God the Communicator
The God of the Bible is the God who communicates with the human being. As Johannes Henrici points out: ‘Communication is deeply rooted in God’s nature and it is this nature he imparted to humanity when he created us in his own image.”‘ Communication is a God-given capability given to the created human being and is “the only way to be fully human.” In principle, to be a human is to be a communicator.
This basic understanding of communication as a result of God’s creating act in history deepens the understanding of God’s own deep desire for relationship with his created beings. Communication with Man is a deep desire in the heart of the Almighty God. His interaction with Man throughout history as reported in the Bible is a challenge for every Christian, and certainly for Christian journalists.
Yet, this challenge based on God’s creation is not specifically for journalists or publishers but for all humans. The former director of the International Mass Media Institute, Dr. Knud Jorgensen emphasizes the fundamental link between creation and communication with reference to Martin Luther.
“Luther is right when he claims that to be created in God’s image has to do with relationship and communication …That means I am created for dialogue: God’s communication with me takes the form of a conversation. This is the basic theme in all of Scripture: God is continually seeking man out to talk with him, from the story of Eden until the proclamation of the new heavens and the new earth. In the same way the concept of covenant is based on two-way communication.”
God moves into the receptor’s frame of reference, i.e., culture, language, space, time, etc., really to try to be understood. “He goes beyond the predictable and the stereotype in his communicative efforts.” He uses the language and thought patterns of those with whom He speaks.
However, being a journalist myself for many years, I do think journalists oftentimes in a better way can understand the issue of Gods passion for communication. News reports or articles demand a lot of work and oftentimes becomes a “baby” for many journalists. There is an act of “creation” in the very process of communicating a message or writing a story. I wonder if not journalists in a special way are able to understand the passion involved in communication processes.
God has revealed his passionate heart by choosing a significant method of communication, namely incarnation. The Almighty, Supreme God is really a “God who bends down and, lowering himself, speaks that we might hear and understand.” This “bending down” means that all God’s communication is incarnational: God reveals himself in and through the ordinary situations of human life, and nowhere else. And that leads us into history and culture, into created life as well as its vulnerability and broken-ness.”
God’s heartfelt desire to communicate his eternal message of love and redemption has profound consequences for the basic understanding of every Christian’s calling to communicate — in any way possible — the good news of salvation. We are called to be “ambassadors of Christ” as the apostle Paul. His life and work are significantly marked by his skills as a highly effective and successful communicator. Paul’s success as a communicator not only by preaching and teaching the gospel but manifesting the truth in daily life brought him into persecution, imprisonment and torture. His methods were dynamic, focused, pastoral and passionate. The apostle related to the needs of people in a particular place and situation. He never lost track of the essential message, the gospel.
All of this comes together in the fact that Paul lived out a holistic theology in his ministry.
Communicating the gospel in today’s world also needs to be carried out in a holistic way, with an evangelistic focus, and a pastoral heart authentically caring for people to be reconciled with God. As Christians the Lord Jesus has commissioned us to be has communicators. Our task is to communicate the good news about Jesus Christ in any way possible to every human being. This task was given both to the Church as a whole and to every Christian, to the craftsman as well as the journalist.
This understanding of every Christian as a communicator is based upon God as the Creator of the Universe. Yet, it is organically woven together with our commission to share the good news of the gospel with other people. Dr. Charles Kraft reminds us that “the messenger himself/herself is the major component of the total message . … We are a major part of the message that we seek to communicate.” Our challenge is to “embody Christ” in our lives, so that not only our words but also our deeds may converge into a holistic testimony of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
In other words, our testimony is our story, our life is our story, and our story must be woven together with God’s Story. The Story of God “… goes on forever, weaving its way through countless human lives, countless human stories. We are all part of that great narrative, as we join our stories to His. And we expand that narrative as we call others to join their stories to His.” The heart of all communication is that it takes place in a person-to-person encounter. It is never only a ‘transmission’ of messages. Communication is to be involved, and must “result in Christ becoming flesh and blood in ever new settings. It is the very nature of the Good News that it will sound differently in Addis Ababa and London, because it is the Good News about the Word that became a human being. The gospel is the same, but its form will differ according to the situation.
This “holistic” and “organic” view of every Christian as a communicator and inevitably a “missionary” is a result of “the two mandates of creation and mission.” I am in basic agreement with Dr. Vinay Samuel when he writes, “As humans made in God’s image we are empowered with stewardly responsibility for the earth and for the gospel of the kingdom. It is in the exercise of that stewardship we affirm our identity as God’s children and also fulfill our humanity.”
