The article in last week’s Sunday Telegraph by Jonathan Wynne-Jones (Christians ask if force is needed to protect their religious values) is a case-study in bad journalism. It’s the sort of piece that lecturers would give to their first year ‘A’ Level students to identify the sensational, the specious, and the not-too-subtle exercise in dissimulation. I say this for three reasons.
Firstly, Mr. Wynne-Jones begins his piece by saying that Christians have raised ‘the prospect of a civil unrest and even “violent revolution” to protect religious freedoms. And he ratchets up the sensationalism by suggesting that “the report will cause particular alarm to Government ministers as it reveals disquiet among the country’s Christian population”. Let’s be honest —what Government minister will fall for this line if they bother to read the relevant five pages of the ‘Faith and Nation’ report that deals with “Christians and Civil Disobedience”?
There are a number of challenging and controversial recommendations in the report (and to expect otherwise is naive) that the Government and others will do well to take note of. But to suggest, or to intimate that the Government should be alarmed by some violent Christian “revolution” as Wynne-Jones does is at best a distraction, at worst it is sinister.
This leads me to my second point. And it’s to do with Wynne-Jones’ use of language and the association with Islamic extremism. The caption for the pictures with the article reads: ‘Fight the Good Fight.’ It features Lord Mawhinney and the Rt Rev Peter Foster, Bishop of Chester (members of the independent Commission). Nothing especially sinister in that, you might say. However, when it is juxtaposed with protesters (presumably Muslims) carrying placards saying, “Behead Those Who Insult Islam” or “
And in case fair-minded readers wanted to ignore the pictorial juxtaposition of these menacing Christians and Muslims, they were snookered by Wynne-Jones’ brand of journalistic speciousness by being told that the “menacing language of the report” produced by Lord Mawhinney and Bishop Foster “echoes comments made by Muslim fanatics”. Well, we’ve had the demonisation of Muslims; now it’s time to demonise the Christians.
Sunday Telegraph readers may want to get their own back (and I need to be careful here with what I say) by reading the report!
Here ends the lesson in poor journalism? Not quite.
Let me now turn to my third point. And this is to do with the report itself. For those who have not yet read the report, Wynne-Jones is referring to Faith & Nation: Report of a Commission of Inquiry to the UK Evangelical Alliance, launched on 23 October in
Wynne-Jones claims that the report advocates ‘force to protest against policies that are “unbiblical” and “inimical to the Christian faith”’. This is blatantly false. What Wynne-Jones actually does is to distort the report’s judicious and nuanced discourse about Christian thinking about civil disobedience (this has a long and noble pedigree in Christian history and theology and is associated with names such as Tyndale, Knox, Samuel Rutherford, John Locke, Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, Jr) by misusing and misquoting sections of the report to arrive at his sensational mantra about Christians advocating a violent revolution ‘if government legislation encroaches further on basic religious rights’. Nonsense. Surely readers expect higher journalistic standards than this. What Wynne-Jones has done is to transpose a historical review of what Christians might have considered viable in the past into a contemporary article of faith. This is disingenuous at best!
This is what the report actually says: “Thinking about how to respond to policies adopted by the state which Christians see as inimical to their faith requires a good deal of careful and prayerful thought.” It may have escaped Wynne-Jones, but there is a world of difference (and this is not merely theological or linguistical) between civil disobedience and a violent revolution. And the report is clear on this matter. It recognizes that Christians will, inevitably, “continue to disagree on the rights and wrongs” of this contentious issue; it also wisely makes the point that it is ridiculous “to contemplate a revolution” and that Christians must “take care not to provoke unnecessary confrontation”.
For those who got somewhat exercised, or excited, about the prospect of violent Christian revolution arising out of the deliberation of the Faith & Nation report, I will allow the report to put the record straight: “Probably in today’s climate the prudent and practicable option for Christians remains that of peaceful protest. There is still freedom, particularly in western democracies, to do that.” Furthermore, within the international context, the irresponsibility of this journalism could have a potentially dangerous impact on Christians worldwide.
It’s this recognition of the various strands of civil disobedience in Christian thinking and British history that the report deals with in a balanced and discursive manner. This is the point that Wynne-Jones missed in his article for reasons best known to him. I think Otto von Bismarck was rather unkind to journalists when he described a newspaper writer as one who has ‘missed his calling’. But somewhere between
Dr. R. David Muir, Public Policy Director, Evangelical
020 7207 2115
NOTES TO EDITORS:
The full ‘Faith and Nation’ report in pdf format can be found at www.eauk.org/faithandnation
The Evangelical Alliance , formed in 1846, is an umbrella group representing over one million evangelical Christians in the
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