The General Election Debate, Stories And Preaching

Jon Snow comments today on last night’s ‘historic’ (the mandatory word, apparently) first ever live television debate between party leaders in a British General Election campaign:

The most notable American influence in the debate was the wheeling out of individual and anecdotal stories. They didn’t work – they were thin and largely inconclusive, sometimes begging the question as to whether they were true. They don’t seem to work in a UK context.

I heard the same observation on television news last night. (Can’t remember who said it.) Does this say anything to us about the church and communication? We are told to preach stories. We are told that people ‘think in stories’ and ‘live in particular narratives’. I’ve thought for years that stories help. But political reaction to last night’s debate is starting to make me wonder.

What do you think?


  1. It’s interesting to see all the comments on the debate when I didn’t see the debate.

    Can you give an example of a story that was deemed not to have worked? I can see a story not working if is told in order to deflect from answering a question rather than answering it. If I tell a story in a sermon, it’s usually to make some kind of point or another. When Grandpa Simpson tells stories, I doubt anyone gets much out of them either.


    1. Well, that was what seemed odd to me, Pam, they did seem to tell stories in support of their points. Cameron told about a burglary that ended up with a killing in support of his hard line on law and order. I was just puzzled by this kind of negative reaction to storytelling, and clearly the three leaders thought their stories would help make their points.


        1. And further, here is the account of the truth from the man himself. He turns out to be 51, not 40. He served six years in the Navy, not thirty. And while he thinks there has been too much immigration, he has not yet decided where he will place his vote.


  2. From media reports here, Nick Clegg of the “minor” party seems to have emerged as the clear winner. Go the underdog! I am very partial to our Greens party here and usually vote accordingly, not that it does much good as our south coast seat is tightly held by the Liberals. I must say that telling stories in sermons is not popular with our two ministers, especially the younger one. Sermons at our church tend to dissect a Bible passage verse by verse, this seems to be enjoyed by our congregation who are, mostly, under 50 with a good smattering of teenagers. 🙂


    1. Yes, all the polls showed that Clegg was perceived to have done the best. He will come under greater scrutiny, as his party supports the scrapping of Trident, our independent nuclear ‘deterrent’, unlike Labour or the Conservatives, and they also support us scrapping the pound and joining the Euro, which isn’t a popular idea. Nobody expected Gordon Brown to do well on television, because his style is dour and to stick to the facts. That is a shame in itself, because it seems to value style over substance. The question is whether Brown’s substance is good or not. The biggest surprise was that Cameron, the Conservative leader, didn’t do the best, because his background before entering Parliament was in PR, and he was expected to communicate well.

      As for the sermons at your church, how do the ministers ensure that verse by verse dissection is more than an academic lecture and proclaim the challenge and comfort of the Gospel? I’m not saying stories are the only way to do that, just that verse by verse can end up as just a head trip.


      1. Proclaiming the challenge and comfort of the gospel is mainly done by the nurturing of our personal relationships. I’ve found that, even though I’m less “conservative” than many in my church I’ve been shown a lot of love and acceptance – so people are living out, as best they can, what we learn from our “head trips”.


        1. I see where you’re coming from, Pam, but it raises the question of what your ministers think the function of preaching is.


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