Biased media, writing to MPs and Christian involvement in the public squares
As Christians, we are called to take the message of the Gospel to others in our society. But how can we best do this when that message is obscured by media bias or simple lack of interest? And, more importantly, why should we keep trying? Martyn answers some of your questions about public engagement.
The impact of biased media
Q: Why do the media relentlessly, vindictively, and viciously pursue certain people to destroy them?
A: Good question. It’s becoming more and more apparent that the mainstream media do have this ‘MO’ in many circumstances. And I think it reflects a broader cultural change.
To call this change ‘post-modern’ is problematic because it’s an inexact word, but let’s call it post-modernistic, where there are lots of ideas and the influence of those ideas on our society means that truth is not valued and so there is nothing that binds us all together.
Media traditionally rests on the idea of dialogue: that two people can come together with two opinions, talk to each other, seek the truth and, together, find it. The truth is the ideal, right? That’s something that you want to find.
But as a society we don’t believe that so much anymore; because we believe that there really is no such objective truth that’s worth pursuing.
We believe, instead, that this is all about politics and power. People use their truth claims to try to bring people under their control.
And when truth is not valued, when it stumbles and dies, all you have left is power. You have people’s political opinions vying for supremacy, and people doing whatever it takes to have their political viewpoint reign supreme regardless of whether it’s true, because it’s power that they’re after.
That has had its unconscious effect on people. And as for people in the media, if something is said that doesn’t suit their view of the world or their political and ideological focus, then they will seek relentlessly not just to have the view silenced but to have the person saying it discredited, so that people won’t want to listen to them again.
That’s certainly the experience of people like me in the mainstream media.
Nearly every question in nearly every interview is designed only to make you put words together in a way that they can use to bring you down, regardless of what your words say about what you actually believe.
Nearly every question is calculated to trip you up; to put you in your place; to discredit you.
They’re not interested in hearing or understanding what you have to say. It’s a political exercise. It’s infused with a sense of playing with power rather than dealing with truth.
That’s one of the big changes that have taken place in post-modern society, and media is at the vanguard of it.
But I think a lot of people are fed up with the way that is going.
And so here’s the good news: mainstream media’s dead.
Well, it’s dying, and has been for a long time. It’s got the death rattle about it, and it’s not going to exist with the same power as it does today or it did yesterday.
Something else is moving into its place, and that’s exactly what I’m doing now: social media. People are rising up who can present themselves to others on their own terms and with their own messages, succinct and complete.
And people who are not stupid, and are sick of the soundbites and the manipulation and the editing of the mainstream media, can go and find other opinions and views and hear people out in other forums.
I was listening to a very insightful podcast with Jordan Peterson and Joe Rogan the other day. (Speaking of Joe Rogan, he has one of the biggest podcasts on the internet, with many millions of downloads every month.) Jordan Peterson said that for the first time in history, the spoken word has become as powerful as the written word. People are listening and watching rather than reading. You should read, by the way! But this is a real change that isn’t going away.
Popular audio-visual mediums are growing rapidly … and I really mean rapidly.
YouTube has become the largest television network in the world. Podcasts are exploding.
There's a generational shift taking place, and while I still publish blogs in written form, I know this is for older audiences. Younger people just don’t read or consume mainstream media. They access these other mediums.
To give you a sense of that: I was speaking at a school a while ago and I had students in Years 5–12 sitting in front of me. A question was asked of me about the media, and I said, “Show of hands here: who knows who David Koch is? Kochie, on Sunrise?” Astonishingly, I think only three kids put their hands up.
And I thought to myself, they might not be listening. So I said, “Who here knows who Waleed Aly is?” There was a similar show of hands; maybe a couple more.
And then I said, “Who here knows who…”, and I went through a range of TV personalities. Very low uptake, and I thought: check that they’re not asleep!
So I said, “Who here knows who Israel Folau is?” All their hands went up, and I thought, so they’re not asleep. And then I said, “Who here watches YouTube?” And all the hands went up again, and I realised: that’s the future.
As a generalisation, the mainstream media is a pretty crooked bunch in the way that they deal with people. But I think that they are going to continue to weaken. There is a revolution taking place.
Jordan Peterson says it’s a revolution on the scale of the invention of the printing press. History will look back at this as a key moment.
So that’s why I do what I do online. My encounters with the media just make me more committed to making good content available on the internet where I can actually make my point of view heard, and I can actually speak the truth unfiltered, unedited, and without somebody simply trying to bring me down.
