The church's news and why it matters
BY TIM TANTON
One of the questions I am asked is why we need a Communications Ministry for the local churches and the annual conference. Recently Tim Tanton, who directs United Methodist News Service for the denomination, wrote an article in which he describes why this work is as vital to the church today as it has been throughout our history. As leader of one of the Oklahoma Conference ministries supported by your church Apportionments, I feel he helped focus on the need for this type of ministry at every level of the church.
— Joseph Harris, Conference Director of Communications
We are living in an era in which news reporting is needed more than ever, and it is under attack more than ever.
The introduction of “fake news” and “alternative facts” into the U.S. lexicon reflects the lengths that people in power will go to discredit factual reporting and information sharing. Yet journalism that informs the public and holds truth to power is vital for a healthy society.
It is also vital for a global denomination with 13 million members.
Several decades ago, leaders of the Methodist Church recognized that the denomination needed a news agency that would use professional journalism standards to report faithfully the work of the church to the world and keep members well-informed. Without a news service, our leaders realized, the public media, special-interest groups and others would shape the story.
Or the story would not be told at all. The denomination’s news service was the only entity on the scene to report how United Methodists in West Africa were responding to the Ebola crisis, and major media organizations around the world used our content as a result. More recently, we were at the violent rally of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, to report on how United Methodists were standing up for civil rights and the principles of our church.
Having a news service has built credibility for the denomination, making it more transparent with members as well as the public. Secular media often have used our stories as background information for their own reporting and sometimes publish our stories verbatim. Reporters with major news organizations have marveled to me about how openly United Methodists handle difficult issues. This transparency has reflected well on the denomination at a time when other churches have struggled with credibility issues and coverups.
Most of our coverage tends to be in the “positive” category. We have reported on the remarkable ways in which individual United Methodists are living their faith, how local churches are transforming their communities, and how the general church is responding to needs around the world. We love telling these stories.
From time to time, we also report difficult news. People ask why the church would support a ministry that reports “negative” information — news about disagreements in the church, leader misconduct, church trials. By reporting on its own difficult news, the church is ensuring that its story is told accurately and knowledgeably.
It is also keeping faith with its members, who support the church’s work financially.
I admire our forebears in faith who shaped the Bible. How tempting it must have been for them to leave out the stories of human frailty that wouldn’t have been “good PR” for the Christian movement. We would not have the unflattering stories about Adam and Eve, Noah, Jacob, Moses, Samson, Jephthah, Saul, David, Mary Magdalene, Peter, Judas, Thomas, Paul, and many others. The Bible would be quite slim and not quite so authentic.
Those stories survive, informing our faith today. Modeling how we handle our own struggles is a powerful witness that we make as God’s people. The world needs that witness.
UMNS is committed to helping people better understand the church, its workings, beliefs, and history. We cover the institutions, such as General Conference, the Council of Bishops, the Judicial Council, annual conferences worldwide, and the general agencies. These are important pillars, embodied by people who are striving to be faithful in their roles. God, we believe, is working through all church members in our rich diversity of theology, experiences, and world views.
We also view ourselves as being on the same team, with a shared commitment to the ministry of The United Methodist Church.
This is a sensitive time in the life of the church. Our leaders, including the Commission on a Way Forward, have our prayer support.
As the church moves forward, United Methodist News Service will continue documenting the journey, lifting up the celebrations as well as the struggles. We will strive to build understanding in the church, as we all move by faith into God’s future.
(To read more denomination news and commentary, sign up for the free UMNS Daily or Weekly Digests: www.umc.org/news-and-media/daily-digest)