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Lutheran bishop’s recipe for media and the Church: Respect


Church leaders and journalists often have little idea of the pressures that each other face, according to German Lutheran Bishop Margot Kässmann, who has pleaded with the media and the Church to show mutual respect.

"The fact that a newspaper needs a short sentence, or that radio stations have only a few minutes in which to report, often does not fit in with how we talk in church. A sermon lasts at least 15 minutes, and a theological lecture at least 45," the Lutheran bishop said in a 15 February speech to journalists at the Protestant Media Academy in Berlin.

Journalists sometimes mock the Church because it takes so long to say things, she noted, while church people may scorn the media for looking for sound bites.

"But I like to point out that most of Jesus’ parables probably last no longer than a minute and a half," said Kässmann, who has led the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover since 1999.

"I often find that people in the Church are afraid of the media," Kässmann said. "And as journalists you have to concede that the media have enormous power," she told the gathering. "Through their pictures, text and sound they can build someone or something up, and then destroy them just as quickly. That’s what makes people afraid."

But, she said, "My experience, however, is that transparency is the best strategy …  If I have nothing to hide, then I can say openly exactly what is going on.  And I have never been let down when I have spoken off the record."

In her address, Kässmann encouraged journalists and church leaders to take the time to talk with each other.

"To understand the media, we need as church people to talk to media people. Also to understand the pressures under which things are produced," the bishop said. "I expect a certain respect from the media about the Church and the Christian faith," said Kässmann. Still, she said, "I will defend people having the freedom to report critically about my faith and even more about any aberrations of my church." 

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