Vinoth Ramachandra

The Media, Violence and Partnership

Posted on: September 17, 2010

Last week saw a pitiful demonstration of the power of the Internet, coupled with the way global media corporations love to promote religious extremists. Why did the media seize on the words of an obscure, sectarian pastor of an unknown Florida church with less than 50 members and broadcast it to the whole world, knowing that it would inflame Muslim passions? The same media are largely silent when scores of churches are burned down and hundreds of Christians killed in places like India, Nigeria or Indonesia. There is an obvious bias to the media’s religious reporting. Who holds CNN or the BBC morally responsibility for fomenting violence? If one gives whiskey to an alcoholic, knowing he is an alcoholic, isn’t one morally culpable if he gets drunk and kills someone?

I recall the words of Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the UK:

“In January 2001 the then Archbishop of Canterbury convened a gathering in Alexandria, Egypt, of the leading Muslim, Jewish and Christian religious leaders in the Middle East.  They signed an agreement, the Alexandria Declaration, committing themselves to non-violent conflict resolution. It was potentially one of the most important steps towards peace in decades. The coverage in the Western press was almost non-existent. This helped to confirm the suspicion in the minds of politicians in the region that there is no role for interfaith dialogue in any peace process- as Track 2 diplomacy, for example. This is a terrible mistake. What it means is that the image of religion in the media is one of conflict, hate, violence and terror. We should not then be surprised if that is what religion becomes. Perception shapes reality.” (The Home We Build Together, Continuum, 2007, p.70)

On a related matter, many of us struggle to make sense of the angry backlash in some parts of the US following President Obama’s spirited defence of the right of Muslims to build a mosque close to Ground Zero in New York City. Those of us who work with thoughtful non-Christians, and especially in academic settings, have to constantly battle the jibes at “evangelicals” in the US. They are automatically identified with the right-wing of Republican politics, as well as with anti-evolution, anti-secularism, pro-Zionism and “Islamophobia”. These perceptions are constantly fed by a cynical international media, including prestigious American and European newspapers, who enjoy parading the most outlandish and extremist “evangelical” voices on the world stage.

We who are familiar with the complexity of American church life and the best American theological scholarship know that those who are presented in the media in this way are far from being typical of American “evangelicals”. But, given the paucity of mainstream evangelicals who interact with the secular media and the way that global Tele-evangelism, the mass-market evangelical publishing world, and many US-based mission organizations do indeed propagate a Christian mirror image of Islamic fundamentalism, it is understandable that so many non-Christians in the academy have little patience with “evangelical” Christianity.

I wonder: who among the well-known authors and mission agencies in the US have issued public statements expressing agreement with President Obama? Surely it would be hypocritical for any Christians to advocate religious tolerance and liberty around the world and not practice such tolerance and liberty in their own backyard. There were many Muslims who also died in the WTC attacks on 9/11. And one could also generously interpret the building of the mosque as an attempt on the part of American Muslims to distance themselves from such violence. Public support for this project by churches and Christian organizations would go a long way, not only in healing the terrible state of Christian-Muslim relations in the US, but also in being a great encouragement to those of us who are in the ministry of building bridges between peoples and nations.

Surely, this is what global partnership in mission entails. Sadly, partnership language has become reduced, in many church circles, to sending money and people overseas. Looking at oneself through the eyes of others in the Body of Christ is not. Exercising a prophetic voice in one’s own city and country, especially in a global superpower like the US, has worldwide ramifications. Remember Martin Luther King and the growth of Civil Rights Movements all over the world? That was evangelical mission, so powerful in its global impact because of its local authenticity, long before the days of the Internet and the mobile phone.

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13 Responses to "The Media, Violence and Partnership"

Thank you so so much for expressing this! Amen, amen, and amen. As an American evangelical Christian who is currently a student at an evangelical seminary (Gordon Conwell), but who reflects more “world Christian” convictions, I am so glad for your truly prophetic voice and hope to participate in that same vision for the future for our church.

Blessings and peace.

Thanks Vinoth. We were talking of this at our church small group last Sunday about the issue how media is so silent when Bibles are burnt even in USA. But you have also raised other issues which i guess our small group can ponder on. Thanks again.

