Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Grumblers and gatekeepers

If those of us who claim to follow Jesus spent even half as much time praying about the things that concern us as we do grumbling about them, “liking” Facebook postings that advance meaningful dialogue in the same way that Sherman’s March to the Sea promoted sustainable land use, we may see some of the changes we’d like.

Rather than petitioning those whose views we loathe, we might do better to petition God on their behalf. After all, 1 Timothy 2: 1-2 exhorts us to pray for all those in high positions. While Presidents and politicians, and captains of industry and icons of culture may make it onto such a list for most Christians, I’d like to see an addition. Journalists.

Editors, anchors, and reporters fulfill an often seriously under-appreciated role in our society. It’s always struck me as significant that they have long been identified by academics as “gatekeepers,” a term that is rich with spiritual symbolism and meaning. In the same way that the original gatekeepers sat on a city’s walls and controlled the flow, our media gatekeepers determine what gets in and what gets out of our communities.

There’s a striking biblical example in 2 Kings 7. Samaria has been under siege by the Syrians and things are desperate. The Israelites are so hungry that they’re turning to cannibalism, when the prophet Elisha tells them not to worry, they’ll have so much food tomorrow that they won’t know what to do with it. Yeah, right, the people are thinking.

But four lepers stuck outside the city decide that, rather than starve to death where they are, they might as well go over to the camp of the surrounding Syrians and beg for mercy. But when they get there, they find the place deserted. God has caused the invaders to flee, leaving behind all their goodies.

The lepers start to grab gold and food, stuffing into their pockets and mouths, when one tells the others to hold on a minute. “We are not doing right,” he says (verse 9). “This is a day of good news.” So they go back to Samaria, and shout up to the gatekeepers, telling them what has happened. “Then the gatekeepers called out, and it was told within the king’s household,” the account explains. Before too long, the famished Israelites are feasting just as Elisha had said they would.

Gatekeeping is serious business; it shapes the lives of the people within the walls. And it works on two levels. As I have observed previously, reporting disciples people. It can cause them to follow in a direction that may or may not be good. But even if the news media doesn’t change or shape your thinking, if you’re too thoughtful to be swayed someone else’s point of view, it has another, more subtle affect. It sets the agenda in the first place.

Ever wondered if the shooting, the city council member resigning over an affair, the road closed by an overturned truck transporting rubber ducks, and the cute puppy wearing a Santa hat really were the absolutely most important things that happened today in your local television new station’s market? Says who?

In other words, the news media tells us what to think about first, and then tries to tell us what to think about it.

That’s quite a responsibility. So as we are praying for the people who control the flow of our money, who decide how to spend our tax dollars, let’s also pray for those who are controlling the flow of our information, who shape where we spend our attention. Whether that’s the cable news show you watch, the newspaper you read, or the website you have bookmarked. What are the names of the presenters, the producers, the editors, the writers?

Adopt one or two gatekeepers today. Pray for them, that when they are presented with good news, even from an unlikely source (lepers?), they may share it with the people, who may then see God satisfy their hunger.

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