What The Louisville And Kirk Lives Matter Narratives Tell Us About Social And News Media

Two of the many events that have roiled social and news media for the last few days seem, on the surface, about as different as one can imagine. In one case, in Louisville, KY, two white police officers, in the process of executing a search warrant, tragically killed a black woman after her boyfriend shot at the cops. In the second, this one in Moscow, ID, which is 2,100 miles northwest of Louisville, white cops cited white protestors for refusing to keep social distance or for refusing to wear a mask, for resisting arrest, and, in one case, arrested a political candidate for refusing to show identification to an officer. In Moscow no one was killed and one political campaign has received invaluable national publicity free of charge. What do they have in common?

Facts Matter

To a remarkable degree, the coverage of both of these events has been driven by narratives more than facts. In the Louisville case, the initial narrative spun by activists and repeated endlessly in the news and social media (is there any substantive difference any longer?) is that the police came to the wrong house, that the served a “no-knock warrant,” and that they killed an innocent woman in her bed. There were other exaggerations and lies told about this tragedy that do not need to be repeated in this space. All of those claims we now know to have been false. The Louisville Courier published an fact check article debunking 8 myths surrounding the death of Breonna Taylor.

Those claims were made and repeated in the service of a narrative, a story about the nature of things that may or may not be true. The prejudice of those, e.g., Lebron James, who would have us think that white cops are actively “hunting” (that is the word he used) black men was confirmed by this narrative, which turns out to have been as false as the initial story (“Hands up! Don’t shoot”) surrounding the death of Michael Brown. That narrative was debunked by the report produced by the Depart of Justice under President Obama.

Facts matter. Cornelius Van Til was right. There is no such thing as a brute fact, i.e., an uninterpreted bit of reality but this is not to say that there are no facts. As we have descended into late-modern subjectivism, we have slid farther down the slope toward social and cultural chaos. Young people have been taught for most of four decades that there is no such thing as objective reality, that facts are arbitrary political constructs to be deconstructed and replaced with a revolutionary social order. We are seeing the consequences of this theory being played out in the streets of the United States night after night.

Outrage Kills

Members of the Kirk, Christ Church, in Moscow, ID are also pushing a narrative about the the arrest of a few people the other day. Their narrative is that they merely gathered to sing Psalms and were accosted by jack-booted thugs dressed in police uniforms, unjustly arrested, and taken to jail. This narrative has about as much going for it as the Michael Brown and Breonna Taylor narratives.

As with those cases, pundits and others on social media and the news media have picked up the Kirk narrative and spread it widely. As I argued yesterday, it should clear to anyone with even a modicum of experience with news and politics that this was a publicity stunt from beginning. Had the Kirkers merely wanted to sing psalms they could have done so without any trouble from the local constabulary. They chose, however, to protest the local mask and social distance regulations by violating them. This is known as civil disobedience. As I have said about the MacArthur case (Grace Community Church) and about the Moscow, ID case, civil disobedience has a long and honored history in America. It is one of the ways that Americans have to call attention to unjust laws and to seek to change them. The American Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s modeled how to practice civil disobedience peacefully and to good effect.

This is why the Kirker narrative should not be swallowed by critical thinkers. They were not merely singing Psalms. They were singing Psalms as they were protesting a regulation with which they disagree. The organizer, Gabriel Rench, wanted a confrontation and indeed provoked one by refusing to give his identification to the police when they asked. The “Sovereign Citizens” are wrong. In America, when the police ask for your identification you must produce it. Further, some of the Kirkers are charged with resisting arrest. I have been singing Psalms for 40 years and never once has it required me to resist arrest. There is nothing about Pslam singing that requires one to be closer than 6 feet to one’s neighbor. It is even possible to sing Psalms with a mask on. I have done it now dozens of times over the last 6 months.

