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A 30-ring circus

Tribulations and trials highlight a fortnight’s news 

A 30-ring circus

Impeachment hearings play in a pub in Portland, Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

During the 1970s, former advertising executive Jerry Mander wrote about the early days of television, when only three channels existed: “It was as if the whole nation had gathered at a gigantic three-ring circus. Those who watched the bicycle act believed their experience was different from that of those who watched the gorillas or the flame eater, but everyone was at the same circus.”

The first two weeks of November felt more like a 30-ring circus in American news and politics, but many viewers watching the same act in the same ring weren’t seeing the same thing. 

As televised impeachment hearings began, American opinion appeared divided along political lines.

President Trump maintained that his scrutinized phone calls with the Ukrainian president had been “perfect.” Some Republicans agreed, but others might have resonated with former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley’s opinion: It’s not a good practice for a U.S. president to ask a foreign government to investigate an American, “but I don’t see it as impeachable.” 

Democratic presidential candidates faced pressure to render ironclad verdicts, and some candidates who also serve as senators seemed to have decided pre-trial: Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said the impeachment inquiry should proceed quickly because Trump is “probably the most corrupt president in the modern history of this country.” Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., put it simply: “Dude gotta go.”

Trump mulled testifying in writing, and he drew big crowds on the campaign trail. At a rally in Louisiana, he told a crowd that “evangelical leaders” had called to tell him: “The church has never been more energized as it is right now because of what they are trying to do to our president. Ever.”

Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Trump speaks during a rally in Louisiana. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

If that’s true, it’s tragic. 

Many evangelicals do support Trump and his policies, but if evangelical advisers are telling the president that political concerns should energize churches more than the Holy Spirit’s work of saving sinners through the cross of Christ for the glory of God, they’re dangerously misleading him (and themselves) about God’s purposes for the church. 

Trump’s Louisiana rally wasn’t enough to sway voters to oust Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards a few days later. The incumbent governor won his contest against a Republican challenger in the Deep South state on Nov. 16. 

Pundits parsed what the Republican loss might mean for 2020 elections, but Edwards’ victory might also signal something else: Democrats should pay more attention to pro-life candidates. In May, Edwards signed a bill aimed at banning abortion after an unborn baby reaches six weeks in the womb. 

Matthew Hinton/AP

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards celebrates his election night victory (Matthew Hinton/AP)

But on Nov. 18, one Democratic group rebuked such laws instead of learning from Edwards. The Democratic Attorneys General Association—a national committee for state attorneys general—announced it will refuse to endorse or assist any candidate who does not publicly support abortion. 

Meanwhile, a federal jury in California ruled against pro-life activist David Daleiden for publicly exposing abortion. 

After a six-week civil trial, the jury said Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress broke the law by secretly recording Planned Parenthood officials callously describing abortion procedures and discussing the sale of unborn baby parts. The price Daleiden could pay for his efforts to expose the industry: as much as $2.3 million in damages. 

Exposure of a different kind embarrassed a major television network in November: A leaked video showed ABC News anchor Amy Robach complaining that the network had refused to run her reporting on Jeffrey Epstein years before he was charged with sex trafficking of minors. (Epstein died in his prison cell in August.)

Caught on a hot mic between tapings, Robach told someone off camera: “I’ve had this [Epstein] story for three years. We would not put it on the air.” ABC later denied Robach’s claims, and the anchor walked back her comments.

Cultivating journalistic judgment starts long before editors and journalists are faced with a high-stakes national story, but that seemed lost on some college newspaper editors.

Editors at The Daily Northwestern profusely apologized for their paper’s coverage of a speech by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions at Northwestern University on Nov. 5. (Some students protested Sessions’ appearance.) Among the paper’s offenses: Reporters used a student directory to text sources and ask for interviews in advance.

If that sounds like basic news gathering, the editors lamented: “We recognize being contacted like this is an invasion of privacy.”

Meanwhile, some of the current and former editors of The Harvard Crimson joined a petition demanding the paper apologize for its coverage of a student rally calling for the abolition of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

The paper’s offense? A reporter asked ICE officials for a comment. (A student group complained that contacting ICE could harm undocumented students on campus.)

