How do we as Christians conduct ourselves towards the media? This article is about the Christian church taking a position on current affairs, and receiving media attention as a result.

Source: The Outlook, 1986. 3 pages.

Living on the Lunatic Fringe

Several years ago, during my Ancient History lec­tures at university, I referred to the unconventional historian Immanual Velikovsky. I made the point he should be taken seriously. I did not agree with those mainline historians who sought to avoid Velikovsky's arguments by dismissing him as part of the "lunatic fringe." I pointed out that Velikovsky's Freudian ideas made him reject the assumptions accepted by the main-line historians. I argued that such so-called "lunatic fringe" people are valuable for exposing the assumptions we take for granted.

Some time later, a student who was far from regular in his attendance, reappeared at lectures. In the course of a bantering conversation I asked him why he was now coming back to my lectures. He replied, "I think it is important to hear what the lunatic fringe thinks."

Besides being an excellent put-down, that remark reminded me that others see us differently to the way we see ourselves. We may see ourselves as entirely sensible and reasonable. They may see us as the "lunatic fringe." As churches, we have recently been reminded of this by seeing ourselves portrayed in the press. The Age's description of the Victorian churches and the New Zealand Times reaction to the stand of our New Zealand brethren against homosexuality, show us the press trying to depict us as the lunatic fringe.

How do we react to this?

We might wish it did not happen. Wishing will not stop the press attacking us this way. We do not con­trol the press. How are we to conduct ourselves so as to minimize the damage and maximize the oppor­tunities created? There are several dangers we must avoid.

The Danger of Respectability🔗

It is easy for us to wish this did not happen to us. It is tempting to wish we had the size and public respectability of the Anglicans and the Roman Catholics. The press may disagree with the stand of those churches, but there is more respect and less muck-raking than the way we have recently been treated.

Yet we do not have their size. The only way we will avoid the unwelcome attention of the press is by not holding views the unbeliever finds offensive. We have seen from these articles what is offensive to the car­nal mind of our age: the sovereignty of God in elec­tion, the unity of the church in submission to God's word, opposition to sexual immorality, especially op­position to homosexuality.

If we are quiet about these things, and any other truth that is unpopular in our day, then the press will leave us in peace. But our cowardice will not be pleasing to God. And I wonder if we should rejoice at such peace. Any sensitive and concerned member of the "main-line" churches will tell you of the great problem they have of being too close to the centre of the national culture and thinking. They so easily drift with the general current of Australasian life.

This, of course, has always been the problem of "state" churches. They buy respectability and peace at the cost of being unable to dissociate themselves from the national consensus. Having reached a posi­tion of power in the state, they are so controlled by the state as to be unable to influence it.

Many of our members experienced in earlier years the pain of strangeness and ridicule. They came to a land, or they went to schools, where there was no patience and sympathy for the strange name and the unclear accent. They may have longed for the day when they no longer appeared strange but were just one of the mob.

They may have come also from a situation in the Netherlands where their church played an important role in national life. It is humiliating to find oneself here treated as a member of a strange and obscure cult.

All these experiences may create in us a desire not to be thought weird and strange in our church life. However, if that desire controls us, we are in far greater danger. We must be obedient to God no mat­ter what others think of us.

The Danger of the Love of Notoriety🔗

Notoriety is not in itself a danger. The danger lies in our love of being prominent. One may wonder whether anybody could enjoy being the subject of unflattering media attention. No normal person would, but sin has made us all abnormal. It may be a strange and perverse prominence but we can enjoy the prominence. In our unloved age, a wall graffiti I once saw at university, put it well: "It is better to be wanted for murder, than not to be wanted at all." So we can feel that it is better to be noticed for ex­tremism than not to be noticed at all.

There is also a danger which lies in the way those unjustly treated by outsiders are viewed in the church.

They receive the sympathy and respect of martyrs. There is such a thing as a deliberate courting of mar­tyrdom because of the glory it gives one in the church. This is not to say we should not love and respect those who have suffered for the name of Christ. It is rather a call for those who suffer to examine their own motives.

Some Suggestions🔗

If we are to make the most of the prominence into which our faithfulness to the Word of God, brings us, then there are several things we should keep in mind.

