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.