Lindsay Tanner’s book “Sideshow” argues how the media has undermined the capacity for proper policy debate in our society. The media’s recent presentation of Christian views regarding the redefinition of marriage is a classic illustration of the point.
Christians have every right to hold a particular interest in the nature of marriage. We have had a long-term interest in marriage – our ministers are registered by the Government as authorised celebrants and about a third of the community turn to the church for their weddings. Furthermore, rightly or wrongly, we believe that our view is for the good of society as a whole.
However when Christian leaders present the biblical view on marriage it is rarely given much media time and there is always a very limited exposure of their views. When they reference articles written by Christians they are almost always misrepresented and then their views are reduced to short slogans to be attacked.
This is just the kind of journalistic practice that undermines public debate. The redefinition of marriage and family is a significant and important issue that requires careful analysis beyond slogans and sound-bites. Marriage, and its place in intergenerational family life, is one of the foundational building blocks of society. It changes and evolves over time, but deliberate legal redefinitions require genuine analysis and careful thought. Any single issue such as ‘same sex’ opens up much bigger questions of the meaning, nature, role and place of marriage within the lives of people and society. It is also a delicate matter to write responsibly upon, for few matters bring us more joy and pain than marriage and family life.
So summarizing and reordering quotable parts of an article rarely does justice to any author or his opinion. Matters that he may consider of central and key importance are omitted while others that he may consider minor are highlighted as central. The logical flow of the article is seriously altered and the carefully qualified nuances are removed. Using quotations is but an artifice of apparent authenticity but no guarantee of accuracy. Adding some opinions from an opposing viewpoint gives the air of apparent impartiality, but does not provide a genuine interchange of ideas or opportunity for either side of a debate to be heard.
And then these poorly represented views are often further distorted with a headline that is designed to grab the reader or listener … but that is another problem for another time.
So what should we do? Here are a few simple ideas. Don’t give up. Work hard at communicating clearly ourselves. We will probably not get public media attention but we will certainly have the opportunity to present a Christian (and biblical) worldview to those around us. Use these ‘public misrepresentations’ to share ‘what they really said’. And finally be aware that what you read / hear publicly might not be what they actually said so don’t jump to hasty conclusions.