Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Let’s be clear, not clever

The story goes that as the then-new Archbishop of Canterbury sailed to America for his first visit as the head of the Church of England, he was warned to be on his guard when he met the sharp New York Press corps on arrival.

Duly alerted, he managed to handle the welcoming press conference OK until the last question. “Hey, Archie, do you plan to visit any nightclubs when you are in New York?”

Gulping, he prayed for inspiration and came up with what he thought was an inspired reply. Looking innocent, he leaned forward and asked quizzically, “Are there any nightclubs in New York?”

The archbishop patted himself on the back for having defused a potential bomb…until he read the splash headline on the front page of the next day’s newspaper:

Archbishop’s first question on arrival: Are there any nightclubs in New York?

That kind of exchange captures pretty well much of the church’s nervous relationship with the mainstream media; we’re sure they are out to get us, somehow, so we’ll try to be clever. Sadly, we tend to end up like the archbishop, muttering that we know that’s what we said, but it’s not really what we meant…

Sure, there are some clear examples of deliberate bias out there. But for the most part, I don’t believe that “secular journalists” are conspiring to attack people of faith. They’re attempting to report fairly (from their overwhelmingly liberal worldview) on a world they little understand, and which in turn little understands—and, worse, little toleratesthem.

Frankly, the idea of some vast media conspiracy to bring down the church, and usher in the Antichrist, is laughable. Anyone who has been in a chaotic newsroom knows that it’s amazing that the next edition or broadcast happens, much less anyone finds time to plot some big cultural revolution.

Rather than putting up walls against the mainstream media, the church should be building bridges. We need to view “secular journalists” as kindred spirits, in many ways; the typical journalist has a sense of calling about what he or she is doing, and wants to be part of changing the world, somehow. Sounds pretty noble to me. Almost Christian.

If we want to be understood, we need to treat the media like any other people group out there; learn their culture and values and language, and communicate on their terms, not ours. And we should be honest about our failures and mistakes, not trying our own media spin.

Yes, the church gets some negative press, but too often it’s because that’s just what she deserves. We should remember we are the community of the broken and the forgiven, not the perfect. Pretending otherwise doesn’t fool anyone, and just gives them grounds for further suspicion.

When dealing with the mainstream media, we’re much better just being clear, rather than trying to be clever.






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