Heart of the Matter Cancelled: It’s Complicated…Sort Of

Well, I’ve received the official statement from KMTW TV20 about why they chose to cancel Shawn McCraney’s show, “Heart of the Matter,” earlier this week. As a matter of review, here is the basic timeline:

  • First, Shawn went on the air on January 1st announcing that his show’s 2013 emphasis would not be a continued critique of Mormonism, but instead a year-long focus on the problems within American Evangelical Christianity.
  • Following this announcement the station attempted to dissuade Shawn McCraney from this plan and he responded with a letter, dated January 2nd, to the station owner reiterating his reasons and calling for them to allow him to continue.
  • On January 4th Greg Johnson, founder of Standing Together Utah and host of “This Week in the Word” on TV20, sent out an email to a couple dozen Pastors in Utah calling on them to express themselves to the station regarding what he termed an “attack against the Body of Christ in Utah.” (Read them on my previous post)
  • On Monday, January 7th, Greg Johnson sent out a follow-up message announcing the cancellation of Shawn’s program
  • Shawn released a letter later announcing the cancellation of his program on the “Heart of the Matter” web site
  • On January 8th I received a copy of the letter sent by Shawn McCraney to the station owner that has since been verified to be the one received by them.
  • On January 11th, today, I received a copy of the station’s official statement regarding the cancellation.

In the interest of total disclosure I am posting both the letter sent on January 2nd by Shawn to the station, including the proposed programming schedule, and the official response in their entirety here, as PDFs:

Also, over the last couple days the program that aired on January 1st has been made available as well:

So, now that everything is out and official, what do we know? Well, the letter from Shawn McCraney is caustic at points and expresses frustration over the idea of not being allowed to pursue this new emphasis. Greg Johnson’s messages still stand as clearly as before and seem to be most critical of the topic that Shawn had planned to cover. The program itself is pretty standard fare from what I can tell and while some may object to certain choices of Shawn’s with regards to language, it seems pretty tame  to my sensibilities and I don’t know if Shawn’s program could ever really have been considered children’s programming, given the content. The station’s response provides a lot of history about Shawn’s original coming to the station, some troubles he had in the past and the concern that the station had over Shawn’s unannounced decision to change direction. Given all this context I’m willing to walk back my previous opinion that the station over-reacted; although in a qualified way.

Had Shawn still been airing at the largesse of the station their desire to make sure he stayed on message with their desire for his program would seem perfectly reasonable. But, that situation apparently ended two years ago, and Shawn has been paying to have his program aired on TV20. Given that fact I tend to think he should have been given some license to deal with whatever topics he wanted to deal with. However, I understand the station’s concern that he did not clear this change with them first and that they previously turned down a program he wanted to air which addressed this same general topic. All that to say, I understand the station’s point of view and reasons for canceling Shawn’s program, as they’ve stated them.

I still believe the station should not have cancelled the program though. Shawn has always been a caustic figure, it is part of both his appeal and the reason why many dislike him. He’s similar, in many ways, to a radio “shock jock.” It would seem that were his method of criticism the heart of the reason for his cancellation it would have come sooner. The convergence of criticism over his style and the chosen topic seem to be unavoidable to deal with. The station’s letter cites their choice to air “Wretched” with Todd Friel, and “Word Pictures” as evidence of their willingness to host programming critical of Evangelicalism. The latter of these two programs I am not familiar with, but I am a fan of Friel’s program in general. To say that “Wretched” is a match for the systematic critique that Shawn was apparently planning doesn’t seem like an even comparison. Yes, “Wretched” mocks all kinds of problems within Evangelicalism; but it also goes after all kinds of other groups. But, “Wretched” does criticize Evangelicalism, so if the station wants that to be the extent of its self-critical programming then they can do that.

A staff person at the station has told me that they receive only a handful of calls regarding Greg Johnson’s email to pastors. Whether those played any role in the decision to cancel Shawn’s program is unclear, since they are not mentioned in the official response from the station. It seems unlikely that criticism of Shawn’s focus and possibly further criticism of his style from area pastors would not have tipped the scales to some degree. But, the station has stated their official reasons for the decision to cancel “Heart of the Matter,” and unless something else becomes known that’s the most that we’ll know.

