On Turning Away

Participation in the media requires
listening to the audience and addressing their concerns. It’s hard work, hard
theological work to translate messages into language that makes them inviting to
an audience that doesn’t understand the language of faith.
(I am posting a series of thoughts on the disengagement of the mainline denominations from mainstream media over the past thirty years that results in the absence of the mainline voice from the public dialogue. This is the twelfth installment.)

Participation in the media requires us to listen to the audience and address its concerns, and not just focus on ours. It requires learning to translate our issues into language that is understandable and inviting to the audience. It’s hard work, hard theological work. And we have not stepped up to the challenge.

It takes strategic communications skills. It’s not a simple, easy thing to do. Some critics of mainline communications have likened it to throwing spaghetti against the wall and hoping it sticks. A quality programming relationship, as effective communication, is built on listening, trust, credibility, and listening some more.

The experience I related with a national staff person in a seminary class on media and culture is revealing of the arrogance that a few individuals in the mainline held in the 1970s and 1980s. These few believed they knew what the audience needed to hear and the words in which they needed to hear it delivered. And, if the audience didn’t listen, it was the audience, not the communication that was at fault. Audiences were just too unsophisticated, inadequate or prejudiced.

Turning away from audiences left the mainline denominations without the ability and capacity to communicate with people at a level that meets their needs in daily life. In this absence all kinds of end-time, off-the-wall religious fervor and fundamentalism filled the gap. Whether the middle ground of reason and informed, passionate faith can revive is still unclear.

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