As a journalist, I’ve been asked many questions over the years as I worked on stories; and it is very rare that a question causes me to stop and think about what I’m doing.
But that happened earlier this year as I researched the “Kung-Fu evangelist” Tony Anthony. His published autobiography and the testimony he uses when he preaches is a fabrication – you can read the investigation about him on my CrossWire news site.
It took many months to put the story together, and earlier this year Authentic Media’s managing director, Steve Mitchell, the publisher of the autobiography Taming the Tiger, asked me what my motive was.
I was pretty clear that my motive was to expose wrong-doing – that’s one of the core jobs of a journalist. This doesn’t stop because a journalist works in the specialism of religion and faith; and it doesn’t stop because a journalist comes from a position of religion and faith.
If journalists are only re-writing press releases and corporate information then we can close news organisations down tomorrow.
There’s an old saying that news is what somebody, somewhere, doesn’t want you to know; everything else is advertising.
That’s just as true in the religion and faith beat as it is everywhere.
But the question did cause me to pause and to think. Some people in the church hold the belief that Christian journalists exist are to spread the good news. No! That’s the job of evangelists and the churches’ PR people. I’ve worked both sides of the journalistic river and understand the difference between Christian journalists and Christian PRs.
Of course, all Christians are bound by the great commission to “go and make disciples of all nations” – and that includes journalists. But you don’t make disciples by hushing up wrong-doing or sweeping bad things under the carpet. In fact, I’d argue that taking that approach is more likely to give people a reason not to listen to what the church has to say.
Christians are called to hold each other to account. But we’re not very good at doing it. We put our leaders on pedestals and turn them into untouchable mini-gods – especially in evangelical churches. Any challenge to a Christian leader, minister, evangelist, worship leader and so on is seen as an attack on the church. It shouldn’t be. The church should have no problems with being held to account.
Tony Anthony has been accused of making up his story before. People inside and outside the church have questioned his account. He response has been obfuscation and to attack the messenger.
The questions raised of Tony Anthony over the years have been so numerous that he even has a page on his website dedicated to the criticism.
On it, he says:
“Tony is fully aware of some of the ‘allegations’ and ‘negative’ stance that can be viewed via the Internet especially doing a Google search or reading some blogs (none of which are evangelical or Christian) regarding the truth behind Tony Anthony’s testimony, suggesting he is a fake. It is so easy to bring a person down, when one’s heart is so hardened or if the message of the Gospel is such a challenge to the status quo and one’s worldview. Our lives are shaped by the ‘god’ we worship – whether the God of the Bible or some substitute deity.”
Rather than address the criticisms, he attacks the motives of those asking the questions; and people who make allegations against him are not evangelical or Christian; and are acting because their hearts are hardened; or the message of the gospel is a challenge to their status quo.
This is typical of the approach that says “if you challenge me, you’re challenging the gospel” and it is why so many people in Christian leadership are not held to account.
Well Christians were asking questions. And they found answers: answers that include Tony Anthony’s true identity; answers that prove that his story is fabricated. Their answers are supported by overwhelming evidence.
I suspect that some Christians will criticise me for writing the Tony Anthony article; missing the point that exposing wrong doing is not wrong.