Bleeding Hearts and Propaganda:
the Fall of Reason in the Church

Chapter Eight
Propaganda

In the 19th Century Secularism infiltrated the Church in the form of Liberalism. In the last half of the 20th Century Liberalism infected the Evangelical Church to produce the Liberal Evangelicals. Now, in the closing decade of the 20th Century a new infection threatens the health of Evangelicalism.

Where Liberalism attempted to broaden Christian theology too much, this new malady wants to restrict it too much. Liberalism attempts to open the door to let the world into the Church, this new "ism" wants to shut the door on the toes of fellow-Christians.

I call this new epidemic an invasion of the Heresy Hunters–a New Inquisition. Where the Liberal Evangelicals represent sentiment run amuck, the Heresy Hunters represent runaway propaganda.

PROPAGANDA–WHAT THE CHURCH HAS LEARNED FROM THE WORLD

I defined propaganda in the first chapter, however, here is another dictionary definition:

Doctrines, ideas, arguments, facts, or allegations spread by deliberate effort through any medium of communication in order to further one’s cause or damage an opposing cause.

In its purest form, propaganda is neither good nor bad. It is simply advertising: the dissemination of facts or information to further your goals. In that case it is as good or bad as your goals. Propaganda, thought of in that way, is simply propagating ideals–the act itself is neutral.

But of course to most people propaganda is not neutral, it is negative. When we use the word propaganda to describe communication, we are implying that something is amiss in the process. The information is being disseminated in a wrong, slanted, or unfair way.

Examples of propaganda in modern advertising run from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the sophisticated to the laughable. Some uses of propaganda seem silly to us, but others are dangerous. Propaganda distorts or abbreviates truth to gain an advantage.

One of the most laughable examples of propaganda, in my judgment, is a recurring advertisement for dandruff shampoo. The ad shows a man who is shampooing his hair with two different shampoos, one half of his head is shampooed with "Brand X," the other with "our" brand. The announcer says, "While both shampoos contain an effective dandruff medication, only our brand ‘tingles.’"

This ad is harmless but it misdirects us. The ad sets up a demonstration of comparison. The expectation in a demonstration by comparison is that something is to be proven about the relative qualities of the two shampoos. No such thing was proven. "Tingling" is not a benefit. Presumably, people use dandruff shampoo to get rid of dandruff, not to have a sensory experience.

So what? What difference does it make if a manufacturer wants to dress up his non-information to look like information? It really makes no difference whether you buy one shampoo or another. What does make a difference, however, is that the technique used at this simple level demonstrates that the viewer must always be discerning between real information and ambiguous nonsense.

THE RECYCLING CRAZE

Propaganda is common fare in the United States today. Let me cite another example which raises the importance of the use of the technique to a higher level. I’m thinking of the recycling craze which has swept the nation in the last twenty years. Federal, State, and local governments have spent countless millions of dollars to promote and accomplish recycling. In some cases the effort has produced only wasted money–money which could have been put to real use.

Everyone from Mr. Rogers to Barney the Dinosaur hound us to recycle. Captain Planet and the mythical goddess Gaia tell our kids to sort their trash so our overcrowded landfills can last a few more years. The earth is in danger of being swamped in garbage. However, curbside recycling may cost far more than it is worth.

The prestigious Wall Street Journal debunked curbside recycling in January of 1995, after the nation spent nearly ten years in furious recycling efforts. The Journal ran a long, front-page feature report subtitled, "Curbside Recycling Comforts the Soul, but the Benefits are Scant." The article states:

Tens of millions of Americans now make a daily ritual of sorting their garbage for collection by curbside recycling programs…[which] is widely credited with conserving dwindling garbage-dump space, saving money and protecting the environment…There’s just one problem. At least by any practical, short-term measure, curbside recycling doesn’t pay. It costs residents and local governments hundreds of millions of dollars more than can be recouped by selling the sorted trash. It requires huge new fleets of collection trucks that add to traffic congestion and pollution. And it does so at a time when landfill space turns out to be both plentiful and extremely cheap.

The article documents how the landfill crisis was a fiction of the environmental lobby. As the Wall Street Journal said:

Throughout most of history, of course, there was no garbage [disposal] market at all: People merely heaved their trash outside for pigs and goats to feed on. About 200 years ago, people began burying trash near their homes and then bringing it to town dumps. But the development of the so-called sanitary landfill in the 1970s and 1980s altered the basic economics of garbage disposal.

