Creating Our Own Reality on the Internet

IMG_6055Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Matthew 10:16 ESV

I saw the headline in this picture posted on Facebook. Since it wasn’t your normal clickbait title, I followed the link. In that article, which was on a super-uber-ultra-conservative-just-short-of-KJV-Only-kind-of-vibe website, I was shocked by the comments of the pastor of Hillsong NYC and one of the people in the picture, who seemed to be on staff as part of the worship team, at least as far as this article portrayed them.

I was deeply troubled. I met some of the Hillsong people from Australia when I lived in Orlando. I know a guy who attends Hillsong NYC. I wondered just how connected the NYC church was to the rest? It just didn’t sit right. Not just because the website was pretty opinionated. But it didn’t fit with my own experience with Hillsong’s people or ministry.

So, I contacted my friend who goes there. He gave me the low down. Yes that couple attended. One of them may have been in some sort of quasi-leadership in the choir as a volunteer, but once the church leadership found out about the two men they approached them privately, and after that conversation the couple left the church.  Apparently the couple went on the show Survivor, and when the audition tapes were released by CBS, church leadership became aware of the situation and went to the couple.

That’s a little different than “Hillsong NYC Church has an “Engaged” Openly Homosexual Couple Leading the Choir” isn’t it?

I did a little digging and found that they were pulling quotes out of different articles from all over the place, from as far back as October 2014. And many of these posts were on conservative news or opinion sites.

I later found an article from the Christian Post from back in October of 2014 where Brian Houston, the pastor of Hillsong, had issued a statement correcting some quotes that were in a New York Times article from the same time period. The NYT quotes were the ones used in this new August of 2015 post. In the statement the pastor released he says (among other things); “”Nowhere in my answer did I diminish biblical truth or suggest that I or Hillsong Church supported gay marriage… I challenge people to read what I actually said, rather than what was reported that I said. I believe the writings of Paul are clear on this subject.”

Then I ventured into the comment section because I wanted to let them know what I had found out. Obviously this is an opinion site, not a news site, but the story they had cobbled together for their opinion was factually wrong. The site was making some strong allegations, but had not contacted the church for any statement. Several people in the comments were talking about the inaccuracies of this article.

When I posted my information, the author of the post replied by reposting one of the same quotes from his article. This quote was from January, and said some weird stuff. Things that needed to be addressed by the church. And according to my friend who attends there, it had been addressed. Context and timing matter. They refused to accept that their version of reality was wrong. I intentionally did not include a link to the article because of that fact. You can search the title and find it if you really want to see it. There is at least one more article on the same subject that appears to have gotten all of the content from the original-incorrect post.

So, here’s a very conservative website, quoting from other conservative websites and cherry picking quotes from other publications to create their own version of reality. They are creating a story from information that is more than 6 months old. Any information that differs with this story is either not mentioned, or denied by the authors when mentioned in the comments. I noticed that there was quite a bit of traffic on the post, and there were no less than 11 advertisements running down the side of this little webpage. And from the comments, a lot of people were eating it up. I guess an article on a church that actual does biblical discipline wouldn’t generate the page views they needed for ad revenue?

This is not healthy. No matter what kind of views you have on any ideas, generating content in this kind of echo chamber is bad news. And it’s very common online.

Recently there were a rash of false news stories that Christians shared without bothering to find out if they were true. Remember that one from “NBC(dot)CO” instead of .com? This sort of thing has been going on for a long time. I used to get 2-3 emails a year saying that a famous atheist (who had been dead for years) was suing to get all religious TV off the air. That was actually a lawsuit from decades ago that was filed by someone else. and thrown out of court. But someone had put the hoax together and well-meaning, but flat wrong, Christians kept falling for it.

Please, please, when you read something online, look at the source. Do some research. Do not just accept anything that comes along. It’s way too easy to see a controversial post that feeds into your own views, and fears, and just adopt it, believe, it, share it, and propagate it without doing any critical thinking on your own.

Think about it before you share it.

Update: New statement by Hillsong Senior Pastor Brian Houston about the article mentioned above.

[I updated this post with new information regarding articles in the New York Times and on Christian post, and additional articles on this subject.]

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Court Stops Release of Some Parts of Anti Abortion Videos

According to the Associated Press (via MSN), a CA court has blocked part of future videos released by the Center for Medical Progress.

“The Los Angeles Superior Court order issued Tuesday prohibits the Center for Medical Progress from releasing any video of three high-ranking StemExpress officials taken at a restaurant in May.”

A pro-life news site explains further:

The restraining order reportedly only pertains to the footage of the Stem Express employees, meaning that any other footage, including that featuring Planned Parenthood employees, can still be released as planned.

In an exclusive comment to LifeSiteNews after the release of the court order, Daleiden said that, at the end of the day, what happened in the courtroom may actually be a victory for the pro-life group.

“The ruling is very narrow, concerning only one specific meeting, and it is temporary and contingent pending further litigation,” he said. “The judge actually threw out completely the part of StemExpress’ case where they were asking to suppress the documents on their baby parts sales.”

