Reporting bad news part of Good News message

Published February 1, 1999

Good News. It’s a literal translation of the Greek word euangelion, which is the root of the English word evangelism. It’s Old English translation was godspel – gospel.

Since the church is compelled to tell the Good News, why is there so much bad news especially in media like the Journal? It’s a question people ask of all media, but it’s one that arises with even greater frequency in the church.

A short answer is that bad or negative news is part of the Good News. One only has to look at the Bible itself to see that. The collected stories about God’s self-revelation to the world not only have a lot of bad news stories, a number of them, like the story of the Crucifixion, have so much graphic violence that in any other context they would be deemed unsuitable for children.

A more elaborate answer might be found by asking why bad news troubles people. One answer is that most people, especially Christians, want this to be a better world. In asking for more good and less bad news, they are possibly expressing the frustration of feeling unable to change the world to be a better place. The result is sometimes an inclination to shoot the messenger.

The fact is that wishing for a nicer world doesn’t make it so. Having the best information possible to help one make the decisions one can make to improve the world is the most anyone can realistically hope for. For Anglicans, that might mean being as informed as possible before voting or acting on church matters at parish meetings, councils or synods.

Still, some readers wonder if the Journal and other media couldn’t help transform the church, if not society, by publishing more good-news stories. Some even argue that laundering the dirty linen in public puts people off associating with the church.

What are the alternatives? Should media hide wrongdoing? The fact is that many of the wrongs that have been righted or are being dealt with are the result of media exposure. Sexual abuse and domestic violence are two evils in society (including the church) that went unchecked until revelations in the media finally pricked people’s conscience.

Furthermore, the publication of other difficult stories, like the ongoing debate over homosexuality, allows more people the chance to participate in discussions that might otherwise be confined to academics, senior bureaucrats and church leaders.

It is also important for people to know about their church’s history and the impact that has on the church today. Both the good and the bad in Native residential schools need to be revealed as well as the personal and social costs to victims and their communities and the financial cost to people in the pews today to right the past wrongs.

There is no promise in the Bible that good Christians or even Christian society will avoid evil and pain. Some people don’t want to know about wrongdoing in the church, others can’t see anything but. Some people are so consumed with criticizing everything the church does that they fail to see any evidence of the Holy Spirit at work.

The truth is that life in the world is a mixture of good and bad.

That’s why reports about the Alpha program, the new hymn book or plans to end Third-World debt are sometimes positive, sometimes not. Each story aims to be balanced, but often whether it is good or bad depends on one’s position – as letters to the editor frequently reveal.

Fortunately – and to its credit among secular media – the Anglican Church of Canada has long supported an independent press to tell its members and society about itself. Accountable to the church through a committee made up of elected members and others appointed by the primate, the Journal is well positioned to continue to bring Anglicans news of the sort that secular media are beginning to rediscover. CBC and Vision have just announced a new TV program, Moral Divide, which will take a look at the religious and ethical issues behind top stories. It joins CBC Radio’s show, Tapestry (hosted by Anglican Judy Maddren) and a renewed interest in several major newspapers across Canada in these stories.

However good these programs are though, it is important for the church to have its story told by journalists who understand the subtleties and nuances that are at the heart of so many religious issues and which are frequently glossed over or misunderstood by others. And because General Synod gives this newspaper the freedom to choose the stories it publishes, it allows everyone’s story to be told and responded too. News about charismatics, Prayer Book supporters and liberals that are of interest to Anglicans across the country are all told here as fairly and accurately as possible.

Sometimes, as a way of getting around the matter of good and bad news, people wonder if a church paper should perhaps focus, not on news at all, but on theology and spirituality. Such a publication might indeed be valuable, but it should be in addition to a newspaper. Otherwise, how would people know what is going on in their church, what decisions are being made and how money is being spent? Unfortunately, the church is no more to be trusted as an institution than any other and the scrutiny of the media is therefore just as important to keep people honest. There is also the problem that if one created a paper focused on theology and spirituality, which theology would dominate and who would decide?

Next year, as the church celebrates 2,000 years since the official birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the Journal will mark 125 years of bringing news of interest to Anglicans in Canada and around the world.

Ours is but a brief moment in relation to the time people have been telling and re-telling the story of the Gospel to one another. Our committment, though, is to continue in that biblical tradition of telling the good times and bad times of God’s people as they grow in faith.


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