Fake news


Yesterday the office of the president of the General Conference released a statement concerning its position on the ordination of female pastors. It announced a change in the strategy of the denomination with respect to this issue. I quote: ‘The top leadership of the church will no longer pursue any possible actions against church entities that are non-compliant with the church’s policies. In stead, the leadership has agreed that it is the prerogative of the unions to determine who will be ordained to the ministry.’

I wish such a statement had indeed come from Silver Spring. But, alas, it is fake news. As I wrote these lines I realized how easy it would have been to disseminate this ‘news.’  I could have sent it to my two thousand Facebook friends, with the request to share this piece of fantastic news on their own FB page!

Just a week or so ago the Euro-Asia Division (Russia, Ukraine and a  number of other former Soviet nations) had to send out a formal declaration stating that the ‘news’ which had been widely circulated through the social media–that the Russian government had formally closed the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Russia–was, in fact, fake news!

The term ‘fake news’ has lately been on many lips and has become a major issue.  How much of what the media report can be trusted?  How do we know that what we read on Facebook is actually true?

But an even bigger problem is that much of the news that we consume is very subjective and one-sided, and that it is often very difficult to get a complete and balanced picture of what is going on. I am very interested in what happens in the United States and follow closely all the issues in which President Trump is embroiled. But I realize that the Dutch media, by and large, are quite anti-Trump. I also realize that the on-line edition of the Washington Post that I read (or at least scan) every morning is not exactly Trump-friendly. And it is clear that CNN (which is one of the foreign channels I have on my tv) would be very happy to see the president impeached in the near future.  Recently I was staying in a home in which Fox-news was quite popular. I knew that the Fox news network has a totally opposite view from that of CNN. I greatly dislike Fox, but I must admit that maybe some of the things they say have some validity, and that possibly some of the reports of CNN are somewhat skewed and praise is not always given where it may also, from time to time, be due. The question may not be: Is it ‘fake’ or ‘real’, but does what I read or see cover the different aspects of a topic in a fair, equitable way.

Denominational media, at least to some extent, are in the same boat.  How do we get a balanced picture of the things that are happening in the church? I am a daily reader of the websites of Spectrum and Adventist Today. I appreciate the fact that they are not afraid to handle some hot topics that the church is confronted with. Women’s Ordination to the ministry and issues around sexual orientation figure prominently in these media. And it is clear that the voices that speak out on these subjects are mostly on the ‘progressive’ side.  With considerable justice it might be argued that these ‘progressive’ media are rather one-sided. But the same would be true for the Adventist Review and for Adventist World in which the reader finds a great deal of ‘spin.’ It focuses mostly on the successes of the initiatives that come from on high, and on the steady growth of the church, but very little on the problems and immense challenges the church faces.  There are many dubious things we would never have heard of, if it had not been for Spectrum and Adventist Today.

Of course, it must be admitted that different media may have different missions and may target different audiences. But that admission does not eliminate the problem.  How can we get reasonably balanced and objective information about what happens in society as well as in the church?  In any case, it requires that we try to gather our information from various sources and remain alert to see where important questions are dodged and where a major dose of ‘spin’ is applied.  Only then can we have a better chance to discover what is ‘fake’ or one-sided, and what seems to be trustworthy.