Friday, 30 May 2014

To Tell the Truth

I contributed this week’s ‘Connecting with Culture’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

News has been dominated this week by the ramifications of the European parliamentary elections. Discussions have largely centred around the implications for the main parties and their leaders now that, in Nigel Farage’s words, ‘the UKIP fox is in the Westminster henhouse’.

Not so widely reported was the accusation by some of bias on the part of the BBC in its coverage of the elections. As one online campaign alleges, ‘much of the broadcasting... on radio and on television has provided a disproportionate focus on UKIP which is not justified by the level of support in the country for that party’. The complaint is that this ‘can have consequences for the way people vote’, and that ‘there is an onus on the BBC to report election processes fairly in ways that the impact on how people vote is minimised’.

Then came news that Education Secretary Michael Gove had ‘banned’ from the GCSE English Literature syllabus classics of American literature, including Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Gove himself responded to the subsequent Twitterstorm by clarifying what later reports have reinforced: ‘I have not banned anything. Nor has anyone else. All we are doing is asking exam boards to broaden – not narrow – the books young people study for GCSE.’ To be sure, the net effect of the changes is likely to make it difficult for teachers to include the American works. Even so, one doesn’t need to be a fan of Gove to sense the backlash he suffered was, in this case, something of an injustice.

In a world where it sometimes seems that relativism rules, it’s heartening to see the desire expressed to get to the ‘truth’ of a matter – seen, not least this week, in the furore surrounding the Chilcot Inquiry.

Christians have a vested interest in being mouthpieces for truth and justice, for they are qualities that reflect the character of God. Indeed, signs of God’s grace can be seen in every instance of truth-telling and honest reporting which serves the welfare of others. Beyond this, as Tom Wright points out in Creation, Power and Truth: The Gospel in a World of Cultural Confusion (SPCK), knowing the truth is a public activity. Rather than being the secret, hidden knowledge of the gnostic, it ‘offers itself in testimony before the watching and evaluating world’, where the Spirit of truth equips the church not just to enjoy ‘spiritual’ experiences, but to know, speak, and live out the truth.

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