In marketing and communications, there is a saying that goes: “The medium is the message.”
This simply means that where, how, and from whom a certain piece of information is received affects how it is going to be understood. For example, if you bump into a stranger and he tells you to “be careful,” you might simply dismiss it as a snide comment implying that you are careless. But if your brother or sister tells you to “be careful” before you leave for school or work, it communicates love and genuine interest in your safety.
“The medium is the message.” Who we are and where we say it matters as much as what we are saying in trying to get others to understand us.
This saying is at the heart of Bishop Pablo Virgilio “Ambo” David’s address to the CBCP’s Second National Mission Congress held last April in Cebu City, where he identified new “mission situations” in our country’s context where we are called to “evangelize,” or lead others to our Lord. There, Bp. Ambo noted the intimidating connotations the word “evangelization” means, especially in countries like the Philippines where religion has been time and again used to push the political agenda of colonizers.
He does so to emphasize the importance of remembering that in our desire to introduce our faith to others and lead them towards God, we should not go the route of “proselytizing” or forcing our religion toward others with our words. Rather, our “evangelization” must consist of participating in our communities, engaging in meaningful dialogue with different sectors in our society about important issues, and using the technological advances of our time not just to profess our faith, but create meaningful activities and shared experiences with people whom we want to welcome and welcome back to our Christian faith. Pope Francis used a powerful word to describe this process: “synodality,” which means “to walk together” or “to follow the path of faith together.”
I can think of no more applicable context within which we must apply this new approach to evangelization than in how we, as Christians, engage in politics. Especially in this past election, many of us have been confronted with what role our faith must play in our choice of leaders, especially in the highest positions in our land. Leaders of our faith have always emphasized the importance of truth, accountability, and correcting historical injustices in choosing candidates. And yet, because of the backgrounds and personal histories of certain candidates, especially one who was then running for president, many were aghast at the though that Church leaders would even dare tell Christians not to vote for thieves, liars, and murderers.
This begs the question: how can a country divided along such basic questions of morality be expected “to walk together?” More specifically, how can Christians who judge their leaders based on certain moral standards be expected to “walk together” with people who believe otherwise? What can we say to convince those who cannot be persuaded by evidence? If we can’t convince people about what happened 50 years ago in their own country, how can we convince them about what happened 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem?
But perhaps, at the moment, the answers have little to do with what we should say. Not in an era when anyone can say anything anywhere without meaning it. Not now, when rarely anyone actually says what they mean. And a lot of the more important things go unsaid.
Many who believe that violence and fear are needed to have order in society do not merely believe so because of misinformation, but because they grew up in an atmosphere of mistrust and violence, where the only sanctuary from hurt is to submit to authority. Many who refuse to see differences among candidates have been true believers of politicians and movements once, only to find the same poverty, corruption, and lack of change one election after another. Many who refuse to believe in experts, reports, and judicial decisions have been too desensitized by the reality of corrupt experts, unethical journalists, and bribed judges. We live in a culture of distrust: some of us more than others. That’s why many of us would rather take away their neighbor’s freedom than risk being hurt by another’s abuse of rights.
No words can heal such hurt. But what we can do is instead combat that culture of distrust by actually forming bonds with one another through helping with each other’s needs. This means trying to become “witnesses” to the people closest to us: in our homes, communities, schools, or in places of work. Organize events and drives for the homeless and the poor. Help victims of disasters and catastrophes. Join and start meaningful causes. Be a friend to your neighbor. Start with your actual one.
Through these acts, we help people believe that we do not need fear to be good people. That we do not need lies to be able to feel safe, or the threat of violence to feel protected.
If the people around us can count on us to help them in times of crisis – if they can fall back on their community in times of poverty and hardship – then they would not be tempted to vote for, support, and campaign for murderers and thieves who they believe to have their back. But more importantly, if they see genuine care and goodness in us, then our words of warning and advice would not seem like snide comments from a stranger, but words of love and genuine interest from a brother or a sister.
“The medium is the message” is right. We know saints rarely from their words, but more frequently from their works. The presence of good people are and have always been the best argument for any position, and the best means of evangelization. They remain the best way to restore faith in one’s fellow man, and in God.
Acts convince more where facts fail to persuade. The only way we can hope to walk with one another on our way to God is to actually start moving. Let’s start being the Good News that we preach: to our homes, friends, and communities.
Only use words when necessary. – Rappler.com
Gerardo A. Alminaza is the Bishop of the Diocese of San Carlos.