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Former ABC head warns Christians against retreat into comfortable media worlds

NEWS  |  Kaley Payne

Wednesday 1 June 2016

“I make no claim about having successfully integrated faith and work. And anything that may seem like a strategy is more, in practice, muddling along,” said former ABC managing director Mark Scott as he accepted the annual Faith and Work Award from Ridley Marketplace Institute and Ethos: EA Centre for Christianity and Society.

After a ten year stint as head of the national broadcaster, Mr Scott stepped down from the position at the beginning of May. This week, he’s been named the new secretary of the NSW Department of Education. Accepting the award only a few weeks after his final day on the job at ABC, he told the award dinner audience that any claim he made about being a follower of Christ in the office “would pale in terms of credibility compared to the testimony of those who watched, who listened, and who know what I’m really like in the workplace.”

As one of the most influential people on Australia’s media scene, Mr Scott is no stranger to requests from Christian groups to speak on the topic of faith and the media. Yet, he says, having a high profile job “may give you a platform to speak, but what do you feel qualified to say on matters of faith?” He questioned what he had to say, apart from the fact that he often “has more questions than answers”.

However, he said that his privileged position has allowed him to have many off-the-record conversations with “interesting people” that have influenced his own spiritual journey.

“I feel very much that I am on a spiritual journey; mostly overwhelmed by how little I know or understand, tested by the reality of all I see around me, challenged by thoughtful people who have asked the same questions and come up with different answers, being shaped by life’s experiences. For me, the journey is the thing.”

He warned Christians of a trend he has observed to retreat into a “comfortable media world that reinforces and affirms, but that does not challenge or confront. A closed media world that can feel like home.” Referring to what has become known as the “Christian bubble”, Mr Scott bemoaned the rise of Christian movies, Christian blogs, Christian music, Christian fitness, Christian dating, Christian websites, Christian diets.

“There is a risk in retreat to these narrow worlds; to comforting ghettos; to closed ecosystems; to world’s that are firm and don’t challenge or provoke or confront. All of which leads to lack of insight, lack of empathy, lack of understanding.”

Mr Scott emphasised his belief that “the kingdom [of God] is in the streets with the people, in word and in deed.” He pointed to the example of Christ in the Book of John, chapters three and four, where Jesus goes from counselling Nicodemus, “the driven, intelligent leader seeking truths about life’s deepest questions” to the woman in Samaria, speaking truth “across the great divide of gender and ethnicity and conventions of social behaviour.”

He pointed to a Jesus who spoke to “those who seek him and those who find him, standing right beside him.”

“At times I look on social media, and there are the Christians at play, or at times more appropriately, at war, debating who is right on what issues … firing off shots on women’s ordination or same-sex marriage, or complaining that the people Q&A says are Christians wouldn’t pass their doctrinal test. Jesus had little time to debate with religious folks. He saw the crowds and said they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd, and that is where he spent his time.

“Despite all my challenges along the spiritual road, I’ve always found that that is a truth I understood.”

In all his time in the media world, Mr Scott said he has observed that “we do feel harassed and helpless. We need words of hope and compassion. We need light to find a path to truth. In serving him we serve them and in serving them we find him.”

Mr Scott joins a prestigious group of Christians recognised by the award which seeks to honour those who over a lifetime have integrated their faith and work. Previous award recipients include Barney Zwartz, former religion editor with The Age, Professor Graeme Clark, inventor of the bionic ear, former deputy prime minister John Anderson and entrepreneur and business leader Wendy Simpson.

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