Government propaganda and how churches should respond
According to Wikipedia: “Propaganda is communication that is primarily used to influence an audience and further an agenda, which may not be objective and may be selectively presenting facts to encourage a particular synthesis”. In Coleman Street’s Children, a book I wrote 22 years ago on the history of the church I belonged to at the time and for many years, I told of one member’s recollection: “In one meeting, during the last war, one got up exhorting the congregation to smile and be happy, followed by another who suggested a more sober attitude, given that our Lord was the “man of sorrows”. A third brother sought to redress the balance by reading from Ecclesiastes: There is … a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (3v6).
Two general observations strike me – firstly, propaganda is a reality and, moreover, a ploy used by governments, and while more so by those of a more totalitarian ilk, all governments are prone when trying to get across their message. A good example in my recent lifetime concerns Brexit – having agreed to a referendum to vote whether or not the UK leaves the EU, the government tried as best it could to persuade voters to vote remain, while playing down the arguments to leave. Secondly, and regarding the example given above – “smile and be happy” was also the laudable message by the government during World War 2, in order to boost morale, and it is likely the brother who first shared during the meeting referred to above, may have been carried away by the government’s message.
Regardless, whether we think it justified or not, the present UK government propaganda machine has been working overtime to promote its “Stay alert, Control the virus, Stay safe” message. When we see billboards in public spaces or banners attached to public transport, the message is in one’s face, including that of taking the jab. While, arguably, the government may be justified, many do not agree with the need for lockdown or the benefits of taking the jab, and would want to say as much. My experience from being part of a local interfaith initiative that seeks to work with government concerning matters of common interest, is of government trying to persuade faith groups to pass on its Covid-19 message and to support initiatives like the roll out of vaccines to groups that have been under reached, sometimes supplemented by funding opportunities (bribes) to make this so. Another way to engage with faith groups is to encourage them to display posters with their message, and some have complied.
Going back to the title and my particular constituency – churches that believe the Bible, it is regrettable some have brought into the government agenda. It is one thing to follow the rules, particularly by churches not holding live services or, when they do, to adopt measures like wearing masks and social distancing, or taking the jab in the hope if more people comply there will be a return to some sort of normality. It is another thing for churches to be promoting a message that is not only not in the Bible but has hidden untoward consequences, like sidelining dissenting voices within individual congregations and thus dividing churches, where members are not only in disagreement regarding the government agenda but feel by implicitly agreeing to it, subliminally at least, it causes vulnerable people to become needlessly afraid, made to feel guilty if they are non-compliant, have their attention diverted away from the evil that really is going on in the world, and be subservient to an agenda the government, with its malevolent implications, it wishes to promote.
I suggest we do better if rather than be dumbed down by people with harmful agendas, we question what we are being told and seek wisdom as to how we conduct ourselves, which has great reward, and truth, for it is that sets people free. Promoting government propaganda is not something the Lord requires of us, and it would be unwise for any of us to be party to this, if it has nothing to do with His agenda, the one that truly matters – the Gospel message.