Virtue Signalling: a Christian perspective

The BBC

I was triggered into writing this by an Independent article on new rules from the BBC about political neutrality. The new rules for staff who are required to be politically neutral include not attending “political protests”, such as Black Lives Matter events and LGBT protests. LGBT because it may include the ‘controversial’ transsexual issues.

The Independent, through its online outlet inews.co.uk, also reports that the new rules on partiality, issued by director general Tim Davie, tells BBC staff they must avoid “virtue signalling” and hold back from supporting campaigns “no matter how apparently worthy the cause or how much their message appears to be accepted or uncontroversial”.

But what is virtue signalling?

The Sun

The Sun newspaper published an article in 2017 to explain what virtue signalling meant. It started when politically right wing journalist James Bartholomew in the right wing magazine The Spectator. Virtue signalling, said Bartholomew, is when people add things like “I hate 4×4 cars” to hint that they care for the environment. The intent of virtue signalling is to make the speaker look good, not to raise awareness of a cause.

[Jesus said] So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.

Matthew 6:2 NIV

Where The Sun got it wrong, is that they extended the meaning of virtue signalling to people who took on the ice bucket challenge back in 2017. The ice bucket challenge was to promote awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and encourage donations for research. The Sun also criticised actor Tom Hiddleston for mentioning the plight of Sudanese people during a Glolden Globes speach. Trying to help other people os outside the original definition of virtue signalling made by Bartholomew.

However virtue signalling, although widely used by the political right and published in The Spectator and The Sun and used on social media for over three years, it never really got heard outside the right wing bubble. Which brought Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford to ask his Twitter followers recently, “What is virtue signalling?”

Marcus Rashford

23 year old footballer Rashford has been leading a campaign to extend free meals during during term time to the school holidays to the most needy families. Last Saturday, 7th November 2020, Prime Minister Johnson agreed to the plan after weeks of refusing to extend free school meals to children from low-income families during school holidays in England. The package includes a £170m Covid winter grant scheme to support vulnerable families in England and an extension of the holiday activities and food programme to the Easter, summer and Christmas breaks next year.

Rashford is not virtue signalling, Rashford is working on behalf of other people.

Charities

It is thought to be bad form to say you support a charity, after all even Jesus said, see the quote above, “when you give to the needy, do not announce it.” The charities, however are not saying that. They wish we were better at talking at doing good, but we are very bad at talking about doing good. If the good guys keep quiet about their good works, then how will others find out about it in order to follow their example? My church, Holy Trinity Huddersfield supports the Welcome Centre in the town centre. We regularly talk about this and the other charities we support so that people know where their money is going, know what to pray for and if there is an urgent need, what they can do. With people on already low wages being on 80% wages due to the government furlough scheme or made redundant with little chance of becoming employed until the Covid-19 restrictions are finally lifted, there is a greater need than ever to support food banks if you can. Please support one in your local area.

The Status Quo

Neutrality of the type the BBC is suggesting is not neutral. silence supports the status quo. The rich remain rich, the poor remain poor; the powerful remain powerful and the disempowered have opportunities to improve themselves denied. The rules are for staff who are required to be politically neutral, but this is not neutrality, this is supporting the rich and powerful. This is taking sides. These people already have a voice, to be neutral you have to seek out those who have no voice and empower them, This is not neutrality. This is evil.

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