My letter to the BBC

Mar 21, 2018 by

By Canon J. John. [Published first on his blog, then in Premier Christianity, this open letter from the well-known evangelist lists the ways in which the BBC fails the nation by not reflecting authentic Christianity.]

[…] More subtly, in historical programmes there is all too frequently the airbrushing out of Christianity. Possibly in an effort to make situations and individuals more accessible and sympathetic to the modern mind, the role of church and faith in determining both the culture and the actions of individuals is downplayed. The church, the Bible and Christian ethics almost always seem to have mysteriously gone missing, Photoshopped out of history.

It does not have to be so. A positive example here is Series 2 Episode 6, ‘Vergangenheit’, of Netflix’s The Crown which shows Queen Elizabeth II grappling with issues of faith and forgiveness and has a sympathetic portrayal of Billy Graham preaching. Many who have watched it have said that this was precisely the sort of thing that the BBC dare not now produce.

For the best part of 2,000 years the Christian faith in some form or other has governed how the people of the United Kingdom thought, spoke and acted. Men and women attended church, said prayers, uttered grace before meals and, whether they followed the tenets of the church or not, they at least considered them. To reject that role for Christianity is to deny history.

The omissions continue in the realm of politics. The recent elevated role of the Ulster Unionists in British politics has drawn attention to them and their beliefs. Although I hold no brief for many of the cultural manifestations of Ulster Protestantism, these people are not the cultural Neanderthals that they seem to be portrayed as. The reality is that they are holding beliefs that were universal tenets of society across the whole of Britain only a few decades ago. Equally it seems to have become almost universally accepted that to be an American evangelical is to be a climate-change-denying Trump supporter somewhere well to the right of Jacob Rees-Mogg.

It is not that simple. In terms of sins of commission, again one finds a reluctance across the BBC to deal with the sort of living faith within mainstream Christianity that, in reality, predominates. Whether it is from ignorance or from a lazy disinclination to investigate contemporary Christian culture(s) we constantly stumble over stereotypes. So we come across the bumbling and inoffensive ‘More Tea Vicar’ cleric who is clearly related to Mr Bean; the sort of edgy figure apparently portrayed in the current drama Collateral who is a lesbian vicar in a relationship with a drug-taking illegal immigrant; or (perhaps increasingly) the naive ‘happy-clappy’ charismatic, untroubled by reality of any form.

Where are the mainstream figures? Those people – doctors, teachers, MPs, mothers, even vicars – who have a conventional, thoughtful Christian faith and who happily live it out in their daily lives? I’m not asking for perfection but I would like representation.

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