I heard a BBC commentator say that the story of the Florida pastor only became a story when General Petraeus commented that burning a Koran would endanger US troops. And I have to remind myself often that the fundamental motivation of the media is not to inform or enlighten, but to turn a profit on subscriptions and advertising. Consequently, they gravitate toward the sensational. In this regard, General Petraeus’s comments (which one can debate whether or not he should have made them) gave cover to the media to promote a sensational story. But it’s also an opportunity. My son went for a visa interview last week to the Korean consulate in Chicago. The first question he was asked was his opinion about the Florida pastor. Jared gave a spirited argument for why the pastor was not representative of many Christians and what a better response might look like. There are Christians and churches trying to speak up, but we’re not sensational enough, I guess.

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John, thanks for this comment. What I am really seeking, though, is: where should I go to find a response- in the public domain- by an evangelical leader, author or institution that defends the rights of Muslims in the US, particularly with regard to the building of the mosque near Ground Zero. It would be something I can commend to both Muslims and cynical secularists to read.

I wish you elaborated more on the partnership. May be in another chapter or blog.

Here in the US we are torn. We extremely hurt by sight of Muslims burning our flag, shouting death to our nation. And then for them to build a mosque so close to a place so full of pain.

It is definitely not a good PR move for the Muslim community. If they wanted to ‘build a bridge’ then should build their mosque a little farther away.

They have the right to build it. But as the New Testament says, “all things are lawful, but not all things are profitable.”

David

Red Letter Believers
“Salt and Light”

Dear David of “Red Letters”: I would like to know how many Muslims in the US you know personally? There were Muslims working in the WTC who were also killed on 9/11. The only Americans many Muslims in Iraq or Afghanistan ever hear about (they don’t ever meet them!) are those who are routinely bombing their cities and villages. Their attitude seems to be the mirror-image of yours: to damn all Americans/Muslims because of what a few do. In any case, are you not a follower of Christ (called to love our “enemies”) rather than just somebody who cannot see the world through the eyes of others?

Dear Vinoth. I stumbled upon your blog by remembering your name in a lecture by Dr. Iain Provan in his Hermeneutics class at Regent College, Canada, and have thoroughly enjoyed your insights on contemporary culture and how to view and engage them through the lens of Scripture.

I am a little surprised by your sharp response to David of “Red Letters” (previous post). I do not see in his response to your editorial as him participating in that spirit in America that damns wholesale all muslims. Rather, I take his response as an attempt to take seriously the legitimate grievance Americans have (and even I as a fairly open minded Evangelical Christian in Canada) in an Islamic mosque being built on the site of a tragedy CAUSED by those associated with Islam. It’s a bit of a leap to say that this concern = hatred towards ALL muslims. Yes, it is important to see through another person’s eyes, as true followers of Christ ought (“love your neighbour as yourself”), and would this not lead you, Vinoth, to consider the grievance David is conveying? I look forward to your response and it will determine whether I crack open your “God’s that Fail” book that sits on my bookshelf (kidding). Marcus.

Dear Marcus: Thanks for your criticism as well as the appreciative comments. I guess the difference between us is that I see as “deep and culpable ignorance” what you see as “a legitimate grievance” on the part of some Americans towards Muslims. I see nothing legitimate about restricting the liberty of American Muslims who have nothing at all to do with Al Qaeda. That is a violation, surely, of everything we hold dear when it comes to treating other human beings. Associating 9/11 with “Islam” is as unfair as associating US drone attacks in Afghanistan (by remote pilots many of whom may be Christians) with “Christianity”. How would you feel if no American Christian were ever allowed to build a church or school or hospital in Japan because of the two atom bombs dropped on that country? We should be grateful that the post-war Japanese have not treated Americans the way that some Americans want to treat Muslims. Moreover, Western Christians should take the study of history seriously, which includes recognizing the numerous atrocities committed by Western (“Christian”) powers in Muslim lands, and not follow popular stereotypes of other cultures and religions. If you want to know more, I would suggest that you should read not my “Gods That Fail” but the opening chapter “Myths About Terrorism” of my “Subverting Global Myths” (IVPAcademic, 2008).

hi marcus,

in addition to chapter 1 on terrorism, I’d suggest chapters 2 n 4 viz. Myths of Reigious Violence and Myths of Multiculturalism from the same book Subverting Global Myths.

in place of Gods that Fail, I’d suggest Faiths in Conflict.

Many thanks. I praise the LORD for this prophetic ministry (Karin and you).
Love,
Kumar

[...] Last week saw a pitiful demonstration of the power of the Internet, coupled with the way global media corporations love to promote religious extremists. Why did the media seize on the words of an obscure, sectarian pastor of an unknown Florida church with less than 50 members and broadcast it to the whole world, knowing that it would inflame Muslim passions? The same media are largely silent when scores of churches are burned down and hundreds of … Read More [...]

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