There aren’t enough spots for the people who have showed up to fill Lorna Dueck’s CBC studio space, which comfortably fits 50. But after more chairs are brought in and people scramble around the room, the audience is finally seated.
It’s a Monday night in mid-December on the set of the independently produced Christian news program Context with Lorna Dueck, a weekly half-hour show
that explores news and current affairs stories from a Christian world view. It airs across the country on a variety of stations, reaching a total audience of 81,000.
It’s no secret that religion reporting has been disappearing from Canadian newspapers and airwaves for decades. The reason given most commonly is that there isn’t a demand for it in such a secular society.
Yet, as I sit here on set, surrounded by the large, engaged studio audience, I can’t help but think otherwise. I wonder, too, what exactly is a Christian journalist and how does her personal faith shape her journalism?
A journalist is someone who seeks the truth and reports it. What makes up journalism practice is being fair, accurate and honest. But what about a Christian journalist? Does her faith allow her to do the same?
According to Dueck, a Christian journalist looks for four things when considering a story. First, she must determine where the character of God is in the story. She’s also looking for the reality of sin, essentially where something has gone wrong and isn’t God’s ideal. She’s also looking for the offer of Jesus in a story, and lastly, she’s looking for a surrendered life—that is, someone who says she will put God first.
Tonight, that translates to a segment on multiculturalism in Canada. What sparked the idea for the show is that Canada’s policy on multiculturalism is now more than 40 years old. In Context looks at how Christian communities all over the nation work to help newcomers integrate into their new environments. The show’s guest speakers include MP Chungsen Leung, Muslim author Raheel Raz, Ivana Piscione, from Tyndale Intercultural Ministries, and Julius Tiangson, executive director at the Gateway Centre for New Canadians.
The Christian spin here is: “What lessons can we learn from the Bible about the concept of community?” Canada has long been referred to as a cultural mosaic, and with the topic of multiculturalism and communities, the show works to uncover how Jesus viewed this topic. Dueck refers to the book of Genesis story of how God created multiculturalism by dispersing the people of Babel and “confusing” their language. On that note, Dueck ends by saying that while all cultures, created equal by God, have one common trait—the reality of sin in this story—we do harmful things and can’t use the excuse, ‘Well, that’s my culture’ as a result of these things. “Jesus, across the diversity of cultures, has always been God’s offer for wholeness.”
Does faith get in the way of Dueck and other Christian journalists delivering true, accurate news? Not according to Dueck, who explains that personal faith for Christian journalists is part of their reporting. “You look at something and say, ‘So how do I act in love for my neighbour for this story?’” she explains. That is, while you report based on the truth, you must do it in a loving and respectful way.
Dueck’s faith was certainly present during her trip to Sierra Leone in 2000 when she wrote an article for The Globe and Mail on the civil war taking place over blood diamonds entitled “Hell Has Had Its Turn.” She wrote the piece because she felt “it was our turn as Christian people and people of hope to speak into the war in Sierra Leone.”
And while faith is part of reporting for Christian journalists, being one doesn’t cause you to question it or to ignore stories that attack your beliefs, according to National Post religion reporter Charles Lewis. If anything, he says, Christian journalists are more likely to cover those kinds of stories: “Let’s put it this way; I wouldn’t not do a story about the abuse scandal in the Catholic church because I’m Catholic. In fact, I’ll do those stories easily because I think they need to be done.’”
The question of neutrality arises when it comes to religion and journalism, says Joseph Sinasac, editor of The Catholic Register from 1995 to 2009. He explains that this has been a heated topic of debate since he first got into journalism in the ’80s. “I think what you need is someone at arm’s length, meaning they operate under the same principles that any secular journalist would operate under. That is, principles of fairness, principles of accuracy and of a search for truth. If you have somebody operating under those principles, they are going to give you a fair and balanced report of something.”
Deuck’s perspective on this differs from Sinasac’s. “I don’t think I’m neutral,” she says. “I think I’m looking very specifically for a Christian angle.” She adds that she doesn’t leave out “messy stories” or fail to tell stories that people don’t want to have told.
And though neutrality may be a large issue with Christian journalists, an even bigger one is the lack of Christian journalists in mainstream media in Canada. The reason for this, as Dueck explains, is that there aren’t enough of them nor are there enough places for them. She hopes that will change. “This is a very real part of people’s lives. Their walk with God is very deep, it’s very personal, it’s very tangible. When you’re a reporter who has that specialty in that area, you do get access to some stories that are incredible.”
Back at the set, while the show has wrapped, Dueck isn’t finished for the night. She still has another segment on aboriginal housing to tape, and smiles to her guests as she goes for a wardrobe change. People gather in the back to help themselves to sandwiches and beverages. They stand around, chatting with each other about the night’s show. I can see that these stories certainly are a very real part of people’s lives and I suddenly understand why Dueck does what she does.