Two Years Later: Where Are We Now? (Part 7)

Read the series.

Are you and your ministry prepared for the next crisis that will inevitably flow from these “perilous times” in which we live, “in the last days” (2 Tim. 3:1)?  

SermonAudio is preparing—which will allow all of its broadcasters to be better suited for the next cultural calamity, whatever that may be.

The company is building The Vault—a secure space on the second floor of the Mack Library, on the campus of Bob Jones University, which will house new technological infrastructure, providing security and independence for “the largest and most trusted library of audio sermons,” upon which so many churches have come to rely.

SermonAudio founder Steven Lee summed it up simply: “This will protect us from becoming cancelled,” he stated.

“We are in the business of trying to protect even the smallest church,” he said. “Nobody is working on a solution for the small church. So that is where we come in.”

Jesus predicted a day when “the love many will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12). There are few terms more chilling than cancel culture—a concept with which we’ve become all too familiar since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the resultant shutdowns, and the battles over the freedoms of religion and speech that directly ensued.

“Cancel culture is a real thing,” Lee stated. “To me, it is just one small step away from it being a wholesale gospel issue.”

He explained: “We have seen this demonstrated, so this is not theory anymore. If they feel like your business or your message, or whatever your activity is, running on their machines, is causing any kind of ‘mental distress,’ or anything of that nature, they have the right then to just turn you off because it is a violation of terms. That is a very broad thing, because most things that are of a conservative message could fall under that category.”

So how are we as Christians to navigate this technological and cultural minefield?

“We’re making prayer a very big component in everything that we do,” Lee stressed.

“Not to make ourselves intentionally a target,” he said, “but we are in the sermon business. We have two-million-plus sermons on our site. If people are crying about offenses, pick a page in (the Bible)—there are things that will offend people.”

Throughout this series, we have addressed the exponential increase of online ministry activity over the last two-plus years—looking at its pluses, minuses—and pitfalls. Perhaps the greatest threat in the latter category comes from outside—from cancel culture.

“We have churches already telling us that they are having trouble with their platforms,” Lee stated. “You are seeing sermons being pulled off. You are seeing entire ministries being pulled off.”

While The Vault will also strengthen SermonAudio in terms of cybersecurity, as discussed in a previous installment, the threat of cultural cancellation seems to be primary in most people’s minds.

Lee explained: “We are seeing this, more and more, here and there, of churches that are suffering this sort of censorship. I don’t see how this could be a surprise to us. To me it is obvious. If these companies are run by individuals that have a very sharp leaning bent toward progressive ideologies, then they are going to find ways to remove very offensive—to them personally—content. They are not going to stand for that.”

According to Lee, our window of opportunity is fleeting.

“I just see this as a matter of time,” he stated. “I don’t really see this as an if, but a when. If nothing else, it is prudent for us to take some steps to ensure that we retain our ability to communicate what may be offensive. When you start talking about sin, and the fact that there is only one way to heaven, and that other ways are false, you are going to offend people. There is no way around that.”

And the consequences of that kind of offense, in this toxic culture, could be frightening.

“Imagine a day when you don’t even have the technical platforms to get your message out,” Lee said. “I think that would be horribly paralyzing for the church, to not have a voice. We have never experienced that. When you lose platform, you are voiceless.”

The Apostle Paul exhorts us to “awake” and be among those that are “redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:14, 16).

“This is partially the reason why we are doing The Vault,” said Lee. “This is just our way of preparing.”

Paul Scharf 2019 Bio


Paul J. Scharf (M.A., M.Div., Faith Baptist Theological Seminary) is a church ministries representative for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, serving in the midwest. He also assists Whitcomb Ministries and writes for “Answers” Magazine and Regular Baptist Press. For more information on his ministry, visit foi.org/scharf or email pscharf@foi.org.

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

The Vault makes sense to me in one way: a ministry streaming platform that hosts a large collection of sermons for its clients is wise to look for a way to protect that asset long term in an environment of ever-increasing cybercrime. It should be an air gapped network or even just a one-terminal backup archive.

As somebody who has spun up and configured a fair number of web servers over the last decade or so, I can tell you it's harder and harder to keep all the automated nastiness out.

It's certainly also not unimaginable that major streaming platforms like YouTube and Vimeo, and others could eventually adopt policies on "hate" or some kind of "ism" that exclude preaching that is true to historic Christian doctrine.

I wouldn't call that cancel culture though. It's just post-Christian culture. It would be sad to see it happen to that degree, but we're already post-Christian in many ways as a culture. It's not a good thing, but it's not really a new thing. The Christian faith has faced it many times.

Churches that lose streaming platforms are not "voiceless." Lots and lots of churches don't even use any streaming platforms. I attend one every week. We are not voiceless. We're just local.

Which is what the church has been for thousands of years.

We'll be fine with or without streaming and with or without a Vault.

As for persecution and being silenced, it's much harder to silence thousands of small local churches than it is to silence a repository of sermons stowed in one location. The best way to protect that would be to not disclose where it is (digitally or geographically).  If we think sermons are going to be illegalized, wouldn't the government just drop a bomb on the Vault... or cut its connection to the Internet?   Am I missing something in the concept?

But I do think it makes sense from a cybersecurity standpoint in a society where people are still permitted to access such information but in a world where hackers are constantly releasing new forms of malware everywhere. A successful ransomware attack would be an especially problematic scenario for any kind of library or streaming service.

In short, I believe criminals are a much more present and real threat than cancel culture.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Paul J. Scharf's picture

Aaron,

As always, thanks for running my articles! I deeply appreciate it.

Now, I have to say that I love your optimism ... ("It's certainly also not unimaginable...."). No—it's not. I have a friend who had a sermon pulled off of ---Tube last week.

I do not have the technical knowledge to discuss that side of it, so I will not try.

I can testify that SermonAudio has been a really big part of my life ... for more than a third of my life! And it is a HUGE part of my career in ministry now.

So, if the day comes when it is taken out, all I can say is ... may the Lord have mercy upon us all.

Blessings!

PJS

Church Ministries Representative, serving in the Midwest, for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I'm interested in what sermons were pulled from what streaming services and why.

Where can I read about that?

I hear a lot of stories with no specifics. In a few cases, where there was a news story and a few facts included, the 'sermons' were pulled because they violated the service's rules regarding promoting known hoaxes (usually ones with health risks), advocating violence, violating copyright, or similar. In a few cases, the videos were pulled in error and restored not long after (one from Michael Brown comes to mind.)

More important, though, I find myself at odds with a seemingly increasing number of my fellow believers on my assessment of the times. We do live in 'perilous times,' but we've lived in those for millennia. We're facing a few challenges we haven't faced here in the U.S. before (and almost always winning, by the way, when it gets to court), but these are not new challenges for other Christians in other places. We have it far, far better than most Christians have had it around the world since Jesus ascended.

These are really blessed times and a lot of really good things are happening along with the bad.

Aside from the feeling that too many Christians are listening to Tucker Carlson (and other peddlers of alarm, rage, and victimhood) my main concern is that we have a thankfulness deficit. If we don't realize how blessed we are, we're not properly grateful for it.  Another concern I have is that all the focus on threats from the left has a disturbing number of believers (as well as non-believing conservatives) not noticing all the threats from the right.

The "friend or foe" classification doesn't align with right or left anymore (if it ever did). It's a completely different axis... up and down?

There are foes all around without and within, and a good bit of the time, the person in the mirror.

But none of that is new. We are more than conquerors. God is for us; who can be against us? I'm not going to live with a spirit of dread about the times we live in--especially when I see mercy and blessing everywhere I turn (when I remember to look for it).

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

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