However, this dual calling to stewardship poses serious challenges to any Christian working in the journalistic profession. We need to raise issues such as:
“What about my ideals of being professionally objective in my reports?”
“Press reports should never be marked by the views of the reporter but rather be neutral and tolerant of any possible opinion or ideology, or . . .?”
“As a Christian and a journalist, are there issues I should not cover or assignments that I should refuse?”
Such questions (and many others with similar issues) should not easily be ridiculed or left unanswered. I have discussed similar questions with many Christian colleagues working in secular media. They are not only “academic issues” but also issues confronting one’s personal integrity and Christian identity. Many Christians in secular media have to make important decisions on a professional level with profound personal implications regarding ethics and faith. Above all, this should be a matter of prayerful concern for the Christian churches and communities in the same way we need to remember other brothers and sisters in Christ in high positions.
However, the questions also need answers. Honestly, I do not regard the answers or considerations I am going to propose the only valid or “right” solutions. My personal respect for the faith and integrity of my Christian brothers and sisters in the media (and my understanding of the difficult choices and even pain oftentimes involved in making the decision) challenges me to be open for other opinions. Nevertheless, giving some views of my own I hope to help others struggling to know that they are not alone and to encourage my colleagues to seek guidance in the Bible and from Christian friends.
First, we need to address the issue of tolerance and neutrality. In the secularized Western world one can get the impression that Christians per se cannot be sufficiently neutral and tolerant (or even objective) in issues concerning faith and ethics (and maybe other issues as well.) As Christians we should strongly argue against attempts of excluding people of any faith from covering issues concerning religion, moral values, etc. Being a Christian may on the contrary be an asset because one in a better way can understand how important faith can be for other people and cultures! From a philosophical viewpoint one can argue that this understanding of tolerance and objectivity in reality favor an atheistic worldview which in turn may also be regarded as a “religion” itself! Furthermore, one can certainly argue that a clear understanding of one’s own faith gives a solid foundation for encountering other views in an open, respectful, understanding manner because we have a common ground — we all recognize the importance of “something” beyond ourselves adding value and significance to our lives.
However, being a Christian must constantly challenge our lifestyle and moral qualities. The excellent communicator Paul has a good advice: “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.”
In the oftentimes media-created reality where journalists and reporters have their daily work, this advice represent a tremendous challenge. Always attempting to focus on the positive, admirable and good in an environment constantly seeking to reveal the hidden secrets and issues that need to be uncovered for the best of an open, democratic society is not an easy task. It challenges our personal integrity and demands a holistic understanding of our task in the world as Christian human beings with a profound respect for our fellow human beings including people of other value systems or religions. In a certain way our own struggles with sin, doubt and holiness should be a reminder to try to meet others with an open, non-judgmental attitude.
Second, there is the issue of “professional objectivity.” Certain journalistic tasks can–and should, of course–be reported in a fact-oriented, objective way regardless of the reporter’s age, sex, faith or whatever. Nevertheless, there are numerous tasks where the editorial person in charge has made up his or her mind about “what the story is all about.” When the journalist actually doing the job find that the leader’s presumptions did not correspond with reality, an ethical conflict arise. Again, as Christians we need to emphasize the importance of personal integrity shaped by the relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. From time to time we need to ask: “What would Jesus have done in this situation?”
Third, the question of being a Christian journalist in a certain TV channel, radio station or newspaper may arise. The church fathers did not recommend (and sometimes even forbid) Christians to serve as officers in the Roman Empire, as judges, etc. Personally, I would encourage Christian journalists to actively seek jobs in secular media. Yet, there are media with very questionable content or profile where the best advice is to chose other options. There may come a time for some where one simply cannot continue in a job without losing the faith or having to compromise with one’s Christian identity. For all of us, regardless of profession, such a situation may arise where we ultimately have to give priority to our faith, to our family, etc.
Finally, being a Christian journalist is not all that different from being a Christian lawyer, plumber, dentist, carpenter, or whatsoever. Yet, as journalists and reporters the profession itself challenges each of us to be wholehearted, and honest “ambassadors” of Christ. In a special way I have come to recognize the prayer written by the great communicator apostle Paul as a “journalist’s prayer“: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.”
More knowledge, insight and discernment are certainly a prayer need for many journalists in our daily work. With our personal life(style) we are influencing not only our colleagues or all the people we meet all over the world “on assignment” but millions of readers, listeners and viewers to our story.
Arne Fjeldstad, the chair of Gegrapha, passed away late last year.