How to Respond to Misinformation
Tonight one of our local news stations (WDAY TV) ran a story on 'Doing Church Differently'. The unfortunate result of the story has been misconception and confusion that has been created in lumping River City Church in with other faith-based organizations that hold a different position than we do, specifically what was mentioned in the story was homosexuality.
It wasn't long after the story aired during the 10pm news and the written article/transcript was added to their news website before we started receiving text messages about a news story where River City was mentioned... and not only mentioned but mentioned in conjunction with some beliefs and positions on issues to which we as a church do not hold.
We quickly crafted an email to the reporter, producers, and news director at WDAY voicing our concerns about the misrepresentation on the recent news story and we've posted a link to the news report and our email response to WDAY at the end of this post.
(UPDATE: We had a conversation with the reporter from WDAY this afternoon. She was gracious and I pray we were as well. She appologized for any confusion caused by the story. I reiterated that, from our perspective there appeared to be no ill-will or intentional misinformation...rather, just unintented confusion. I thanked her for her consideration of our concerns and she said that, on the online written article she would remove the reference to River City. The conversation closed amicably and I wished her the best. I continue to pray that grace would be seen in all our actions and heard in our words.)
However, a question surfaces...
What is the big deal? I mean, is it really worth all that?
We believe it IS a big deal for a two reasons:
1 - It says something about who we are as a church
and, more importantly,
2 - It says something about what we believe to be True about God and His Word.
It says something about who we are as a church.
The first one is far less important on its own. Really, how we as a local body are seen by the world around us is only as important as in how we represent Jesus. If someone doesn't like River City or her people because we aren't loving our neighbors or living lives of humility and thinking of others more highly than ourselves... then that matters because that is our role as Ambassadors of Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:20). If someone isn't a fan because of our "style" or some other secondary issue... that is ok. We know that there are some components to how we "do church" when we gather together, or our ministry philosophy that won't mesh with everyone. And that is ok. This isn't about people liking us... rather it is that we want to be crystal clear about what defines us as a church. We believe that the Gospel Word (God reconciling sinners to himself through the blood of His Son Jesus) should motivate Gospel Mission (God's people, redeemed, made new, proclaiming in word and displaying in actions the power of the Gospel to transform and make new). If our ability to proclaim the Gospel Word and Live out Gospel Mission is compromised... it needs to be addressed.
Second, It says something about what we believe to be True about God and His Word.
The news report (linked below) was, I think, attempting to make the case that there are "non-traditional" churches that are attracting a lot of people. The distinction that failed to be made was in what it was that made a church "non-traditional." For the other religious group (which was the focus of the article) taking a position of openness and acceptance of homosexuality was a, if not the, primary non-traditional element of their group. Then, if you watch the video, you'll see they reference another "non-traditional" church just up from where they were filiming (River City) that is experiencing growth in new people and young people. However, our position on homosexuality, I'm sure among other things, does not line up with the "non-traditional" position being proclaimed in the news report. More than what this says about who we are as a church, is what it says about what we believe about God's Word (The Bible) and what it has to say on matters such as homosexuality and a whole host of other matters of life and faith. The Apostle Paul states, in his second letter to Timothy, that, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable, for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness..." (2 Timothy 3:16).
So when the Bible speaks about God's design for family and marriage, when it speaks about God's design for parents and children, when it speaks about God's deisgn for loving your neighbor, caring for the widow and the orphan, and fleeting temptations and sins of all kinds including slander, malice, rage, all kinds of sexual immorality, including and and all sex outside of the covenant relationship of marriage between a man and woman... When the Bible speaks to those things (and we believe that it does clearly) then it is the Bible which is our authority and informs and reforms us... not the other way around.
We want to be clear that we believe that what God's Word says is True. One of our Core Values as a church under the heading of Gospel Word is the authorty of the Bible:
Word – We hold the Word of God (The Bible) as our ultimate authority in all matters of life. We believe in teaching it when we gather as a large group, wrestling over it in small group community, and integrating it into the everyday. - (See more at: http://rivercityfargo.org/core-values)
The goal here is not to get defensive and start attacking WDAY or anyone else. I do not believe that there was ill-intent in the reporting... perhaps just oversight and incomplete reporting. Rather, we didn't want to miss an opportunity to be crystal clear on the importance of God's Word to us as a church and its authority over us as we seek to apply the unchanging and timeless Truths of the Scriptures in a timely way, navigating the ever-changing culture around us.
As an aside, I take it personally when "All are welcome" has been co-opted by some to mean "acceptance of everything." I think that is a mis-applied. At River City church, any and all are welcome to come and gather together because everone one is on the same level ground at the cross... ALL of us are in need of the same thing -- the rescuing power of Jesus Christ!
What is remarkable is that Jesus doesn't leave us in our hurt, brokenness, and sin, but instead gives us a new identity in Himself (Ez 11:19; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:14).
Perhaps we'll get a chance to sit down with WDAY and explain our position... perhaps not. Either way we want it to be clear that The Bible is our ultimate authorty in all matters of life, including areas of sin and redemption.
We hope we are clear not just for our own sake, but so that the hope of the message that Jesus Christ rescues and transforms lost people would not be mis-represented or mis-understood in any way.
Sin is sin.
Jesus offers redemption from our sin.
Jesus changes our identity and makes us new.
Jesus calls us light and salt and ambassadors of his Grace to others.
Soli Deo Gloria - For the Elders of River City Church
HERE is the link to the news story.
Below is our response to WDAY:
(Note: There have been a few edits made for readability and because the initial email was typed on a phone and thus, fat thumbs impeded correct spelling and grammar in places)
"We have had a number of folks contact us with questions as to why we (River City) were referenced along with "the Gathering" as being "non-traditional" church in a story on WDAY. While there are many elements of our corporate worship that are informal and perhaps more relaxed than what many might call "traditional," I think the connection with other "informal" religious groups is an unhelpful comparison.
While we would hold a position that anyone is welcome to come and participate with us at River City, it is also our position that we view (as one example) sexuality as defined by The Scriptures very differently than what is promoted by the extension of First United Methodist Church at "the gathering" as stated in your report. Listing River City alongside "the gathering" in an article relating to the acceptance of homosexuality actually misrepresents River City and the position of its leadership as a church.
If the attempt was to acknowledge that younger expressions of faith are drawing in young people then perhaps that is true and the parallel would be helpful, however, your news report and article seems to draw a connection based on a particular belief and/or acceptance of a moral position on homosexuality that simply isn't the position of River City.
To my knowledge none of staff was interviewed or consulted before we were named in the report & article. I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have. I'm the meantime I would like to ask for a formal edit and clarification to the story on wday and wday.com related to this as it is a misrepresentation of our position as a church.
Thank you for your time."