I can remember those days–again, the Earth Day syndrome of 1970. (In fact, in that year, I won my first journalism award for a story I did on landfills for a local Idaho newspaper where I worked part-time while attending college.) The environmental movement signaled by that first Earth Day concentrated on air and water pollution. By 1987, the environmental lobby had grown to be a mighty political force.

Landfills, of course, really are good for the environment. They localize waste while it decomposes. They hold down vermin, smell, and (perhaps) disease. Landfills with plastic liners can be piled 300 feet deep and are no more environmentally troublesome than one 50 feet deep.

The point is, the landfill crisis was no crisis at all. It never has been, and yet curbside recycling is still being foisted upon the public using the same "crisis" mentality. The Wall Street Journal reported:

Following the voyage of the Mobro [the famous garbage barge which plied the waters of the Eastern seaboard in 1987, looking for a home for 3,186 tons of New York garbage]…more than 40 states set their own recycling goals, ranging from 25% to 70% of trash, often with little effort to gauge the cost. Municipalities rallied residents, at times exaggerating the benefits. San Jose, Calif., rolled out its curbside-recycling program in 1993, warning: "All over the country we’re running out of landfill space." Within its own borders, San Jose actually has between 30 and 50 years of dump capacity, according to city environmental officials.

The landfill crisis was a tool of certain environmentalists who–using television and propaganda–were able to manipulate public opinion and policy to fit their notion of the facts. According to Clark Wiseman, economics professor at Gonzaga University, "One thousand years of US trash would fit in an area 30 miles square, piled 300 feet deep."

Propaganda will exist whenever people allow their desire for the victory of their particular cause to overrule their commitment to process information truthfully. For propagandists, the end justifies the means.

PROPAGANDA IN THE CHURCH

Propaganda is always a temptation to people who want to influence other people. And the Christian’s call to evangelism sometimes tempts him to employ propaganda–to make his case for conversion by stretching the facts.

Cults, of course, use propaganda to recruit new members. I was a member of a cult for ten years–a Mormon Elder until I was born again in 1974. As a Mormon, I worked tirelessly to further the cause of the Church and to win converts. Mormonism, like many other pseudo-Christian cults, uses propaganda to recruit new members. One way it does this is to withhold information from prospective members. For example, Mormon missionaries cover up cardinal doctrines and misdirect investigators away from information they know is so radical it will discourage people from becoming Mormons. One such teaching which is delibertly obscured is the Mormon doctrine of Eternal Progression.

Every informed adult Mormon can recite the Lorenzo Snow couplet: "As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be." Literally that means that God worked his way from humanity to godhood and men and women can work their ways to godhood (or goddesshood) as well. Such a distinctive message would, you might assume, be at the heart of the Mormon missionary presentation. You would expect this concept would be shared by the missionaries with Mormon investigators. However, this all important concept is never mentioned in any of the six Mormon missionary discussions prior to baptizing a new convert..

Mormon missionaries evade it because it does not further their cause–to get you baptized into the Mormon Church. They manipulate information to get you to do what they want you to do. In fact, if you bring up the subject of "plurality of gods" (another way of referring to Eternal Progression), they will evade it.

Christianity is about truth. Christians are forbidden to manipulate the truth, to lie, to exaggerate, to shade the truth, or to employ innuendo, red-herrings, half-truths, and other forms of truth-twisting. Unfortunately, a new breed of Christian minister has come upon the scene–a breed of minister addicted to the habits of secular journalism, a minister who twists truth for the Kingdom of God.

Ironically, those who use these techniques don’t believe they are doing anything wrong. They are deceived into thinking that the end justifies the means, but they are wrong, and they are giving the Church a black eye.

The RISE OF THE "POP-APOLOGIST"

A few years ago I was listening to a radio broadcast in which a well-known Christian radio personality was talking about another minister–Benny Hinn. As I listened, I became extremely troubled by what I was hearing. I was troubled by the announcer’s vindictiveness. Something was so wrong that the diatribe made the hair stand up on my arms.

As I pondered that event, and as I observed it repeated by others in ministry, I began to see that a rampant problem was developing among "pop-apologists" within the Church.

Let me define the term pop-apologist. First, the word apologist, in Christian circles, means someone who makes a reasoned defense for the doctrines of Christianity. An apologist might defend the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, for example. The ministry of apologetics also attacks, with reason and in a spirit of charity, false doctrines and cultic religion. For example, I might attempt to demonstrate to a Mormon that the Mormon doctrine concerning the nature of God is irrational and unbiblical.

