Church, Media Relationship Failing - Journalists

By Smith, Joyce | Anglican Journal, April 1997 | Go to article overview

Church, Media Relationship Failing - Journalists


Smith, Joyce, Anglican Journal


`THE SPIRIT of the Lord God is upon me ... to bring good news to the oppressed ... to proclaim liberty to the captives ... to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour" (Isaiah 61:1-2).

Are mainstream churches missing the media boat?

"For the last half of the century, they haven't gotten as far as the dock," said Michael Valpy, a columnist at the Globe and Mail. Mr. Valpy was one of three speakers responding to the question posed in a series of recent lectures at Toronto's Anglican Church of the Redeemer.

The idea of a gulf between churches and the modern mass media is neither new nor surprising. But it may not be the media's fault for failing to report on mainstream Christianity. The blame falls more at the church community's door, suggested Mr. Valpy and two other speakers, Rita Deverell of Vision TV and Rev. Tim Foley.

"The church's agenda is out of focus, too compromised, too muted," said Mr. Valpy, a member of St. Clement's Anglican Church, Toronto.

The desire to reach consensus has resulted in a fuzzy public image with churchgoers seeming to think that spiritual matters are private matters. Instead, Mr. Valpy noted that the social values of community, concern for the environment and social entitlements are much the same as those which many religions profess.

As the Globe's correspondent in South Africa from 1984 to 1987, Mr. Valpy met Anglican leaders who made no separation between private and public practice of Christianity. He remembers the former bishop of Johannesburg as a gruff "Old Testament prophet type" who once hid him in a Soweto basement, safe from security forces.

Then there is the telegenic Archbishop Desmond Tutu: "The only man I know," said Mr. Valpy, "who talks to God in public, as if God was his neighbour."

A priestly friend confessed to Mr. Valpy he was worried about going to the Day of Action protest on the Ontario Legislature last Oct. 25, whereas the columnist did not have to struggle to imagine Archbishop Tutu leading the parade up Toronto's University Ave. to Queen's Park. The archbishop would be applauded, but Mr. Valpy admitted a Canadian cleric might be mocked.

Canadian churches have not always been so reticent to lead social charges, Mr. Valpy said. The social gospel movement of the 1930s which laid the groundwork for the CCF, the league for social reconstruction and the social safety net is such an example. The church should be "more visible as a moral watchdog," despite the risk of being "besieged" by every moral cause, he said.

Tim Foley agrees with this call for the church to step forward and take its place in the media world.

A former journalist who is now an Anglican priest, Mr. Foley said, instead of trying to manage the media's coverage, the church should trust the power of the "language of love" offered by Christ in the gospels to assure fair and balanced reporting.

Mr. Foley gave a number of examples of situations where Canadian churches could have seized the opportunity to preach the Gospel in contemporary life. …

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