gospel of Judas, then it must date earlier than the 3rd century, most likely the 2nd, which is still later than the New Testament. Anyway, my point is that this document was, apparently, known to the ancient church, and it was rejected as a heretical work of Gnosticism even back then.

  11. Cogito Says:

    That the tradition that is now orthodoxy existed in the first century is irrefutable.

    That both Peter and Paul ascribed to it is not.

  12. Aaron Says:

    Again, I disagree. The two letters of Peter indicate his substantial agreement with Pauline theology. 1 Peter is notorious for its Pauline flavor, and 2 Peter explicitly refers to “our beloved brother Paul,” whose letters he refers to as “Scripture”. Peter does not oppose Paul; rather, he opposes those who distort Paul’s teachings (2 Peter 3:15-17).

    That the Apostle Peter wrote both letters ascribed to him is a position I hold for both theological and historical reasons. Theologically, they claim to be written by Peter, and I don’t believe the Holy Spirit is a liar. Historically, good arguments can be made for Petrine authorship, but I must refer you to the discussions in such works as Carson, Moo, and Morris, _An Introduction to the New Testament_.

    The other relevant data of the New Testament indicate that Peter and Paul were in agreement about the gospel. The Jerusalem council of Acts 15 explicitly says so, as does Paul’s description of his relationship to the Jerusalem “pillars” in Galatians 1:18-2:10. Paul’s opposition to Peter described in Gal. 2:11-21 is not an opposition to “the Petrine school,” or whatever one might call it; it is, rather, Paul opposing Peter for failure to live up to the understanding of the gospel that both men shared. The book of Acts makes it clear, both in Peter’s proclamation to Cornelius (chapter 10) and in the Jerusalem council (chapter 15) that Peter and Paul were on the same page when it came to preaching the gospel of justification by faith alone, to all, both Jews and Gentiles. The incident described in Gal. 2:11-21 must, therefore, be a temporary lapse in Peter’s judgment, one that is out of step with the gospel he himself proclaimed, according to the preceding context of Galatians (see Gal. 2:7-9).

    Was your last comment intended to show an affinity for Bauer’s Hegelian hypothesis for the development of the New Testament?

  13. Cogito Says:

    I do think that the New Testament, like all other “histories”, was developed through a type of Hegelian synthesis. However I do not think that I would take it to the extent that Bauer did.

  14. Cogito Says:

    But the “lapse in judgement” as you call it…by Peter, Barnabas, and every other Jewish-Christian there…is exactly the point.

    Even here we see a divide between fundamental beliefs. On the one hand you have Paul who was preaching and converting Gentiles. On the other hand you have James, the Jerusalem church, and many other congregations who were requiring Gentiles to first become proselytes, observing the Jewish law, in order to become a Christian.

    The two groups each had a sizable following, as there were obviously many Gentile congregations in Antioch, Rome, and elsewhere and there were enough of the Jewish camp in Antioch to persuade even Paul’s traveling companion to change his mind.

    Paul, meanwhile, after the blow-up, leaves for the Aegean mission, never to return.

    But this is just two central groups that were closest to what we now call orthodoxy. Let’s not forget the many other groups, then and later, like the Marcionites, Ebionites, and Gnostics.

    Each of these groups felt they were as “orthodox” as the next, each had there own “scripture” though mostly lost (eh-hem, Gospel of Judas) and, based off the voluminous condemnations by the early church fathers, must have had sizable followings at one time.

    From a Hegelian perspective of New Testament developement it is easy to see that later authors would play down the divide between Paul and the “Pillars”.

    Remember that Galatians predates Luke-Acts and the likely target group for Luke-Acts were gentile congregations. Historiography is necessarily involved.

    But like I said before, I am but an arm chair theologian.

  15. Cogito Says:

    One last thing, I forgot that I wanted to point out the similarities of historiographical bias with the reporting bias that you orgininally posted about.

    Have a great Easter.

  16. Aaron Says:

    “On the other hand you have James, the Jerusalem church, and many other congregations who were requiring Gentiles to first become proselytes, observing the Jewish law, in order to become a Christian.”

    This is where I think you get it wrong. If this is the case, then Acts 15 should be ripped out of the Bible. I see Acts 15 as the “official” doctrine of the Jerusalem church, even though there may have been temporary lapses from time to time with men like Peter.

    Note the key word in Paul’s description of the lapse of Peter, the Jewish believers with him, and Barnabas: “hypocrisy” (Gal. 2:13). Paul condemned them for not measuring up to what they professed to already believe. If that were not enough, Paul goes on to say, “If you, though a Jew, LIVE LIKE A GENTILE AND NOT LIKE A JEW, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Gal. 2:14). Clearly, even from the evidence of Galatians, the Jerusalem church does not require devotion to the Jewish Law as a condition for following Christ. Even Peter didn’t live under the Law!

    This is the conclusion I draw when I let the texts speak for themselves.

    And a happy Easter to you too.

  17. Cogito Says:

    If Acts 15 was the official doctrine of the Jerusalem church, then why would it have caused Peter to act differently when followers from the Jerusalem Church where present? (Galatians 2:12)

    My explanation is in a previous post. (I do not, though, think Acts 15 should be ripped out of the Bible)

    Perhaps I chose two poor examples, since Peter, as you point out, switched positions a time or two. Remove “Peter and Paul” and replace “Paul and James” in the previous post instead. The point that everyone was not inline with Paul at that time remains unchanged.

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