Don't lose your prophetic calling for partisan politics

Marko Joensuu         No comments
In recent years, large parts of the prophetic movement in America have become increasingly vocal in the area of politics, bringing a “prophetic” voice into the political marketplace. Often, these “prophets’ place the spiritual future of America in the hands of electors—if the candidate they promote wins, America will be saved, if he or she loses, America will face damnation. 

In their competition to be kingmakers, these “prophets” go through the Republican candidate list in hope of finding the winners, whilst simultaneously trying to hedge their bet by not overcommitting.  So we have had prophets making Romney a president and then recanting, and others making Donald Trump a messenger of God—not quite the president, but close enough, if he happens to win.

A few years ago, a friend of mine was invited to the Republican Party headquarters with some of his friends in the American prophetic movement. To him, it looked like these prophets had become the  “prophetic” wing of the Republican Party rather than acting as an independent voice, challenging politics and politicians from biblical perspective. And those that do seem to criticise the Republican Party often merely reflect the internal rivalries in the party. 

What happened to the prophets? Why did they all suddenly become political commentators? 

Polarisation of the US political and media systems 

This development of the prophets becoming political commentators is not a prophetic development at all, but merely a reflection of a profound change that has taken place in the area of political communication due to the way the Internet and cable TV have fragmented the way we consume news.  

In the new media environment, media audiences and consumers tend to stay within their own “tribe” with interactions between tribes often becoming increasingly hostile.

In the new media environment the conservatives label anything they dislike as the product of the “liberal media” whereas the liberals mock anyone who watches Fox News.

Never before have facts been as opinionated as today. In fact, we are living in a media environment where every fact is contested if it is in contradiction with your own political views. In large parts of the Charismatic Church, this has nearly completely killed critical thinking.

Sometime ago Pew Research Center published their research on the political polarisation of media habits.

According to the research, consistent conservatives tend to be tightly clustered around a single news source, far more than any other group in the survey, with 47% citing Fox News as their main source for news about government and politics. According to the survey, conservatives express greater distrust than trust of 24 of the 36 news sources measured in the survey. At the same time, fully 88% of consistent conservatives trust Fox News. When they are on Facebook, they are more likely than those in other ideological groups to hear political opinions that are in line with their own views.

By contrast, those with consistently liberal views are less unified in their media loyalty; they rely on a greater range of news outlets, including some—like NPR and the New York Times—that others use far less.

They express more trust than distrust of 28 of the 36 news outlets in the survey. NPR, PBS and the BBC are the most trusted news sources for consistent liberals. They are more likely than those in other ideological groups to block or “defriend” someone on a social network—as well as to end a personal friendship—because of politics. Also, they are more likely to follow issue-based groups, rather than political parties or candidates, in their Facebook feeds.

In the growing social media space, most users encounter a mix of political views. But consistent conservatives are twice as likely as the typical Facebook user to see political opinions on Facebook that are mostly in line with their own views (47% vs. 23%). 

Vitally, a Pew Research major report on political polarisation found, those at both the left and right ends of the spectrum, who together comprise about 20% of the public overall, have a greater impact on the political process than do those with more mixed ideological views. They are the most likely to vote, donate to campaigns and participate directly in politics. 

What does it all mean?

Put simply, in the polarised media environment, “tribes” tend to follow the news produced for their own tribe and distrust any news that they dislike. And much of these news is now produced by the right and left ends of the spectrum rather than being an end product of a balanced search for facts.

It seems to me that opinion has now largely replaced balance as value when it comes to producing and consuming news. Many newsmakers now appear to see themselves as opinion shifters rather than seekers of truth.

It is a very different world from the world I joined when I graduated from the Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communications twenty years ago where the value of objectivity—even when recognised as an unattainable goal—still directed news making. 

Rather than assessing news based on their factuality, news are now divided between “friendlies” and “hostiles”. Friendly news are to be defended, regardless of their level of factuality, and hostile news are to be rejected regardless of their factuality. 

What matters in tribal world isn’t truth but loyalty to the tribe.

Drastic reduction of factuality in online news

The polarisation of news has been accompanied with special interest groups taking over much of the online reporting. You might think that when non-profit organisations take over producing news, nothing is lost, but in real terms, these organisations are much more interested in propagating their cause than truth.

After Broadcast News: Media Regimes, Democracy and the New Information Environment by Bruce A. Williams and Michael X. Delli Carpini explains how this polarisation of news and audiences is a result of the fragmentation of media. Today, there isn’t much of such a thing than consistent national news left, but rather fragmented versions of national news served to different audiences—often painting conflicting views of the world.

Many years ago, here in Britain, much of the nation would gather around BBC News every evening. Obviously, BBC has always had its own bias and never reached the Holy Grail of objectivity but at least the nation was debating over the same facts.

Not anymore.

The fragmented media no more paints one largely consistent picture of the world created by media and political elites, a world everyone can talk about, disagree with, fight over. Instead, media now creates many pictures of the world that sometimes have very little overlap. 

The public, especially the young people, are turning away from traditional sources of political information. And increasingly the line between news and entertainment and other genres has been blurred, so that many young people get their political news from comedy shows. 

According to Williams and Carpini, the question of how to understand the truth claims made in a wide variety of conduits of political information is one of the greatest challenges we are facing, such has been the blurring between facts and opinion. 

In the past, journalists as gatekeepers limited the conversation but in most cases it also demanded a level of factuality. 

But as Daniel Patrick Moynihan says, “You are entitled to your own opinion but not to your own facts.” 

