Ethics & Christian living

Martin Bashir and being ‘evangelical’ about the truth

You could say that Martin Bashir is reaping what he has sown. For 26 years his career and reputation has been enhanced by his famous interview with Princess Diana, then the most iconic woman in the world.  He elicited responses from her which are now historic quotes, and won awards for his journalism.

But an independent investigation found that Bashir lied, falsified documents and profoundly manipulated those involved. And it condemns the BBC of its failure to properly investigate and respond to the accusations. The whole interview, and Bashir’s reputation, is mired in deceit and deception.

Vocation

Bashir is also a Christian. He has been a member of Emmanuel Church Wimbledon and more recently, All Soul’s, the church next door to the BBC in central London.  When he was given the job of religious editor at the BBC in 2016, Bashir was generously profiled on Premier Christianity. They wrote:

“For Bashir, journalism is his vocation with a search for the truth being at the very centre…he is of the view that “the church and Christians should be at the centre of that discussion [about truth]”

Bashir certainly finds himself at the centre of a discussion about truth now.

Reflection on truth

This episode has made me reflect on how I have seen ‘truth’ handled within churches and Christian cultures. 

As I have written before, churches and Christians of all traditions need to get better at basically telling the truth. Sometimes we think its kinder or more gracious to avoid saying what we mean. This tendency creates all kinds of difficulties and pain.

But another factor is the damaging split which opens up between what could be termed ‘theological truth’ and ‘moral truth’. 

Orthodox doctrine

Some churches are very bold and clear on the need for theological truth and orthodox doctrine. But then in other matters: about how issues are dealt with, how staff and resources are managed and what is told to members, they tolerate all kinds of cover-ups and obfuscation.

It is relevant that Bashir has been part of evangelical churches which particularly emphasise theological truth. These churches take great pride in their careful exposition of scripture, for their doctrine and (what they often call) ‘soundness’.  They particularly value didactic teaching and the men (and it is always men) who are skilled in articulating doctrine clearly.

Devastating

This is why the scandals involving Ravi Zacharias and Jonathan Fletcher have been so devastating for so many Christians. Both men were highly valued for their teaching gifts, but all the time they were living a double-life of sexual abuse and manipulation of others. 

For both Zacharias and Fletcher the ‘theological truth’ they spoke so ardently was not matched by the ‘moral truth’ they lived out. The gap between the two is called hypocrisy.

And in both situations, their conduct was not challenged adequately or early enough partly because of the their theological reputations.

These stories overlap because Fletcher had been Bashir’s vicar. Bashir wrote about Fletcher’s dictatorial behaviour in an article for The Daily Telegraph last year.

But now Bashir finds the spotlight on his own conduct. Similarly to Fletcher, it seems his successful reputation was part of the reason that it has taken 26 years to expose the truth about his interview with Diana.

Integrated

These examples show how theological and moral truth cannot be separated. Christianity is not a set of theological ideas which people need to cerebrally accept in order to qualify for heaven. It is far more earthy and integrated than that.

The radical claim of Christianity is that God revealed truth and grace in the person of Jesus Christ. Truth was literally embodied.

And Jesus did not just teach and preach theology. He was a son, a brother and a carpenter. He engaged with people, lived in a community, had friendships and displayed his power by healing and restoring people. Most significantly of all, his truth was expressed by his death and resurrection.

Jesus was grace and truth in word and action. This means that good theology looks like Jesus.

Following Jesus in action

And whether we are a church minister or a journalist, or for that matter a civil servant, electrician, plumber or office worker, we cannot claim to follow Jesus whilst hurting, manipulating or deceiving people.

Equally, we cannot wilfully misrepresent others or share untruthful content on social media to make our tribe look good. We should never invite people to an event and ‘ambush’ them with a gospel message. Hidden agendas are no way to share truth.

Plain truth

Stories like this are an opportunity for self-reflection.

How can we be more honest? What parts of our lives are concealed and hidden from view? What wrongs do we need to say sorry for? What would ‘making good’ actually look like? How can we bring more light into the darkness?

St Paul was probably the most influential theologian ever. But much of his teaching relates to how these truths are lived out:

“We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:2)

The connection between words and deeds is called integrity. This is what it means to be evangelical about the truth.

12 thoughts on “Martin Bashir and being ‘evangelical’ about the truth”

  1. You may be right to link this to a failing of conservative evangelicalism but I can’t help feeling we need your powers of analysis applied to the wider issue of selective awareness & wilful blindness to foul play & deceipt on a bigger scale – not least on the part of some of those first to condemn the failings of Bashir & the BBC.

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  2. Thanks, Jon, for this post that, rightly, spotlights the need to be honest in all we do – and I agree with your comments about moral and theological truth both being important. I’m not so sure about your sideswipe at “evangelical churches” which, for me seemed uncalled for as you have made a very large generalisation. I am sure there are professing Christians in all church traditions who, like myself, fall short of God’s ideal, and I guess we would all do well to look to our own failings before throwing any weighty brickbats.

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    1. thanks for reading and commenting Pete. I completely agree that Christians in all traditions fall short of God’s ideal, especially myself.

      I did not mean to ‘sideswipe’ at evangelical churches, especially as I strongly dislike generalisations.

      But I can appreciate that it could be read be that way because it is evangelical churches that are given as examples.

      In writing something about truth, I don’t want to neglect grace. I will bear this in mind in future articles. Thanks for your challenge.

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  3. This is the challenge though: “we cannot claim to follow Jesus whilst hurting, manipulating or deceiving people.”. As humans we will always end up hurting other people. Example #1: me in my loving and long-lasting marriage, still hurting my wife, apologizing, and moving forward.

    I struggle with the aspect of Christianity (Christ following) that, when I first join, allows me to be human and make mistakes, then some years later expects me to have overcome my human nature and be like Christ in every way, as if I’ve attained it. Maybe to follow Christ mean to say, “This is the ideal to which I am striving and ever falling short. Thank you for your grace today.”

    I don’t know much about the Bashir story here so I’m really not commenting on that, just that Christ-followers will not have done away with “sin” or be beyond criticism just because we’ve found such a beautiful example of laying down one’s life that we are thankful for.

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    1. Thanks for this thoughtful and true comment. You are right that we can never get rid of out tendency to sin and the marriage example is a good one.

      I am reminded of Bonhoeffer’s maxim ‘only he who is obedient believes and only he is who believes in obedient’. If we claim to follow Jesus and claim to be daily repentant then we cannot stay in a consistent place of ‘hurting, manipulating and deception’.

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