Soft-peddling the Savior

Russell Powell -- late of the ABC and now head of media relations for the Anglican Diocese of Sydney -- suggested I take a look at the coverage given by the BBC to the Queen's Christmas message.

In the pages of this blog I have been critical of the BBC's coverage of religion. I have argued the corporation has at times displayed bias or disdain for religion and the faith component of news stories. My initial response to Russell’s suggestion was one of glee. Here was an opportunity to write a quick post that conformed to the narrative I had established in my previous posts.

Then I read the BBC article and found my assumptions were unfounded. The article entitled “Queen speaks of hope in 2011 Christmas Day message” was a workman-like piece of reporting that displayed none of the cant to which I had objected in other reports. Nevertheless I found the story to be off. I re-read the queen’s message, watched the video again, and attempted to shed my skin – hearing the queen’s words from a perspective outside my own worldview.

I have come to believe this report is unfaithful to the meaning of Queen Elizabeth’s Christmas message. To quote the Captain played by Strother Martin in Cool Hand Luke: "What we've got here is (a) failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach."

What the Queen was saying about God appears not to have been understood by the BBC. Hence the Christian element of this profoundly Christian message was buried at the back of the story.

The British monarch has spoken to her subjects each Christmas since 1932. Wikipedia has a good summary of the practice, noting that the first message read by George V was written by Rudyard Kipling. This year’s message was written by Queen Elizabeth and taped on 9 Dec 2011.  The Duke of Edinburgh was hospitalized over Christmas with heart trouble and his brush with illness is not touched upon.

This year’s message speaks to the value of family in times of adversity – and begins with a discussion of the queen’s family. She then broadens the concept of family through the successive paragraphs of the speech, expanding the discussion to Britain, the Commonwealth and to the family of man. She then pulls back the focus on the family, recounting the marriage of two of her grandchildren and the sadness of those British families who have sons and daughters serving in Afghanistan.

So far, so good … a standard Christmas greeting that touches upon the highpoints of the year …  a royal version of the newsletter some stuff into their Christmas cards. But then the speech takes a turn.

the world is going through difficult times. All this will affect our celebration of this great Christian festival.

Finding hope in adversity is one of the themes of Christmas. Jesus was born into a world full of fear. The angels came to frightened shepherds with hope in their voices: 'Fear not', they urged, 'we bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

'For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.'

Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves - from our recklessness or our greed.

God sent into the world a unique person - neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.

Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God's love.

In the last verse of this beautiful carol, O Little Town Of Bethlehem, there's a prayer: O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in. Be born in us today.

It is my prayer that on this Christmas day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord.

I wish you all a very happy Christmas.

At little less than 750-words, the queen’s message offers a solid statement on Christian belief and hope. I find it outshines the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Christmas homily and is clear, concise and powerful. A pedestrian Christmas greeting with commonplace sentiments becomes a lovely statement of Queen Elizabeth’s Christian faith.

What does the BBC do with this? It reports the speech in linear form, working through each section in turn and starts off with:

The Queen has used her annual Christmas Day broadcast to speak of courage and hope in adversity. … The Queen also spoke of "the importance of family", and called the Commonwealth a family "in the truest sense".

In her message, recorded on 9 December, the Queen said the Royal Family had been inspired by the courage shown in Britain, the Commonwealth and around the world.

She noted the resilience of communities in New Zealand after earthquakes, Australia after flooding and Wales after the mining disaster at Gleision Colliery.

The article notes Prince Phillip’s illness and her Christmas Day activities, offers quotes from the first half of the message on family, friends and communities, and then discusses the Queen’s dress, Royal Family news and related tattle.

The Queen’s Christian mediation comes at the close of the story, and is encapsulated in these phrases:

"Finding hope in adversity is one of the themes of Christmas," she said.

"Jesus was born into a world full of fear. The angels came to frightened shepherds with hope in their voices: 'Fear not', they urged, 'we bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people'."

The monarch also said: "Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves - from our recklessness or our greed."

I cannot fault the BBC for omitting anything from their account of the Christmas message. But I do believe  it is a mistake to lead with the friends and family motif over against the power of her statement that Jesus Christ is not merely a wise man or moral exemplar, but God.  And it is through this God that we the families, communities and nations that are suffering can be reconciled and find peace.

In the ears of a Christian, the queen offers a meditation of God's purpose in having his son become incarnate. In the ears of the BBC the Queen offers a Rodney King-speech -- “Why can’t we just get along” – with a touch of Bill Cosby-like family sentiment.

Now is this fair on my part? Could it not be argued that in addressing a post-Christian audience, the BBC must use tropes that its listeners will understand? Would leading with platitudes and cliches familiar to its audience opens the door for mention of faith?

Or, as I have argued, leading with the principle statement of the message -- faith in Christ is the way towards establishing peace on earth -- is the better way to report this story. Even if such a message will seem foreign to many of its listeners.

There was no ambiguity in the queen's speech. No half statements or hedged bets. These faults are found in the coverage.

What say you GetReligion readers? Am I being too hard?

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