Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

Frank William Boreham 1871-1959
A photo F W Boreham took of himself in 1911

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

F W Boreham Communicating Theology to a Public Audience

F W Boreham enjoyed two significant public platforms in the daily newspapers that gave him an opportunity to communicate theology. However, the medium also shaped his theological content and style.

Immersed in the Culture
Boreham’s articles appeared alongside columns about politics, finance, industry, entertainment, sport, births, deaths and marriages. The symbolic placement of his editorials within secular newspapers, amidst the issues of life, expressed the concern of people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer who called not for “reserving some space for God [at] the boundaries ... but recognizing God ... in the middle of the human village.”[1] These were unattributed articles that made no reference to Boreham’s clerical title and were not marked ‘religion’ or ‘faith’. These factors of language and integration countered the common marginalization of theology.

Literary Style Adjusted to the Readership
Frank Boreham’s editorials differed in theological content and style from his essays and sermons which endorses the view that he was writing to attract a general public audience. While he was motivated to write editorials for a number of reasons, Boreham’s paramount concern was to convey theology, that is, to reflect on the person and presence of God and to encourage his readers to do the same.

Public Issues Shaping His Writing
The public context shaped Boreham’s ‘editorial theology’ by suggesting topics, although reference has been made to the factors that loosened his connection to the local context. Over the years, Boreham settled into a rhythm in which the context of time, season and annual festival prompted many of his subjects.

Reminiscent of the plaudit once paid to the contemporary Australian cartoonist, Michael Leunig, Boreham was “never ‘relevant’, ‘socially aware’ or narrowly political”.[2] At a significant period in the development of Australia as a nation, Boreham contributed to the public conversations about Empire, war, the Anzac legend, the role of women, the care and contribution of the disabled, the stewardship of natural resources, the quest for an Australian identity, the need for an Australian voice and the importance of the arts.

Boreham’s major themes focused on the public spheres of nationhood, nature, history and everyday life. Boreham looked to public affirmation rather than churchly authorities to give his editorials validation.

Expressing Theology Attractively
F W Boreham’s abhorrence of theological jargon and abstract language was linked to his desire to express theology attractively to a public audience. His generous use of visual imagery, characterization and stories were ways Boreham sought to win audience interest and assist their comprehension. His approach was to popularise theology by addressing down-to-earth subjects and everyday issues that he judged to be of interest to a general audience.

While the limitations of space placed major constraints on his ability to provide comprehensive theology, Boreham’s role as a ‘pointer’ allowed his readers to think and act theologically rather than to relegate this task to professional theologians.[3] This trust of his readers was indicative of the friendly stance and the reserved, suggestive tone that Boreham adopted towards his audience. The downside of Boreham’s irenic demeanor was that his theology lacked a pungency borne of courage, thus limiting the prophetic element.

In his editorials F W Boreham was a public theologian who addressed theological issues beyond the personal and outside the garden gate. His childhood puzzlement concerning the purpose of religion was transformed into a passionate commitment to discovering and helping other people to understand how religion connected with all aspects of life.

In his last decade, Boreham restated his conviction about the relationship of religion to life when he wrote, “Religion, to be piquant and satisfying must stand directly related to human life and human labor, human laughter and human tears.”[4] This insight clearly indicated that Boreham believed that the rightful place of religion and the focus of theology were neither bracketed at the margins, nor in pride of place at the centre but on the same level and inextricably connected with all aspects of life.

Geoff Pound

Image: “Religion, to be piquant and satisfying must stand directly related to human life and human labor, human laughter and human tears.”

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and papers from prison, ed. Eberhard Bethge, Enlarged ed. (New York: MacMillan Publishing Company, 1972), 282.
[2]This compliment was paid to Leunig by Barry Humphries. Barry Humphries, introduction, The Penguin Leunig, by Michael Leunig (Ringwood: Penguin Books, 1974).
[3] Boreham’s editorials in 1912 were limited to 1,500 words, 1,000 words in 1930 and 500 by 1958.
[4] Boreham, Mercury, 5 June, 1954.