Journalism & the Two Mandates: A Response to Vinay Samuel
It goes without saying that many religious leaders believe they are slighted and abused by the press. But we also meet here in an age in which people in the media are beginning to feel a bit downtrodden - with good reason. A former colleague of mine in the Scripps Howard News Service, political writer Peter Brown, tells a story about the public’s attitudes towards journalists that is both funny and rather sobering.
The Salvation Army headed relief efforts in Waco, Texas, in the spring of 1993 when 80 men, women and children holed up from federal law enforcement officials for almost two months in a (Branch Davidian) compound before perishing in a conflagration. During that period, it got a few dozen calls from people who saw pictures showing this group distributing coffee, cold drinks and sandwiches to the hundreds of reporters on hand. One woman from Detroit was so incensed she called the Salvation Army commander there, Maj. Avedis Kasarian. “She said her blood pressure went up about 40 points when she read we were serving the news media,’ he recalled. She couldn’t understand why anyone would be nice to journalists.” (2)
This image captures the view that many citizens - especially religious people and cultural conservatives - have of those who work in the news media. Yet we are gathered here in Hong Kong to talk about the role that God and divine grace can play in the field of journalism. In doing this, we are embracing the claim of the “cultural mandate” - the belief that all of God’s creation is both glorious and fallen. All of God’s creation - even journalism - has been shaped both by the perfect image of God and by the twisted reality of human sin. Canon Vinay Samuel’s paper-which is both an academic statement and a faithful meditation - has given us a foundation under our discussions here as we tackle issues of faith and journalism. In the future, those gathered here need to accept the challenge of continuing to state these truths in Reformed language, while also find words and images that would reach out to Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, evangelicals and Pentecostals.
It is clear that many people do not understand the concept of the “cultural mandate” and what it has to do with working in a field so aggressively secular as the news media. One of my students at Milligan College, on an essay test, said that it is clear that all of creation is both “glorious and fall-ING.” I have found that many of my students on a Christian campus definitely believe that some parts of God’s creation such as the news media -are falling faster than others. It is hard to convince them that God may, in fact, be calling them to work as journalists in the public square. For them, becoming a journalist would be as morally dangerous as falling off a cliff.
They do not trust journalism. We must realize that. They believe that some parts of God’s creation are much more fallen than others. Yet Canon Samuel also has reminded us that God can work through fallen people, even through the cultural work on non-believers. Ultimately, God is in control. Samuel writes: