“You really should have not used that cover picture”, was the reaction of a number of people to the May edition of Eternity.
The picture shows a “Jesus Loves Muslims” stand in Melbourne’s Swanston Street, with a male Christian volunteer handing out Christian material alongside a young Muslim convert called Nadia.
Including Nadia in the picture is what raised concerns, that she might find herself in trouble. That edition of Eternity focused on the importance of free speech for Christians, especially for walk-up evangelism.
It’s very natural for Christians to wonder whether Eternity or other Christian media might publish something that will get Christians into trouble. We live in a world where violent persecution is increasing.
So should Eternity have published that picture?
The picture was taken by Sophie Timothy who also wrote the story. Before shooting the images she got Nadia’s permission, having carefully discussed it with her. She had been invited to the stall by the person who started it—Bernie Power, Islamic expert at Melbourne School of Theology. His son introduced her to Nadia.
Opposite the stand there’s a stall run by Muslims. Eternity was not revealing anything Muslim activists don’t already know.
Another question might be “has Eternity ever held anything back because of concern over a picture or a story?”
And the answer is “often”. We’ll change names, delay or drop a story to make sure we don’t harm Gospel ministry. Cover stories have been pulled, even after they have been placed on the page.
Sometimes Christian organisations will say “yes” and then “no”, and this can be because two offices disagree about what should be done—that’s a common reason. We’ve waited up to two years for an organisation to be comfortable for a story to go ahead.
At those times Eternity has to be humble and realise that getting a story in our paper is not the top priority for people sending missionaries right around the world, or even just a few suburbs away.
Bible Society is currently running a fundraising appeal to support Bible-based literacy work for Pakistani women. Whether we should run the real names and faces of women who have powerful testimonies about coming to Christ through learning to read the Bible, turned out to be really complicated.
Our friends at the Pakistan Bible Society, after a long conversation, settled on a case by case process. Different parts of Pakistan needed varied approaches. A testimony from the north of the country needs faces to be blurred in pictures, and names to be changed. In the south and big cities, we were told this is not needed.
At that moment, as the Eternity editor I felt great sympathy for the Pakistan Bible Society. Some stories can’t be told. But the vast majority of stories about God and his people in Australia can be told. So we’ll continue to hold a mirror up to Australian Christianity for our readers as well as we can.