“It was a much better day for us than it was for them and Planned Parenthood.”

The company claims that the videographers broke the law under California’s anti-wiretapping laws. The producers say they followed the law.

Here’s a statement from Center from Medical Progress:

StemExpress, a for-profit company partnered with over 30 abortion clinics, including Planned Parenthood, to harvest and sell aborted baby parts and provide a “financial benefit” to Planned Parenthood clinics, is attempting to use meritless litigation to cover-up this illegal baby parts trade, suppress free speech, and silence the citizen press reporting on issues of burning concern to the American public. They are not succeeding—their initial petition was rejected by the court, and their second petition was eviscerated to a narrow and contingent order about an alleged recording pending CMP’s opportunity to respond. The Center for Medical Progress follows all applicable laws in the course of our investigative journalism work and will contest all attempts from Planned Parenthood and their allies to silence our First Amendment rights and suppress investigative journalism.

Regardless of your feeling on these videos, any time a subject of a controversial documentary film project is able to get any sort of injunction from the court, restricting any part of the release of that project, filmmakers should pay attention.

In this case, while Planned Parenthood has repeatedly claimed the information in the videos is false and “deceptively edited” (even though the entire interviews have been released) this temporary restraining order is not about that. It only pertains to whether the act of recording these people secretly was against the law or not.

Of course Stem Express doesn’t want more damning information shown. So they are using every means at their disposal to stop it. Planned Parenthood has set the stage already in their letter to news outlets. Part of that letter says:

“CMP gained access to Planned Parenthood facilities under false pretenses and filmed without securing approval from the Planned Parenthood staff being filmed or the patients whose privacy is compromised by this secret videotaping. The material should not be aired.”

I suspect Planned Parenthood to try some sort of legal action in order to “protect the privacy” of their patients.

As a filmmaker, I hope every legal effort to bar this content fails. Unless someone can prove that they knowingly put out false information, there is no reason this should be blocked. It would be a bad precedent for documentary films. So I want the video available.

As someone who is pro life, I want people to realize just how horrible these actions are. So I want people to see these videos.

[UPDATE: Here’s a post on the Constitutionality of the court’s actions.]

Christian Character Honesty

fake guyOne of the biggest complaints about Christian film/TV/video is that the characters are not honest. There are exceptions to this, but many times, too many times, this is true.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m no expert character developer. I’m no expert scriptwriter. I wrote 9 of the 10 episodes of my show, Peculiar. I’m writing a feature length script now. I’ve fallen into the trap of creating a one dimensional character to achieve a plot point. I’ve presented characters in my work who change little over the course of the story. I’ve created weird moments where characters are set up to preach in a conversation rather than talk like normal people. But I am working to get better. Trying to educate myself, taking classes, reading books, writing.

One thing I did not do in the show is present the main character as a perfect Christian, who knows all the answers. He is a new believer, with little religious background. He makes mistakes. He learns, he is discipled. He is trying to live according to his faith.

I think a lot of times we see religious works and the main “Christian character” is this snapshot of life. They are static. The world happens around them, and they react to it. Almost like the writers have said that this is how believers act. This moment of life, they are the Christian, and Christians act like this, so watch them be Christian.

Salvation isn’t just limited to a moment. It’s a lifetime of faith and learning. The Bible says we are justified and sanctified. Justification is like God looking at us, but Jesus steps in front of us, so God only sees his righteousness, not our sin. It’s immediate. Sanctification is a process of molding our sinful nature into the shape of Christ. It’s ongoing.

Christian writers seem to get tied up in justification. It’s like we have this story with conflict, and the character is this perfect believer with no doubts and nothing to learn. Let’s watch what a “real Christian” would do in this situation. And then we watch them make all the right decisions, and in the end… I guess we are supposed to feel convicted because we are not where the Christian character is? We are supposed to leave the film saying, “Wow. I need to get my life right so I can be like that guy, he’s a real Christian”? Or, “I sure was glad that sinful person ended up choosing to be more like that Christian character.”

But no one is like that. Not in real life. I’ve known some pastors and speakers who present their lives like that on stage, but in reality, they are just as mixed up and full of inadequacies as we are. People who try to live like that remind me of a guy sitting on a three legged stool, sawing on a leg. Eventually they are gonna fall. Christianity as a whole has a problem being real, being honest with each other. We don’t show weakness or flaws. And if we do, the most common response is not support, but attack.

And that rubs off on Christian film and story. It’s like we are afraid to let a character be raw and honest. Maybe the investors won’t like it? Maybe we think Christian audiences can’t handle it? I don’t know, but too often we set up these unreal Christian characters.

Christianity isn’t about following people. It’s about following Jesus. Believers who follow other people will always end up disappointed. Setting up dishonest characters in our story will always ring false to the audience.

Audiences don’t want fake characters. Let’s let our characters be honest and real. Let them struggle to overcome. Let them change. Let them be real.