Snake Handlers

I once observed ironically, that it seems that the business of sociology is to define metrics and statistics for scientifically supporting racism and ethnic or religious discrimination. National Geographic has never had a reputation for scientific rigor. Between exploitative photos of African and South American tribes, that seem to be more titillation than observation, and Articles that gloss over and distort the facts, they have provided colorful and fabulous entertainment for the long wait in a doctor’s office or reception area. What they often lack is factual, balanced and peer reviewed study of their subjects. This lack of scholarship has translated into their cable television network.

Several years ago they were invited into a small independent church that claimed to be Pentecostal. This church was a heterodox cult, engaged in practices that do not resemble classical Pentecost in any way. They drink toxic mixtures and handle venomous animals as a part of their normal religious practice. They, like many splinter groups over the years, fell out of the mainstream Restorationist movement because of fatigue or desire for personal power. The reality is that there is no connection between them and other Pentecostals. However, National Geographic has gotten a great deal of mileage out of reusing and recutting this same piece of footage into every exploration of pagan demonic practices they can. They then attempt to somehow imply, without directly making slanderous statements for which they could be held accountable. Instead they have introduced a made up term, Pentecostalism in an attempt to redefine the movement as an aspect of these relatively tiny splinter groups who are not recognized by Pentecostals as being authentic.

Today I witnessed a program where, this tiny backwoods church in Virginia was depicted as normative for Pentecostals, then a few seconds of a larger more characteristic Denominational Pentecostal church was cut in, and an interview with a member of the lager church was cut in after that. While no direct statement was made to this effect, there was a clear attempt by the makers of the film to use backmasking to link the comments of the inexperienced and uneducated member of the mainstream Pentecostal church with the tiny, heterodox cult from Virginia.

In one of my course in college, I did a study of backmasking. Backmasking is a technique where an image or piece of video or a sound bite, is cut into a video or audio stream, in such a way that it masks the shorter and less vibrant item which precedes it. The result is that a viewer or listener tends to blur the two items into a single whole and when this data is recalled later a new meaning and sequence of events is brought to mind. The victim of this manipulation doesn’t remember what was actually broadcast; instead the morphed sequence is stored as a piece of learning.

The point of this exercise is to be able to tell people, libelous or slanderous lies, without leaving a clearly actionable piece of evidence. It’s for this reason that in the past, theaters and other media were prohibited from using back masking techniques to manipulate the consumer.

A classic example is the theatre chain that flashed images of food and drink that was offered by the concession stand in the lobby, during the movie or during the previews. The relatively small period of time that these images appeared at any one instant caused the continuation of the movie to back mask these images. When the frequency of the flashed images became high enough, millions of theater goers were manipulated into buying overpriced popcorn and colas that they would not have otherwise wanted or purchased.

The reason this is a critical issue, is that the network in question is played across the globe. These small programs take on the character of sociological, headline News for many millions of viewers. The intentional misportrayal of Pentecostals amounts to nothing less that a pogrom of religious persecution against Pentecostals on a global scale.

Persecution of the Church, especially the church on the move and successful, is no new thing. Over the last 2000 years, Christians have been the victims of persecution and injustice, more often than not. But it is not something we should passively allow to go unanswered. Pray for guidance, Read your Bible, and realize that fighting against the persecution is not wrestling with flesh and blood. Instead battling this anti-Christian movement is nothing less than your duty. Pickup the mantle, allow the spirit of prophecy to motivate you, shake off the snake and let it be burned in the campfire. If you are committed and don’t dither, it will not harm you (ACT 28:3-6).

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