Saturday, April 21, 2012

Should the Media be the Medium? How the CofE Talks to Itself

A couple of recent instances:
 - a letter to the Times by various senior clergy calling for the church's understanding of marriage to change to include same-sex couples.
 - a front page in our local paper a few weeks ago, which then was picked up by several national papers, on a dispute in the local church.

A question:
 - is the media, local or national, the place to have our debates within the Church of England?

In the local case, I don't get the sense that there was an attempt to stimulate debate, and the way it was reported was very adversarial. All the piece did was made any possibility of resolution impossible, whilst inflicting a large amount of strain and anguish on the parish concerned. In the national case, given that the House of Bishops is having another look at its position on sexuality, where do these debates happen - on the floor of Synod, via the letter pages of secular newspapers, or face to face?

I'm aware of the irony of asking this question on a blog which, at times, has tried to engage in debates about the CofE via the blogosphere rather than via the institutions the church has for discussions and governance.

My strongest thought is this: the media should be neither the first port of call, nor the last. It shouldn't be the first place we go with an opinion, we should be able to talk to each other first. And it shouldn't be the last place we go, because we've lost the argument and we want to go down with as much noise and collateral damage as possible.


  1. There is, however, a difference between the blogosphere and the media in relation to the instituutions the church has for debate and governance.

    The blogosphere, or at least a Christian blogosphere, makes it possible for people to air various sides of an issue before they get to synod, and thus can help to produce more informed debate.

    The media, or at least the secular media, have a somewhat different interest -- "Let's you and him fight" so they can report on it and push up their circulation and thus increase their revenue.

  2. Glad you mentioned the irony of a blogger making this comment. I went through a similar thought process reading this, thinking "gosh, yes", then realising I have done something similar many times.

    Christian bloggers will air their opinions, in more or less confrontational terms, in the public domain. If we're generous, we say they did it to generate a debate. If we're not, we say they just did it to score points. What's the difference between that and writing to the Times?

    Steve Hayes makes a good point but he, and perhaps you, are making the assumption that the "secular" media is somehow a different environment to the blogosphere for this kind of debate.

    But what if the signatories to this letter are genuinely trying to stimulate debate within the church? After all, Christians do read the newspapers, and the principal players in this scene will get the message just as clearly (maybe more so) as they would if it had been published on a blog. Are we obliged to conduct our debates where they can't be seen by outsiders? And where, realistically, is there such a place?

  3. I think that for the CofE certainly, and probably for the other big denominations in the UK like the RCC and Methodists, that these debates take place in public forums comes as part of the territory however much we may wish it otherwise. As the established church it can be argued that our debates on big issues affect the wider community. But there is a huge price to pay, and it goes against the NT teaching that there is a way to handle these things that reduces the risk of escalation and puts love at the centre of our communal life.