As I continue to think through the place of PR in Christian ministry I keep trying to find a balance between Matthew 6:1-4:
” 1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
And 1 Peter 2:12…
“12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
… John 13:34-35…
” 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
… Philippians 2:1-4, 12-15
“1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others… 12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky “
I’m wary of prooftexting to justify a particular behaviour – but it seems to me that there’s a balance in the New Testament, which in some sense follows the model of “mission” I think operates in the Old, where the way Christians live, and particularly, the way they love others, is the basis of our testimony, or at least our being noticed as different, and getting a hearing for the gospel.
I think the tension in Matthew 6 is there, but as I think I’ve said elsewhere, what seems to be the focus in that passage is when you’re doing loving things just to be noticed. Just when the spotlight is on. Just for the goodwill. And just for your own reputation. It seems to me that if we’re doing loving things that are consistent with our character, and more importantly, consistent with the gospel, and consistent with considering others better than ourselves, then some sort of interaction with the media may be part of participating in the modern “public sphere.”
Part of my understanding of both the media, and the internet, is that it has in a sense supplanted the marketplace of Acts 17, where Paul took his preaching of the gospel. And participating in the media, or the marketplace, means having a story, and good public relations means this story should be something that is closely tied to the gospel.
There’s nothing more closely tied to the gospel than selfless sacrifice for the sake of others in response to the love of Jesus. It’s also very hard to criticise that sort of behaviour. This is a pretty long preamble to draw your attention to this incredible story published in the SMH’s weekend magazine, and reproduced online.
This is the kind of story that gets noticed.
It’s a fair bet that if Jesus Christ were around today, he’d be doing what the Owens are doing in Mount Druitt. They feed the poor and house the homeless. They lead the lost and counsel the conflicted.
Experts at unconditional love
They’re experts at unconditional love: alcoholic mums, runaway kids, petty thieves, everyone’s welcome at the Owens’ home, a four-bedroom brick house that for the past five years has been equal parts street kitchen and safe house, as well as a home for their daughters Kshama, 8, and Kiera, 7.
“The most we’ve had here is 13 people,” Jon says, showing me around the cramped, single-storey home, the floors of which are strewn with sheets and sleeping bags. “They crash on the couches, on the floor. It’s busy, but it’s fun, too, especially at dinner time.”
To make space, Kiera sleeps in Jon and Lisa’s room. Kshama is in an adjoining space, which is really just her parents’ walk-in wardrobe. Jaz, an 18-year-old girl whom the Owens unofficially adopted last year, recently got her own room, so she could study for the HSC.
“I grew up in a family where following God was just another part of the Aussie dream, where you have a house in the suburbs, make enough money to relax, mow your lawn and cook your roast on Sunday.” As part of the theology course, however, Jon studied a section of the Bible called The Prophets, with one book, Amos, striking a chord. “At one point God says, ‘Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps.’ I remember thinking, ‘That’s all I do; I go to church and sing songs.’ ”…
His father had always stressed career and professional success. “But Jesus was not about material wealth,” Jon says. “The guy was all about intentional downward mobility! And I realised that what I really wanted was to do something significant in this world, not just piss around at the edges.”These days, however, they live without all that, without fancy food or flash cars or overseas holidays. They relax by watching TV, by listening to Leonard Cohen – Jon is also partial to Sarah Blasko – by cooking or going to the park with their kids. (Monday is “family day”, when Kshama and Kiera get their undivided attention. “Monday is sacred,” Jon says. “That and eating together as a family.”)
Jon allows himself one cigarette on the back porch at night. Neither of them drinks, because they don’t want to support an industry they believe causes so much damage. And yet they are ridiculously, implausibly happy. “Life’s good,” Jon likes to say.
“We’re driven by our faith,” Lisa explains. “I believe that as I respond to people I’m responding to Jesus, because I believe that Jesus is in all of us.”
The full story is heaps bigger. I’m not sure I completely agree with some of the stuff they say, or do. But it’s pretty radical. Noticable. And incredibly hard to criticise.