Friday, October 12, 2007

Is the S. African media fulfilling the prophetic role of the church?

Dion wrote an interesting blog on the church's prophetic voice. I was actually busy constructing my thoughts on the same topic when I came across his post. I want to develop this into an academic article, so your comment will be valued. These are just rough ideas, which need to be sharpened, so please excuse the fragmented nature of the following discussion. The question I would like to ask is: Is the South African media fulfilling the prophetic role of the church?

The church in South Africa has a rich history of being involved in discussion with the State, good and bad. As a prophetic voice, the church has not hindered to declare a Status Confessionis on several occasions. This has led to the signing of the Kairos Document, as well as the Belhar Confession, among others. But statements, confessions and even critique has been few and far between. During the Apartheid era, the Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk was jokingly called "The National Party at prayer". In modern times, my own denomination has been labeled as "The ANC at prayer", and one certainly has to raise the question whether over-identification with a certain cause can lead the church to a place where it is stripped of its prophetic voice, or whether the church's voice simply is not taken seriously enough.

So, who keeps the State accountable - besides the justice system? The obvious answer is the media. The media may be over-critical, be accused of sensationalizing its content, but it is certainly the only forum which is posing questions in public to the authorities. Has the media nudged the church out of a job? One measure is to see whether the media is actually interested in, or reporting on the church's voice - that is, if it has one. It seems like the only interest the media is currently showing in the church concerns the different denominations' stances on the same-sex and civil unions debates. This is a sad state of affairs. The second marker would be to establish whether civil society is interested in what the church has to say, or if it prefers to identify with the media's relentless questioning of current practices.

Obviously we should celebrate the amount of press-freedom that we have in this country, but the church should be concerned about the notion that it has been ousted by the press. Why? For starters, the media can only delivere comment based on a subjectively assumed moral framework. What moral and ethical framework is used for its comment and criticism? Is it a formal framework, or is it subject to the editorial boards' own biases? Here, the church is able to speak with a greater sense of independence and certainty. To hold Christian values, which I know are highly debatable and subjective, as the basis for our conversation with the State, the church is enabled to critique, criticize and endorse practices while being relevant to the needs of the community.

I am concerned. These are just a few rough thoughts.

The "Prophetic voice" is not to be seen as something which should be raised by either the church or the media. These prophetic voices are different. The danger is that one of these voices seemed to have fallen away, leaving the media to fulfill both roles.

Just some thoughts.


Anonymous said...

I have heard a little history about the church in South Africa from my friend on,it is really have a rich history

Rock in the Grass said...

Yes - the press is a prophetic voice at trhe moment: but not all of the press: SABC is still "his master's voice". I fear that the Methodist Church is reveling in having so many relatives and friends in Parliament. And so we who feed at the table of the rulers find it very hard to bite the hands that feeds us. We have become silent (that is if we ever were very vocal in the first place).

Desmond Tutu is wonderfully honest: but I suspect there is a cost to this. Sadly people such as Frank Chikane, Cedric Mayson and Fr Smangaliso Mkatshwa have been absorbed by the system.

Pray for us to become more honest.

barry said...

ja. i echo the rock in the grass's sentiments. i read the mail & guardian every week and try to follow important issues that affect our fledgling democracy. i want to hold high standards for our country and it's leaders. but at the same time, i'm wary of taking everything that the media throws out as gospel. so what to believe...

i'm wary of being critical, only to find out that it's more my white skin speaking than anything else. i'm wary of making judgements (although i do all the time!) that are informed by a source that may have it's own agenda...

i really agree that the media should not be the only prophetic voice in our country, but what will inform our prophetic voice?