As Moscowid.net has noted, Tucker Carlson (not to mention Laura Ingraham, Glenn Beck, et al.) have seized on this story, with video conveniently provided to them by Rench’s supporters, and repeated the Kirker narrative. On social media Kurt Schlichter and Ian Miles Cheong both repeated the Kicker narrative. Apparently none of these media personalities took the time to read the local newspaper account of what happened and none of them seem aware of the background to the story. Omitting the local coverage in favor a narrative also unifies these episodes. The Louisville Courier’s fact check of the Breonna Taylor story has been largely ignored as has been the DOJ report on Michael Brown. People are still repeating the “hands up, don’t shoot” lie as if it were truth. The Moscow-Pullman Daily News story about Rench’s arrest was also ignored.

To pull back the curtain a bit, television news and talk shows do not have large research staffs any more and they do not have time to investigate stories carefully and thoroughly. What they must do is fill about 40 minutes of air-time every day. Air-time is a ravenous monster that must be fed and ratings must be sustained. Outrage gets clicks and ratings. Narratives feed the outrage machine. So, when someone feeds a narrative to a producer (how does Tucker Carlson or Laura Ingraham find out about a story in Moscow, ID? The connections might surprise you) the producer has little incentive or time to check out the story in detail, especially when it fits a narrative. In this case, the narrative is that power-hungry politicians, emboldened by the CDC and their newfound authority under public health laws, are trampling the constitutional rights of ordinary Americans. That narrative may be true and more sustainable regarding blue states like California, New York, New Jersey etc but, on the face of it, should have been implausible when applied to Moscow, ID. Indeed, Tucker noted the incongruity and complained that people are moving to Idaho (from California) to get away from this very sort of tyranny. That is one explanation but it is not correct. The incongruity of “cops arresting worshipers” (to paraphrase several clickbait headlines) should have caused Carlson and his staff to reconsider: Perhaps that is not what happened?

There are good reasons why both social and news media types should be cautious about narratives. In the Pacific Northwest there is a history of serious and even deadly tension between law enforcement and survivalist types. Many no longer remember the Ruby Ridge episode (1992), but the memory of that 11-day siege lives in the minds and memories of those who live in the Mountain West and Pacific Northwest. The standoff between a landowner and authorities at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, in Oregon, led to the death of one person. In the Pacific Northwest and the Mountain West, Ruby Ridge and Malheur are symbols, in some circles, of an imperious government trampling the rights of the little people. There are those who are predisposed to believe the “they’re out to get us” narrative. Conspiracy theories abound in this country for a reason. Thus, stories of police “arresting worshipers” need to be told very carefully lest the situation gain momentum and spin out of control. Does anyone remember Waco? In 2016, in the wake of the (2014) shooting of Michael Brown and the subsequent riots in Ferguson, MO, a crazed shooter, fed by false narratives about the killing of Brown and Philando Castillo (2016), shot 12 police officers and murdered 5.

Garrett Cabeza, writing for the Moscow, ID paper, reports that there is another “flash psalm sing” set for later today in Moscow. There will certainly be news crews there to film the conflict. The candidate is getting all the publicity for which he bargained and perhaps more. The city is doing their part. “City workers painted colorful rings 6 feet apart on the parking lot pavement to aid attendees in social distancing.” If the Kirkers really only want to sing Psalms, they are being invited to do so “decently and in good order” (1 Cor 14:40) if they will but the truth, that a candidate for office cleverly manipulated social and news/talk media is less interesting than the “jack-booted thugs” narrative circulating presently.


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  1. I realize this is not the main point of this insightful article, but could you clarify your statement “In America, when the police ask for your identification you must produce it”? I don’t believe it’s true in general but requires at least reasonable suspicion, depending on the state.

    • Don,

      I’m not a lawyer and don’t play one on the internet. My understanding is that, under Terry v. Ohio (1968), a police officer may detain someone without arresting them when they have a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed.

      In this particular case, the officer had a reasonable suspicion that Rench et al., were in violation of the law and thus could detain them and require them to produce ID. Rench refused.

