… well, I’m now in a position to know at first-hand that church leaders do take the lead … it just doesn’t get reported! It’s airbrushed out of the media, which really doesn’t like dealing with religious issues, because by and large it doesn’t understand them, unless they fit into pre-conceived boxes (like bad vicars or sexuality).
Like it or not, however suspicious we are of the way the media slant things, we are all influenced by what is reported, and by the way it is reported. If we only ever hear the negative, and are ignorant of the positive, then that is going to affect our attitudes.
Religion is constantly being blamed as the cause of all sorts of troubles, and there is no doubt that religion does play a part sometimes. But if the media only report religious riots etc, and never say anything about all the positive things done by most of the world’s religions, then that is going to stoke religious misunderstanding. In a world where we must learn to get on better with each other, to show some respect for each other and to build community together, this attitude of the media is hugely irresponsible.
I am, for example, interested to note that there has been almost nothing in the media about the response of churches and faith groups to the riots. People of any faith and none are entitled to say ‘how come there’s no leadership? why are there no statements?’
The answer is, of course, that leadership was there – but it is quite deliberately not reported. The fact that our Bishop attended a meeting with the Muslim leaders here and the police, and visited the bereaved families, does not seem to have made it into any of the media reports despite all the journalists present. Yet, when the murders affected the very large Muslim population in our city, and their sense of community is as much religious as it is ethnic, surely it is newsworthy that the leaders of the Christian faith were there, in support.
In the interests of redressing the balance, I note that Rowan Williams made a statement about the riots in the House of Lords (hotly followed by journalists saying ‘why isn’t he saying anything?’ !!) The Archbish said that seeking explanations is not the same as seeking excuses:
‘Recognising the many positive acts of citizenship that have been seen among young people, local communities, churches and other faith groups, Dr Williams called for a renewal of civic identity and civic solidarity:
“My Lords, I believe that this is a moment which we must seize, a moment where there is sufficient anger at the breakdown of civic solidarity, sufficient awareness of the resources people have in helping and supporting one another, sufficient hope (in spite of everything) of what can be achieved by the governing institutions of this country, including in Your Lordship’s House, to engage creatively with the possibilities that this moment gives us. And I trust, My Lords, that we shall respond with energy to that moment which could be crucial for the long-term future of our country and our society.”‘
Speakers for Church Action on Poverty, the Children’s Society, Christian urban youth charities, Christian Concern and various assorted bishops and church leaders have all spoken out, saying very similar things: the need to move beyond the ‘blame game’; that removing benefits simply places more pressure on families already struggling to cope; that although there is no excuse for unlawful behaviour, politicians need to look at how to create hope for people; the need to work out more effective ways of combating alienation and destruction. Everyone agrees that there has been a long slow breakdown in the beliefs and values that used to constitute a moral and ethical context for our society, and there are all sorts of ideas on how to address this. Highly individualistic spiritualities and belief systems don’t work at a social level.
All over the country churches and faith groups are fully engaged at grass-roots level with our communities and their needs (yes, I know it’s not only religious groups, it’s secular ones as well, but they have others to speak for them). If this government’s Big
Society idea is ever going to have any reality, then it needs to get behind all those working in these areas, in an effort to bring healing and hope for the future.