A loving ethic

Hands

In a week or so I shall be heading south again. Not quite soon enough to miss the impending cold weather heading for the UK but, there, I’ll get to experience the worst sort of winter weather before embracing the summer of the southern hemisphere.

One of the purposes of this visit is to spend time with journalists from Christian media entrerprises in South Africa and to explore together what it mean to think and act both theologically and professionally.

I thought it would be straight forward enough as a theme. But I’ve stumbled and struggled to assemble my ideas ready for the few days we have together.

So where do theology and practice interface? Is there a space where I can explore my professional practice and have it informed by my own understanding of my faith experience and journey?

I have often pondered what it means to be a professional and a Christian. Many times I have concluded that there is little difference between my practice and that of my colleagues who do hold a faith or, perhaps, a faith different to my own.

I look to my non-believing colleagues who often put my ethics to shame.

The fact is that our ethical positions are shaped by a vast array of influences. And faith is one that shapes us all – whether we care to admit or not. European journalists have ethical drameworks that are deeply influenced by the Christian values that shaped practice in the profession’s early years. We may not care to accept it but those values are deeply embedded. Of course it could equally be argued that these are universal values which are applicable to all.

As I have been reading and preparing for my conversations with South Africa colleagues I have been struck by a number of ethical frameworks and especially by David Craig’s and John Ferré’s (2006) appeal to embrace agape as an ethic for Christians working as journalists.

The Greek word, agape, is used in the Bible to express the type of love that God has for His people and that His people have for Him. It is a relational love with God at the centre. Craig and Ferré note the challenge that exists to embrace an agape ethic in the secular society in which we live.

Any attempt to build an ethic on agape in a pluralistic, secular society
will stand in tension with the fact that agape is a biblical concept grounded
in the character of a loving God and expressed most profoundly in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. However, those who do not share its theology
can still examine the content of agape as an ethical norm and consider
where it finds common ground with other perspectives and where it challenges
them.

They leave us with two challenges: “Journalists seeking to apply religiously based concepts will need to address what those concepts distinctively contribute… Journalists exploring application of religious concepts will have to consider whether and how these concepts can speak to the whole newsroom.” How do faith-ful narratives support the best practice in our newsrooms? Or do the simply challenge practice to go beyond its current place? How do journalists from faith traditions explore the ethical challenges that they raise without becoming bogged down in a debate about theology. Practical approaches to thinking and acting professionally allow individual practitioners to think theologically and engage with colleagues who decline to embrace or avoid the theological dimensions.

These are good questions for the faith-ful journalist. It may be that philia – brotherly love – may be a better space within which to discover an inclusive and unifying space within which to explore our ethical and professional practice. God should and, I hope, will shape my practice. His breath speaking to us will blow through the colleagues as we embrace care and concern for ourselves and the society we serve.

Craig, D.A. and Ferré, J.P. (2006) ‘Agape As an Ethic of Care for Journalism’. Journal of Mass Media Ethics 21 (2–3), 123–140