“Boring” Christians and sensationalism in news and scholarship

It appears that mainstream journalists are not the only ones to give disproportionate attention to the sensational. We must always remember that if the news were “fair and balanced” it would be, above all, boring. But the mundane is, by definition, not “news”. But it IS life. In academia, sociologists, anthropologists, and archeologists set out to find life. But where do their noses often lead them? To news!

Philip Jenkins, in his discussion of Christianity in post-colonial Africa, laments how many scholars have chosen to study small independent and unorthodox movements. These small groups often follow a local leader who reports dreams and prophecies. Even in the most inclusive estimates, these groups account for less than 10% of Christians in Africa. Where is the motherload of Africa’s now 400 million Christians? In “boring” churches: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, etc. (though often charismatic flavours of these). Now what could be more mundane than interviewing some Catholics about what they believe? Isn’t that all written down somewhere already? But if we wish to understand the face of Christianity in the next half century, that’s exactly who we need to be talking to. Reform movements should focus their energy there, rather than cleaning up a few recent heretics that may have sprung up here and there in the power vacuum.

Another example: In my hometown, during the last election season, I saw hundreds of Obama bumper stickers. It seemed like every other car I passed had one pasted on the rear. I could count on perhaps two hands the number of (who was it?) McCain/Palin stickers I saw. But come election night, the Republican candidate carried the state without breakin’ a sweat. What gives? The progressives are noisy and the conservatives are, by nature, boring. That’s a big part of what being conservative is all about.

The news anchor interviews someone interesting, someone loud, down in the square occupying wall street or shouting something curious. He doesn’t interview the bloke that just walked past the camera on his way to the office, munching on a bagel from the little stand on the corner. That guy is totally boring. Forget him.

What Christians get all the “buzz”? Rob Bell and his velvet-covered books, Mark Driscoll with his macho-man antics, Ted Haggard and his gay lover, Robert Schuller and his bankrupt Cathedral, Jeremiah Wright and his liberation theology, Fred Phelps and his tiny group of outlandish protesters. Who will never get any airtime? Thousands of long-faithful priests, thousands of flawed, but loving, caring, and effective pastors and laymen.

Standing far above all of these men, who are the people most “boring” of all? Who are the ones utterly ignored by modernism? Stay-at-home mothers! Chances are, they are most often the boring Christians too. The guy walking to work with the bagel from earlier? Also a Christian. Faithful, flawed, boring. Makin’ the world go round even more than you can imagine.