As with other years, over the holidays Queen Elizabeth II recorded an annual Christmas message for airplay on radio and television on December 25th throughout countries associated in varying degrees with the British realm. We all see the world differently, but there is no denying that this year the Queen was outspoken in expressing her personal faith in Jesus Christ.
While it’s true that the this comes out later in the text, there is no doubt that if you were a journalist looking for the real story, you’d find it in the part of her address that was, for lack of a better word, the ‘religious’ part of her message. Perhaps she is guilty herself of what journalists term ‘burying the lede’ (pronounced leed) or sometimes spelled ‘burying the lead.’ It would seem her prime intent was to communicate a spiritual message, but possibly the political constraints of her role prevented leading with, or entirely focusing on her hope and faith in God.
Nonetheless, on the queen’s home turf, the BBC chose to ignore those parts of her remarks altogether. Apparently feeling the political constraints of their jobs, the outcome was that if you missed the actual speech and could only read about it, then you were given a hopelessly skewed report as to what really happened.
Here is the content that comprised at least a third of her text:
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 was alerted to this contrast by George Conger who writes at Get Religion, a blog focused on how faith-related news is handled by the general media. On December 29th, he wrote what I leave as the last word in this:
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.