This week, in full self-praise mode, the Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald announced a change to its publishing practices: “the Herald is dropping honorifics.”
To give effect to this nod to the zeitgeist, updates will be made to the paper’s 248-page internal style guide, which the Editor called the “newsroom’s bible.” The amended ‘bible’ will direct journalists to refer to the PM, for example, not always as ‘Prime Minister,’ not even ‘Mr Morrison,’ just ‘Morrison’; the changes will take effect from Easter.
The justification offered by the Editor – Mr (!) Shields is essentially one of keeping with the times as society becomes less formal and such designations and references are valued less.
For a paper that has as its editorial motto ‘INDEPENDENT. ALWAYS’, its celebration of falling in behind the crowd and taking a crab walk to Twitterism, is a little curious.
It might be easy to ignore the Herald’s proud rebuke of titles for Premiers and Prime Ministers (in fact, all of us) but for a counter point in the Easter story.
Arrested from the Garden of Gethsemane and pursued by his enemies, Jesus is presented to the local Roman Governor for judgment and punishment; his alleged crime was his claiming of a title. Pontius Pilate finds himself reluctantly embroiled in the unrest amongst Jews in Judea who are displeased with Jesus and his public ministry.
For the baying mob, casting Jesus as a usurper and a threat against the Roman Empire was a sure way to pressure local authorities do unto Christ what the Jewish leaders couldn’t or weren’t prepared to do themselves. With his hand now forced by political considerations, near and afar, Pilate puts to Jesus perhaps the most consequential question in history’: ‘Are you a King, Jesus Christ?’
This was more than a question about a title, in fact the Gospels tells us it’s a question of many parts. For the Jewish leaders, Jesus’ claims of Kingship were an affront, yet they presented their religious grievance as a political concern for Rome, a challenge to the Emperor.
Duty-bound, Pilate asks the question of Jesus, never really believing the claim, much less its threat to Rome. Jesus’s answer sent him to the Cross: “You have said so.”His crucifixion followed, then his resurrection and, with it, our salvation.” – Dallas McInerney
Duty-bound, Pilate asks the question of Jesus, never really believing the claim, much less its threat to Rome. Jesus’s answer sent him to the Cross: “You have said so.” His crucifixion followed, then his resurrection and with it, our salvation.
Sure, the Herald can homogenise its language relating to humans, they are not alone, the modern world is often telling us that titles, designations or descriptors don’t matter or worse still, can be harmful (birth certificates?). Perhaps the real harm lies in making a person’s identity less distinct, leaving a person’s story untold or eclipsing God’s image that we all bear.
Jesus did not allow himself to be defined by others, though many tried, he declared his Kingship before others weaponised the title against him; in this, he was doing God’s will and securing our salvation.
It’s not certain that the Herald’s new direction to its journalists is a slippery slope to anything entirely bad, but they are seeking to make assumptions and decisions about people and have them recast in the eyes of others.
The actions of Pilate and the Jewish priests are cause to reflect on how we address and relate to Christ. Do we call him King? Saviour? Friend? Is he only a historical figure, or does he take a central role in our life each day?
Pilate directed that a sign be hung above Jesus, attached to the Cross: “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.” This drew the ire of the Jewish priests who did not want this declaration, rather, any sign in their view, should read that he claimed to be King. They did not sway Pilate: “Quod scripsi, scripsi”, (What I have written, I have written). Sometimes, titles matter.
Dallas is Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Schools NSW