  2. I am not a Kirker, but my understanding is that this church does public sings every month at different locations. Yes, they chose this location, and they asked that the officers give them latitude. The city seemed to double down with, not only their recent, baseless mask requirement, but 6 ft spots too. If you don’t want to be near the unmasked outside, go to the other side of the street. They were not putting the public at risk.
    At best, if anyone was grandstanding, you should consider that both the church and the city were grandstanding.
    I don’t follow Doug Wilson. I used to read his articles in Tabletalk, and I found them thought-provoking. Then, he was no longer writing for Tabletalk. I don’t fully understand why.
    In my opinion, someone needs to demonstrate the absurdity of these controlling mandates. While Christians are busy criticizing Christians who dare to sing a total of 4 songs in public, outside, without masks and maybe even standing a tad too close to each other for the US (in Europe, social distancing is 3 ft…I guess Europe has the lazy strain…), here is what is happening: our children are being emotionally and socially hurt – if not becoming prey-, our teenagers are falling terribly behind in school and attempting suicide at record numbers, our small, private businesses are barely holding on or not, our elderly are withering-being admitted to hospitals for starvation, our hospitalized are being misdiagnosed and dying alone, and congregants are weary. And then there are sluggish immune systems due to isolation and masking, plus the masking causes headaches, confusion, asthma, and anxiety for many. Widespread masking, outside of healthcare settings, aids in the transmission of microorganisms.
    It just seems to me that your time could be better spent on things other than criticizing Christians who dare to sing 4 songs on a public street without masks and maybe even without the US-style of SD causing 5 out of how many receiving some kind of police action.

    • Bettye,

      You are entitled to your view of the mask/distance regulations. You’re not entitled to your own facts nor to your own Scriptures.

      As I keep saying, Romans 13 is still God’s Word, unpopular as it may be. The magistrate gets to make these rules. Unless they contradict God’s Word we must obey them. Nothing about masks, as miserable as they be, or social distance contradicts God’s Word.

      There are avenues of complaint and appeal before civil disobedience. Did anyone sue the city? Did anyone ask the council to reconsider? Nevertheless, as I keep saying, civil disobedience is an honored tradition in America but when you practice it you must be prepared to accept the consequences. Whining is not permitted. They knew they were being provocative.

      Campaign stunts are also an honored tradition in in America but let’s keep some perspective here. This isn’t China and the Kirkers are not Uighurs. They aren’t being rounded up.

  3. Just curious, when are comments posted? I submitted a comment that did not break the moral law and certainly had no intent of irritating management, but I do not see it.

  4. Thank you for your reply. I agree there should be no whining, but it is odd to me that you seem to reduce their on-going monthly ministry to a campaign stunt. In my opinion, it is a Christian duty to oppose mandates that have deadly fallout. I know no one who has died of Covid, but I do know someone who died because of fallout from the mandates.
    It is very sad when anyone dies no matter the cause.
    You argue that this church should oppose the mandates another way. Are you? Again, the public sing is a monthly event for this church.
    I don’t see how Romans 13 negates the Lesser Magistrate Doctrine. And the freedom to breathe fresh air and smile at another human being are basic to how God created us.

    • Bettye,

      The fact that they do this monthly doesn’t mean that they are excused from the mask/distance mandates. We may not like and and we may disagree with the city, but God has given the magistrate authority to make these sorts of rules. The Kirkers knew what they were doing when they disobeyed them and planned to disobey them. This makes me think that there interest was much less in singing psalms than it was in making a point.

      Yes, I think that Christians should exhaust other options before civil disobedience. Again, however, as I’ve said repeatedly in this space, I believe in civil disobedience. Since I live in CA I may have to practice it myself. If it comes to that I’m going to cooperate with the authorities and accept my punishment like a grown up.

      Romans 13 doesn’t nullify the lesser magistrate but which lesser magistrate is authorizing the Kirkers to defy the mask/distance regs? Seems to me that the city council is about as “lesser” as it gets.

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