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.

34 thoughts on “Heart of the Matter Cancelled: It’s Complicated…Sort Of

  1. Looks like ye olde “its easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission” situation that turned out to be the final straw . I can see why Shawn has implied a version as if he were the silenced lone voice of truth rather than offering up that backstory himself.

    • Here’s the part that still bothers me though:

      Shawn has always been caustic and combative. The only thing that really changed was the target. And, the station said that it didn’t have a problem with critiquing Evangelicalism. What it was concerned about was the tone they expected Shawn to use.

      That just doesn’t pass my smell test because Shawn’s tone was a fairly constant factor. What is the fundamental difference in confronting error in the shape of Mormonism, versus confronting error in the shape of Evangelicalism? Error is error and the Bible offers the same prescription: correction.

      Like I wrote before: “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.”

      If that is true, which I believe it clearly is, then criticizing Mormonism is not fundamentally different than criticizing Evangelicalism. In both cases they are open and ripe for criticism. So, why would Shawn’s methods all of a sudden become an insurmountable issue? That’s the question that still hangs out in the open in my mind. Why now?

      • Well except for that it says Shawn was almost axed for his behavior WHILE talking about Mormonism in 2010. And when it says they had been working with him the whole time to help with certain concerns, that seems to be what its talking about. His tone might be consistent, but I can’t remember him ever using that much swearing. Not to mention saying awful things like there’s no place to send Mormons as if there are no good churches in Utah.
        Look at it like this, if Shawn had talked to the station first, he would have been turned down. But if he goes on the air with it first and then was cancelled, he makes the station look like the bad guy. He knew exactly what he was doing.

        • Yet they didn’t cancel him and he went on for another two years, until now. Two years is an awfully long time to work with someone on something that you were ready to cancel them over. Some may call it long-suffering, others would call it simply tolerating it. Why tolerate it given one target, but not another? That doesn’t make sense to me.

          As for the “swearing.” I didn’t find Shawn’s language particularly offensive. Then again, I’m a bit more tolerant of that sort of thing. But, I’d hardly fault a person for using such language as an expression of frustration. Yet, the station didn’t raise that as its primary concern. The thing that merited the call from the station owner was the change in content. Sure, they were concerned about language. But, that’s not what they said was their first concern. That should be telling.

          And, I would also be willing to give a pass to a bit of hyperbole on Shawn’s part. Especially since he couldn’t have been including even his own CAMPUS ministry, so clearly he’s wasn’t implying there was absolutely no place for people coming out of Mormonism to go.

          And, there’s plenty of of crap to fling around for everyone involved in this. Besides, Shawn was paying to air his program, so I again would ask why would he not presume to be able to exert control over his own content? Sounds like the station wanted the benefits of Shawn’s programming but as few costs as possible. And when the topic changed on them they decided the potential costs were too high.

          • Shawn didn’t start paying for his program until after he started asking for money on it. This doesn’t buy him the right to air content he already knew was off limits for him. The station had a choice to either be strong-armed by Shawn or stand up in spite of the backlash.
            I don’t think Amanda’s point was the swearing in and of itself, but rather that all of a sudden, Shawn’s ‘style’ had kicked into high gear, showing that the two years of working with him had just been flushed.
            And what about you? A few days ago you basically say Shawn isn’t qualified to do this kind of thing and it would cause damage, but now you say he should have been allowed to do it anyway? Here’s an idea, lets find someone who IS qualified and pitch the same program to TV20. Know anybody? That’ll settle the content vs conduct issue and just might actually get us that self-examination show. I’m not being sarcastic.

            • Paying for air time certainly doesn’t buy him carte blanche, but why was the content off-limits? Sure, if he’s getting air time for free he answers exclusively to the people paying the bills. If he’s helping to pay those bills then it would seem some license isn’t an unreasonable thing to expect. But, I understand the station’s perspective at this point. They had said no before and were taken aback by being put in a position to say no again. That’s couldn’t have been a pleasant thing for them.

