One debate down, one to go

Clearing the air may make room for a good look at the real issue

Issue: "Forbes: Right on the money," Nov. 8, 1997

With the end of October came some mostly welcome news from the office of the Evangelical Press Association. EPA's board of directors had voted unanimously at its regular fall meeting not to pursue any further charges against WORLD magazine. The charges of "unethical journalism" had been leveled last spring by Zondervan Publishing House and the International Bible Society after WORLD exposed efforts to make the New International Version of the Bible gender-neutral in its language.

EPA's action last week represented a significant about-face from a much-publicized report issued in July under the organization's auspices. That report, prepared by an EPA ad hoc committee but never approved by the EPA board, included statements sharply critical of WORLD. Now EPA's board has publicly determined that the original report has "no standing."Last week's report also noted that "the case has raised a number of substantive journalistic issues, and it is clear to us that our current Code of Ethics and our process for dealing with complaints are inadequate. Therefore we have decided to conclude EPA's involvement in this case without rendering judgment.... [W]e will now turn to our own housekeeping. We will review our Code of Ethics and revise our bylaws as necessary to provide procedures adequate for handling ethics cases." For EPA's withdrawal from this case, WORLD is grateful. It is an important step.

EPA's withdrawal, however, was not complete. Its report last week expressed regret "that the rhetoric of the debate between these parties often seemed to lack charity and the debaters sometimes appeared more interested in winning arguments than in pursuing truth." The EPA board said it believes parties on both sides of the debate have not always sought "charity and clarity" together as well as they might have.

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As publisher of WORLD, I am responding to EPA's board by saying that we accept the challenge to continue to pursue both clarity and charity. The past record speaks for itself. For the future, we commit ourselves anew to that challenge for the following reasons:

(1) The Scriptures command us repeatedly to examine our hearts carefully. "Truth" and "love" are central to our charge as Christians and as journalists-and we dare not ignore either, as even ardent defenders of God's word have sometimes done. So we stop to hear, and apply, the biblical warning.

(2) We do not want an argument about the debate itself to obscure the issue that brought about the debate in the first place. In the months just ahead, major policy decisions about translation issues will be debated and adopted by Bible publishers, Bible societies, missions organizations-and perhaps even by church denominations. It would be tragic if a continued debate about past grievances made it harder for the Christian public to reflect on the more basic issues. WORLD promises to continue reporting on these important developments, both truthfully and vigorously.

(3) Nonetheless, as the EPA board has indicated, a parallel debate about journalistic ethics is also important. WORLD's editor Marvin Olasky has spelled out clearly in repeated editorials how a key consideration in that discussion is the difference between "public relations" and "news" as the primary function in any particular publication. WORLD hopes to be part of that discussion in the months just ahead, both in EPA circles and beyond; but such participation would be more difficult if "litigation" were still in progress.

(4) Finally, WORLD has great confidence in the wonderful efficacy of truth itself in any debate of this sort. Yes, I have deep regrets that the truthfulness and integrity of our staff has been so wrongly and publicly maligned-and without apology. Yet no tedious and continuing process of charges and counter-charges is ultimately needed. Truth, properly told, is its own vindicator. We are sincere in our pledge to EPA, but especially to you readers, that we will continue to tell the truth.

One other distinction is important. As an organization, EPA has always been full of differences over how to interpret the Bible. But until this year, EPA members have never seriously differed over what the Bible is. EPA has, for example, always had member publications that defended a church's right to ordain women to the ministry. But always, those discussions and debates have taken place in the context of a common Bible.

Now, besides its discussion of journalistic ethics, EPA also faces a critical debate on its definition of the Bible itself. It will be a tough issue-just as it is in evangelicalism at large. If EPA can get its definition right, the stage will be properly set for an appropriate continuation of all sorts of other important debates-debates we will continue to conduct with both clarity and charity.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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