SENSATIONAL RELIGION!

By Rev. Kevin Pleas | Feb 01, 2011

One of the things we in the church wrestle with these days is how to communicate in positive and healthy ways with those who are not in the church. It’s harder than it may sound. There was a time when, generally speaking, the culture at large had a positive attitude toward church. An average citizen of the 1950s, whether or not actively involved, was likely to be both knowledgeable about the faith and supportive of the role churches played in society. Not so today. Depending on who you ask, we’re currently working on either the second or third generation of people who increasingly have little contact with, and see little value in, the institution some of us hold dear.

Much of this state of affairs, it must be said, is our own fault. The things the church makes headlines for these days are enough to make anyone cringe. One need only locate the Religion News Blog to find story after story of irrationality, immorality, and violence, all over the world and all in the name of faith. And since this type of sensationalist website often feeds the standard news sources, a person not otherwise informed could be forgiven for thinking that religion itself must be a nightmare. But, without minimizing the real pain and suffering religion is sometimes used as an excuse for, I think it’s fair to consider the headlines themselves.

I have what I call a “Cocktail Party” theory of sensationalism in the news. If you’re one to come early to such a party, you’re likely to have some rather sane, relatively quiet conversations; however, as more and more people arrive, the noise level tends to rise until talking at all becomes a matter of shouting to be heard. In much the same way, those of us who grew up with the three major TV networks remember a time when news was delivered in a reasonable, respectful and reflective way. Walter Cronkite was more than a news anchor. He was a trusted cultural icon; however, as news channels have multiplied exponentially, the need to “shout to be heard” has risen apace. Now, it seems, the dominant aim of much that is called news is to raise our collective blood pressure for the sake of repeat customers. News reporting has become a thrill ride.

The point here is not to explain away what should never have happened in the first place. It is simply to say that what is grabbing our attention is far from the whole story. The story behind the shouting is that most people of faith never make the headlines. Most are sane. Most are moral. Most are compassionate. Most are community-minded and trying to lead lives informed by a full-bodied and time-tested wisdom. And most, I might add, would be more than happy to extend a warm hand of welcome and friendship. Where else can you get that these days?

 

Kevin Pleas is reverend of the First Congregational Church U.C.C. in Camden.

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