On the weekend it snowed on the outskirts of Melbourne, and it appears as though some of that snow fell on the Central Coast of NSW and clouded the vision of one SBS reporter.
An article was published on the SBS website late this afternoon, aiming to discredit a group of FIEC churches on the Central Coast. These Churches use facilities in local schools after school hours, especially for Sunday services
Journalist, Robert Burton-Bradley, has accused the Churches of promoting a ‘homophobic’ message, and he then proceeds to prove his case by providing a list of quotes from various sermons. Unfortunately, his evidence looks more like a JFK conspiracy theory than material fit for publication on a respected Australian media website.
To begin with, the headline states, “Claims evangelical Christian churches preach gay hate in public schools” and has the accompanying tag line, “Exclusive: Serious allegations have emerged that gay hate messages are being preached inside public schools by evangelical groups.” It sounds truly outrageous and, these headings are sufficiently vague to lead readers to believe that the following ideas are being taught in these schools, which is not the case. The content of these sermons is for a church, not for children in the classroom.
Secondly, in light of the evil mass murder in Orlando, the media have reported various Muslim leaders who believe homosexuals should be executed. In the midst of these stories, it appears as though Burton-Bradley is portraying these Christian Churches as if they are preaching a similar hate message. He writes,
“One recording of a sermon on homosexuality and the Bible’s book of Leviticus from the Lakes Christian Church, based inside the Berkeley Vale Public school on the NSW Central Coast, includes references to the “death penalty” as a punishment for the “sin” of homosexuality.”
Taking words from their intended setting could potentially be seen as slanderous, which leads to a third point,
The article quotes statements from various sermons with no regard for the context in which they were spoken.
Anyone can cut and past a few words from a sermon, and give readers all manner of impressions. I once said in a sermon, ‘sex is good’; I guess one can only assume I’m a member of the sex party. I’ve also declared my dislike of cats, perhaps someone ought to report me to the RSPCA for possible future animal cruelty!
Not only does the article ignore context in which words were spoken, there is no understanding here of biblical theology, by which I mean, how the Old Testament relates to the New Testament, of how God’s holiness and love relate, and of the way the cross of Jesus Christ is the key to understanding Christianity and Christian thought and attitudes toward other people. Nowhere does Robert Burton-Bradley bring his readers to the conclusions that are offered in the sermons.
Christians do not hate homosexuals, and from what I know of the Churches in question, neither do they. If I may repeat words that I wrote last week in a piece relating to Jason Ball,
“A Christian cannot hate because we have been on the other side, we have belonged to the crowd who have hurt others and thrown stones of hate, pride, and greed. Christians, if they are Christian, confess their spiritual and moral destitution, and yet we have come to experience the undeserving and loving grace of God who forgives our trespasses through Jesus. Once the human heart has experienced Divine forgiveness, we can not walk back into old attitudes of disdain for other people, nor hold onto some cold and languid acquiescence toward popular moral thought. When God replaces hate with love, it is a commitment to affirm what is good as defined by God. Can not love lead us to disagree with fellow human beings? Can a desire to see people flourish not include aspects of nonconcurrence, as we find in the life of Jesus Christ?”
What lessons should Churches be learning from such reporting?
First of all, be mindful that our sermons and websites are available to whoever is interested, including whacky atheists, angry secularists, and agenda driven journalists. In fact, this example is a helpful reminder for preachers and pastors. How do our sermons come across to unbelieving Australia? Indeed, how is skeptical Australia reading our blogs!?
Secondly, be mindful of the fact that uncritical and biased reporting is a reality, not always, but it is common place. Such impropriety ought to disappoint us but not surprise us.
I’m not a fan of media bashing, and so I’m pleased to be able to say that on most occasions when I have dealt with the media, the experience has been positive. One time, a major newspaper even revised a headline to more accurately reflect my argument, and I remember the time when Derryn Hinch stepped off his bandwagon to publicly acknowledge he had misunderstood something I’d said. Sadly though, I think we can expect more fractious reporting in future days, as our society closes the door on fair and civil public discourse.
This is extremely poor journalism; no wonder the schools and churches didn’t feel obliged to speak to SBS. I hope SBS’s editorial team will have the common sense and decency to remove the piece and apologise to the parties involved.
UPDATE: I believe SBS have taken down the article from their website. Thank you to SBS for their wise deliberation and response. (June 30)