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Negative media about the Church outweighs the good news

A Christian PR agency has been weighing the media, and found it wanting. They have discovered that, on average, the Church attracts 150 pieces of negative media coverage every month (print and online), and these massively outweigh any good news stories, which aren’t only few and far between, but in many media outlets totally non-existent.

Jersey Road PR – the UK and Australia’s only agency specialising in PR for churches and Christian charities – monitored print and online media coverage reporting on churches last year, and it was all about historic child abuse, clergy bullying, cults, and the Liverpool suicide bomber who had allegedly converted to Christianity before trying to blow up a women’s hospital.

Gareth Russell, Jersey Road PR’s Founder and Managing Director, observed: “The sheer volume of negative media coverage about churches in the UK is sad but not surprising. The number one reason church leaders come to us for help is that they’re facing a media crisis, which can cause untold damage both to those involved and to the mission of the church. But there is hope, if they prepare for and respond to the crisis well — or better yet take preventative steps to stop it escalating into a crisis.”

Astonishingly, more than half of the negative pieces of coverage during the monitoring period (271 of 460) related to historic child abuse, and so the world is persuaded that the Church is a nest of paedophile priests. No matter how much bishops go on (and on) about transparency and accountability, or repentance and reconciliation, people tend to believe that what goes on behind closed church doors isn’t ‘Christian’ at all. Indeed, they see a Church of hypocrites and frauds, if not of bigots and vipers.

It’s interesting to look at a random Church of England ‘Daily Media Digest’:

When the Church bulletin leads with the world’s headlines, it’s a helpful media resource, certainly, but a woeful spiritual one. These headlines not only inspire thousands of weekly sermons, they also guide the prayers of believers, as though the bureaucratic political priorities of a dozen newspaper editors cohere perfectly with the intercessory heart of God. This is a type of advertising, or political product placement, which promotes the ‘goods’ which are deemed worthy of consumption in an unending regurgitation of the same ‘product’ packaged in different styles for different audiences. When meaning, truth and knowledge are themed according to media taste and style, what is left of meaning, truth and knowledge?

And those clergy and Synod members who tend to make it onto TV or radio programmes, or into tabloid reports, do so because their personal moral preferences and missional efforts happen to chime with the obsessions of the age, which at the moment is sex, sexuality and sexual abuse. The fact that all CofE clergy with media profiles are overwhelmingly (exclusively?) on the political left ought to make Church House think twice (or at least once) before simply churning their messages under the aegis of ‘News about the Church of England’. The Church is a political plurality: we may all agree on the imperative of justice, but this exists on planes beyond LGBT rights, anti-racism, ecology, environmentalism and peace movements.

Where is there ever a report on (for example) the Christian virtue of the nuclear family, and of children being brought up by a faithful mother and a father?

Of course, the mere mention of such an example is met with instant objection, and so the lost ‘good news‘ of how stable families are a building block of society, and of how children reared by complementary sexes tend to fare better in life, gets buried beneath 12 links (yes, twelve) about Church pensions. And when this ‘good news’ about traditional marriage or Holy Matrimony isn’t spread by the Church, then perceptions and understandings of human identity begin to ‘change with the times’; less in relation to God and Scripture, and more reflexively related to themselves in a journey of self-discovery and personal fulfilment.

There are two ‘good news’ stories at the bottom of the featured Bulletin, but why are they at the bottom? Why is all that’s above just a collage of flat, one-dimensional, disjointed headlines, each of which has been considered worthy of inclusion, while others are discounted? Why The Tablet and Pink News, and not the Catholic Herald and Woman Alive magazine?

Why is ‘Pressure on Johnson’ at the top, swiftly followed by Covid and non-compliance with ‘Global Industry Standards’, while reports on thriving and growing churches are relegated almost to footnotes?

Why did we only hear the good news of dozens of Muslims leaving Islam and accepting Christ and worshipping in Liverpool Cathedral when one of them became a suicide bomber? Why did it take a momentous bit of bad news on one day to permit the good news of many preceding years to be revealed?

Why do we hear so much about: ‘Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones‘ (Rom 1:26); and so little (or nothing) about ‘And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved‘ (Acts 2:47)? Why are we inculcated with conceptions of the Holy Spirit leading us into accommodation with the prevailing culture, and virtually nothing about the Holy Spirit leading believers into the fulness of truth; a fullness which transcends culture and this moment in history to inspire Christians to make a stand?

We know the answer(s) to this, of course.

In Christian faith and mission, one person’s good news is now another person’s bad news; and one person’s bad is another’s good. Apart from perhaps feeding the poor and healing the sick, there is no longer an objective ‘good’: even preaching the gospel is becoming a criminal offence. And take the example of Muslims finding Christ and worshiping in Liverpool Cathedral. Without even naming them (for their own protection), the consequences of reporting ‘And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved‘ could be catastrophic for Liverpool Cathedral: all it would take is another Emad Al Swealmeen or a Salman Abedi, and hundreds could die.

And so the Church’s good news is buried by pensions, business regulations, industry standards, environmental concerns, and secular party politics; and the gospel is trivialised and relativised, if not mired by scepticism and hindered by societal suspension. You’ll hear ‘good news’ (12 links to it) when it surrounds a pro-EU socialist priest in a civil partnership, or a lesbian bishop who’s trashing Tories. Where is the Spirit-controlled apologetic which robustly challenges the plausibility structures of (post)modernity, and by which confidence in Christian belief may be seen as valid public truth, and the normativity of the good news of Jesus restored?