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President urges communicators,
Cleveland, March 28, 2006 – The president of the National Council of Churches, the Rev. Michael Livingston, strongly urged church communicators to, “Tell our story. By any means necessary.”
“Mainline Protestant and Orthodox churches have been pounded into irrelevancy by the media machine of a false religion,” Livingston said. He described what passes as religion to be, “a political philosophy masquerading as gospel; an economic principle wrapped in religious rhetoric and painted red, white and blue.”
Livingston made his remarks this week (March 27) in Cleveland at the semi-annual meeting of the National Council’s Communications Commission. He spoke to about 30 communicators from many of the NCC’s 35 member denominations.
“Get it [our story] out there,” he said, “this truth about the human condition and the work of the church, these churches, this one effort of millions of Christians alongside and through NCC/CWS [Church World Service] to live in obedience to the word of the one who sends us into the world: When you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it unto me. It all comes down to this, love God and your neighbor.”
Livingston, who is also executive director of the International Council of Community Churches, lamented the media attraction to Pat Robertson and how the work seems to go unnoticed by Christians in agencies like CWS, Lutheran World Relief and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.
The communicators were challenged not to mimic or imitate others.
“We need fresh approaches to telling our story, reaching and touching our nation with what we know to be a faithful response to the gospel,” Livingston said. He singled out FaithfulAmerica.org as one way to share the good news of faithful Christians responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Livingston is serving the two-year term as elected president of the NCC through December, 2007. He has pastored Presbyterian churches in New York City and Los Angeles. He also served on the staff of Princeton (N.J.) Seminary prior to his current position with ICCC.
There are 35 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican denominations who are members of the NCC comprising nearly 45-million Christians in North America.
The full text of Livingston's address follows.
By Michael Livingston
Here is what I want to say to you:
Tell our story. By any means necessary. Television, radio, blog, and website. Wrap it in a million sound bites if that’s what it takes. Pun it; as our General Secretary is prone to do. What you don’t have to do is make it up. It doesn’t need spinning or stretching, or massaging, it needs air, light and water, exposure and a nurturing for growth. That’s the way it is with the truth. It’s in living color; piercing, memorable, compelling. And it’s good news; it’s gospel to a world that’s saturated with tragedy and drenched in blood and is so very hard to look at and digest. Yet we must because children are dying and at risk on every continent and we can do better.
Get it out there, this truth about the human condition and the work of the church, these churches, this one effort of millions of Christians alongside and through NCC/CWS to live in obedience to the word of the one who sends us into the world: When you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it unto me. It all comes down to this, love God and your neighbor.
Mainline Protestant and Orthodox churches have been pounded into irrelevancy by the media machine of a false religion; a political philosophy masquerading as gospel; an economic principle wrapped in religious rhetoric and painted red, white and blue. Because we’re gentle as doves but not always wise as serpents. It certainly makes sense for those prophets, and those mission workers among us to go ahead doing what they do relentlessly; speaking truth and responding to human need 24/7 without regard for marketing and promotion. And it makes sense for our judicatories and congregations to, daily, do the unheralded work of ministry out of any kind of spot light and for no reward or glory.
But it is the job of some of us to tell the story so that the noise we hear so persistently and loudly; the noise that divides, that blames, that ridicules, that labels—is not the only reality, is not the thing that comes to mind when one thinks of “church,” or “Christian.”
Did I say reality? What a farce, this presentation of reality that exists only to sell more products, to create more stars, CD’s, pitchmen and women, follow-up reality shows. And perhaps more pernicious than all—to keep our nation occupied with the most trivial pursuits imaginable, while our world continues to spiral downward dragged by war, disease, famine; by lack of water, warmth, a desire for reconciliation, an inability to see in the other, any reflection of the image of the God who created us all.
Survivor, American Idol, the SuperNanny, the Bachelor, the Beauty and the Geek, Fear Factor—get your foolishness any way you want it, any channel, any day or night of the week. And you know I just happened to land here, I could be talking about sports or movies, or religion on television—a whole brand of “reality” all its own.
Superbowl ads—as high as 2.5 million for 30 seconds. What Hollywood spends marketing its movies could feed every refugee on the planet for the rest of their lives. I can’t support that statement, it’s just a wild guess.
“According to the Tyndall Report which analyses the content of the evening newscasts of the broadcast networks, coverage of Darfur by the big three actually declined last year. The total for all three networks was 26 minutes in 2004. It dropped to just 18 minutes during all of 2005. ABC’s evening news program had 11 minutes about Darfur over the year, NBC’s had 5 minutes, and CBS found what even our President called genocide worth only 2 minutes of airtime during the course of 2005. In contrast, the networks gave the Michael Jackson trial in 2005 a total of 84 minutes of coverage.” (Nicolas Kristof, NY Times, February 8, 2006)
But how about what CWS is still doing in post-tsunami East Asia, Darfur, Pakistan, the Gulf Coast, Tanzania? I was in the Miami office of CWS last week. A staff of 50—they serve 20,000 people annually—Eastern European, Cuban, Haitian immigrants, boat people. When the 22 Cubans reach US shores in the middle of the night, the first call is to the Miami office of Church World Service. Where is 60 Minutes when you need them? Who tells our story?
Why do we know so much about Pat Robertson and so little about Mark Hanson? He’s thoughtful, articulate, personable, (photogenic); he’s a great church leader with a compelling personal story. Isn’t what the Lutherans are doing in the world at least as worthy of public exposure as what Pat thinks about Islam? That’s a rhetorical question. What kind of news information outfit reports the one and not the other? Have we no ability to influence this insanity? Maybe we can hire Jon Stewart or resurrect Edward R. Murrow and get him to do a show on Lutheran World Relief and CWS, on Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.
No I don’t believe the way forward is in imitation or mimicry. We need fresh approaches to telling our story, reaching and touching our nation with what we know to be a faithful response to the gospel.
But mostly, I want to applaud you for what you are doing for the NCC. I’ve seen the growth in visits to the site and the success of Faithful America. I’ve seen the radio sample and look forward to the start of that new effort. I hope you are only beginning to scratch the surface of the kinds of efforts that are needed to rival the domination of the kind of programming characteristic of the Fox enterprise. The work done by our member communions separately and together is more real than all the reality television combined.
Today in the Metropolitan Diary, a whimsical section of the NY Times, there was this note: Dear Diary: After a school break in February, Laura, my friends’ daughter, reflected on her first day back to the third-grade grind: “School is hard. Tons of paper. And one small hand to do all the work.” There are tons of stories to tell, that make up, really, one story, one good story to change the world and save us from ourselves. And you’re the ones to help tell it. One small hand…to do the work.
I applaud you for what you do for your communions and what together you do for all of the us in the National Council of Churches. Thank you.
Photograph by Kathleen Cameron
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