Why does Media representation (for christians) even matter?

You know how the saying goes, the media portrays the NHS in crisis overall – yet everyone loves their local hospital, fights for it and want it to be kept open, facilitated and the core provider of health services in the UK. But ask people on the street about the NHS overall and theyll say something different, depending on whether they have used the services recently or not.

One of the earliest lectures I attended as part of my Youthwork degree at ICC, was that on the media representations of Young People. Often nearly always bent towards the negative (even their success at exams is skewed to reflect ‘easier exams nowadays), but young people are portrayed with hoods, as closed off, as in groups/gangs, at fault for many of societies ills. We learned and saw how the narrative of negativity around young people shaped government policy, as what might be said to be the Daily Mail brigades were reacted to. Though the moral fear about young people created by such stories is not new.

One of the things in church based youthwork is to maintain challenges these narratives, as they can be often the ones that church people ingest the most frequently and then shape whether they as people will bother volunteering to do youthwork in the church, or dictate how to treat young people. When as we know, God sees young people differently…doesnt she?

So on this basis, media representations of young people in society, as a youthworker are important- because they shape attitudes, narratives and policy. (and thats before we get the new wave of ‘millenial bashing’)

However, there is also a complete surprise in the local situation. When a group of volunteers encounter and interact with young people on the streets for the first time, they are often surprised, saying ‘that went better than i expected!’ – why what did you expect… ?  Well id heard so much about young people…… So again, the universal media narrative is the default norm, but this is often overcome because in the right kind of environment, and with the right kind of approach, young people are barely anything like the media portrays them. They cant be. boring young people all 99% of them arent newsworthy. Though its also fair to say that the services that provide for and with young people (as many of the 99% need mental health support, or counselling, or universal youthwork that barely exists)  and the plight of this is also less newsworthy, because it is about young people. And so, if the media doesnt care positively about young people, then it is going to care less about paying for services for them. The anti youth bias continues.

So, fast forward to the last two weeks. Not for the first time there is a conversation going around about ‘How Christians are portrayed in the Media’ and an open letter by the evangelical preacher J John. Im not going to share the link, but it is in this response piece by Bryony Taylor, which is well worth a look, to at least balance the scales on media portrayals of christians: https://bryonytaylor.com/2018/03/21/representation-of-christians-on-the-bbc-my-response-to-j-johns-open-letter/

A few reflections;

  1. Its a bit self indulgent. Surely Christians can protests about media portrayals of more oppressed communities in society than themselves. Young people perhaps, LGBT, Women (in general), people from other countries (but no), Muslims.
  2.  I wonder is there anything worse about Christianity than putting across a victim complex. And being seen to be that way.

But overall does it matter- and why does it matter?

For one thing, I do go on at this point. The perception, is that the media is somehow meant to be on the side of the christian church in the UK. That’s the perception within the church, in the main. Along with this is the belief that if there is religious stuff on TV then this will make the church relevant and cause people to think positively about the church and then go along to it. Negative media representation obviously damages this approach. It is about relevancy to the evangelical, that’s one of the whole aspects of the strategy. Being relevant has meant being involved in the media. When i was growing up it was Steve Chalke on the TV – somehow he was trendy for young people.. (!)

In a way I wouldnt want the BBC to think it had to respond to J John about his complaint, because that might mean that they werent genuine about what they might try and do in the future. What the christian church would be better at doing was actually doing stuff in their every day locality that was meaningful, provocative and risk taking to and with local communities- that the BBC couldnt help but write positive stories about the church. Like the methodists who protested against the arms depot and challenged the courts.  But many other countless examples. Lets face it, christians doing foodbanks in Newcastle were the heroes in ‘I Daniel Blake’.

If people in every day local communities had a positive experience meaningfully of their local church- then universal media representations wouldnt matter. It has become the great ‘hang up’ on one hand we pour christian celebrity status on the bakers from bake off (Martha Collinson) who profess faith, the brit award winners (stormzy) – and they become ‘role models’ – yet at the same time decry the media for challenging portrayals. We cant have both cakes and eat them. But even this rush to get christians in the media is part of the same approach. Stormzy might be the coolest thing since Ice Cubes. And Broken the most powerful portrayal of priesthood since well The Passion of the Christ. None of it is of any importance until people locally become connected and surprised by the church. One of the ways that this could happen, is if local churches forgot their own oppression, and connected (even more) with those who really do face it.

There is moment in the film ‘Pride’ (2014) where a character uses the media as a way of  telling tales about the ‘Gays and Lesbians’ who had gone to the village to support the striking miners in the miners strike. The response to the character from one of the support group leaders was ‘ well i dont believe the media about what they say about us (the miners) so why do i about them (the Gay fundraisers)’. We either think people cant make up their own mind and uncritically believe everything they hear in the media, or as christians we might surprise by being different in the local area. If we’re doing good works, with love, then the media cant touch us, and if we react it gives fuel to their fire, not ours.

