If I had to be critical of BBC Songs of Praise it would be this: the stereotypical image of white, well off people singing quaint hymns in chocolate box churches. Now, I have to admit I do not watch Songs of Praise often enough to know whether that image rings true. Certainly for the Anglican Church Worldwide, it is not a representative image. When I heard Justin Welby the Archbishop of Canterbury speak in February he said the ‘average Anglican was an African woman in her thirties who was earning $3-$4 a day, was likely to be living in a conflict or post-conflict situation and probably being persecuted for her faith. “Normal life is poverty, hard-work, fear, oppression and war,” This is a far cry from what is perhaps the stereotypical view of the Anglican Church in England (the Church of England). On the other hand it is not so far away from the tin clad Ethiopian Chapel from which BBC Songs of Praise will broadcast its show from the migrant camp in Calais on Sunday.
Songs of Praise has come under criticism in the press and on social media. One criticism is that the BBC is being overly political in doing this show. However, part of the BBC’s Public purpose is ‘promoting education and learning’ and ‘bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK.’ Is not a programme raising awareness of a humanitarian crisis on our doorstep, which humanizes those referred to a ‘swarm’ achieving those aims? And yes the BBC cannot be party political, but perhaps like the Church it is to be political in terms of holding power accountable and holding a mirror to society. What does it say about our society that we can be outraged by the broadcast, but not by the situation facing migrants?
A second criticism, especially on social media is of the BBC wasting license fee money on the show. The daily cost of the BBC license fee is 40p per day; I wonder what percentage of that went on Songs of Praise? How does that compare with what is spent on paying for sports contracts? Or top name celebrities?
I am pleased that Songs of Praise has taken the decision to broadcast from Calais. It is a reminder that those seeking to enter the UK are not ‘a swarm’, but people: men, women and children. Many of those seeking sanctuary in the UK are young, have lived in conflict and post conflict situations, suffered poverty and persecution. They are much closer to the average Anglican around the world, than the stereotypical view of Songs of Praise and the Church of England would suggest. If the broadcast makes people feel uncomfortable, then maybe we need to look deeper at why this is the case? Why is it easier to see these people as a ‘swarm’ and to dehumanize them, rather than to see them as brothers and sisters in Christ?