Elijah Style & Journalism Ethics

“Whatever you speak to in a person is what comes out. If you speak to the sin-nature it will bop you on the head. If you speak to the Jesus in someone they will grow.” — Graham Cooke (paraphrase)

1. Know your message, make it clear, make it exact.

Don’t say any more. Don’t get distracted. Stake your claim and defend it. Don’t disagree with an idea unless you quote it. When you disagree with an idea, don’t say why it is wrong, say why your message is still correct. Don’t say “that” you are correct, just say why. Don’t use “yes/no/yes/no/yes/no” argument circles. Advance your message. This is tenable, understandable to the audience, and persuasive.

2. Never address or confront “brokenness” or “emotional wounds.”

Ignore them like a stray cat and speak to things that bring healing only as they relate to your message. If you must diagnose, diagnose broken ideas, not broken people. People must answer to God themselves, so they must be the ones to make any diagnosis of their own hurt.

3. Confront contradiction, not “wrongdoing” or “immorality.”

All immorality is a form of self-contradiction. Our role is to explain this in specific situations. Non-Christians do not have the same values as Christians, so it is wrong to hold them to values they do not themselves submit to. You can avoid arrest and compel people to agree with you in the most difficult of circumstances if you only confront people within their own worldview.

All fallen people have a self-contradiction by their own standards. Point out only the self-contradiction and people will want new architecture. Self-contradiction is a conflict of beliefs; hypocrisy is a conflict between statements and actions. Contradiction is not hypocrisy. This may need to be clarified because people will discredit you if you wrongly accuse them of hypocrisy when they merely contradict themselves.

4. In adversity, agree and clarify.

Many times, in the face of rebuttals, your best defense is to clarify your message and why it does not disagree with the rebuttal, or, if your message does disagree with the rebuttal, why it disagrees specifically. When you can, always state what your message would agree with. If you can say what component of your adversary your message agrees with, state that. If your message does not agree with your adversary in any way, state what other ideas your message would agree with.

5. When exposing a problem, provide a solution—make the solution your main message regardless of whether it may not be your opening message.

Don’t confront sameness: charter a destination. Anyone can parade the banner of “change.” Responsible people will describe what that change looks like and make that description their goal, rather than “change” itself. And empty mind is the devil’s playground, so is change without a direction.

6. Headlines catch the target audience for the message, they don’t always summarize the message.

Nathan the prophet did this with David when confronting him. He labeled the message as being about “sheep,” when, in the end, it was about David. Some might also refer to this concept as “making stone soup.”

7. Be a pillar, not an adverse conjunction.

Only say “but” or “however” when you must. “Yet” is less dramatic as is, “On the one hand.. on the other..” and “while also..” Don’t make someone else wrong so you can be right—stand on stable ground, not “not wrong” ground. It’s back to 7th grade social state of being “better than others” just to think good of one’s self. In the realm of ideas: say what is, then what is not.

Don’t turn controversy into personal conflict: you vs others. When you state the ideas you disagree with, don’t describe them exactly as someone else’s ideas unless you absolutely must. Clarify your own idea by contrast, but don’t back people into the corner of being labeled as the very personification of everything you stand against.

Note: There is a fallacy, especially among some professional ministers, that ‘but’ cancels-out everything that was just said in the prior clause. This mindset hinders the work of God because it tells the masses that there are is only one perspective of any issue and never multiple true perspectives to be separated by ‘but’ in communication. You might say, ‘A Bible language/Greek/Hebrew professor would tell you otherwise, and that adverse conjunctions have many uses and this is rarely one of them. As a minister you should know that you just took issue with many sentences in every English Bible translation. If I say to my children, “I want to go to town, but we don’t have time,” I don’t mean that I don’t want to go town. I encourage you to reverse your position and consult someone with a degree in language and communication.’ This fallacy has taken a deep and subtle root in the American church and is a covert source of much unneeded conflict. There is a similar misunderstanding with possessives—that when someone says, “my church,” that they claim domination over it. The possessive “my” has genitive case, in this situation, meaning “that church which is in relation to me” or “the church I attend or donate to or am a member of or that employs me, etc.” I no more own “my” church than “my” friends. Such misconstrued views of adverse conjunctions and possessives are a fabricated distraction from our higher calling. Correct the misunderstanding of the masses, but beware of such church leaders: if you bring people away from non-issues and back to important matters, you could be the enemy of those ministers and not know it.

8. Foster hope in the heart of the audience, don’t hang someone out to dry and leave.

Christians are at war with principalities of evil, so it is natural for the audience to feel a level of rage. But that rage must be properly-informed rage and aimed in the direction of the solution, not mere mob-mentality to generate a mess and excitement. Deliver the message in a “relentless persistence toward hope” and avoid a “first part of the article is anger, second part is hugging kittens” bipolar roller-coaster of emotion.