Williams and Carpini write: “First, while the explosion of conduits through which political information flows opens up many more sources of information than ever before, it also means the collapse of the gatekeeping system that allowed, at least in theory, the vetting of information by professional journalists for its reliability and accuracy. So, although it is possible to gather information from a wide variety of sources, the origin and reliability of that information is often difficult to judge.”

We can see this clearly in social media. I am genuinely worried about the low level of media literacy of many Christians that often pass on propaganda masqueraded as news without any fact-checking. To me, fact-checking has become an integral part of Christianity.

Williams and Carping add, “Second, making the evaluation of political information even more difficult is the ideological and informational segregation made possible in the news media environment.”

You can spend all your time with news sources you are in ideological agreement with agreeing on statements that with basic research can be proven to be lies. But sometimes you need someone from a different political camp to tell you that what you pass on and believe in are in fact lies. That’s why it’s good to have friends you disagree with.

Negative tone of social media

Social media has certainly made the overall tone of much conversation about politics online very negative. But as Christians, we must remember that God has given us a higher standard when it comes to life and communications than the standard of the world.

Just this morning, I read Romans 13, and it seems that even when I disagree with many policy choices of the current British government, the apostle Paul still exhorts me to respect that government, cooperate with it, and pray for it. 

That’s the biblical standard. 

Controlling the Message: New Media in American Political Campaigns, edited by Victoria A. Farrar-Myers and Justin S. Vaughn, brings together research on the use of new media in the 2012 US presidential election campaigns. According to the researchers, the emergence of new media at the turn of the 21st century gave more opportunities for individuals and groups outside traditional spheres of power to exert influence over the transmission of political information and ideas. This gave rise to political blogs by writers that aren’t following journalistic or academic standards when writing about politics. Many of these writers, often resourced by political interest groups, have resorted to “attack politics”, which has brought a largely negative tone to media.

This negative tone hinders positive conversation between opposing groups. According to this research, “The primary difference between traditional and social media tone is that social media tended to be more negative than traditional news.”

According to their research on Obama and Romney’s campaigns, “partisan processing” of messages has taken over, and reinforces existing beliefs. The effects of media exposure seemed to be entirely conditional on the respondent’s party political affiliation—audiences saw any media event negatively or positively largely along party lines. 

Like I said before, in this new environment, facts are either “hostile” or “friendly”, and their truth value is contested not based on their factuality but based on whose side they are on. 

This is reinforced by self-selective exposure in social media networks so that people are opting to expose themselves to attitude-congruent messages and interact with homogenous friend networks only. 

Social media communication is or has become ideologically segregated with different tribe members talking to their tribe members only, and opposing the views of members of other tribes, regardless of the level of factuality. 

The negative tone is worst in the comment threads on news sites: unlike the old-fashioned opinions that were filtered in the newspapers, the online comments are largely unfiltered and display “levels of incivility that were at times shocking and generally disappointing.”
This same level of incivility is evident even in Christian conversations about politics online.

It seems that we are reflecting the world rather than influencing it. 

In the fragmentation of media we have lost the common public sphere were people who disagree meet, and contest each other’s facts.

We can see this partisanship in conversation about the Iran Nuclear Deal that, contrary to how many believe, has actually been designed to stop Iran from getting their hands on a nuclear weapon. 

Most Republican commentators were rejecting the nuclear deal before they knew anything about its content. Most Christians who oppose the deal have never looked at the actual contents of the deal, but instead rely on political commentators for their opinion.

Have you read the contents of the Iran Nuclear Deal?

Now,not reading it and commenting about it might be alright when it comes to the ethics of a party political activist but it’s not alright when it comes to a Christian—or a prophet.

I don’t think a prophet should talk against the Iran Nuclear Deal without actually reading its contents. He or she might come to the conclusion that it indeed is a bad deal, but unless a prophet actually reads it, there is not much he or she should say about it.

Prophetic responsibility for factuality and truthfulness

Now, you might contest with me and say that I am bashing Republicans but leave the Democrats alone. But I am doing this for the simple reason that most of the American prophetic movement is firmly within the Republican camp. 

In essence, this article is not about your political leanings, but a cry for truthfulness and basic-level factuality within the prophetic movement.

Unfortunately, the message of many “prophets” today isn’t much different from a party-political broadcast. Prophets make bold statements without bothering to check basic facts. 
When it comes to truthfulness and factuality, prophets should be the standard bearers. After all, they spend a lot of time—or should be spending a lot of time—with God who cares a lot about truth.

“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)

“Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.” (Psalm 51:6)

“Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.” (Proverbs 12:22)

“A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.” (Proverbs 16:28)

Every prophet’s dream is to be a “prophet to the nations” as Jeremiah was. That’s why any attention from political leaders from either side can easily feed their pride. 

But prophets have a responsibility to truthfulness and factuality. They can’t afford to become false witnesses for political gain. They have a responsibility to fact-check when they write or talk about political affairs. 

Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, and politics is not an exception. I believe that God absolutely hates the low level of factuality within the prophetic movement. 

Right now, we are seeing a destruction of a whole prophetic movement in the USA, simply because prophets don't bother checking facts. Rather than speaking to the nations, many of these prophetic leaders have unwittingly become puppets of political interest groups. Not all of the destruction is taking place because of party politics, but party politics certainly have a huge part to play.  

I don’t care if you are Democrat or Republican—please don’t lie about politics in the name of the Lord. Don’t throw away your prophetic calling because of partisan politics.

For more on the gift of prophecy, read my book Five Movements: Winning the Battle for Your Prophetic Gift.

Published by Marko Joensuu

Marko Joensuu has worked for over sixteen years in the publishing and media ministries of Kensington Temple. He is an author, publisher and screenwriter.
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