The Social Construction of Christian Leaders as Hypocrites

Several years, ABC’s newshow, 20/20, ran a story about a Southern California pastor, K.C. Price, and it showed a film clip of Price saying:
“I live in a 25-room mansion, I have my own $6-million yacht, I have my own private jet and I have my own helicopter and I have seven luxury automobiles.”
Sounds terrible, doesn’t it. Yet another instance of Christian leaders gone bad! Why, Diane Sawyer even expressed shock that a preacher would have this kind of wealth.
There’s only one problem… it’s not true. Price prefaced this statement by saying he was hypothetically “quoting a hypothetical person with great material wealth who failed to follow a righteous path.”
So, 20/20 was dead wrong; they’ve issued retractions, and now they are being sued. (Story from the LA Times).

This raises an interesting issue: Why does the media so frequently portray Christian leaders as hypocrites?

One reason is that it’s interesting.
A fundamental motivation for the media is increasing viewership, so any story that would broadly appeal will be prominently featured. This is why they carry endless stories about Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan.
It’s also why we think crime is always getting worse when in fact it has mostly gotten better over the past two decades–murder and crime makes for a good story.
It’s also why so many people think that flying in commercial airlines is so dangerous. As I understand it, it’s safer than driving, but plane wrecks make good copy.
Stories about the many, many Christian leaders acting like Christians would be boring. Instead, let’s find the stories of leaders doing wrong.

Another reason is a different standard of wrong-doing.
Is it newsworthy for a man separated from his wife to with another women? Not unless its Jim Baker, then it’s front-page material.
Is it right for a man to hire a ? No, but it probably won’t be nationwide, interrupt-this-program-bring-you-breaking-news important unless its Ted Haggard.
Is it wrong for a CEO to have an extravagant house? No way… we would normally celebrate it, unless of course it’s KC Price. (At least what we think he has, according to 20/20).
This constitutes a form of status offense. Things that are acceptable, or at least not a big deal, for most people are grievous offenses for Christian leaders.
As such, the media disproportionately emphasizes Christian leaders as hypocrites when in fact I would imagine they are among the most ually chaste, financially prudent and overall moral people in society.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting an anti-Christian bias, per se, rather this is how the media works. It’s the same reason that the media so often portrays blacks as criminals and Muslims as terrorists.
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  • Anar

    I think we all need to learn and pass-on a healthy distrust of what the media is suggesting. They can get facts right, but they select specific facts and their interpretation is often forcing the facts to fit some grand narrative they are trying to tell. It takes work to filter this out, and I’ve found just taking in less mainstream media can help. Especially with the internet, seeking out diverse sources is a good practice. I would rather spend 10 mins looking for an interesting source (like this blog) than using that 10 mins watching a 20/20 story. What I consider interesting is when I see it is coming from a different and alternative perspective.