The interregnum is upon us and the hamsters that run the mainstream media’s spin machine are being force-fed Four Loco so they can produce new sound bites that will presumably rebrand the same, old, tired themes. No doubt you’ve heard the chattering classes going at it already.
“Isn’t it time to end celibacy?” (Sigh. How ’bout trying to understand the value of something before advocating its destruction?)
“Will the new Pope be more receptive to ordaining women?” (I dunno. What do you think the chances are of hell freezing over?)
“Don’t you think the Church’s continued fetish with birth control is undermining its moral authority?” (<spit take> Excuse me? Who, exactly, has the fetish here?)
“The Church’s membership is in a freefall. Don’t you think that’s sending message that the hierarchy needs to get with the times?” (Because…the bishops have to meet their quota?)
And so on, and so on.
And what’s worse, my dear friends, is that we–idiots that we are–try to answer these questions, not realizing that in doing so, we allow our opponents to set in motion a game we cannot win. Why? Because if there is one thing I can tell you as an expert at verbal judo (what do you think therapists do all day anyway?) I can tell you that when you allow a conversation to begin with you having been put on the defensive, you will always lose. Always. And intentionally so.
By putting you on the defensive from the get-go, your questioner sucks you in. You think that you’re being asked an honest question to which you must offer a thoughtful reply in the hopes of changing hearts. But here’s what really happens. You end up playing catch-up with the conversation as the interviewer treats you as if you were mentally deficient at best, or twists your words beyond all recognition at worst. And consciously or unconsciously, that’s the whole point of asking you those questions in that way in the first place.
So what do you do? Here are 3 Steps Catholics can use to beat the press.
Step 1: Firmly/Respectfully Reset the Conversation.
Step 2: Ask Leading Questions (i.e., Interview them.)
Step 3: Establish the Real Agenda (i.e., Give ’em Jesus.)
Here is an example of a conversation that illustrates these three steps at work.
Step 1: Firmly/Respectfully Reset the conversation.
Imagine a reporter asks one of the questions that began this post (or some variation on the theme). Then imagine the following conversation.
You: I appreciate where you’re coming from, but I need to be clear about something. Your question presumes the Church has something to learn from your world. It doesn’t. The Church exists to make your world more like the Church. It has nothing to learn from you.
Reporter: What do you mean? The Church would seem to have a lot to learn! Abuse scandals, criminal priests, and co-conspirator bishops. Don’t you think you had better thank God that the world is there to look over the Church’s shoulder?
You: Really, you’ve just proven my point. (Stop talking. Uncomfortable silence ensues.)
Reporter: What do you mean?
Step 2: Ask Leading Questions (The conversation is now on your terms. Turn the table with your own questions)
You: I mean you’ve just made an excellent point. You wouldn’t expect the Church to do any of those things would you?
Reporter: Of course not!
You: Well, why not?
Reporter: Because it’s the Church!
Step 3: Establish the Real Agenda
You: Exactly! Excellent! You’re offended because in every one of the instances you cite, the Church behaved like the world instead of the Church. You’re absolutely right to be offended too, because it’s the Church’s job to look as little like the world as possible so that we can tweak your conscience, make you think twice, get under your skin. We MUST be different because we, quite literally, are called to irritate the hell out of the world. The more the Church does any of the things you want it to do, the less it functions as Church and the more it becomes some benign social club. But be honest. You’d love that wouldn’t you? Because you’re tired of the Church making you think twice about questions you can barely stand to think once about.
Reporter: That’s ridiculous!
You: Is it? How often do you think about the babies crushed by abortion? How often do you think about human slavery? About the rights of immigrants to not be unjustly spearated from their families? About women being prescribed drugs that are giving them cancer and poisoning the environment? How much do you care about the epidemic of people using other people? Do you know the names of the homeless guy you passed on the way to work? How much time did you spend feeding the hungry last week? Caring for the sick and dying? Visiting the prisons? Teaching the ignorant? Comforting the afflicted? The Church does all that and more exactly because it does not want to look anything like your world. There is nothing in your world that we want. There is nothing your world can offer us. Well, I take that back. There is exactly one thing that the Church wants from your world.
Reporter: What’s that?
You: (Suddenly calm. Serious. Very intentional) We would very much like to claim your soul for Jesus Christ–and the souls of your friends and family and listeners. We would love for you to join us. After this interview, would you pray with me?
Reporter: Well, that’s about all the time we have….
And That’s a Wrap.
You might say, “Well that would be the last time they would invite you back.” Honestly, I doubt that’s true. Television, especially, eats this stuff up. Can you imagine the headlines? “Bishop to Anderson Cooper: ‘I want your soul.'” You can’t BUY press like that.
But even if they didn’t invite you back, would that really be so bad?
Catholics are not called to win debates, or elections for that matter. We are here to win souls for Jesus Christ. It isn’t our place to be on the defensive. We are the Church Militant and the gates of the NY Times, or HuffPo, or WaPo, or AnyPo, for that matter, cannot be allowed to prevail against us. The only way we get in trouble in conversations with the Press is when we forget our job. Our job is not to make our doctrines and practices more palatable to the world. They are intentionally unpalatable! God made them so to remind us that there are more things in heaven and on earth than can be explained by our philsophies. Our job is not to be Jesus’ PR flacks. Our job is to fulfill our prophetic mission by making the world confront the truth of Jesus Christ.
If that gets us booted off the air, so be it. But, honestly, I doubt it would. Regardless, it just might make the world stand up and take notice that the People of God are done bowing and burning incense to petty newsroom Caesars for doing exactly what God commanded us to do. And that would definitely not be such a bad thing.