The Power of Narrative Part 2: Look Who is Talking

It is not just about the message but also who is delivering it.

In a previous article, I introduced the idea of the power of narrative. Facts do little without a story to weave them together. In this article, I want to shift the attention from what to who. That is, it is important to note not only what is being said but who is saying it. The same narrative can have different levels of effectiveness depending on who is telling it. In other words, in narratives, the spokesperson matters. This is not limited to the person but also the vehicle or institution behind the message.

For example, in our age of information overload in a social media feed, it is a good idea to check the source of the article or video put forth. I look for sources that have an established reputation and therefore carry certain credibility. Moreover, I look for the interplay of interests with the message. That is, I would put more stock in an article from a conservative source that is critical of a conservative issue and vice-versa. That does not mean that the opposite is unreliable but when a liberal source puts out a critical view of the Republican party, I know that this is aligned with their interest and therefore I proceed with caution.

While this is present in politics, it also carries over for other institutions like religious communities. For example, churches' vocal support of causes or leaders carry an additional layer of critical evaluation. Because religious communities hold themselves to higher ethical standards, we expect that the people or groups they align with to follow the same standards. Otherwise, it creates dissonances in the message. Inconsistencies between message and ethics then erode trust and cause us to question the motivations behind such alignments. To be fair, reality is much more complicated than what appears in screens, yet optics matters. To keep message integrity is also important to avoid even the appearance of evil.

I am speaking in general terms but examples abound. The recent evangelical alignment with nationalist politics is one of them. This is not just a US phenomenon as the recent Brazilian election also exhibited this trend with a majority of evangelicals supporting the nationalist candidate. I suspect this will not be limited to these countries but will manifest itself in other regions of the world.

Christian history contains numerous examples where the church aligned with the state for many reasons supporting a variety of positions. Christians are also citizens of their countries and therefore will align with political powers where they find accord with their agenda. Christian involvement in politics is not the problem, but how it is done makes all the difference. Keeping a healthy distance from political power, even when that power seems to align with Christian interests, is essential for the church’s prophetic voice. This is a reminder for alignments of all types, whether in the left or the right.

In polarizing times like ours, let’s not forget this simple truth. As our Savior demonstrated, the sometimes the best way to be heard is to be silent.

Reality Changing Observations

Q1. Do you check the sources of articles that come your way in your feed? What criteria do you use?

Q2. How should Christians get involved in politics?

Q3. Do you think Christian should be held to a higher moral standard? If so, why?

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Nikki Diefenbach
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Alan L. Johnson
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