In the end I’m still not a fan of Shawn’s style, but the topic he was planning to delve into is something that needs to be dealt with. There are lots of churches in Utah and throughout this country that lack strong biblical teaching, where musical worship is more of a concert than true worship, and where the sheep are not being adequately cared for or defended by their pastors. Shawn’s plan for 2013 could have been part of a very healthy bit of self-examination for the Evangelical community in Utah. It would have provided a opportunity for dialogue. Now, that needed self-examination will have to come by some other means, and hopefully it will still come.



UPDATE: 2012-01-13

Yesterday an additional update was posted to the Heart of the Matter web site by Shawn. You can read the update on Shawn’s website or here: HOTM January 12 Update. Shawn rightly identifies a lot of division that is surrounding the cancellation of his show. Such division was probably inevitable, given the circumstances, and some of it existed before the cancellation took place. I think this whole situation is perhaps reflective of a larger issues facing contemporary Christianity.

In Utah, and the rest of the United States, there are may questions about the future of Evangelicalism. With the failed attempt to unite Evangelicals around Mitt Romney, there are cracks appearing in the once, seemingly, mighty “Moral Majority.” A former co-worker of mine at the Oneida Baptist Institute once introduced me to the term Post-Evangelical. With the rise of the Emergent and Emerging movements within Evangelicalism it may be time to think about what it means to move beyond Evangelicalism. To move beyond the socio-political ecumenism and towards something more meaningful.

I’ve mused elsewhere that today’s Evangelicalism looks an awful lot like the Fundamentalism of the early twentieth century. It lacks the penchants of sectarianism and separatism, but it is no less combative or politically oriented. Even, the same concerns that were played out in the Scopes Trial of 1925 have been popping up periodically for over two decades now. The difference is that today’s Evangelicalism is far more ecumenical than the Fundamentalism of the 1920s. But, the similarities are no less striking.

Everything that is playing out in this situation could be instructive for other conflicts that may be coming, as well as for some that are already upon us.


UPDATE 2013-02-01

Over the last week or so I’ve had a number of items forwarded to me that have been published by Shawn and his ministry. It sounds like Shawn recognizes problems in the way he handled certain aspects of what transpired in the January 23 2013 Update from Shawn McCraney posted to the HOTM site last Wednesday. While it is very good to see Shawn publicly apologizing for errors in judgement, it still seems unfortunate that his show was cancelled over a set of matters that could have been handled via an on-air apology. But, hindsight is almosts always 20/20 and I am waiting patiently for Shawn to take up the task of critiquing Evangelicalism in 2013 that he seemed intent on continuing to pursue in the January 2013 Alathea Ministries Newsletter.

This Wasn’t Right

Yesterday I heard that KTMW – TV20 had cancelled Shawn McCraney’s show, “Heart of the Matter.” This is an unfortunate turn of events since Shawn McCraney said absolutely nothing that merits that kind of response. Now, I have no idea what the real motivations were for canceling Shawn’s show. But, if they are, as I suspect, an example of Evangelical “blackballing” I want to say that it’s wrong.

I want to share a few things, and I know by doing so I run the risk of angering some. The nice thing about being me is that I have a thick skin and don’t care much about making people angry. First, I want to share the gracious response for Shawn McCraney as it was posted on the Heart of the Matter web page:

Dear Fans, Friends, (and even all you enemies out there) –

On Tuesday night, January 1st 2013, we announced on our television program Heart of the Matter that after seven years of passionately “going after” Mormonism with relentless and factual tenacity we were going to use 2013 to shine a light on our own house – namely, on American Evangelical Christianity. Five days later we received written notice from the owners and management of KTMW TV20 that they were officially severing all ties with Alathea Ministries and this decision was non-negotiable.

We wish to extend to the owners and management of KTMW TV20 our deepest gratitude for allowing us to use their facilities over the years in our attempt at bringing all who would hear to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Lord has blessed these efforts abundantly and they never would have occurred without the constant support from KTMW TV-20.

We invite any and all who have questions, concerns, or objections to this decision to refrain from responding to this event in the flesh but to instead pray – for TV-20′s continued success, for the LDS, for the Body, and for Alathea Ministries. God almighty has been, is, and will forever be in charge. To this we are convinced.

If you should desire to experience church stripped of most of the modern evangelical cultural trappings plaguing the Body today we invite any and all to visit us on any given Sunday at the University of Utah.

God bless you, one and all. And thank you for your prayers and support over the years.

