IF THE NEW YORK TIMES INSISTS THAT CHRISTIANS should demur to Muslim sensitivities (see page 40), at least it should be consistent in its protection of religion. Let's just pretend that an artist was insensitive enough to paint a portrait of Jesus' mother Mary using clumps of elephant dung and cutouts from pornographic magazines. If such a vile thing were to happen, wouldn't the ever-so-sensitive Times decry the perpetrator for not demurring to Christian sensitivities?
Not exactly. Here's how the Times described on Oct. 5, 1999, Chris Ofili's "The Holy Virgin Mary," exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum of Art: "witty ... attractive ... colorful and glowing. The first impression it makes, before you decipher the little [porn] cutouts, is that it's cheerful, even sweet." Another Times reporter pointed out that, "While news reports have described his paintings as being splattered with dung, the clumps are actually carefully placed."
Whew, that's a relief.
Or say-again, just as a theoretical possibility-someone were to put on a play portraying Jesus as a homosexual. Major newspapers certainly would criticize someone who mocked Christian sensitivities in that manner, wouldn't they?
Nope. The Washington Post in 1998 asked about the play, Terrance McNally's Corpus Christi, "What's wrong with letting individuals decide what they want to see?" The Chicago Tribune praised an "earnest and heartfelt play that pleads for the acceptance of gay sexuality within the Christian mainstream," and stated that "those who are uncomfortable with-or opposed to-the linking of gay themes with the narrative of the synoptic Gospels would not want to attend this particular show."
Contradiction watch, anyone? The New York Times in June attacked Southern Baptist leader Jerry Vines for offering up the "hate speech against Muslims" that has "become a staple of conservative Christian political discourse," but the Times did not note, "Corpus Christi reveals that hatred of Christ and Christians is a staple of culturally liberal artists." I did not see The Chicago Tribune saying the Vines comments were no big deal because "those who are uncomfortable with-or opposed to-criticism of Islam would not want to attend a Southern Baptist conference."
Similarly, The Washington Post emphasized its "disgust" with the "anti-Muslim bigotry of a former leader of the Southern Baptist Convention," but it did not indicate disgust with the "artistic" immersion of a cross in urine. My own thought is that we should let Christians and Muslims debate freely, and that newspapers which say they are neutral should not be defending trash while trashing what they don't like.
What do the attacks on Jerry Vines show about the state of American journalism? First, they show one more time, as the late theologian Cornelius van Til insisted, that neutrality does not exist. All journalism is directed by some understanding or worldview; at WORLD, we acknowledge this and say flat-out that our goal is to be biblically directed. Since WORLD is owned and operated by Christians, we have the liberty to work toward that goal. (Those who want to know more of our journalistic philosophy might read Telling the Truth, a book of mine published in 1995.)
Second, should Christian journalists not try to work on major daily newspapers? No, they should certainly try, while realizing that they are entering a war zone and will face pressure to spin the news in a secular liberal way. (If they don't face such pressure, that probably means they are not applying biblical thinking to their journalistic work.) A Christian reporter on a major daily newspaper will be very useful if he is able to publish stories that give equal emphasis to biblical and secular views. That's hard to accomplish, but if the most influential dailies came within a mile of practicing what they preach about "objective" journalism, they would be immensely improved.
Third, a Christian reporter who outworks his secular colleagues might be able to hold a job on a major daily, even though there will be (or should be) regular battles. Many reporters after a time lazily begin living by press release rather than pounding the pavement, so a Christian journalist who goes full throttle and has God-given writing talent is hard to replace, even if he is a pain in the neck. Such a journalist should be willing to resign if necessary; that's why I advise Christian journalism students, "Save your money."
Finally, Christian reporters should point out the unfairness of this but not whine about it. Christians always have to push the back of the envelope. That's our burden but also our pleasure, in Christ. We should point out bias, assert our rights as American citizens, and take what comes, glorifying God by refusing to bow to Baal.