Wise Witnesses # 1: Lace 'Em Up Tight
How might Cameron, and we, handle hostile situations wisely? First, by recognizing when we are in an hostile situation. Cameron might have taken better stock of the battle field he was walking into. If you are doing an interview with Piers Morgan, you can expect that he’s looking for an angle to trap you in a verbal forest fire. He's shown again and again that he cares more about ratings than rational discourse; people like to watch things burn, and he's a skilled arsonist.
Cameron’s purpose on Morgan’s show was to talk about his film Monumental; that’s what he tried to talk about. Morgan’s purpose was, as always, on all his shows, to talk about what he wanted to so as to create a story and drive ratings. This is a man who came to fame in America by gaining media-shy Michael Jackson’s trust (not an easy task), and then using that trust to get close enough to stab him square in the back. Morgan is the master of the assassin interview: a verbal hit man with an impressive body count. This is what he has been doing for many years; this is what he does for a living; this is what he does better than anybody for a world-class living on one of the biggest news stages in the world. Yeah, he's a pro.
Let's watch the pro in action. As Morgan broached controversy with Cameron, he did so shrewdly. He began, "If I asked you, for example, what your view of gay marriage is, what would you say?" Note: he doesn't ask; he poses a hypothetical thought experiment that might be asked in an alternate universe. This is so sneaky. It enables Morgan to keep up the appearance of being friendly with the interviewee; he's not a bad guy, and he's not really responsible for the wickedness involved in asking a contentious question with, to quote Eliot, insidious intent. He might as well have said, "If I hypothetically were to place a live stick of dynamite in your lap for the pleasure of blowing you to smithereens -- for example, only as an example -- what would you say to that, old chap?" But the "if" and the "for example" and the seeming mildness of the interviewer all cover the ill-motives. In his opening question, Morgan shows why he has a PhD in con-tro-versy. He courts trust, abstracts the discussion, and confuses the answerer, and all at the same time. This is brilliant, but dishonest, and rather serpertine. It calls to mind another serpent, and a garden, and a tree, and a harmless query, "Did God really say?"
But Cameron didn't bite. He took a wise turn, "Well, go ahead and ask me." This was a refusal to mince words: a demand for Morgan take responsibility.
Morgan still refused to ask the question directly; he knew that would come off as despicable. Instead, he played the innocent inquisitor (He used the same tactic to devastating effect with Michael Jackson), "These issues are interesting to me...," he said, like a baffled child in search of understanding. Then, he changed the angle of the question, and posed it to Cameron as a family man, "These issues are interesting to me about what you would tell your kids who you are trying to protect, for example. Would you tell them that gay marriage is (pregnant pause) a sin?" You gotta admit, Morgan knew his man. Cameron is known above all as a family man, and Morgan is appealing to his sense of care for his defenseless children. The question was about sexuality; Morgan has turned it into a question about the heart of a father.
While Morgan did his homework, and knew his ‘target,’ it seems Cameron didn’t do his homework; he certainly didn’t know that he was a target. He answered Morgan’s seeming childish curiosity by directing the discussion toward God's definition of marriage. He was trying to offer a thoughtful and helpful answer. But then, Morgan went in for the kill. In search of an offensive sound bite, he cuts Cameron off mid-sentence, "What...What do you believe?" In other words, "Don't tell me why. Don't give me a detailed presentation of truth. Give me what I really want!"
The interview stumbled on. All the while, Morgan tried to get Cameron to say something negative. He used questions like, "Do you think homosexuality is a sin?" Cameron kept trying to steer things in a better direction, without much success. And the fire raged.
Cameron seemed surprised during the interview, and offended afterward, that Morgan would ambush him in search of an offensive sound bite. He rightly accused Morgan of stirring up controversy purposely, and for no good purpose. Of course that’s what Morgan did. That’s what Morgan always does. It wasn't surprising that Morgan courted controversy; it is slightly surprising that Cameron would be surprised that Morgan courted controversy.
Jesus told us to be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves. Serpents are wily creatures; they don’t walk into traps unawares; they have a cunning instinct for self-protection. Did Morgan ambush Cameron with flammable questions? Yep. Did he do so in a sneaky way? You bet. Was he underhanded? Un-huh. A bit of a snake? No doubt. All the same, Christians are called on to be snakes as well – not morally, but intellectually. We are to be snakes in the grass when it comes to intellectual agility. When dealing with tricky people and tricky situations, we need tricks up our sleeve. There's a Chinese proverb, “For the man who is prepared, there is no emergency.” Situations like the Morgan interview can quickly turn ugly for the unprepared, "For the man unprepared, everything is an emergency."
A friend used to say, before basketball games, "You better lace 'em up tight." It was his way of saying, "Get ready -- don't be casual, or careless. This is going to be tough." Christians are called to, when appropriate, recognize hostile situations, and then lace 'em up tight.