Evangelical Elite Ed Stetzer secretly deleted insulting comments about conservative Christians. Stetzer mocked conservative Republicans and Christians who thought the Coronavirus COVID-19 escaped from a Chinese lab. Hours after the deletions were exposed on Twitter, Stetzer added a passive aggressive publisher’s note. The entire episode reveals why Evangelical Elites are untrustworthy sources of news—especially about complex geopolitical issues involving China.
In his post at Christianity Today, Stetzer declared, “In a study just published by Pew, almost 30 percent of Americans believe the theory that is ‘almost certainly not true’ about the novel coronavirus being concocted in a lab. The largest group in the study to affirm this was conservative Republicans at about four in ten (39 percent). That group would also be the most religious group.”
Unfortunately for Stetzer, Fox News and other outlets including the Washington Post and International Business Times reported that US officials now believe the virus escaped from a lab. Fox News was specific—that US officials believe Patient Zero worked at a Chinese lab.
Egg meet face.
But, instead of updating the post, Stetzer and Christianity Today did what they are known to do—show no journalistic ethics. They deleted the paragraph and didn’t add a note to the post—well, until called out for it on Twitter.
That drew reaction from evangelical conservatives.
Evangelical talk show host Janet Mefferd reacted strongly to the deletion.
“It’s just a matter of ethical journalism. If you change a story, you print a clarification to explain why you changed it. When you don’t do that, you look shady. What’s so ironic is they dodged this transparency in a piece that argued CT is your ‘trusted source’ for news!”
Mefferd is an experienced journalist. She spent years as reporter and editor at newspapers including the Dallas Morning News. Her knowledge of journalism practices provides important context.
Stetzer and Christianity Today behaved in a manner that undermined their assertion to being a Trusted Voice and Reliable Source.
Southern Baptist leader Tom Ascol noted Christianity Today’s silence and asked for comment. He tweeted: “What gives @CTmagazine & @edstetzer? A clarifying statement would be appreciated.”
Jon Harris also raised questions about the deletion. He wrote, “What’s up with @edstetzer deleting stuff? Last week it was a video where he passively endorsed a postmodern concept of truth. @SovMichael called him out, and poof, video gone. Now, after @CapstoneReport called out his @CTmagazine article about Covid conspiracies, it’s edited?”
When Stetzer got around to adding a note, it was the usual passive aggressive Evangelical Elite speak. He claimed not the lab origin, but a bioweapon was the conspiracy theory he meant.
However, Mefferd destroyed that false narrative.
“This is what he originally wrote, then deleted this section, without acknowledgement, after Fox News broke the Wuhan lab story. Why delete it if it had the critical qualifier ‘as a bioweapon?’ As you can see, that isn’t what he originally wrote…
Also: “The conspiracy theories are focused on lab creation, bioweapons, (etc.) .. when Christians share those conspiracies, it hurts our witness.” Wait. You just said the “bioweapons” part was the ONLY conspiracy theory you meant. Now the lab creation IS a conspiracy yet again?
And finally, Mefferd sums up Stetzer’s attitude.
“Writing ‘I’m still right, any way you slice it,’ when he obviously did several things wrong, just makes him look petty. He should have just owned up, apologized and offered an olive branch.”
Let me say that Stetzer doesn’t only look petty, but smug and elitist too. Pointing to Trusted Voices and Reliable Sources of what are now revealed to be dubious worth would be hilarious if not deadly serious. China is a significant geopolitical threat. Evangelical Elites should avoid taking its side and spreading their talking points.
Of particular note is this sentence: “In full disclosure, I did not expect the lab to be a point of contention, so that was a surprise to me.”
Of course not. You haven’t been paying attention to reliable sources.
If you’d read the Capstone Report only the day before your post, you would’ve seen what noted China Expert Michael Pillsbury said about the origins of the virus. Or, perhaps listened to Sen. Tom Cotton asking these very same questions about Chinese lab safety.
This is not Stetzer’s and Christianity Today’s first ethical lapse. Julie Roys detailed how Stetzer and Christianity Today skirted journalistic ethics in dealings with disgraced former megachurch pastor James MacDonald.
When deciding what sources to trust about the Coronavirus and the church, avoid sources spreading China’s talking points and with a history of ethical questions.
In other words, stay away from Christianity Today.