Have patience! Patience is a virtue! These are two sentiments which are often quoted in today’s ‘must have an answer immediately’ society.
The digital revolution, and especially the development of the internet, has not only increased our thirst for knowledge, but it has also greatly increased the speed at which we demand answers to queries - and the Christian faith is no less demanding in this situation.
Many of us Christians - myself included - almost take the approach of ‘Google an answer to prayer’. We pray to God, and by the time that prayer is completed, we demand that God has answered it in a way which suits us.
I’ve been a journalist since 1978 and I recall the words of my first editor - the late Maurice O’Neill of the Ballymena Guardian - as a trainee reporter - ‘If in doubt, check it out; if still in doubt, leave it out.’
In practical terms, this was interpreted as - take the time to ensure every story you write or broadcast is 100 per cent legally, ethically and factually accurate.
When I personally am writing a story or broadcasting an opinion, I imagine that I’m standing before a judge in court, and I am constantly asking myself - can I , 100 per cent ,defend every word I’m writing or saying? Even poor punctuation can radically change the meaning of a story.
In journalism terms, we may be engulfed as a craft by the digital revolution where every story has to be ready ‘now, now, now’, but the phrase ‘patience is a virtue’ is still very relevant to our craft.
What is the point in rushing to have a story published or broadcast if it is going to land you in court because you have not applied the proper legal, ethical or factual research and checks?
In the Christian community, I sometimes get jealous of, but at times despise, those people within our churches who get branded with the reputations of being the judgemental church gossips.
They seem to have the ability to progress from initial tip-off to publication or broadcast in a single move without the need to ensure that what they are saying is 100 per cent legally, ethically, or factually accurate.
It sends a shiver up my spine just thinking of applying the ‘church gossip mentality’ to journalism.
Just imagine the impact it would have on reporters’ careers if we did not take the time to ensure our stories were 100 per cent legally, ethically and factually correct before publishing or broadcasting?
Imagine going from tip-off to publishing without any legal or ethical checks and balances? Imagine throwing media law and journalism ethics out the window and writing any titbits we heard as if it was effectively researched material?
Look at the damage to people’s reputations and health we journalists would do if we adopted this ‘church gossip, gung-ho’ approach? I often wonder, given the legal and ethical consequences for me as a reporter, how do so many so-called ‘church gossips’ get away with the bile they spew out without ending up before the courts?
Is it because they use the whispering tactic of the pews where no one can publicly hear them? After all, the power of the ‘church gossips’ is that they do not stand up in the pulpits and state ‘folks, I have an announcement to make about someone’s sex life!’
It is all done from the stillness of the church pew, the quietness of the after-meeting coffee break, or the anonymity of the telephone call.
While there has been much talk of the impact of not having a Stormont power-sharing Executive up and running later this month in terms of legislating for same-sex marriage and more liberal abortion laws, I often wonder what would be the impact on the ‘church gossips’ if the defamation reforms under the 2013 Defamation Act were introduced into Northern Ireland. That Act applies to England and Wales, but not Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland still continues to operate under the Defamation Act (Northern Ireland) 1955 and the relevant parts of the Defamation Act 1996. If there is no functioning Stormont Executive in place later this month, then Westminster will introduce same-sex marriage and more liberal abortion laws bringing Northern Ireland into line with the remainder of the United Kingdom.
The same process could also apply to defamation legislation. Could Westminster be the solution to bringing the 2013 reforms to Northern Ireland?
While many evangelicals, fundamentalists and socially conservative Christians within the various denominations would oppose laws on same-sex marriage and more liberal abortion legislation, perhaps they might support Westminster - or Stormont - bringing in the 2013 Defamation Act reforms if it created a situation where it severely curbed the impact of the ‘church gossips’.
Or, should the human reality simply be faced - that our Christian faith will always be plagued by the scourge of ‘church gossips’ because, to us as humans, bad news makes good news?
Perhaps it is now down to the clerics to preach more sermons on the ninth commandment as detailed in the Old Testament book of Exodus chapter 20, verse 16: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.” (New International Version).
If the Old Testament is too much ‘in the face’ of people in terms of sermons and Bible studies, then the words of Jesus Himself in the New Testament might bring some comfort to those being plagued by the ‘church gossips’.
In Mark chapter six, before we read of the famous miracle of the feeding of the five thousand people, we hear these words of advice from Jesus regarding the hard work which had been done by His disciples:
Verse 31: “… Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (NIV).
Christ was clearly telling the disciples to ‘chill out’ before the throng of the crowd descended. This ‘verse 31 chill out’ solution can be applied to so many situations in our Christian life.
It can be seen as telling us to avoid becoming workaholics where a job or hobby or even an interest becomes an obsession at the expense of family life, our personal spiritual and devotional life, and even our health itself.
It can be viewed as a warning to ‘church gossips’ to ‘chill out’ and wind their necks in by checking the legal, ethical and factual validity of the information they are intending to spread around the flock.
Equally importantly, this instruction from Christ can be seen as asking us to be patient and wait for God’s answer to our prayers in His time. We must always remember that our timeframe for the answering of prayer requests is not necessarily in God’s Time.
Likewise, we must also have patience and understand that the answer from God can equally be ‘no’. I have no answer spiritually when folk ask me the question - why does God heal one person and allow someone else to die?
Similarly, in my own spiritual journey, I have at times, had to come to terms with answers to prayer where God has emphatically said ‘no’ to my request. Indeed, having a faith can be a very challenging - as well as rewarding - experience at times in life.
Listen to religious commentator Dr John Coulter’s programme, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 9.30 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM. Listen online at www.thisissunshine.com