18 February 2016
In the public eye of the storm
Dan Walker found himself in the eye of the storm last week. Newly promoted as the presenter of the BBC Breakfast programme, he faced several waves of comment and criticism, not for his abilities as a journalist or presenter, but because of his Christian faith.
He won't work on a Sunday, the first reports decided was the newsworthy angle. Interesting perhaps and worthy of comment, but hardly revolutionary. But then the real backlash began, he's a creationist the columns screamed, he can't report objectively, what will he say about science, will he be able to report accurately and fairly a new discovery of dinosaur bones?
Beyond believing that God created the world Dan Walker has, probably quite wisely, not expanded on his beliefs about the origin of the universe. He may believe that God created the world in six 24 hour days, he may believe the earth is only 6-8,000 years old. Or he may believe that the evolutionary process most usually ascribed as behind the development of human kind is the work of God in creation. He may see the Big Bang Theory as the wonder of science explaining what Christians have always believed.
I don't deny that there are challenges to understanding creation. Just this week I was in the Natural History Museum and I was discussing the challenges of reconciling the creation accounts in the Bible with historical and scientific discoveries. But on this I look to far more able scientists than me who have wrestled with the evidence and are content both in science's explanation and the Bible's authority.
Some of the pieces written in response to Dan Walker's 'outing' as a creationist almost defy belief. They come close to suggesting that someone with orthodox Christian beliefs is somehow unable to retain their intellectual rigour or do a job professionally. Rupert Myers jumped the gun, assumed he knew exactly what Walker believed and then used that to dismiss his credibility. Catherine Bennett's piece also alighted on his beliefs around creation but focused on the idea that this was part of God's plan for Walker's life – divine preferment so to speak. Again, this is hardly shocking, the idea that God is sovereign is a cornerstone of Christian belief, how that interacts with our ability to make choices of our own, which we all do, has perplexed theologians down the centuries. None of this matters an iota to Bennett who jumps on his beliefs as an easy card to mock him with.
One part of Bennett's piece is illuminating, she quotes Walker as having said: "Christians do not need to go with the flow. We are meant to be counter cultural. We do not attract sinners by being just like them in every way, but by showing the difference that God makes in our lives."
Christianity is meant to make a difference, if Walker's beliefs made no difference to his life it might be more convenient but it would probably mean those beliefs didn't mean anything. Respect and space in public life for people of different beliefs means that we accept those beliefs make a difference. If I believe something and I don't let it affect me then I am not living with integrity to those beliefs.
Being a Christian in the public eye is challenging. There is no bar on Christians being journalists, or politicians, or holding any other public position, and to suggest there is is both to distort reality and to minimise the far more life threatening challenges Christians in other parts of the world face. But there is a challenge. There is a pressure for Christians to look like anyone else, to say the same things as everyone else, to limit beliefs which might differentiate them from others to a private sphere.
If Christianity is true it changes everything. One of my favourite quotes is from Tom Wright, "The whole point of Christianity is that it offers a story which is the story of the whole world. It is public truth."
For Christians in the public eye this means at least two things of critical importance. The first is to be sure of what you believe, it means taking time to work out what it means for your life and the world you live in. And secondly it requires having the confidence to carry that faith, and all it entails, with you wherever you go, even if that is uncomfortable and inconvenient. This isn't about creating hills to die on at every juncture of life, but living with integrity to what you believe and the difference it makes to your life.
The Evangelical Alliance is committed to working with Christians to transform every area of society. We believe that when Christians take on leadership the world should see the difference. Through our Public Leadership programme we want to see a culture change within the church to see all parts of life as the mission field for Christians.
If you're between 18-35 and involved in any leadership in any form outside the church, why not come on one of our Public Leadership weekends in March or April – find out more www.thepublicleader.com/gathering.