Anti-Christian bias mostly a media myth

One day back in 2001, a student said to me, "Professor, I guess you're a big Paul Martin supporter." A little surprised, I asked how he concluded that.

"It's easy," he said. "In your lectures, you criticize 'the Chretien government,' not 'the Liberal government.' So obviously you're a Liberal but from the Martin wing of the party." The student was testing to see if I was biased, and found evidence to support his hypothesis. But he was wrong, and in the next class I made sure to say critical things about Paul Martin.

People, including Christians, are often too quick to conclude someone is biased. I see more and more about "anti-Christian bias" in the media. But I'm not always so sure.

There's a difference between bias and ignorance. There's no doubt that much of the secular media portrays a distorted picture of Christianity. But sometimes it's because journalists don't have much exposure to the full range of modern Christianity. Most reporters try to be fair and accurate; few, if any, are actually "anti-Christian." But they may only hear the loudest and most confrontational voices, so that's the impression they get of Christians.

When Stockwell Day hit the national scene in 2000, many journalists didn't know what to say about a candidate who wouldn't campaign on Sundays. Unlike Preston Manning, Day did a poor job of communicating how he approached the relationship between his faith and politics. This allowed certain Liberals (who were biased) to attack Day's faith, and the media reported what they saw. But in my view, this was partly because Day himself failed to clearly explain his own views. It wasn't necessarily media bias.

Just because you disagree with a range of people doesn't mean that they all agree with each other. But I often hear conservatives talk about "the left" as one big monolith. The same thing happens in reverse too—many leftists use the label "neoliberal" for anyone they disagree with. Too often there's an assumption that everyone has all banded together against you, and a failure to try and understand the differences between your opponents. Eventually, everyone does become biased against you, but only because you chose to be biased and closed-minded first.

Christians may lapse into this everyone's-against-us attitude whenever they hear anything skepticalabout Christianity and public expressions of Christian values—say, attempts to keep Christmas carols out of schools. "Anti-Christian bias!" they cry. But look carefully. Distinguish between openly hostile and more moderate views. Often everyone—especially a school principal at Christmastime—is struggling to find the right solution, and there's an opportunity to explain and persuade, not just confront. Don't take everything as a direct attack.

Of course, some people really are biased against public expressions of Christian faith. But we overestimate the degree of open hostility, and much can be countered by better witnessing and more careful listening. If you're looking for bias you'll find it, like my student did. But that doesn't mean it's actually there.

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About the author

ChristianWeek Columnist

Jonathan Malloy is an associate professor of political science at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario.