One of the interesting things about the now old News Corp phone-hacking scandals is how evangelical and radical Christians who publish under their umbrella have gone about justifying their involvement with an entity that is demonstrably evil. For example, radical Christian and new monastic superstar Shane Claiborne is well known for his many books, including the bestselling book, The Irresistible Revolution which, as you are probably aware is published by Zondervan, a company own by News Corp.
For a radical Christian pacifist, who calls us to follow Jesus wholly, I found Claiborne’s response to questions about the approriateness of utilizing the News Corp to spread his message rather telling:
“I want to have the broadest readership possible,” Claiborne says by phone, “I don’t want to be someone who just speaks to the choir.” He says smaller publishers have their advantages but the books he has written for them cost “two or three times” more than what they would if Zondervan published them.
Claiborne, who has preached his message via Esquire, Fox News (also owned by News Corp), Al Jazeera and many others, says the key is to “protect the integrity of the message.” If he is convinced the medium won’t change the message, he will work with organizations despite not “[agreeing] with all of their approaches or decisions.”
But even if the message is protected, his work is being used to help enrich a rather well-maintained corner of empire. He feels “conflicted” about this. “I don’t think that the world exists in 100 percent pure and 100 percent impure options,” he says.
. . . . There’s good and bad in each of us, he says, “we are called to work on the log in our own eye, and I’m sure as heck trying to work on the compromises that I make so that those are minimal when it comes to integrity.”
His response, in other words is to oddly assert a sort of Niebuhrianism. Obviously in an ideal world we wouldn’t publish our radical Christian manifestos of hope with publishers who have no ethics and exist solely to produce profits, even at the cost of dehumanizing and oppressing others. But we live in the real world. In the real world sometimes we need to compromise with evil media empires in order to sell enough copies of our book. We may not feel good about this, but this abiguity is an unavoidable tension in which we must live if we wish to deal with “the real world.”
Of course this is exactly the sort of ethical logic that books like Claiborne’s constantly rail against, holding up by contrast the radical politics of Jesus. So when it comes to say, war, the answer is obvious: a complete and radical break with “the world” for the sake of faithfulness to the Gospel. But when it comes to money, and “soft violence”, the kind we don’t easily see, the kind that sustains corporate behemoths like News Corp, well then we have to learn to live in world where things aren’t so black and white. When it comes to “violence” (which always seems to mean simply an ethical disapproval of war) we must not shirk the duty of obedience and faithfulness. When it comes to money, influence, and success (even “good” influence and success in “good” ministries), well then we have to be ok with some compromises with the powers in order to get things done.
Of course one obvious difference between these two contradictory positions that folks like Claiborne tend to take is that simply saying “War is wrong” doesn’t exactly cost us anything or make us ask the hard questions about what violence really is and how it is happening all around us and in us. The reason money, influence, and success are so much harder to simply chuck under the bus of faithfulness and obedience is because we can’t do that without being self-implicating. And there’s the rub.
All of which seems to give further evidence to the fact that “war” and “violence” are not the preeminent capitulations the church has made to the powers. Indeed, arguing about why Christians must be anti-war may well distract us from the real issues, and indeed the real violence that the church consistently ignores for the sake of its own comfort and success.
Or to put an even finer point on the matter: What we really need to be able to do be honest about money. Nothing melts away faux radicalism faster than demanding the people talk about money and change how they relate to it concretely.