Shawn McCraney
Alathea Ministries

This is a response to a difficult situation that is both gracious and encouraging. Shawn doesn’t express any ill-will towards the station or anyone else. This is an exemplary response to an apparent over-reaction. And, now to explain why I believe this is an over-reaction and a probable example of blackballing of the worst sort. On January 4th I was forwarded a message by a dear friend who asked my opinion on a set of two email messages bearing the curious subject line “Shawn McCraney’s last days?” The message was originally sent to a number of pastors in Utah and contained the following, including an original message from an apparent employee of TV20 linking to a YouTube video representing a sped up excerpt of Shawn’s announcement of his 2013 focus:

Ok, pastors, here’s a sped up version of Shawn McCraney’s program of last Tuesday night (New Year’s Day eve) where he discusses his plans to denounce evangelical Christianity with the same vengeance as he has done against Mormonism for the last eight years. You can watch this sped up version that does not have the phone calls included in about 15 minutes. This attack against the Body of Christ in Utah must not be allowed to take place, this is divisive and wrong. I believe this is something we could all agree on, the unity of the Body of Christ is worth standing up for!

Feel free to pass on your concerns to channel 20 and Denny Ermel (they actually need to hear from Utah Pastors) if you are concerned about Shawn’s new agenda.

Thanks,

Greg

Hi Everyone,

FYI, TV 20 sent me this link to Shawn’s last show. It’s “sped up” which allows you to watch the entire show in 15 minutes! Interesting 2013 focus for Shawn! 😉

==========

Hi Bill, here you go…

Sean O’Brien

KTMW TV20

===========

This message is entirely inappropriate because Shawn said absolutely nothing. He laid out his intent to criticize his own camp (Evangelicalism) regarding excesses that he believes need to be addressed. Was his tone combative, of course. That’s how Shawn works on Heart of the Matter. It’s not an approach that I find appealing to imbibe, but it’s what he is known for. And, it is what others have supported as he went after Mormonism. But, as soon as Shawn decided to criticize the problems within Evangelicalism it was described as an “attack against the Body of Christ.” I want to be very clear: Evangelicalism is NOT the Body of Christ. Evangelicalism is an inter-denominational movement made up of people who may or may not be part of the Body of Christ, individually. Evangelicalism is NOT the Church.

The failure of Greg Johnson, of Standing Together Utah, to understand that distinction is the heart of the current problem. The failure of those who took Greg’s advice and chose to “pass on [their] concerns to channel 20” to also see this fundamental error is at the heart of the current problem. What we see is an example of Evangelicals wielding power in a worldly way, suppressing and silencing a critic, before any real criticism has been made. This is the behavior of a coward and a bully. Again, I want to be very clear: Evangelicalism in Utah has now shown itself to be both cowardly and bullying towards someone they had treated as one of their own.

What Shawn McCraney said in his January 1st show did not constitute an “attack against the Body of Christ,” nor was it “divisive and wrong.” Shawn didn’t say anything of substance, and thanks to the over-reaction of TV20 and those who encouraged their action, Shawn has been wrongly silenced. Shawn did not attack “the unity of the Body of Christ.” Shawn expressed an opinion that there were problems in American Evangelical Christianity that needed to be addressed, and that he was going to use his television show as a platform to try and address them. That is a worthy endeavor. An endeavor I had concerns about. But, I was willing to wait until Shawn actually spoke and made plain his concerns, rather than acting on a knee-jerk reaction and seeking the silencing of the messenger.

As a follow-up to Shawn’s cancellation I was forwarded another message by another friend in the ministry, also sent by Greg Johnson:

Pastors, just an fyi (if you don’t already know), channel 20 hand delivered Shawn his termination letter today, Heart of the Matter and Shawn McCraney are done at the station.

Not sure what the fallout will be from his supporters (some of which attend your churches), but I wanted you to be properly informed before things went public on Tuesday.

In all seriousness, this is a sad ending for Shawn. He is a passionate man and he runs hard after God, but his approach has gotten the best of him and his platform has been removed. I’m sure he will try to continue, but without TV, he is very limited.

I hope he responds to some of you that have attempted to reach out to him personally, but in the mean time remember to say a prayer for Shawn and ask that the Lord help him respond appropriately.

One last thing, say a prayer for Ch. 20 itself as this decision will not come without some backlash. Perhaps this is an important time to reach out to Denny and the station with support and encouragement. Send them an e-mail, consider helping them make up the financial lost they will take by canceling Shawn’s show (he paid them $400 an episode), for doing the right thing and canceling him. If you end up sending them $25 or $50 a month let everyone know so that we can see how the Lord might meet the needs of the station. By the way, they would love to film a commercial for any interested church and air it throughout the week, so by supporting them you will be blessed too.