Bryony is even more prolific than me; here is her second response, on developing a theological response to media courting: https://bryonytaylor.com/2018/03/22/representation-of-christians-on-television-a-theological-response/

 

References

Roche & Tucker, Youth in Society, 1995

Garratt, Roche, Tucker, Changing experiences of Youth, 1997

 

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9 Reasons why Young people shouldnt bother to Vote in #GE2017

The General election is now only 3 days away.

If for a variety of reasons you’re not already counted and registered, and theres been a huge surge in trying to get young people to vote.  I mean why? And what is really in it for the young person? will they get a free download? or be entered into a prize draw? Image may contain: text

Here is one of the over reactionary, done in a war time recruitment style posters going around.

Its almost as if it sounds like it should be made compulsory for young people to vote, its getting to that level.

If you’re a young person, heres 9 reasons why you shouldnt bother voting in the General election.

 

1. Generally the people who are in the government talk to the people who vote for them. They’re not talking to young people, so why bother voting for them.  

2. Nothing that happens to you in your life has anything to do with what happens on TV with those people who shout at each other. 

3. Adults over the last few years have made the best decisions for the country, and for your interest at heart, so why not trust them again. 

4. You’re just a big child, you dont really know anything about really important things, probably the only thing you’re interested in at the moment is trying to get cheap train fares back from Uni, or the price of a pint on student night, or your exams. Why bother fretting over a bit of politics as well, why vote at all, just keep doing the stuff in your life – why worry about politics and voting? 

5. It seems so hard work. walking somewhere – cant it just be done from clicking the buttons on the Xbox?, i mean its such an inconvenience going outside to vote. 

6. You keep being told you’re not engaged with politics. Every time theres a flipping election, ‘young people are disengaged’  so you’re better off keeping up the stereo type, after all all the other stereotypes adults have of young people are right as well arent they?  So why not put on your hoody, get pregnant and collapse in the streets drunk then queue up to the dole queue and threaten people in the shopping centre, whilst taking stressful exams that get easier every year and just be bored. Dont bother changing peoples perceptions of you – you’re disengaged from politics – dont bother voting! Live the dream!   

7. Dont bother voting – just march instead, theyll be plenty of marches coming up, anti brexit, anti austerity, anti climate change, anti tax cuts or benefit cuts. If you dont vote, think of all the exercise you can get, placards you can make and travel to london you can do protesting. Itll be amazing, all yours if you dont vote (of course you can vote and still march, but really you have a chance to change things before then…)

8. Theres no point in voting, after all, all the people you see on social media are going to vote in the same kind of way, so your vote isnt going to make a difference. Even though they all live all over the country, they can be your vote. Why bother, they’re already going to. 

9. Citizenship classes were boring. 

If these are the actual reasons why you’re not going to vote, then please reconsider. You have the opportunity to be make a real difference, it doesnt matter where you live or what the likelihood is. If larger numbers of young people vote every time then politicians will have to start taking you seriously, as seriously as they do older people in society.

For every piece of legislation or service or resource or education system that has been changed in your lifetime and penalised you – these have been decisions made by the government – and they get away with it because they know that you probably dont realise this, and you wont vote until you’re at least 30, thats when you discover the news channel for the first time, and start paying taxes. But you already pay taxes, and have benefits, or didnt get education grants, or cant get a house.. so all of these things already affect you.

Remember, the government really does not want you to vote. The proof of this is that in the last 7 weeks, not a single encouragement to register to vote was put out on social media by the conservative government, if that isnt an indictment that theyre threatened by you, i dont know what is. 

Adults in society dont really want you to vote, not in large numbers, and start taking politics seriously. But that and being able to change things should be enough of a reason to do so. If you dont know stuff, find out stuff. Do the same research you do for choosing your next phone, compare and contrast the parties as if theyre new phones, what they say, what they do, and what theyve done before. None of them are perfect, all have skeletons in their closet, so vote for the one that listens to you and promises something that you might like for now or the future. and if they say nothing, or think of you just as an economic entity (ie just to get a job or house) then think about what kind of world that will be.

Take the opportunity to make a difference, everyone only has 1 vote. Make yours and make it count.

Take a selfie at the polling booth, go in fancy dress, brave the rain, and vote. Go on. Take a lead from the millions of young people that voted in scotland over the last few years, their politics has changed considerably. Go on.

How much do #blacklivesmatter in the church & youth ministry?

The most important article in youthwork magazine was the one no one talked about. It asked whether the church and youth ministry is prepared to be empathetic to the struggle of racist oppression amongst young people in the UK, and the world.

One in which the sin of omission was mentioned in relation to the challenge of racism in the church, in youth ministry and how the church might respond to its own prejudices and also social campaigns such as #blacklivesmatter.