              As for my criticisms of Shawn; I expressed doubts about whether Shawn could do the job well. I was open in saying it could either go well or very badly. And I was honest in expressing how I expected it to go. But, seeing as how I’m not omniscient I wasn’t arrogant enough to assume it could only go badly. Hence, why I planned to follow the show and its new direction. And, because what Shawn was going to be covering happens to be an area I have a keen interest in.

              I don’t know a lot of people out West with the right kind of background to host a show critiquing Evangelicalism; but I don’t know a whole lot of people. My graduate studies were all in Church History, specializing in American Christianity. But, I don’t have time to pitch, much less, host a show; so, I’ll stick to blogging.

              • Oh well, I don’t think I know anyone either. Have you ever seen Ancient Paths on TV20? He’s pretty critical on Christian issues, but he talks softer.

                • Wait a second… “he talks softer”? Why was Shawn’s ‘style’ allowed for 7 years, while it was directed at Mormonism? We all know why–because it was EFFECTIVE. You work at the station, Sean, do you not? How many letters/emails/calls came in over those 7 years in support of his work? How many lives were changed?

                  Can we not handle the same type of ‘style’ as Christians? My guess is we do not actually want the effect it would bring. Accountability.

                  • If you think Shawn’s ‘style’ on or off the air never caused strife over the years then you’d be wrong. Obviously there’s support, but I don’t think the owner based their decision on pragmatism or consensus.
                    But for argument’s sake, lets go with the flow and assume the worst about the owner’s heart. She’s just a bully puppet who silenced the noble, irreproachable McCraney out of sheer cowardice. God’s been hamstrung! God obviously wanted Shawn to accomplish this great and mighty work through TV20, but the door was slammed in His face! Shawn was the only hope for Mormonism and evangelicalism and now they’re all doomed!
                    Oh wait, Job 42:2. Hmm, what are the implications of that? I guess we can all calm down now.

                    • “But for argument’s sake, lets go with the flow and assume the worst about the owner’s heart. She’s just a bully puppet who silenced the noble, irreproachable McCraney out of sheer cowardice. God’s been hamstrung! God obviously wanted Shawn to accomplish this great and mighty work through TV20, but the door was slammed in His face! Shawn was the only hope for Mormonism and evangelicalism and now they’re all doomed!
                      Oh wait, Job 42:2. Hmm, what are the implications of that? I guess we can all calm down now.”

                      This was not my argument, so I’m not sure for whose sake you made it.

      • I completely agree with you–something stinks here. Looking at the timeline you laid out, coupled with the responses/emails from all involved, TV20’s “reason for dismissal” just doesn’t add up. I do not believe they are being completely forthcoming about everything. IF the sudden cancellation had anything to do with Shawn’s not seeking permission first, and his language, WHY was that not the immediate response from the station’s owner?

        I would also love to know WHY, if it was so clear cut about his dismissal, that Greg Johnson felt compelled to urgently reach out to the Pastoral community on behalf of TV20, stating, “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.”

        Now, why did the station need to hear from Utah Pastors? Was it to determine if the community was going to be behind this thing? Greg also mentioned potential “fallout” from viewers that could be attending these pastor’s churches. Was the station more concerned about the “fallout” they’d receive from pastors?

        And last, but certainly not least, what about the money? I have to wonder. The station made it clear how benevolent they had been toward HOTM in giving them “free air time” for five years… Can anyone tell me how many other local programs have also been the benefactors of the same free air time? Who else has actually ever paid for their programming? It seems out of place for Greg to mention that TV20 would suffer financial loss from discontinuing HOTM, if they were just going to fill the spot with something else anyway. Was HOTM the ONLY one paying for their segment?? If so, no worries, said Greg, “The LORD” will meet the needs of the station once all the pastors start contributing their $25 – $50 month…

        Bottom line is this: Greg Johnson got involved from the beginning at the behest of TV20. They had conversations regarding the focus of the show and the financial ramifications of cutting it, and Johnson used his connections to STAND AGAINST something that needs to be heard. The ‘powers that be’ wielded their collective sword, and slayed the beast. And now that someone has turned the spotlight on their bad behavior, they are scrambling to divert the focus completely.