Anyone interested in filming a 30 to 60 second commercial, just let me know and we’ll arrange it.

With a hopeful heart for the future of Ch. 20,

Greg

This message strikes me as a bit disingenuous as it expresses sadness over the cancellation of Shawn’s program, after this same author encouraged pastors to call the station and “pass on [their] concerns.” Those pastors, and possibly others did was was asked and “Shawn’s last days” came about, just as the subject of the original message portended. Shawn’s last days on TV20 were ushered in at the encouragement of this man who now expresses that “this is a sad ending for Shawn.” A sad ending for whom? Clearly it is a sad day for Shawn and his ministry; to be silenced before you can even speak can’t be a good thing to endure. But, it is exactly the sort of ending that Greg Johnson and others sought. For them, this should be a good day and a pleasurable ending.

This is evidence that Evangelicalism is sick and in need of some healthy introspection. There are practices that pervade many Evangelical churches that are unbiblical and unhealthy. Shawn McCraney isn’t the first to seek to address them; nor will he be the last. David Platt has spoken extensively on this subject, as has John Piper, and others. Shawn McCraney though was silenced because it was easy to do so, and that simply wasn’t right. Shame on Utah Evangelicals for not being willing to hear hard words that may have been good for the unity and health of the body. Now, we may never know what good could have come. This wasn’t right!



UPDATE: 2013-01-09

I will be posting a follow-up by Friday that will include a letter Shawn McCraney sent to TV20’s station manager alongside an official statement from the station.


UPDATE: 2013-01-10

A staff person at the station has told me that the official statement will not be ready until tomorrow. Depending on when the statement is made available, I may not have it and the other materials I’ve received ready to post tomorrow.

Also, I’ve had one particular complaint about the tone and conclusions of this post that lead me to want to make something clear, if it wasn’t already: this is an opinion piece. I’m not a journalist, I’m just a guy with a blog. I stated at the outset that I did not have any information at the time of writing about the internal reasons for TV20 canceling Shawn’s programming. I drew conclusions based on materials given to me and stated my opinions. As opinions, everything I’ve stated may be subject to correction based on additional information being made available. At this time I stand by my belief that the station over-reacted and that Greg Johnson helped to drive that over-reaction. Should the station’s official statement reveal new information, my opinion is subject to change. Along with that I believe that portions of the letter than Shawn McCraney apparently sent to the station’s owner may have also fueled the over-reaction, and plan to address that along with dealing with whatever the station decides to officially say about the matter.


UPDATE: 2013-01-11

I’ve now published the letter Shawn sent to the station, along with their official response. You can read all the updates here.

A Definition of Evangelicalism

To build upon what I wrote yesterday concerning Shawn McCraney’s decision to spend 2013 going after “American Evangelical Christianity,” I thought it might be sensible to provide a definition of who it is Shawn McCraney plans to go after. I have no idea who Shawn McCraney thinks Evangelicalism is, or what unites it as a movement; but  the movement needs to be defined in order to be critiqued. I sincerely hope that Shawn spends some time on his show defining, carefully, who it is he is criticizing. A failure to do so will doom his efforts to merely being a collection of rants which can do nothing but damage.

Historically, the movement had its origins in the 17th century and was formally identifiable around 1730 with the development of Methodism and Pietism groups within the Anglicans and Lutherans of that time period. The movement found its most numerous expression in the wake of the First and Second Great Awakenings in the United States. In the United States, the movement eventually became synonymous with Fundamentalism. However, by the 1950s the distinction between Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism developed afresh, in part due to the ministry of Billy Graham. Evangelicalism since the 1950s has been characterized, broadly, by a rejection of the separatism of Fundamentalism and a tend towards active social and political engagement. These traits are viewed by some as a peculiarly American phenomenon, despite the fact that one of the central elements of Evangelicalism has always been a Gospel-focussed activism that seeks collective transformation through individual transformation.

