Public Relations with a Hostile Media or Culture

Several weeks ago, I offered some advice as a guest on the Austin Hill in the Morning show regarding how to manage a hostile media if they show up at your door demanding explanations for how your Christian faith is viewed as an act of bigotry or intolerance. I wanted to follow-up that radio spot with a blog post that codifies what I suggested on-air.

First, you need to understand that for a minority of those in the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgendered) community, a lack of full agreement with their thinking, theology and/or lifestyle is tantamount to active bigotry on your part. There’s nothing you can do about their intolerance. Just understand that it exists. They leave no room for disagreement, even on religious grounds. So don’t expect them to accept you or your views in any manner

Secondly, you need to get your business ready for potential legal action should an LGBT person decide to target your business. Be sure that your personal and business assets are separated. They can take down your business but they shouldn’t be able to take down your house in the process. There are common sense things you can do to separate the two – retain a good lawyer to help you with this.

Thirdly, you must know where you stand. You must know what you believe and why you believe it. If you waver on your beliefs when the storm is raging, those who wish to destroy you will sense this and that will only make them more motivated to go after you. Know what you believe and be able to articulate in a clear, loving way. Remember, you’re giving a defense of your faith – not a theology lesson or a political statement.

Fourthly, you should think through the process of responding to the media, whether it is a social media attack or an in-person camera+microphone attack, you need to have a process you’ve thought through to fall back on to help you make next-step decisions. When the microphones are pushed in your face, it’s OK to say “We’ll answer your questions at such-and-such time”. You don’t need to answer them right away, on the timeline that the media decides is best for them. In addition, you will need to have a few talking points you can fall back on that are designed to communicate truth and love but are more global in nature.

As a Christian, you need to be willing to suffer for Christ if this is the result of standing for truth. Standing for Christ is more important than saving your business or your own personal reputation. In addition, as taught in Hebrews 12-13, we all should be willing to stand with those who are suffering as a result of their standing for truth. In the Christian community, when one of us suffers, all of us suffer.

It’s important to note: traditionally, business has not been forced to engage in reputation management or defensive tactics on sensitive social issues. With the advent of social media, this part of business ownership can no longer be ignored. Flash mobs and instant sharing can make your business the target of oppositional groups in a matter of hours, if not minutes. As a Christian Business Owner, you cannot afford to ignore this anymore.

Leaders of Christian organizations are going to be caught off-guard with the coming reputational and perhaps physical persecution from the LGBT community. Most churches, para-church, collegiate and media organizations that stand for Christ have no response plan and have engaged in no training with their staff about this. Before the storm hits is the time to be engaged in training, preparing for a future we hope never happens. For those who think I’m being way over the top and way too dramatic, I hope you’re right. I hope I’m wrong. I hope in 10 years, you can have a good laugh at my expense. I really do. But I think in 10 years, to be a Christian in America will be something that many won’t publically do. Christianity is being criminalized and outcast in America. Pastors, college Presidents and religious leaders had better wake up and get on the ball.

Pastors and seminaries need to be teaching a healthy theology of suffering and how to live counter-culturally. But instead, most of our Evangelical leaders demur from such socially sensitive topics. They shy away from topics that might turn off some in our culture. So I ask: if the leadership of the Evangelical church will not take on the hot issues of the day, how can they expect the grassroots (like Christian Business Owners) to succeed in engaging the culture? The answer is obvious.

What should you say or not say when the cameras are pushed in your face?

First, don’t try to run away. Don’t try to walk to your car and ignore them. It just makes you look bad. You’ll need to realize that God has called you, at the moment, to represent Him. So you stay engaged, stay calm, stay loving and yet, stay firm in your faith.

Secondly, you never repeat the accusation leveled against you. Instead, you stay engaged with the media and give them reasons for why you believe what you believe and how that translates into difficult decisions for you. Here are some ideas when it comes to the LGBT/Gay Marriage issue:

  1. God has ordained marriage to be between one man and one woman. It’s a reflection of the unity and diversity of the trinity and it’s a reflection of Christ and His church. To have two people marry who are of the same sex is to corrupt the symbolism of what marriage is intended to be by God. Don’t expect them to “get it” or to agree with you. Expect them to have further questions about this. If they keep going with the questioning, offering to meet with them at a more convenient time where you both can engage in a more in-depth conversation.
  2. Emphasize every person’s value and dignity as individuals and their rights to marry (if your state has passed such laws) under the law.
  3. Verbalize your obligation to follow our American laws too until they force you to violate God’s laws, at which time you’re forced to violate American laws to stay true to God’s law. It’s a matter of allegiance to God before man or country.
  4. Besides, the Supreme Court has held that small businesses are an extension of the owner’s persona and that the business can express religious beliefs. This was the upshot of the Hobby Lobby case.

Thirdly, never answer hypothetical questions. You can say “I don’t see any value in getting into hypothetical scenarios with you. Is there another question I can answer for you?”

Fourth, the messages that you’ve hammered out in your preparation need to have clarity, discipline, integrity and authenticity.

Lastly, do not give your opinions about controversies – leave them alone. If they ask “what is your opinion about such-and-such business not serving pizza to a gay couple?”, you can answer “my opinion really isn’t important, can we move on?” or “I’m sure there are two sides to that story and I’m not familiar enough with it or the actors involved to have an informed opinion.” The point is to stay away from answering opinion-oriented questions.

Much of how you survive this is based on how well you handle yourself non-verbally before the microphone and camera. If you appear articulate, calm, reasoned and loving, that will go a long way toward diffusing the situation. However, it’s not a fail-safe formula. If they intend to destroy you publicly, there really isn’t much you can do. Still, to have thought through these scenarios is good stewardship before God.

If God is calling you to suffer or to be “put on the spot” publicly, then be prepared to do so. If you would like private consultation on this topic, as a Christian Business Owner, please contact me offline. My contact information is on this web site.

Bill English

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