Clarify hope in a way that Satan can’t claim and the problem often exposes itself. If you clarify the obvious problem that people should know they have, even though they rarely admit that they know they have, your only message is that you like to rub people’s faces in their despair. That’s the wrong message.

Don’t look for curt ways to explain someone is wrong. Look for curt ways to explain what they need.

I once told a Muslim, “I need a penal substitute.” Islam doesn’t have one, he doesn’t need me to tell him that, so that was the end of his apologetic defense.

9. Throw your adversary’s punch.

Stay on message. When someone throws a curve ball to disagree with you, take a part of their argument and phrase it as something you agree with to support your original message. Shields aren’t the only tools that can block a sword: swords can block also.

When someone is hounding you like a German Shepard, ask them if they are an angry dog. When someone prods at you about a confidential matter that people know is ugly, make them risk defamation if they persist, “Is there something bad about the situation that makes you so curious?” Asking questions that, in themselves, cause others to loose confidence—when they don’t provide evidence for being so aggressive—could, themselves, be “defamation by implication.” You don’t ask the President if he had an affair because you are “just curious.” You ask if you either believe he actually did or if you are trying to slander him. Be sure to mention that to the interrogator when you respond: some questions require evidence before they are asked. But don’t stop there as most do: advance your message while they are pausing to regroup their thoughts, in direct contrast to their assault if possible.

The kindest defense just might be offense. A defensive play is a little less bloody if you intercept and score—rather than tackle. Win the game without blood to win a friend in the rival team.

I once confronted a church for pulling funding from a church in Nigeria. After no one else could draw attention to the festering matter, I was pompous and harsh in my message that funding should continue. I was accused of being “all law and no grace.” My response: “All law and no grace.. for the church in Nigeria?” I was accused of having a “bitter tone” that was louder than the support for the Nigerian church. My response: “My tone is louder than many things that distract us from Nigeria.” When opposition sought to shift the focus from funding for Nigeria to my alleged flaws, I agreed with their critique as it related back to the message: Nigeria. I never called the opposition “wrong,” but “correct if using the golden rule.”

10. Ask if you hear your opponent correctly, don’t put words in their mouth.

“Am I understanding that you mean [what no one would say but it seems like they are implying.]” If they say, “Yes,” say, “Okay,” then remain silent or move on with your message. If you summarize them accurately their folly is exposed. If you are incorrect you not only save your reputation from the stain of having spread misinformation, you also might find the path to a peaceful conclusion.

11. Insinuations are unspoken intended meaning, implications are unspoken logical meaning regardless of intent.

Insinuations are nebulous, just ignore them, this takes work. Give voice to implications, that is often where someone will contradict themselves.

12. Vote for motherhood and apple pie.

If someone dares to disagree with apple pie you only need to say, “Do I understand you correctly.. [summarize their implications]?”

13. Never interrupt someone when they are making a fool of themselves.

When people are self-destructing, stand back, only Jesus can save them. Maybe it will take their self-destruction for them to figure that out.

14. Don’t interrupt your actions with your reasons.

Oftentimes the best defense for an idea is merely that you are willing to express it. Many good ideas have already been thought of by others, you are not as original as you might like to think. People want to know that they are not alone in their brilliance, though Satan often likes us to think so. Saying, “Apple pie is good,” doesn’t need it’s supporting arguments to be outlined—they are obvious: it has apples, it is pie. Explaining the obvious confuses people. It also insults them.

15. Use subjunctives, avoid superlatives.

Say “may be” “might be” and “could be” when addressing complicated situations, the unknown, thoughts and intentions of the heart, or matters of preference. When dealing with obvious truth, never say “possibly” say “is” or “certainly.” When talking about apple pie, say it “is good” (people who don’t like apple pie obviously like being different, so they will like this also.) When talking about anchovies, say “people may not always like them,” and your audience will like the humor because some people do and it is fun to be annoyed by them. If you say, “No one likes anchovies,” you just insulted a small group of people that you still want to buy pizza from your pizza shop.

16. Use “then/and,” avoid “because/therefore,” delineate “sequence,” avoid “cause” unless it is necessary.

Try saying, “You raised your voice because I don’t agree with you,” and conflict will explode. Try saying, “You raised your voice after I disagreed with you,” and the will person pause, looking thoughtfully at the ceiling as they put the pieces together. When people are learning instead of raging they are less likely to charge you with defamation or request a retraction.

Avoid: “I was tired, so I went to bed.” Am I suggesting that sleeping is an “experiential” issue and not a “health” issue? Am I saying that children should not go to sleep if they don’t feel tired? How about: “I was tired and I went to bed.” This makes the audience feel happy because the “therefore” factor is obvious. By saying “and” you have not locked yourself into a commitment to opinion. Instead, you have given the audience the freedom to interpret on their own—like feeding a pet, you will be friends for life.

