This weekend, at hundreds of churches around New Zealand, congregations will offer up a prayer for the media. Why? Alex Braae finds out.
Back when I used to produce talkback radio, a caller who I didn’t put on the air told me she’d pray for me, then hung up. It didn’t sound like a positive and supportive gesture.
Just under 1,000 churches are committed to offering a prayer for the people working in media at their services this Sunday. It’s an initiative organised by the Christian Broadcasting Association, an organisation that creates Christian-themed content for secular media – largely for talk radio stations like Newstalk ZB and Radio Live. The Media Prayer Day initiative has been endorsed by the leaders of 20 major denominations.
At a time when the evangelical-backed Trump administration is describing media as the “enemy of the people” in the USA, the idea that Christians might pray for the media could sound vaguely sinister, or even threatening. Phil Guyon, the CEO of the CBA, says that’s not the intention at all, and that the political climate of Christianity in New Zealand is different.
“The Christian scene in New Zealand is very different from America,” he says. Guyon says just as there’s a diverse range of views among media professionals, there’s a range of political views among Christians, and the pockets that identify with that sort of rhetoric are a “tiny minority.”
“What we’re trying to say [to Christians] is that the media isn’t out to get you. The media is made up of people who are all trying to do a good job, and so if you’re feeling critical of media, rather than taking that posture, take a posture of saying let’s lift these people up in prayer.”
A suggested prayer has been distributed to churches, which is largely focused on the individuals working within it, and their welfare. It includes a line about helping “decision-makers and content-creators to be sensitive to the needs of our communities and the values our children are exposed to, as they absorb the culture around them.” It is expected that most participating churches will read the prayer as it is written, though some will put it in their own words.
So does that mean churchgoers will be praying for specific topics to be covered, or covered in specific ways? “It’s thinking about the intent of the prayer,” says Reverend Ritchie, a media chaplain and broadcaster. “When you think about the best of Christianity – speaking truth to power and standing up for the oppressed – when you look at media, you see the same thing. So this is us as people who love the media taking the chance to help Christians reshape how they think about the media.”
“We spent a bit of time crafting that to get the tone right,” says Guyon. “Tone and posture has been really important to us.”
Held every two years, the Media Prayer Day is one of the exercises in bridge-building that the CBA undertakes. Phil Guyon says the main work of the organisation is “helping to educate the general public about what Christianity really is, to clear up some of the misconceptions and misunderstandings around Christianity, and present it how we think it should be presented.” It’s hardly fire and brimstone stuff.
Besides, it’s probably easy to over-state just how wide a gulf there is between Christians and media professionals, despite the industry’s reputation as being staffed by godless heathens. There’s more than a few people who fall into both camps, and there’s a reasonably large amount of staff crossover – particularly in broadcasting – between people working in Christian media and secular media.
Beyond that, around 300 media workers are part of the CBA’s chaplaincy network, which ministers to people in an industry that routinely fails to provide mental health support to those working in it. Research from AUT journalism academic Dr Lyn Barnes shows that journalists are often left on their own to develop ways of coping with the trauma that they encounter on a regular basis.
“I sit down with a lot of those people – people of faith, and those who wouldn’t say they have a faith either. We’re increasingly talking to people who don’t have a faith as well, but they’re aware there’s a certain sort of conversation they can have with me,” says Reverend Ritchie.
Fundamentally, though, the underpinnings of the day are religious, as Phil Guyon explains. “One of the things that’s a driver for us is a biblical text. The Apostle Paul, he said to the Christians, pray for the people who have an influence. At the time that was the political leaders. And we go, if you’re going to have a posture of prayer for those people in positions of responsibility and leadership and influence, in today’s world, that’s clearly the media.”
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