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David Robertson responds to the controversy surrounding the BBC's lack of reporting on the faith of Christian athletes at the Olympics
Have you heard of Daniel Smith? He is a member of the Australian Olympic 4x200m freestyle relay team and his story is an inspiration.
Smith was a homeless drug addict who became a Christian and ended up at the Olympics. As have a lot of other Christians such as Shaune Miller - the 400m gold winner from Barbados who said, “I just give God all the thanks and praise” or Christine Ohuruogu, British 400m runner who said, "Even if it doesn’t go too well, you still give thanks regardless." How about David Boudia and Steele Johnson, American diving champions – "We both know our identity is in Christ"?
The BBC are at the Olympics to cover sport, not to facilitate evangelism for the Christian church. And they have sometimes allowed athletes to express their thanks to God on TV. So is this complaint just another example of hyper-sensitive Christians seeking a persecution narrative?
I wondered about this until I heard about Usain Bolt. I didn’t know until recently that Usain Bolt is a professing Christian. He prays and gives thanks to God, before and after each event, which he inevitably wins.
As I write I have just been listening to BBC Radio 4’s main news programme which headlined with Bolt winning the 200m gold and went on to do an in depth interview about his background, similar to this piece. What is extraordinary about both the radio piece and the article is that they do not mention Bolt’s faith at all! Is this because the BBC regards such expressions of faith as just cultural - it’s just typical of black athletes to thank God in the same way that they thank their mum? Or is there a more conscious bias? I am somewhat reluctantly inclined to think that it is the latter.
When Bolt fell on his knees to thank God after he had won, the BBC presenter talked about it being "a moment to himself" when it was clearly the opposite. It was an act of public worship which would have been condemned as crass and distasteful if it had been an ordinary mortal. But because it is a hero then it has to be explained away as something else.
Try a wee thought experiment: Imagine if Usain Bolt was gay or transgender. Do you think the BBC would have ignored that?! Or if Eric Liddell (Chariots of Fire) was running today, how do you think the BBC would cover his refusal to run on a Sunday?
Airbrushing out Christianity
I think the problem here is that the BBC has moved far away from its Christian heritage and has become the Secular Broadcasting Corporation. This would be fine if it meant neutral and fair reporting, but in reality it is coming to mean the airbrushing out of Christianity from mainstream culture. This is cultural supremacy, not neutrality. It is the manifestation in the media of Alaister Campbell’s "we don’t do God" statement.
This is not just confined to the BBC. If you were a fan of ITV’s Downton Abbey you may have noticed that they never showed the start of a family meal. Why? Because in order to be authentic they would have had to show the family saying grace – and they couldn’t have prayer on primetime TV. They even questioned whether the show could be called Downton Abbey because of the religious connotations of the name!
There is both a subconscious and a conscious attempt by the cultural, media, educational and political elites in the UK to sideline or remove Christianity from the narrative. I recently read an academic book about the history of my city, Dundee, which managed to discuss every aspect of the cities life throughout the ages, from economics and politics to sport and music, but made no reference to Christianity, despite its significance in the history of the city. Why? Here there was a subconscious prejudice. Because Christianity does not feature in the lives of the modern writers they just cannot conceive how it would be possible for it to feature in the lives of others. It is a closed minded and culturally ignorant perspective.
There is both a subconscious and a conscious attempt by the cultural, media, educational and political elites in the UK to sideline or remove Christianity from the narrative.
While I suspect that most bias is of the subconscious "everything gets filtered through my worldview" type, there is also the more conscious discrimination against Christianity (including the deliberate avoidance of anything to do with Usain Bolt’s Christian faith). This is part of a wider trend. I laughed when I heard about the African Children’s choir who were due to perform at the Scottish parliament and were told by an official "no songs about Jesus", to which they responded “all our songs are about Jesus!"
I have no doubt that there is an establishment bias against real Christianity. The establishment don’t mind, and indeed encourage, their own version of Christianity – the nice religious organisations who know their place, acquiesce in the States new found absolute morality, provide appropriate non-challenging ceremonies, look after old buildings, and help provide social welfare in times of "austerity". But they really don’t like any evidence of real Christianity being displayed in the main cultural arenas of our day.
I was once told by a BBC producer that I was not allowed to use the phrase "Britain’s traditional Christian values" because it would be deemed "offensive" by some people. Such Orwellian thought and speech control is self consciously deliberate.
It may be the case that in some cultures (ie. the US, Africa, South America) it is the customary cultural thing to thank God after a sporting victory (one hopes that real Christians would also be able to thank him when they lose!), but it appears that in the UK such an act is akin to that of Jessee Owens's raised fist in the 1936 games in Nazi Germany! Perhaps we need more such acts of cultural defiance in order to break the monocultural outlook of those who deem themselves to be the guardians of culture, politics and "secular" values? Perhaps when we are presented with sport as the ultimate glory and salvation, we need to use this false idol to point to the real Saviour.
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