Father Tim and the power of the Media
I suppose it was inevitable that I would get round to writing about this topic eventually. The brief flurry of press coverage Father Tim’s now-famous sermon received came just as I was sleeping off the effects of Copenhagen, and so almost got missed in the hurry to try and write up my experiences. I want to pick out just one aspect at this stage: the relationship between Church and Media.
I’ve known Tim for some years, and have had conversations with him about how the press can be engaged in the work and words of the Church in the past. I was amazed at how he handled himself throughout the first of his encounters with media interest: his struggle with Stationery Box over the Playboy Children’s Stationery Range.
The Church of England is not known for its positive relationship with the Media. It rarely manages its press image very effectively for starters. But it really doesn’t’ have to be this way. I would identify the current state of Church-Press relations as little better than Church-Rock Music relations around the time John Lennon declared that the Beatles were about to be bigger than Jesus Christ. Its a sort of “hide and hope they don’t mention us” attitude, in which active disengagement seems to be the top priority. It seems almost as if the Press couldn’t possibly have anything good to say about us.
First, this is odd because we are supposed to have faith in the goodness and value of the Gospel, and second because, although we are given words of caution about our conduct when in the limelight, we are supposed to let our light shine, to be like a city on a hill, visible for miles around.
I also know that a relationship with the media can be turned around. The coverage of the protests has shifted dramatically as the voices of cynicism towards the media have softened and those wanting active engagement have won out. I firmly believe that this should be a model for the Church. The change didn’t come over night, and involved some painful moments and hard fought internal debates.
I think there are a couple of very specific reasons why this has become a problem for the church. First and foremost, its got something to do with the career choices of Christians. There really is a deficit of Christians in the media, created and maintained largely by older generations of church goers endlessly berating the media’s failings.
When I make a statement about politics, people often say “oh, you have to change it from the inside”. Well, oddly, no one seems to apply that to the media. They apply it to Parliament, to banks and even the army. They never quite seem to bother applying it to the media. Perhaps someone wants to explain that to me, because it makes no sense whatsoever.
The Church in Britain today has lots to celebrate, especially on a local level. I do think its time that the Church brought itself up to speed and got itself a decent level of coverage. Part of this will involve creative thinking, developing an eye for potential messaging, building better relationships and feeding stories through in a more positive way.