Apologetics is as old as the Church. The 2nd century apologists reasoned with the Gnostics, while Augustine argued against the Pelagian heresy and the Donatists. The Reformation was an apologetic war between the authority of Roman Catholic dogma and the authority of scripture.

Prior to World War II, apologetics was confined to the seminary and the pulpit. Popular or "street" apologetics was rare. After the War however, cults blossomed in the United States. Many social factors account for the spread of the cults. The US population became increasingly mobile, family structure deteriorated, and people were isolated from a sense of "community." At the same time mass communication expanded, allowing small cultish groups to proselytize more effectively. And, of course, main line churches lost their vitality because of encroaching Liberalism. Mormonism, for example, spilled over the borders of Utah and in the 1960s Eastern mysticism washed up on American shores with guru’s like Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Suddenly there was a desperate need for front line troops to counter the efforts of groups like the Moonies, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the New Age cults, witchcraft, and Scientology. As the tide of the cults raised, a popular response also was raised up. For example, while the 1960 hippies donned the saffron robes of Eastern Mysticism, The Jesus Movement brought tens of thousands of vibrant new Christians onto the streets to do evangelism. Likewise, the Charismatic Renewal hit sleeping main line churches.

Many of these new converts took seriously the call to evangelism and took to the streets to win the world for Christ. This missionary effort was not to foreign lands, but to foreign cultures which were springing up in America.

The man of the hour was Walter Martin, the founder of the Christian Research Institute, and the first well-known popular apologist of the post-war generation. Martin introduced millions to apologetics on a popular level. His radio show, "The Bible Answer Man" program was syndicated to hundreds of radio stations throughout the land. His books, like The Kingdom of the Cults, found their way onto the library shelves of Christian laymen.

At the same time, other anti-cult ministries, like Saints Alive!, an outreach to Mormons founded by Ed Decker, sprung up. Other popular apologists like John Ankerberg and Bob Larson moved into radio and television to do apologetics. Spiritual counterfeits Project was begun in Berkeley, California.

Soon dozens of pop-apologist ministries sprung up. I started my newsletter, "Through the Maze," about 1980 to reach Mormons for Christ. The MacGregors in Canada began an outreach to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Watchman Fellowship was established. These ministries made a dramatic and exciting change in the use of apologetics in the United States. It was no longer a purely academic pursuit nor was it confined to the pulpit; it spilled over from the seminary and church into the street.

BENEFITS AND LIABILITIES

The trade-off, however, was that the new apologists brought with them some liabilities along with their assets. Some lacked the education, ministry experience, and Christian maturity, necessary to conduct their ministries with wisdom. Nevertheless, the immediacy of the challenge of the aberrant religions forced churches to open their pulpits to gifted men and women who specialized in responding to the cults.

Let me say that I consider myself to be a pop-apologist. There is no doubt in my mind that I am called by God and qualified by study to do the work of apologetics. However, I am not seminary trained. Neither is the new president of the Christian Research Institute, Hank Hanegraaff, who took over the helm of that organization when Walter Martin died. Hanegraaff has stated on the air that he lacks formal seminary training. But both Hanegraaff and I would agree (although we disagree on much as I will soon indicate) that while formal training is valuable, other training can be equally valuable.

I want to make it clear that when I talk about pop-apologists, I am not being derogatory. Much of the effective evangelistic work which has occurred among the cults and the New Age Movement in the last half of this century has been done by the pop-apologists, not their academic brothers. The role of the academic restricts him in many ways from actualizing his theoretical knowledge. The role of the pop-apologist is, by definition, more practical than theoretical. In making the formal/informal (or academic/"pop") differentiation, I simply want to distinguish two different aspects of the ministry of apologetics.

The inherent weakness of the pop-apologist is found squarely in the center of his strength. His strength is that he is unencumbered by academic strictures and denominational red-tape. He may be (as I am) licensed with a denomination, but he is–in many ways–free to roam the fields of harvest. This is also his weakness.

In their freedom, many pop-apologists wind up short on accountability. Their organizations often are built on their personality and sometimes exist with little supervision and counsel. Many of them find success in Christian publishing or on the radio and are isolated from their financial supporters. These circumstances make it possible for pop-apologists to become somewhat renegade.

A few bugs fly through every window of opportunity. That has happened within the apologetics ministry, and that is what I will document in the last chapters of this book.

