By Andy Butcher
Considering that they are in the business of crafting snappy headlines, many newspapers and magazines seem to have a hard time coming up with mission-statement taglines that work. They often seem to fall somewhere between smug and awkward.
Take The Washington Post’s portentous recent update: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” Probably penned by Bruce (Batman) Wayne, one snarky online commentator suggested. Or The Edmondson News’ “It Bores In.” Intended as a reference to the Kentucky publication’s other name, The Gimlet (a hand-drilling tool) it instead threatens to send you to sleep.
My favorite slogan comes from a local newspaper in Southern California: “Some of the news, most of time.” Modest and manageable.
But what about Christian publications? What might sit well under their mastheads as a guide to their work? Let me offer two mission-statement suggestions:
“Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” - 1 Corinthians 13:6
A verse more typically associated with wedding sermons than newsrooms, for sure, but this is a terrific reminder that Christian journalism has a higher calling than just getting the facts straight.
While the details are important, it’s all too easy to get too caught up in them alone—and we know who’s to be found in there, right? As we apply ourselves to writing accurately about any situation, what’s our intent with the content—what do we want it to achieve?
If the big difference between much general/mainstream journalism and the best of Christian journalism can be boiled down to one thing, I’d suggest it’s this “love chapter” admonition—seeing the exposure of wrongdoing as the end in itself or a means to a higher end.
I remember being excited one day as a young newspaper reporter doing the hourly calls to emergency services: I learned about a fatal accident involving a funeral procession that had occurred just outside the gates to a cemetery. Great story, I thought. Only later did it occur to me that my great story was also others’ great sadness.
I’m not suggesting we should ignore the ugly, of course; you often have to acknowledge that before you can get to the beautiful. Remember that the good news of the kingdom that John the Baptist came preaching in Luke 3 was, “Repent, sinners!” We may need to face the bad news before the good news really means anything.
Which brings us to my second suggestion:
“When they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement.” - Acts 15:31
If we need to reconsider what we mean by “good news” we also need to take another look at what we understand by “encouragement.”
It’s not being Pollyanna, ignoring the difficulties and heartache and slapping a cheery Bible verse on top of suffering. Ever wanted to punch someone who glibly spouts Romans 8:28 in the wake of tragedy?
What were the early church members of Acts 15 rejoicing for? It was a letter from the church elders in Jerusalem, but it didn’t just tell them everything was peachy and God bless you (P.S. Keep sending the money).
The fledgling church was on the brink of schism: as more Gentiles were added to the fold, there was a dispute over whether they needed to become like the Jews, undergoing circumcision and following the law.
The elders met and came up with this straight-talking answer: “Abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well” (verse 29).
It didn’t dodge the difficulty. It didn’t paper over the cracks. Addressing this tension, rather than ignoring it, brought encouragement. Not just a warm, fuzzy feeling: it brought change. It encouraged the people to:
- be open to new revelation
- pursue unity
- live differently as a result
- keep the big picture in mind
How about your publication? What statement sums up its mission well?
EPA Associate member Andy Butcher is a freelance writer and reporter, residing in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla. He is a veteran magazine and newspaper editor with major stints as director of Youth With a Mission Press & Media Services, senior writer at Charisma magazine and editor of Christian Retailing magazine. He serves EPA as a contest judge and has also served on the board of directors.
Posted Aug. 23, 2018