But, when it is obvious and clear that you should say “therefore” make sure you say it or people will wonder if you are up to something. “I’m here in court because I received a summons.” Whatever you do, avoid, “I may have come to court today after I received a summons.” The next question in the judge’s mind is whether he should charge you with contempt.

17. The best defense is to fly the banner of hope.

When someone is accusing you of hating the establishment don’t say whether or not you do; say, “I have hope that it can do the right thing.” If the establishment doesn’t do the right thing, then you won’t need to tell the people to hate it. When you are in a curve-ball contest over who sets the agenda of questions, don’t think, “Avoid answering their questions when I respond,” rather think, “Stick to my message as the answer.”

Elaborate on your beliefs. When someone asks, “Are you a Bible thumper?” Of course you don’t want to inaugurate them as your judge and jury by saying “yes” or “no.” But that’s where most people stop thinking and say, “I have reasons for my beliefs.. [and I’m a good person and I don’t want to answer your question].” Just say, “The Bible is the best guide for charity in Africa (or whatever ‘motherhood and apple pie’ topic is most relevant.)”

18. Opinion, fact, just say it.

“In my opinion..” If you are writing a column, of course it’s your opinion. If you are reporting, you don’t share your opinion or other people’s opinions, you report facts and quote people exactly. If you are doing new and comment, know which phase of news or comment you are in and just say it. “The president said, once again, ‘Let me be clear..’ How much more clear do his actions need to be?” When we say, “In my opinion..” in conversation, politics, or media (not academics, legal court, or other professional arenas) what we really mean is, “I want you to agree with me, but please don’t be angry.” Placating only convinces people that you aren’t very convinced yourself.

19. Know Satir’s five modes of communication.

They aren’t gospel, but the help navigate through the murky waters of “..constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth..” Placater, Blamer, Computer, Leveler, Distracter. Leveler/Computer are best, but mainly you want to know what other people are doing. Most people don’t know how to handle a Leveler and confuse them with Blamer. Leveling is best with most situations and is the safest choice when dealing with a Leveler. If its difficult for you to distinguish Blamer from Leveler, use Computer in the meanwhile. Also, use some Computer in mediating other people’s conflict, unless you are a Leveler master. In media, always Level, be lively, be pithy, but don’t fall into Blamer Mode as many syndicates do. Computer in media looses the audience. In conflict, a skilled Leveler can advance his message when most people switch to Computer for survival. Journalism itself aims to Level.

20. Avoid comparatives when there is nothing compared to.

“That is better.” A mother may say this when a child fixes his behavior. Don’t talk to people like you are their mother.

When you finish a discourse on poor tact, then you can say, “..this phrase is nicer..” because you just explained what you are comparing it to. When there is nothing you wrote to compare your idea to, yet you want to add margins to your expression, say, “..this phrase is nice, more or less.” This is okay because you balanced the comparative, removing the bias of “more nice” [than.. I’ll let you guess what I’m nicer than] and sounding “better than others.”

21. Mode of operation: give words to what “is.”

It often has a soothing effect. “I hear that you are awake.” These words calm the mother who says them and validates the noisy 10 year old as he thunders down the stairs for breakfast. If you get that call that no syndicate wants—a retraction request from an angry interviewee—you might best start the conversation with, “I understand that you have reason to be angry and I would like to listen.”

Jesus doesn’t only see us as “sinners” He sees us as forgiven. Acknowledge the implications, give them voice, speak as if they are true because they are. When a Taiwanese church invites you to a smallgroup that doesn’t speak your language, you have a choice. You can complain or recognize the implication: they are treating you as one of their own. Nothing could be more welcoming on their part—so handle any conflict with this premise in mind.

When someone starts a press-war and publishes hit-pieces, don’t feel the need to respond. If an arrow is headed in your direction, but will clearly land 10 yards from your position, running will more likely result in injury. Only reply as it advances your message. If you shoot in the dark you’ll give away your position, increase casualties, and look foolish. If an arrow is headed your way, don’t side step: hold-up your shield, catch the arrow, then “return to sender.” “This is your arrow. Would you like it back?”

Respond in kind, kindly. When your opponent says, “Hi. How are you?” don’t try to discern hidden motives. Simply say, “I’m fine, and you?” If someone sends you a hand-written note, reply in your own handwriting. Squat to address children. And in your proper English, speak within the range of theirs. By answering in kind, our actions validate people as they are. When the new pastor nervously asks, “Can I talk to you, is that okay?” just say, “It had better be okay, you’re the pastor.”

Reporters tell the story as it happened. Syndicates give their opinion as their opinion. Give words to what “is.” This is journalism.

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