A DETOUR ON THE SUPERHIGHWAY

The expanding electronic superhigway is a is a factor in influencing apologetics for both good and evil. I am not simply referring to the Internet and other computer networks. We live in a wholly electronic age. We pick up our telephones and connect to a radio show which is networked nationwide; we write books which go into thousands of Christian bookstores throughout the country. The Christian video market packages highly professional doctrinal information; Christian musicians appear before tens of thousands and deliver messages. So many information pathways, so many media, so many voices, so little monitoring.

Again, I stress that these developments are both good and bad; they are ripe with opportunity, but rife with danger. When they are used wisely as conduits for reliable information, much good occurs; when they are used carelessly to spread gossip, they can be disastrous.

For a perspective on the information explosion, listen to the words of Barry Diller, the former chairman and CEO of Fox Inc., the entertainment network. Diller delivered the keynote address at the 1994 American Magazine Conference–a meeting of the editors and publishers of America’s top magazines:

We are awash in a sea of information: junk mail, promotions, fun facts, instant news. We have access to mind-numbing amounts of data–the trash and the treasure, the ridiculous and the not-so-sublime…

We were promised that all these new options would enrich us. And yet even with this gluttony of choices, our diet is getting thinner…

Not only is it decreed that we have to try to comprehend the tonnage of stuff we’re supposed to read, but it its ordered that we have to understand and use all these new technologies or we will be fossilized. All this information and all these new products were supposed to make life easier, but now we work harder, longer–just to stay in place and keep up…

There used to be a cadence, a rhythm to things. It would take time not only for an event to get known, but for it to play out–for the consequences and the analysis and the understanding to incubate.

Today it takes no time at all. Everything is available instantly. Everybody covers everything at once: 32 satellite trucks outside the O. J. [Simpson] trial; interviews with the cousin of the maid who did the dishes at Nicole’s; instant judgments…

Our impatience creates an impulse to spin a subject to unsustainable heights and then let it fall. We want everything before the fact…

What’s the old saying? "A rumor goes around the world in the time it takes Truth to put its boots on." Today Truth wouldn’t bother getting out of bed.

It is precisely because of the knowledge explosion that pop-apologists can be so valuable to the cause of Christ–if we clean up our act. We can come alongside the pastor of the local church to provide important understanding of matters he is too busy to specialize in. We can help him sort his way through the avalanche of new information which is bombarding him and competing for his time. We can help him help his flock through the morass of spiritual traps which they will encounter. But we are destined to lose his trust if we don’t clean up our act.

HOW THEY GO WRONG

In 1993 I wrote Heresy Hunters: Character Assassination in the Church. I described what to my mind was an ungodly penchant among some pop-apologist ministries to attack and destroy other ministries with haphazard abandon. Since then, I have watched this situation carefully. I am amazed to see it escalating in both scope and intensity.

I felt (and many objective reviewers agree) that my book was an objective and loving approach to a touchy situation. I was prepared for a vigorous debate of the issues. Instead, I was amazed that I, myself, became the subject of a vicious ad hominem attack.

I have concluded that what drives the heresy hunters–or rather what infects the heresy hunters–is the very same thing that affects the Liberal Evangelicals. The LEs have stood too close to the world–to the humanists and to the Christian Liberals. The heresy hunters have stood too close to the world, but in their case they are standing too close to the secular journalistic world. They have adopted secular slash-and-burn tactics–they have become junkyard-dog journalists, Christian hit-men.

They have taken apologetics in an unholy direction. They have brutalized Christian brothers in what they call the pursuit of truth. They have acted with reckless abandon. They have not tempered truth with love.

Reluctantly I have decided to tell my own story–the story of what happened to me when I dared challenge the heresy hunters. I am doing so in an attempt to underscore how far wrong this process has gone. I do so in the hope that something will change.

I do not think the heresy hunters themselves will listen to anything I say. I may certainly bait them to further violence against me. But my hope is that the Church will become wise to them and to their tactics.

If the Church should happen to "get it"–to awaken to the error of over-zealous and indiscriminate character assassination among the pop-apologists, then my effort will have succeeded. I believe it is imperative that the Church censure the tactics of the heresy hunters.

If that does not happen, pop-apologetics will soon be relegated to the pages of history. If we do not stop the marauding, the Church will suddenly have had its fill of all pop-apologists. We will lose our voice if we do not police ourselves.

That would be a tragedy.