The Crimson’s president, Kristine E. Guillaume, explained the paper seeks comments from all subjects in an article. That’s Journalism 101, but Harvard’s undergraduate student government voted to support the petition to protest the paper for trying to get both sides of a story. (Ironically, ICE didn’t respond to the paper’s request for comment.)

It’s best for journalists (and readers) to learn early that covering the circus of news can be stressful, but it’s ultimately more stressful to back down from doing it properly.

WORLD’s editor in chief Marvin Olasky has recounted the story of John Stubbes, who faced true stress after writing a pamphlet criticizing Queen Elizabeth in 1579: Officials cut off his right hand. Olasky notes that the Christian writer under duress “set the pattern of respecting those in authority over us, while exposing their unbiblical actions.” 

Stubbes reportedly pulled his hat off with his left hand and cried: “God save the Queen.”

Jamie Dean

Jamie Dean

Jamie is WORLD’s national editor based in Charlotte, N.C. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

Comments

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  • SamIamHis
    Posted: Thu, 11/21/2019 11:01 am

    As a supporter of and one who voted for President Trump, the Lord has continually drawn me to pray for him that this very office of the presidency would humble this president and bring him to a right relationship with God through Jesus.  No other outcome is as important as that.  I desire results in the flesh but I am not the One who sovereignly holds today and the future.  I defer in all things to the One who will make right what seems impossibly wrong in this life.  

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Cyborg3
    Posted: Fri, 11/22/2019 02:22 am

    Jamie quotes the President: “The church has never been more energized as it is right now because of what they are trying to do to our president. Ever.”

    She goes on to say the following:

    "If that’s true, it’s tragic. 

    Many evangelicals do support Trump and his policies, but if evangelical advisers are telling the president that political concerns should energize churches more than the Holy Spirit’s work of saving sinners through the cross of Christ for the glory of God, they’re dangerously misleading him (and themselves) about God’s purposes for the church."

    Jamie, should we automatically assume the worst in Trump's statement? Is that showing Christian grace to our president?  Perhaps Trump was saying that the Christians have never been as politically charged as they are right now.  Was Trump speaking spiritually or politically? I would say most definitely politically! 
     

    As I sit here thinking about your comment, I cannot help but add more to this post. One of the most insidious attacks by the left on Christian Trump supporters is to call them morally defective or even Christian hypocrites.  They cry out, "How dare you call yourself a Christian when you support a racist, bigoted xenophobic, corrupt politician!" Ironically, you do the same by assuming the Christians supporting Trump would praise Trump in a sacrilegious or blasphemous way, as though we are in some fashion antiChrists or morally defective Christians. 

  • Bully54
    Posted: Fri, 11/22/2019 12:52 pm

    Worlds distaste for our current President has become increasingly obvious. Seem like Christians who excercised their public responsibility in voting/choosing this candidate are frequently being shamed by your publication. Sitting this one out ( which a dear friend did) was not an option for most of us, which in effect would be giving our vote to a candidate who unabashedly supports abortion. That will always be my initial litmus test for any candidate. 

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Sat, 11/23/2019 05:10 am

    Jamie, thanks for your balanced report. I note your appropriate use of the word "if" as a qualifier for your concerns about the potential implications of evangelical leaders and advisers support. That is spot on. I appreciate your, and World's, call to consider where our ultimate loyalties lie. 

    I can't erase the Moral Majority’s goals and ultimate failure. And if we are (and I believe we are) seeing this type of linking with President Trump the church, small "c", is truly in a tragic position. We know that the church is to represent the Church. No president should have unfettered support from the Church, regardless of his (maybe someday her) party affiliation, legislative agenda, Supreme Court/Federal Judge appointees, economic success or views on abortion.

    There are church members on both sides of the political divide. The so called Left and Right, Liberal and Conservative in my experience do not reflect the average people I meet at work, or in everyday discourse. These terms are (seemingly) intentionally divisive. Though this is the human condition and has been from the beginnings of the great American Experiment. And throughout recorded history.

