Apr 042014

newsLast week, Rowan Williams (former Archbishop of Canterbury) wrote an article for the Daily Telegraph commenting on climate change and the issues it causes 

He was writing as Chairman of Christian Aid and called for action to be taken to “stop subsidizing the degradation of the planet.”

The evening before the article was to be published I was watching a late night news show which included a “review of tomorrow’s papers” where this article was discussed. I was interested when the show’s host asked his two guests (fellow journalists) whether it was appropriate for the church to be commenting on this sort of issue. (Technically, he nearly asked – he was interrupted before he could complete the question!)

In this post I’m not particularly trying to answer the question as posed but rather to reflect on the fact that it was asked in the first place.

In a country which prides itself on free speech why is it appropriate for someone in the media to question the right of anyone to comment on any issue they are interested in? And in this particular case, another media organisation was publishing the article so they clearly thought it was appropriate.

And why does someone in the media think that two other journalists are in a position to adjudicate on whether it was right for Rowan Williams to be commenting? And it seemed to be less about him as an individual but as a representative of the church.

And it’s not just this occasion – we frequently hear people in the media questioning the right of “the church” to speak out on particular issues.

In an earlier post I wrote about the importance of the church speaking out regarding issues in our world. It is part of our responsibility in seeking to bring to fruition the prayer of Jesus about God’s kingdom coming to earth as it already is in heaven. So I believe it is right and proper for the church to engage in these sorts of questions, just as it is important for us to be properly informed before we do so.

But this has got me thinking about the role and impact of the media. Having an independent media with the mandate of investigating, reporting and commenting on what is going on is of fundamental importance in a free society and something which is to be cherished and defended.

But when, and if, that media appoints itself as judge and jury on what other people and organisations are able to say then, I believe, there is real cause for concern.


  • David Thompson

    This is a really interesting issue!
    When we speak are we doing so as an individual or as a representative of the church? If we ‘put our foot in it’ there will often be a response ‘well if that is what the church is like then I want nothing to do with the church’. It seems to me that the response is often whatever is convenient at the time. If the response is positive ‘it is just you’, if not ‘that is what the church is like’.
    Another recent example is the UKIP Counsellor who spoke out on the issue of Gay Marriage and how this led to the floods (no comment is made here about what he said). David Silvester, the counsellor, claimed the country was “beset by storms” because since the passage of the law on Gay Marriage, David Cameron had acted “arrogantly against the Gospel”. On that occasion the press thought it was more of a story to highlight his UKIP affiliation rather his Christian or Baptist labels.
    As you ended by saying the media decides who can say what and when!

    • Graham Criddle

      Hi David – and thanks for that.

      The question of whether we are speaking as individuals or as representatives of the church is important and can all to easily be “made to fit” as you suggest.

      In the original article, Dr Williams is shown as chairman of Christian Aid but that didn’t stop someone referring to him in a wider context. And, with his previous role, that isn’t too surprising!

      Last week the current Archbishop of Canterbury was on a radio phone-in (http://www.lbc.co.uk/watch-archbishop-of-canterbury-live-on-lbc-88317) and it would have been reasonable for people to accept that he was speaking on behalf of the Anglican Church.

      At a much smaller level, I recently had the opportunity to write a short piece for our local paper which showed that I was the minister of a local church so, in some way, I was speaking on behalf of the congregation even though they didn’t vet what I wrote or (most of them) didn’t know that I was going to write it!

      I think, on balance, that when we speak into a situation (and we should guard the right and privilege to do so) we need to recognise the fact that, even if we think we are speaking privately, it may be seen as a statement from “Christians” and we need to ensure that what we say is honouring to God and his church – even if / when people don’t like what we are saying.

      Paul had some good advice as he encouraged the believers:
      “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6)