By Deb Christian
NEW YORK — The Rev. Dr. James Forbes, minister emeritus of The Riverside Church in New York, opened the 2016 Religion Communicators Council National Convention with a bit of song, some words of praise, then a challenge to the 120-plus attendees.
First, Forbes offered a song about happiness and heaven that he often shared with his young granddaughter. He noted that he hoped the words of the song set the mood, tone and perspective on life for his audience. He told RCC members that they were the bearers of a legacy of faith and that what they do in their communications’ jobs will impact both their individual faith groups and the nation.
Faith communicators take the “data” of God’s love, justice, mercy, and truth that they receive then mix it, write it, video it, print it. They will see the legacy of faith and give it away. “If you do that – give it away – then you’ll be happy,” he added.
Forbes went on to offer a challenge to the communication professionals. He told a story from the Old Testament of the Bible. The story is from the book of II Kings. It is set in what is present day Syria and involves a time of war, siege and famine. Among the characters in this story are some lepers; sufferers of a loathsome disease and outcasts in that society. These are the characters Dr. Forbes said RCC members should identify with most closely.
The lepers discover that through the power of God, the enemy has been routed and their camp is empty. At first, the lepers attempt to care only for themselves by looting the camp, but then realize they must go and tell their own king that the siege is lifted and famine over. Forbes reminded attendees that religion is not respected around the world today. He asked, “Is there a place of prophetic impulse in religious communication? Is there integrity? Is there a place to listen to the voice of spirit?”
Noting further that the world is suffering from what he called “Degenerative Discouragement Disease,”he said that 90 percent of Americans are discouraged about the state of our society. He challenged those present with the question, “what are you going to do about it?”
“I hope your coming to this meeting will make it possible to have less discouragement. God is not dead. Truth is not irrelevant. You may can help save our nation.”
As he closed, Forbes said the lepers in the story came and spoke out; they had discovered something important. They found an effective way to communicate. He then told the group he had finally decided on an appropriate title for his remarks that day, “I’m glad you came.”