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Cyborg3
    Posted: Mon, 11/25/2019 08:06 am

    How exactly is this balanced reporting? Jamie twists what Trump was saying out of context in the worst light! She does qualify it with an “if” but then she is claiming Trump is a liar if what he said is not true, which is not really much better.  She didn’t put in a qualifier that she may have misunderstood him and was taking his comment in the worst light - like she did. 

    I have enjoyed Jamie’s articles in the past, where some have provided much insight, but this article shows much political and moral confusion!  Many Christians seem to be obtuse to the fact that we are in a “life and death struggle” in our nation. There are forces in our nation that want our heads ripped off, because we are Christian. They want to kill our parents. They want to kill our children. They want to shut our churches down and erase our voice from the public square!  They want to impose their morality on society and will lie, cheat and steal to see their objectives accomplished! This political force is called the Democratic Party! 

    The Moral Majority was shut down by Falwell after they had accomplished their goals where several other organizations were also working and could take over the work. The goals were not illegitimate (nor a failure) and organizations outside of the church were valuable to allow Christians to exercise their rights in pushing their political agenda to reclaim America, as we continue even today. This allowed the churches to maintain their mission of evangelizing, shepherding the flock, and discipling believers without becoming too politically focused.  I agree with Jamie that the Church needs to be careful to not be sidetracked from it’s primary mission by political endeavors, where she could have just stated this without her judgmental interpretation of Trump’s statement that essentially took him out of context. The book "Power Religion The Selling Out Of The Evangelical Church?" goes into detail about some of the possible abuses, but unfortunately this has led many fine churches to withdraw almost completely from the political battle, which is a very serious mistake and ungodly! 

    You say the following:

    “No president should have unfettered support from the Church, regardless of his (maybe someday her) party affiliation, legislative agenda, Supreme Court/Federal Judge appointees, economic success or views on abortion.”

    No one said that Trump should get unfettered support, but this doesn’t mean we should not support and be loyal to the president when he is fighting many of our battles - where much of the pushback is due to his support of Christians.  In fact, I find it very troubling to find so many supposed Christians are unwilling to defend Trump when he is being mercilessly attacked by godless people who hate Trump because he is defending Christians, our values and our way of life. Many act as fair weather friends who would gladly see the Democrats win with their anti-Christ agenda! They are not only traitors to Trump but traitors to the Christian cause! Their vision is myopic for they fail to see that Satan can shut down the church using our state transformed into a hostile entity against Christians. Certainly, the state can never truly overcome the Church but our objective should be to keep our witness alive as long as possible where we lead peaceful and quiet lives with all dignity (see the following verses).  

    1 Timothy 2:1-4 English Standard Version (ESV)

    First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

    Having our churches shut down, Christians being jailed, and many other persecutions will significantly hinder the church from doing it’s job! We need to understand that the political realm is one avenue to attack the church. When we have a man like Trump fighting many of our battles then Christians should support him - pure and simple! 

    You also say the following:

    “There are church members on both sides of the political divide. The so called Left and Right, Liberal and Conservative in my experience do not reflect the average people I meet at work, or in everyday discourse.” 

    You seem to say that both political parties are morally equivalent where Christians support both parties! How outrageous is it to claim that the Democrats support of abortion is equivalent to the Republicans support of Life? How outrageous is it to claim that the Democrat’s push to eliminate religious freedom is equivalent to the Republicans support of religious freedom? How outrageous is it to claim that the Democrats support of transgenderism is equivalent to the Republicans opposition to it? How outrageous is it to say that the Democratic judicial nominees would be the same as the Republicans? How outrageous is it to say that the Democrats would support the Christian Church as much as the Republicans? Anybody who says the political parties are no different in regards to benefiting Christians has a broken moral compass! This of course could change in the future, but today this is very obvious!

    I want to say again that Jamie usually does an excellent job in her reporting but this article is not one of her best, but I am sure there are many great articles we can expect in the future! Blessings to her!