We have entered a negative feedback loop, and the Spin Zone is killing us.
Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner
For the last few months I have been encouraging anyone I council and even placing in sermons exhortations to turn off the news media and social media, or at least spend a lot less time paying attention to them, and spend more time reading their bibles. I have hit this really hard in recent weeks after a report from Lifeway came out that said that Bible reading is at an all-time low among older American Protestants. This is not because I do not want my people to be informed, on the contrary, I want them to know what is true about a situation, but it is nearly impossible to get to the cold hard facts of a situation while listening to the 24-hour spin cycle. Our news cycle now moves so fast it is impossible to remember what happened last week, if not yesterday. Combine that with an April PBS independent report that found that up to 70% of what can found on the internet about the Coronavirus Pandemic is false or intentionally misleading. It is September, by the way, and it has only gotten worse.
I suppose that this is the point, the constant changes in the news cycle, is meant to desensitize so that we cannot keep up with what is happening or are even scared of what is happening. It has another effect too, it has made us all increasingly negative towards one another. Let me be clear here, I am not saying that the media is the enemy of the people, there is responsible and ethical journalism going on in our world, it just gets lost in the muck and mire of everything else going and is often called “fake” even though it is more real then what those calling it “fake” are listening too. I have long stopped watching cable news because I have no desire to enter the “spin zone” where emotions take over and responsible reporting goes out the window. I am old enough to remember when my parents talked about leaders and media types having good character and I internalized a lot of that, I can still remember when our politics and media had some semblance of civility. Now, everything is in the spin zone and even what is passed off as responsible reporting would be better left in the Op-Ed section. Add to it the deep partisan divide in our country and it becomes a self-completing feedback loopoo fueled by negativity about some perceived “other” who is going to come and steal all your pizza rolls in the middle of the night. The corruption means we are a nation of children being governed by children who think their political savior is the only adult in the room.
It is tiring, and it is fueling a crisis of negativity, and yes, the “Spin Zone” is killing us.
I have said for awhile that not many, especially on the right, though the left struggles with this as well, to articulate in the positive, everything is articulated in the negative. That means, we are very good at articulating what we are against, but we are not good at articulating what we are for. Conservatives call ourselves “Pro-Life” but the “Pro-Life” platform today could be better designated as the “Anti-Abortion” movement, it fails to be what it once aspired to, a womb to tomb pro-life from conception to the grave movement. That does not mean there are not “Pro-Life” conservative groups out there running organizations that actually operate on a “Full Life” principle, but that the popular voices in the movement are defined more by Anti-Abortion rhetoric, rather than truly “Pro-Life” rhetoric. We are quick to say: “All Lives Matter” when someone says “Black Lives Matter” but our actions sadly do not back up the idea that All Lives, in fact, do matter. Yet if we are going to say that “All Lives Matter” then we need to grieve with the grieving families when a black man is killed in police custody and demand justice for that loss of life. While at the same time, seeking what is best for our police officers rather than just participating in #Activism and posting a Facebook post of solidarity that ignores the broken system that is not working for our officers either (the suicide rate among officers was around 30% in 2019 and will likely be worse in 2020). These things just look good, but do not offer solutions to extremely complicated problems and they are of course, tribalism at its worst. If you really support first responders, especially police, advocate for the training and mental health resources they need to do their jobs in a healthy manner that benefits the communities they are policing and the officers themselves. I hate what I am deeming “performativism” because it is a means of assuaging the conscious without acting one ones convictions. I feel the same way about Veteran’s Day, thanking those who served while the suicide rate among veterans is 22% and there are 67,000 Homeless veterans, while the VA system is broken and in desperate need of repair. It is easy to be an armchair quarter back, but make the sacrifice necessary to make a change for the benefit of all Americans…
I have written before on Performative Christianity and the dangers therein, the danger in what I am describing above is that we end up with a lot of people saying a lot of things and no one is actually doing anything and those that are need the calming voice of a leader to help them channel their energy but do not even have that. Instead, divisions are being stoked, the flames fanned, and Rome burns along with her citizens. The secular world has no way to stop this, but the church does and it should not be the practice of the church to take a side because both the protests over police killings and the state of policing for the officers themselves are life issue and they are also justice issues. Life because they do harm to the communities and the officers who do the policing and justice because a system that is unjust for one group is unjust to the other. Oppression harms both oppressed and oppressor, Christian reconciliation should eliminate both categories. If I really care about someone, I am not just going to post a picture on Facebook claiming solidarity, I am going to walk with them and I am not going to enable destructive behaviors and claim that by letting them destroy themselves I am actually loving them, that is not love.
One thing we have heard throughout the shutdowns and we have collected a good amount of data on is an increase in the number of people in poor mental health. Panic Attacks, general Anxiety and other treatable mental health outcomes have seen an increase as isolation and uncertainty mount. We were already becoming a more isolated society, with a 15% rise in youth who experience loneliness and isolation on a regular basis. Meaningful connections that seemed inherent in the older generations are not forming in younger people. Add to an already isolated populace a 24-hour news cycle that is loaded with negative spin, fear-mongering and images of chaos and people shouting at one another, and negative feeds negative, and the depression deepens.
I should not have to say that this is unsustainable, but it seems necessary, and as someone asked me recently: “Where is the Church?” Well, it seems we are only participating in and perhaps even adding to the chaos and mess. Instead of being the people of God in prayer “At the place the world is in pain” (N.T. Wright). We play the game of “Whataboutism” or “Bothsideism” or participate in the world’s performativism when we have both real solutions and real positivity to offer the world. Christianity should not be candy-coated, artificial light, instead we are simply joining the fray, or offering greeting card spirituality when real, gritty, in the trenches, praying over phone calls and deep listening are required.
It should be the Bible that influences our worldview and not the news media or social media and yet, we are allowing both to determine what we think and feel about the world. We should be a people of prayer, and of repentance, instead of a people who inspire fear and doubt among the masses. We have a great savior who has already overcome the grave, the world has its whims and flimsy hopes. Which is greater? The comparison is not even close.
Christians, hear this exhortation, turn off the TV, stop Googling, start reading the Word of God. Get out of the negative spin zone where you are being actively told to fear, something Jesus tells us not to do, hate your enemies, again, Jesus says not to do this, and think in black and white about issues that require a lot of grey area. Shake off the constant droning of the spin zone and go sit in the front yard with your neighbor or your pastor. Talk about the world from the perspective of the Holy Spirit, not through the perspective of the news or social media. Do the gritty work that is required in a life of faith in Jesus Christ.
And please, please, please, read and study the word of God. To Him be glory and honor forever and ever, Amen.
Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center