You know, when you go through weeks, sometimes, of just about every question being accusatory and trying to undo you and trip you up, it all gets a bit much.
But now there are other avenues, and we can praise God for that.
Q: How do you write effective letters to Members of Parliament?
A: The advice I’d give on this is twofold.
Firstly, harness the power of the story; and secondly, do it en masse, where possible.
What do I mean by ‘the power of the story’?
I mean that stories are far more effective than arguments, logic, or appeals to general principles.
Now, you wouldn’t think that would be the case with MPs making public policy decisions, but it is. They’re far more likely to be swayed by a story.
I was at a meeting with a bunch of Christian leaders and MPs a while ago where people all put their logical positions and arguments forward. But then one person in the room told two stories of children of families within their church movement who had been bullied at school. That was by far the most powerful message of the day, and it was the one that made the most impact on the MPs who were there.
So I do the same. When I go into a Senate Inquiry, most of the time I don’t do what others do and give a five-minute opening statement trying to summarise my submission while the senators or MPs switch off and tap away on their phones.
I go in and tell a compelling story. And they listen.
I learned this the first time I ever did it and saw them just listen to the story. It was during discussion of same-sex marriage and religious freedom, and I told a compelling story of a Washington State-based florist in the US. She didn’t do the flowers for the same-sex wedding of a very dear friend of hers; they had a falling out; and he sued her.
It was a sad story. And I told it, and it caught their attention.
And it’s the same with every interaction you have with an MP. Face-to-face is better, on the phone is better, but even if you need to write a letter, always remember: tell stories. Never forget them, because people listen.
Secondly, communicate en masse.
Whenever there’s a mass campaign of lots of people writing in about a good cause, be a part of it.
Why? Because MPs and senators may not usually read all their correspondence – indeed, they certainly don’t. However, if they get a certain number of contacts on a single issue, that’s different. They will certainly consider this correspondence, particularly if it’s within a short timeframe.
So if you want to make an impact, remember the power of the story and the power of numbers.
Being a Christian in the public squares
Q: Why should Christians be involved in the public squares?
A: Firstly, when Jesus talks about the formation of our Christian character, He goes on to explain that in the formation of the inward character you must also have outward activity.
And He describes that outward activity as being the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Not the light of the Church, or the salt of the Church, or the light of the home; the world and the earth.
These things, then, manifest our Christian character and what we believe publicly, so that people will see our good works.
And the Bible says that those good works should be as obvious as possible: not a light under a basket, or even a lamp that’s on a stand in a house, but a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden.
And there’s no better opportunity to be seen in Christian testimony than in those realms that are public-facing.
Jesus points out that this has an evangelistic outcome. He says that people will see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.
He also says that people will persecute you, and revile you and hate you for it. But you do it because people will see the good.
I’ve been blessed through the work that we do to know that it does happen. God is at work through the powerful, public testimony of His people.
So that’s the first reason.
Secondly, God is concerned about government. Our governing authorities are ordained by God; governing authority is something that He desires for His world.
Those who govern are called ministers and servants of God in Romans 13. They’re doing a job for God, a ministry for God, and it’s described there as a ministry of righteousness. They are punishing evil and they’re rewarding good, and that’s something that God would have in the world; so there must be people who are called to that in God’s design.
I know Christians in Parliament who are called to that in God's design.
Again, it must mean that God is concerned about government.
Now, we see in 1 Timothy 2 where that concern leads: Paul says to pray for people in authority.
Why? That we might live a godly life that’s a life of peace.
That a life fulfilling all that God requires of us in this community will be peaceful, and we won’t be punished for it.
That we won’t lose religious freedoms.
That we won’t come under the banner of wrongdoers, but that we will be rewarded.
That a righteous government will allow righteousness to flourish through God’s people in the community.
But it’s not just about us. It’s about others too, because Paul says that God desires all people everywhere to come to a knowledge of the truth.
And that’s the effect of a life of godliness being a light in the world and being unshackled and unrestrained: people come to a knowledge of the truth and are saved.
The freedom that we have at a civic level directly impacts upon the work of the Gospel itself, the testimony of Jesus, and the proclamation of truth at large in the community.
So you bet Christians should be involved in politics in the public squares!
It may not be everyone’s calling, but it is a key area, and it would not make sense to separate this from other areas of our Christian influence, witness, and testimony.
No. Our faith is all of life, and we should be very much concerned to be involved in the public squares.