Dean Pusey the author of the piece, Diocesan youth Officer for St Albans wrote provocatively that:

The Sin of racial discrimination or bias, whether subtle or overt, needs addressing. Can the church be at the forefront of anti-discriminatroy practice, but because it is the right thing to do theologically, sociologically and practically? There cannot be opt outs or our mission is morally questionable at best, oppressive at worst.

Dean goes on to recount how since the Stephen Lawrence case and its repercussions in British society since the mid nineties, that systematic changes have been attempted in the British Justice system, in the criminal justice system, especially in relation to the treatment of Black teenagers, in the policies of Stop & Search that disproportionately discriminated. Yet as Dean argued:

Why is the church not at the forefront of speaking about these issues?

The church has been good at speaking about Poverty – in relation to Make poverty history in Africa, About Poverty in regard to Food (foodbanks), about financial poverty with campaigning groups like CAP. But where, as Dean argues, has there been a cry for Justice, for those discriminated against in society.  It has campaigned against poverty without being poor, can it and its youth ministry campaign in terms of equality and against racism without being black? I neither want to forge a link between poverty and discrimination, as this neednt be the case – but systematic reduction of opportunity occurs in some areas, a cause of poverty, and this highly discriminatory, and often these lines are drawn ethnically. Has the church stood by- and why might this have been – did it ever think that this was its role?

and yet, for a moment i think about my own practice of youth work in the last 20 odd years;

It has to be said that up until 2004, and thinking through sociologically, theologically and practically about youth work and ministry – considering equality, anti-discriminatory practice was not even on the agenda. In the groups that i was involved in in churches, the areas that these occured, in Hartlepool mainly, were very ‘white’. I wouldnt say middle class – as Hartlepool it wasnt like that – but the working class white boys of the town struggled in the type of work that we tried to engage them with. Race wasnt the issue. Methods were.

When i reflect on developing Detached youthwork in Perth from 2008,  this , if we enacted it appropriately, could be inclusive to all young people and yet, the streets of Perth were in the main dominated by young people who drank alcohol in large groups of ‘white’ working class young people again – and the same is the case in Durham now – without the alcohol. We did see some small groups of black young people in Perth, and we found it difficult to engage with them, they werent regular. It wasnt that we didnt want to – but the opportunities were difficult to emerge. The dominant groups dominated.

In a way this isnt the point of the article – Dean isnt asking for personal practice introspection – but in a way that is what he has caused me to do – to think – have i rejected being involved with a group of young people on the streets, or speak to groups in open club settings because of race, or prejudice? how have i been less inclusive than i could have been, or took a stand against racist language in conversations with young people on the streets? – i do remember we tried to engage a polish group and started to learn russian, but we never saw them again.

The question i reflect on further is that in my own practice – thinking about equality, anti-discrimination at a basic level only occured when at ICC, Glasgow we thought further about Power and Opportunities for young people, and thought about systems, social constructions of ‘youth’ and youthwork as a philosophy based upon community work and inclusive values. When id previously worked for churches as a volunteer – the thought of fairness or inclusion was barely a back thought, the only concern was teaching the young people about faith, whoever showed up.  I wonder if voluntary youth ministry has changed much?

What Dean is asking for, is that the church has something even more imperative than ‘just’ youth & community work values to uphold its work (though its a helpful starting point) – it is that fundamentally God requires us to look on humanity with his eyes. To look at each other as humanity as neighbours, as brothers and friends, to share in this global world experience where neither rich, poor, slave or free is separated from the love of God. This imperative gives the church adequate reason to challenge systems that oppress because to be free is to flourish, and prophets of old challenged the systems.     Yet i would hope that the church hasnt bought the narrative of fear of speaking up.

As i have suggested elsewhere, the church, and youth ministry has a call to be practical and prophetic. As Vanhoozer argues (2005), it has a responsibility to break down walls of separation between itself and the world, and to speak prophetically in it, and work at dismantling these structures, sometimes the structures of its own practice that discriminate. Heaven will not be white, and Praise God, we might need to get used to it now.

The Vitriol tolerated in the media that has been borderline, decidedly and explicitly anti-human, let alone Racist, in the lead up to and subsequent to Brexit, and the American election,  is reason enough for thinking that church even more now has a role in the rebuilding of community, an alternative kingdom community reconciled.

When a leading youth pastor claimed in Youthwork magazine that youth workers were of less quality, much was responded to and written in anger, response and defence. We took our own position seriously and defended the profession, or agreed with him.

Deans article is deeply globally, socially, theologically and practically more significant.

This is about the way that the church responds to inequality, racism and prejudice and what appropriate responses are to structures in faith communities- and the community at large where there is discrimination. About youth work and ministry amongst young people that doesn’t discriminate, and adjusts its practice so that it is inclusive. It affects how we view our shared humans on and in this global world, it is about who Jesus would be fighting for the freedom of right now, and where liberation not further judgement is required.

The sin of ommission may have been also applied to Deans article.  Theres an irony. so if you want to read it a copy is here: ywmag_nov2016-1 (permission granted by the author)

 

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