Professor contributes to book on the influence of new evangelical media

Younger evangelicals might decide the U.S. presidential election in November depending on how effectively they organize through their own new media to support state and national candidates.

So say the editors of the first comprehensive study of new evangelical media in North America. Fifty contributors, including Peter Kerr, assistant professor of communication at Asbury College, examined everything from evangelical blogging and podcasting to drama, computer gaming, public relations, advertising, radio and TV broadcasting, movies, books, periodicals, theme parks, comic books, music, merchandizing, and more.

The just-released book, “Understanding Evangelical Media: The Changing Face of Christian Communication” (InterVarsity, 2008, 347 pp.) is edited by Quentin J. Schultze and Robert H. Woods, Jr., professors of communication at Calvin College and Spring Arbor Universities, respectively.

“Younger evangelicals have flooded to new media, creating their own, nearly invisible social networks,” says Schultze, also the Executive Director of the Gainey Institute for Faith & Communication at Calvin. “Reporters are mistakenly focusing on traditional, high-profile Christian TV and radio programs, overlooking millions of younger evangelicals who are not so quickly predisposed toward particular political stands.”

Schultze adds, “These Gen-Xers, Yers, and Millennials are not interested in traditional evangelical broadcasting and are forging new media networks under the radar of news media. They’re downloading audio files of engaging sermons from distant churches, reading edgy books published by unconventional Christian authors, writing blogs that criticize as well as support existing Christian leaders, posting spiritually satirical YouTube videos, and getting together for social-oriented theological discussions over a latte or a microbrew.”

Woods says that the political vibrancy of young evangelicals reflects their social consciences and flows from young evangelicals’ belief that worship is the stage for comprehensive social action, not just for voting and party politics. “Younger evangelicals’ blogs tell the story,” he says.

Asbury College’s Peter Kerr writes in the book about evangelicals’ use of public relations to tell their own stories in mainstream media. He addresses both secular media’s mis-reporting about evangelicals and evangelicals’ former reluctance to proactively address their public relations issues—such as the national publicity over a handful of American megachurches canceling Sunday Christmas services. Kerr writes, “Evangelicals are realizing that they cannot control their own public identities by silence and that restricting communication to their own tribe has limited benefits.”

The book’s editors and authors have created a massive website that is monitoring the spectrum of new and old evangelical media. The site www.understandingevangelicalmedia.com is “using the only medium available for tracking new developments on the fly,” says Calvin College’s Schultze. He adds, “It’s going to be an interesting fall as younger evangelicals organize online to influence not just the November elections but the ways that future evangelicals think about what it means to be faithfully engaged in society.”

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