John Ashcroft is our fourth Dan of the Year. We inaugurated our response to Time's Man of the Year (recently changed to Person of the Year) in 1998 by putting Ken Starr on the cover and applauding his perseverance in the face of press and Clinton administration defamation. In 1999 we recognized Generation WWJD, Christian teens who asked "what would Jesus do?" and then did it.
Some of those teens faced murderers at Columbine High and at a Fort Worth church and proclaimed the truth of their faith. Facing death for such profession is rare in the United States but common in many parts of Africa and Asia, so last year we recognized that by honoring Michael Yerko, a leader among the Sudanese Christians who have stood fast against the assaults of a radical Islamic government.
Time's editors say they are willing to choose rogues as well as heroes, so some news-dominators they dislike have been men of the year: Richard Nixon in 1971, Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, Newt Gingrich in 1995. When in doubt, though, Time presses the keys of political correctness, as it did in 1988 with its Planet of the Year cover praising "Endangered Earth."
WORLD's criteria are different. Just as the biblical Daniel faced an established idol-worshipping religion in Babylon, so our Dans must not back down in the face of deadly persecution abroad or the scorn and harassment that comes domestically from the academic and media high priests of our established religion, secular liberalism. Character assassination in the press is better than physical assassination, but standing up to either takes courage.
With all the discouragement some feel about the current state of American Christianity, it's encouraging that some leaders have shown courage over the years. Among the new generation of leading evangelists, Luis Palau and now Franklin Graham have shown a willingness to speak forthrightly. Phil Johnson, based at one of our academic Babylons, the University of California at Berkeley, has fought wonderfully against one of the most enshrined false dogmas, Darwinism.
We have also seen some instant heroes. Todd Beamer on Sept. 11 was one of several passengers who fought back against hijackers and kept the 757 they were on from crashing into a Washington landmark. Mr. Beamer's widow, Lisa, told World Journalism Institute student Charlie Shifflett, "It's hard to find good in the death of your husband at age 32," but she knows "where Todd is, where I'm going to be someday, and I know who's in control." She has been able to speak of her Christian faith when interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, Larry King, and others.
Mrs. Beamer went on to say, "As a Christian, when you have opportunities to talk about your faith, especially in the venue of secular media, you should." She notes that journalists have been "intrigued by how my faith was at work, kind of holding me up through all of this.... I get comfort in knowing that God knows my story. He knew it was better for Todd to be on that plane that day than to spend the rest of his life on earth."
One reason for our choice of John Ashcroft this year is that he also believes in and demonstrates God's sovereignty over lives and careers. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd muttered last month, "It's weird what tricks fate plays. The great hope of the Christian right who was toppled by a dead man and his widow has re-emerged as a colossus bestriding the country." Babylonian babblers probably also complained about "fate" and Daniel, and were often successful in keeping him out of power: The first six chapters of the book of Daniel are a highlight reel from seven decades.
Another reason for our choice is that Mr. Ashcroft, like Daniel, has been attacked for refusing to change his practice of prayer. One of the scandals at the Department of Justice this year, according to liberal reporters, is that the attorney general prays with staffers as he did during his senatorial term. The horror!
Let me also toss in one personal memory. I'm not much of a Washington hand-when Mr. Ashcroft and I had lunch in the Senate dining room in 1995, I didn't even know enough to order its famous dish, bean soup. The part I most enjoyed was when Ted Kennedy waddled into the room, and Mr. Ashcroft, a very courteous man, made a couple of honest and accurate remarks. He wasn't trying so much to fit into the straitjacket of senatorial courtesy that he would suddenly declare the Massachusetts marauder a Statesman of the Year.