        All I can say is, “Well done, TV20 and Standing Together Ministries!!!” The masses are buying it, and your station is safe from ridicule. Pastors are safe from losing their businesses. No one needs to lose sleep tonight. Except, of course, those who you’ve thrown under the bus.

        Thank you, HOTM for your 7+ years of service to this sick community. Millions were reached, and thousands saved. Thank you, McCraney family for your sacrifice. Thank you for sticking it out here, moving here, investing here. Thank you for fighting the battles we could not, in a way only you could. Thank you for standing up for TRUTH in an age where it has become relative. Thank you for trying to do something good for the Body of Christ. God knows it needs it.

        May He forgive us.

  2. One more thought… I would like to know how “official” this previous request was to do this type of program. Again, this is new information that was never brought into focus until you asked for a “formal statement” from the station. They list specific dates, and names of programs that had been canceled (frankly, irrelevent information), but this “turn-down” for another show of this type sounds more conversational than anything. In their statement, they mention that Shawn had “approached the manager with something similar in the past”. Was this just an idea mentioned in passing? Was it even the same thing? Shawn seems to have had his agenda very well thought out, even taking off the month of December to devote to research for it.

    Why would he have gone to the trouble if he KNEW this was already killed? Would he not have expected the reaction he received if he knew he was trying to resurrect a dead horse? Would that not have been the issue from the beginning? The station owner’s call, and Greg Johnson’s reaction never mention anything about it.

    If this was something that had been proposed by Shawn, and rejected by the station years ago, I’m sure there would be evidence of that communication, no?

      • Why live with hearsay? Have Denny forward on the correspondence and official denial of that request to this blogger.

        For the record, I called the station the night of Jan 8th, and the woman who answered the phone spoke on behalf of TV20, stating, “Heart of the Matter was canceled because it would have been destructive to the Body of Christ. We will be replacing Shawn’s program with a similar program–one that is NOT destructive.”

        • If you can’t take Denny’s word for it then what’s to convince you he wouldn’t also fabricate a document? If there aren’t documents, it might be worth hearing from Shawn what he remembers about that.

          My other argument is relevant to everybody. All of the questions, accusations, suspicions, and discussions have only one conclusion: either the owner was right or wrong. (She was certainly within her rights, so the whole right/wrong thing is pretty subjective anyway.) But either way, this is how God orchestrated things. When it all settles down, that’s what we’ll be left with.

          • The point, Sean, is not about the sovereignty of God. I believe He will and already has worked this out for good. If we chalk everything up to “God did this, so why bother using our minds?” then we’re in big trouble.

            The whole reason this blog was started (if I may assume), was to discuss whether or not we felt this situation was handled fairly. Did the owner have every right to cancel HOTM? Sure. But this is not about a business owner’s “rights”. This is a Christian Community issue. The way it was handled does not seem to jive with the biblical standards of problem solving.

            The mere fact that Standing Together Ministries got involved from the beginning, and formed some sort of petition to have (much needed) Christian programming abruptly removed from the airwaves is very revealing. It is also revealing that no one from the station wants to discuss that matter, rather, they are redirecting the focus to some mysterious previous shut-down. If that was their reasoning, fine. But, why was it brought to light only AFTER this blog was written? AFTER Greg Johnson’s tactics were exposed?

            That is my point anyway.

            • I’m not saying to not discuss, but it seems like minds have been made up by now.
              The decisions of a private business don’t fall under the Christian community, so I guess you’re talking about Greg and other pastors there.
              Did they act biblically? I don’t know their hearts, but I think there’s a biblical case against Shawn nevertheless. There was no petition. The only pastor responses I saw were clearly about Shawn’s behavior and inability to deal with the topic biblically.
              The station doesn’t bring up Greg because his influence is limited to the offering of opinions, there’s nothing to say that’s not already known. He didn’t even talk to the owners. Greg can answer for himself.
              The reason there wasn’t a written statement earlier is because the manager was acting on advice to stay out of the fray altogether, but changed his mind.
              And part of God being sovereign means that, from his POV, this program was apparently not “much needed”.

              • You’re right. It’s all opinion. Including your summation of God’s sovereignty over this. My opinion is that it’s TV20 that wasn’t needed, not this program.

