A monthly column that reflects on living in the Kingdom of God.
I recently heard some very encouraging reports from a Member of Parliament who is also an outspoken Christian.
While he did not hesitate to speak of the major scandals we are increasingly aware of, he also shared some very encouraging stories that have never made it to our headlines or television screens.
It would be fair to say that I was pleasantly shocked. That became the springboard for me to think more broadly about the news we passively and daily imbibe, prompting the following questions: who decides what is important and newsworthy? Why should we trust them? Do they have a consistent worldview that they are advancing, and am I unthinkingly taking all this in, even if it is detrimental?
Imagine with me, that one million people gathered together for an event of any description, ranging from politics to tiddlywinks. Would it be fair to say that this is a noteworthy event? I believe so. It was, but very little coverage was given when a million Christians from different provinces, ethnicities, churches and ages gathered to pray in Bloemfontein this year. Why?
Living in a small university town, we are not often grabbing national headlines. However, fees must fall and other student protests of 2016 provided a notable exception.
I heard firsthand from students, lecturers and wardens and witnessed a few events myself. When I compared what I heard and saw with what I read in the press, I found that the politically incorrect narratives were simply not spoken about in mainstream media, so much so that I felt compelled to provide this first-hand information to friends reading the news overseas.
It was an eye-opening experience. Similarly, I remember seeing the obituary of Charles Colson (a man I greatly admired) in TIME magazine in 2012. I thought to myself: I’m sure I will read about the incredible work he has done in over 30 years of ministry with Prison Fellowship, or his Templeton award, or his autobiography of God transforming his life.
How naïve I was. All I read about was his infamous role in the Watergate scandal of US President Nixon and a dubious and convenient conversion to Christianity (never mind the fact that Colson went against the advice of his lawyer and admitted his guilt, which is what resulted in his conviction, or the incredible work that Prison Fellowship has done for prisoners and their returning communities).
If all I knew about Charles Colson was from this obituary, I would have a totally different opinion of him from what I do have. Honestly, I would think he was a crook trying to disguise himself in sheep’s clothing. How is this so? Not by lying outright, but by deliberately majoring on one event and conveniently ignoring the past 30 years of his life.
How then do I engage with the world where the mainstream media plays such an influential role?
First and foremost would be to let the Bible inform your approach to all of life, especially the media.
Someone wise once said: Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.
The book of Proverbs speaks about discerning the voice of wisdom above the loud and arrogant claims of others in the marketplace. How true this is today.
Secondly, we ought to engage in critical thinking from a godly perspective. When Jesus was presented with situations and questions designed to trap him, he challenged the very assumptions behind them and left people astounded. We should do the same.
For example, if I was to look at the spectrum of news stories from the BBC that speak about preachers, I would think that they are all jet-setting multi-millionaires who frequently dupe their flock into parting with their income while engaging in the weirdest acts known to man.
Instead of just taking this all in, I should also question the overall emphasis, asking: Is this an accurate reflection of reality, and if not, what is the overriding agenda driving this narrative?
Thirdly, we should avoid the temptation to reach a conclusion without looking into the whole story. Twitter is abuzz with the latest allegations of racism leveled against a Dove ad. How many people arrived at this conclusion just by looking at the picture, and how many actually read what Lola Ogunyemi, the woman at the centre of the allegations, said about it?
As Proverbs 18:17 declares: The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. Of all the lessons I learnt in law school, this was one of the most important. Its relevance is not only for law, but for the way we view media and the way we treat each other.
I am by no means anti-media. There are numerous accounts of how journalists have brought issues to light that have been of tremendous benefit to nations around the world.
Looking at our beloved African continent, more of such reporting can be a tremendous tool for good, bringing liberty and transparency where it is often sorely lacking. What is sorely needed therefore is media that that are passionate about truth, informed by a Biblical worldview, and recipients that have the same.