The Bad Biblical Scholarship of Christian Radio

Well-funded, well-produced Christian radio stations are selling toxic waste as America’s only salvation.

On my recent 4,100-mile pilgrimage across the U.S., I occasionally used my radio’s “seek” function to find stations.

I often stopped on a “Christian radio” station, sometimes a national network such as American Family Radio, sometimes a local effort featuring preachers from area churches, always conservative.

I did so because I enjoy gospel music and I was curious what the radio preachers were saying.

They tended to be excellent speakers and well-prepared. But their message seemed frozen in time, as if nothing had changed in America since the 1950s, except for the identities of enemies who are allegedly “attacking Christians,” “attacking Christian values” and “attacking the American way of life.”

This siege mentality seemed basic to every preacher I heard. I suppose it’s one way to rally the troops. Get them fearful, angry and suspicious. It also prevents scrutiny of whether an attack actually exists, who’s attacking whom and what God’s stake might actually be.

In the 1950s, alleged attacks came from a “worldwide communist conspiracy.” Those attacks proved to be nonexistent, and Christianity wasn’t its target anyway.

Later, enemies included the supposed “free-love” culture of 1960s “hippies” and the anti-racism efforts of civil rights leaders. Today fear-mongering preachers name a black president and growing progressive movement that are out to destroy Christianity and to promote radical Islam or “secular humanism.”

The goal of these angry preachers seemed specific: promote laws and lawmakers who will restrict accepted morality to the narrow 1950s parameters of women under male control, gays in the closet, whites firmly in charge and free-market capitalism as true to the gospel. Never mind that Jesus taught the opposite of each principle. Never mind that white power, white privilege, limits on freedom, demonization of minorities and stifling of diversity have absolutely nothing to do with what God wants. These goals are what white conservative men want and what corporate interests will fund.

“It’s all about the ‘Benjamins,’” as they say. “Follow the money.”

It concerned me that so much well-funded and well-produced radio programming is selling this toxic waste as America’s only salvation. No wonder our political world is so angry and divided. When a sizable portion are being told that they are under attack — their faith, their Bible, their children, their homes, their nation — anger and its companion, fear, are the inevitable result, followed by armed aggression.

Another inevitable result is hubris: overweening pride based on the delusion of imminent attack means importance. If I am under attack, it must mean I am the center of all things. Hubris produces an “echo chamber,” in which people are told what they want to hear and reinforced in their outrage.

What I heard on stations from Arizona to New York was bad biblical scholarship — a flawed understanding of Scripture and thus of the God revealed in Scripture — feeding self-importance and a siege mentality, leading to isolation, resentment, ideological warfare and take-no-prisoners politics.

I couldn’t tell how much of this any one preacher intended or even saw. But I heard so much of the same thing that it alarmed me. I think American democracy hangs in the balance. Not to mention the gospel that Jesus actually proclaimed.

The opinions expressed in this piece belong to the author.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

  • nwcolorist

    Dear Mr. Ehrich, if I might say, your article is filled with generalities, stereotypes and misinformation. .

    First off, history has shown that there was in fact a “worldwide communist conspiracy”. In the 1950’s, the Soviet Union had the most successful espionage system ever known, infiltrating the governments of every major nation worldwide. Alger Hiss, one of the highest ranking officials in the State Department, was convicted of spying for Russia on a wealth of evidence. Though he claimed innocence to the end of his life, information released in the 1990’s has further confirmed his guilt.

    You are probably correct in saying that some of these preachers are trying to inflame their listeners. But then again the main stream media does the same, although with greater sophistication.

    Phrases such as “siege mentality” (twice), “rally the troops”, “angry preachers”, “toxic waste”, etc. only create the impression of extremism on your part.

    I do congratulate you on making a tour of the US and getting an idea of what the other America thinks and believes. I hope that at some point in the future, you will seek to engage those who are part of this culture in a respectful dialog, rather than treating them with contempt. There is much to be learned from such an endeavor.

  • Jon Herrin

    Mr. Ehrich, good observations. You are exactly right–a message of anger and fear is NOT the Good News of Jesus. On the other hand, I’ve only met one person in my 50 years of life who has claimed to have come to faith through a radio program–I suspect that Christian Radio is almost exclusively ‘consumed’ by Christians. That’s a relief…..

  • Martin Hughes

    This isn’t a hostile question but what is our reason for being so sure that Jesus taught that women should not be under male control, that gays should be open about their sexuality, that whites should not be in firm charge and that capitalist markets should be controlled?