                God bless.

              • I respectfully disagree with you, Sean. It is a community issue, as it is public programming–public Christian programming. Also, Greg Johnson was in contact with the station managers, if not the owners, as he made a request on their behalf “(TV20 actually needs to hear from Utah Pastors).”

                Regardless, I do not wish to argue with you any further. The facts speak for themselves.

  3. In Greg Johnson’s follow up email, he mentioned that Shawn was hand-delievered a termination letter by channel 20. I notice that is not included in your timeline, nor posted as part of the “full disclosure” documents. Is this something that could or should be “disclosed” to get the full picture here? Surely, this would clear up the true reason for the show being canceled, as it would have been written in “real time” (as the events unfolded).

    Is this something you could provide?

  4. I was just wondering, how much attention, on a scale 1 to 10, does this matter get in the Evangelical world of UT?

    In my UT LDS ward, I would say in the typical UT LDS ward, it doesn’t have enough play to carry on a conversation about it – at least I would be hard pressed to find anyone knowledgable enough to enjoy discussing it in the hallway.

    Maybe that wouldn’t be true in the SLC PA office, but is out among the LDS people.

    Do you think the station would entertain a “fair and balanced” format, that would engage the LDS people AND their opponents?

    Nevermind. Dumb question.

    • This matter has gotten a great deal of attention in the Body of Christ, and will only continue to gain momentum as more people are made aware.

      Perhaps you could pitch your idea for a “fair and balanced” format to KBYU?

      • How many in the “body” watch KBYU?

        I started watching TV20 because I saw Greg Johnson dialoguing with Robert Millet. In the early days of hotm, you could hear articulate arguments from callers. What happened?

        The show degraded into ridicule and its host got more and more puffed up. Now, we are presented with a network polished rehash of classic anti-Mormon rhetoric, replacing the local spectacle.

        At least the local spectacle was entertaining, even if ridiculous. I was really looking forward to the Evan version. :(

        • My guess is that few to none in the Body of Christ watch KBYU. Why? Because it has nothing for them, and no attempt is made to articulate the differences between Mormonism and Christianity. The LDS, it seems, would rather pretend there are no differences; only similarities with a few minor (major) exceptions.

          The “local spectacle” as you call it was entertaining, wasn’t it? Many LDS came to a saving knowledge of who Jesus is because of it. Best entertainment on earth.

          • So, that being the case, why jeopardize such a good thing by turning on his audience? It just doesn’t make sense.

            And why do it without first getting the station to agree? It seems to me it would be better to keep bringing in the sheep and work to build a safe and secure pen for the growing fold, than to do what he did, which was so self-defeating.

            At any rate, what happened puts a new twist on the word, “Those who are not against us are for us.” If we have the power to shut them up, they can’t be against us, so it follows that they are for us.

            Whoa, the “body” is suffering. Come quick Lord Jesus and catch us up lest we perish from our hypocrisy and our dissembling.

  5. I was sad about seeing Heart of the Matter removed fromTV 20. But I also know God is in control and no matter what has happened ‘God know’s the heart of us all.
    I know there are some solid christian churches in Utah,but I also have seen what Shawn is speaking about. Whats to be done about it is the question we should be focusing on..

    Shawn is a very out spoken guy and i love him for that. So was Walter Martin,The Bible Answer Man) he also was told his methods could be harsh because it came with out soft words. Anyway it does state in Gods word to exspect the churches to become
    lost in there way because they teach another gospel. So no matter what’ we need to be
    stripped of our self rightousness every day in order to see the danger’s that are before us in
    this flesh world we live in. God Bless all.

  6. Shawn’s latest update, as of today, should make many in that growing live audience he was drawing at the TV20 studio, blush.

    Or is the majority of those people as loyal to him as the majority of the saints was to Joseph?

  7. Well, now a week later, Shawn appears remorseful, judging from the latest post on his website. Could it be his support is vanishingly small by now?

    It would be interesting to know the TV20 viewer stats for HOTM’s old time slot. Is Ankerberg out drawing him?

    I, for one, prefer the locally produced antics.

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