1. Unconnected Extremis🔗

There is an American church which has amongst its central files what somebody labelled "The Nut File." There they file all the letters from people who have written to the church confident that the church will support their crusade for this or that crazy idea. Why does the church attract such letters? It does so because it has the reputation for not conforming to the popular American mould. Others who also revolt against the consensus are attracted to it. The problem is that there are sane and there are crazy ways to re­ject the consensus.

Also when we look at church history we see that often Christians have been among the first to take up new ideas. There is a simple reason. Most societies are intensely conformist societies. Christians who have rejected the popular views are open to new ideas. That can be very good. And it can be disastrous. The non-Christian media will quickly take up any ex­tremism and use it to make us seem cranks. We need to make sure we have a good Christian reason for all our positions.

2. We Do Not Choose the Issues🔗

This is simply a consequence of the fact that we do not control the media, or the non-Christian world it represents. The issues they seize upon will often not be the ones we would choose. We would like it to be the message that there is salvation for all who repent and turn to Jesus. The media will seize upon the doc­trine of election. We would like the world to know that there is a community within which people will be cared for and loved. The world will fix upon our oversight and discipline. We want to tell man God's plan for man and woman in marriage. We will be pilloried for opposing homosexuality and divorce.

How do we respond to this? Do we try to play down our stand on those things the media attack? If we do they will know that we are embarrassed about the truth. Do we change our position on these things to please the world? Then we do not please God.

Jesus was attacked for healing on the sabbath. One could not claim that the central point of His message was sabbath healing. Yet He did not back away from the challenge. Further, He was able to connect the point in controversy to the essential points of His message. That is what we also must do. This is a fur­ther reason why all our "extremisms" must be ex­plicitly Christian ones. If they are not, then we can­not relate our stand on these points to our basic message.

3. We Must Not Live by Reaction🔗

Being involved constantly in conflict with the world, it is easy to simply live by reaction. Whatever the world does and thinks, we do the reverse. Is the world stodgy, conformist and dull; wearing pin-stripe suits and bowler hats? Then we make it a mark of Christianity to wear tee-shirts and go bare-footed. But the world also lives by reaction. We simply become conformed to the mass of unbelievers who wear dirty tee-shirts and no shoes. Is the bulk of the Australian population anti-intellectual and anti-cultural? Then we make it the mark of a Reformed Christian to be a culture snob; to have highbrow discussions about common dirty movies and to parade letters after one's name. But we just join the non-Christian snobs.

To be a Christian is not to be conformist or anti-conformist to the fashions of the world. It is to be con­formed to the Lord Jesus Christ. The pretense and af­fectation that characterizes both the conservative older generation and the trendy younger generation are op­posed to the simplicity and genuineness of Christian discipleship.

Therefore in our rejection of the world, we must be critical about ourselves. Is this really a Christian reac­tion? Or are we merely leaping on the bandwagon as one non-Christian generation reacts to the style of the previous non-Christian generation? We may enjoy that position of being frontrunners in a new move­ment, but are we really serving Christ? We have to ask these questions because increasingly Christians are becoming identified very closely with political and social movements of definitely right or left wing tendencies. There are many things the left legitimately finds offensive in the political right and vice versa. Yet do we serve the cause of Christ by being carried along by political reactions?

4. The Real Problem is Not the Media🔗

I do not approve the distortion, slander and biased reporting that seems to infect some section of the media. Nevertheless in these things the media reflects the world. It is not just the media who want to slander and defame the glorious name by which we are called.

Further the issues which we are forced to consider by media spotlight are not new issues. They are the basic questions of living in the world. How do we avoid the subtle trap of being conformed to one aspect of the world at the same time as we think we are reac­ting to another aspect? How do we bring our instabil­ity under the control of the discipline of Scripture?

The Future🔗

The media attention could move away from use for two reasons. It could be because under pressure of ridicule we have turned from those beliefs and prac­tices which offend the world. Or it could be because the wisdom of our answers and the blamelessness of our lives have silenced our critics. Let us make sure that if the media forgets us, it will be for the second reason.

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