Contemporary Evangelicalism crosses denomination boundaries. Their are Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists, and even Catholics that can be identified as part of Evangelicalism. The four central tenets of Evangelicalism have, historically, been:

  1. Conversionism — An emphasis on individual conversion and the “born again” experience.
  2. Biblicism — An emphasis on the authority of the Bible
  3. Crucicentrism — The doctrinal centrality of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
  4. Activism — Active individual participation in the spread of the Gospel message and seeking individual transformation

While all of these tenets have theological character, the specifics vary based on denominational traditions. In contemporary Evangelicalism there is even some disagreement about the definition and necessity of these tenets. For these reasons church historians have found it incredibly difficult to come up with a coherent definition of what it means to be an Evangelical. This matter is complicated further by the development of the Emerging and Emergent church movements within Evangelicalism. The Emergent church movement blends post-modern sensibilities with Evangelicalism and is more apt to compromise doctrinal integrity and coherency in exchange for cultural acceptance. The Emerging church movement is an expression of Evangelicalism that tends to downplay the abuses of the Evangelical tenet of Activism, particularly political expressions of that tenet, and in its place to seek to contextualize the other three tenets in a way that is intended to speak into and challenge a predominant culture.

All that to say that defining Evangelicalism is next to impossible, because there is no authority or organization that can legitimately speak for Evangelicals. The movement is multifaceted and highly variable. Certainly there are some criticisms that can be legitimately made of those who would identify themselves of Evangelicals, but those criticisms can not be rightly laid at the feet of all who would fall under the very broad umbrella of Evangelicalism. So, I hope Shawn McCraney uses caution as he heaps on criticism of this very eclectic movement. A movement, oddly enough, it appears that Shawn McCraney himself could be said to belong to.

In 2013 Evangelicalism Sucks!

I’ve been out in Utah for almost two years now and it is an interesting sort of place. Aside from all the Mormons, the very small Christian community is peculiar too. For one thing, trends and practices that fell out of fashion years ago back east are just finding adoption out here. In some ways it’s like being stuck in the Evangelicalism of 10 years ago.

But, Utah’s Christian community also has some more unique facets. One of those more unique facets is the plethora of ministries devoted to watching, critiquing, and sometimes downright attacking Mormonism. It wouldn’t be improper to call some of these “Anti-Mormon” ministries. I’m willing to call some of these ministries “Anti-Mormon” because some actually seem more interested in fostering bitterness and resentment towards the errors of Mormonism than they are in making positive statements regarding Christian truth. Most of these ministries I tend to ignore since their influence is narrow.

However, one ministry that I’ve mostly ignored will be meriting my attention starting this year. This is the ministry of Shawn McCraney. In Utah, and elsewhere, Shawn is known for his two books; “I Was a Born-Again Mormon” and “Where Mormonism Meets Biblical Christianity Face to Face”, and his local TV program “Heart of the Matter.” Over the last number of years Shawn has devoted himself to observing, critiquing and attacking Mormonism. He has a broad following and is respected by a lot of people in Utah, especially those who have come out of Mormonism.

But, this past week on his TV program Shawn announced his intent to discontinue his regular emphasis on Mormonism and instead to devote himself to going after “American Evangelical Christianity.” Not surprisingly there is some concern about this new focus of Shawn’s amongst some in Utah. Personally, I have to say I have some sympathy for the issues that Shawn identified this past week as being the motivation for his new emphasis: political pandering, mega-church culture, shallow worship, etc. However, I am concerned about Shawn’s motivation for a couple reasons.

First, Shawn stated that part of the motivation was his visiting six large churches in Utah during the holidays. This concerns me because Utah is only one state, and is not a good representation of America at large; and going to only “large” churches hinders Shawn’s experience since the vast majority of churches in the United States are actually quite small; and there are huge differences between how large and small churches operate and worship.

Second, I have a big problem with Shawn’s choice of target. Evangelicalism is a horrible group to try and criticize; not because it could hurt Shawn’s ministry or anything like that. Rather, going after Evangelicalism is a horrible idea because nobody even knows what Evangelicalism is. Evangelicalism is not a cohesive movement, its not a distinct denomination, it has no universally accepted doctrines or practices and some people who get lumped into that group probably don’t belong.

So, 2013 should be an interesting time for Christians in Utah as one locally prominent voice has decided to attack “American Evangelical Christianity.” Many of the things Shawn identified as being problematic within Evangelicalism are ripe for criticism. However, I don’t think Shawn has the knowledge, experience or wisdom to really deal with this issue well. I expect a lot of damage to be done, and Shawn McCraney won’t be the one doing the cleanup. That job will be handled by the Pastors, Elders, Deacons and lay people in good churches throughout this state that will be hurt by what I expect to be division, in-fighting and worse prompted by this new emphasis of Shawn McCraney for 2013.