In round numbers, America will greet about 4.3 million new babies during the year 2003. During the same year, about 2.6 million Americans will die. Not counted in either category, of course, are the million or more unborn babies who will die from abortion.
Population-control advocates like to worry that, if it weren't for abortion, the population would soon get out of hand. Bad enough, they say, that we're growing at a net of 1.7 million people a year. What would it be like if our net increase were almost 3 million a year?
Another way of looking at it, though, is to ask this question: For each of those people who dies this year, who will take his or her unique place? For each of the notable leaders who departs this life, might we have wantonly destroyed that person's gifted replacement? This week, I think about that especially in terms of the unexpected death, just short of his 70th birthday, of Arthur H. Matthews, a long-time friend and colleague. Here was a totally unusual man. Where is his stand-in?
You need to know that without Arthur Matthews, WORLD magazine itself would not have survived its early years. A.H.M.-that's all the byline this quiet man ever wanted on any story-was an old-style journalist. He didn't like flair, and he resisted every hint of sensationalizing a story. I'm not sure he liked it when technological advances allowed us to print increasing numbers of pictures in color. He seemed to prefer various tones of gray-except that until you knew Arthur Matthews, you never knew how many tones of gray existed, or just how rich they were. He cherished understatement.
When A.H.M. first offered to join me at WORLD in 1987, my hands were full with the logistics of getting a magazine out every week. I had little time myself to research and write stories, and I desperately needed someone with his journalistic credentials. Arthur had served as associate editor of Christianity Today, helping anchor that magazine's news office in Washington, D.C., in the days when Carl F.H. Henry, CT's founding editor, still set journalistic standards among evangelical Christians in America. And here he was, offering to help!
Ed Plowman, news editor at CT during those years (and now a senior writer for WORLD), remembers his colleague: "Arthur was a seasoned professional in news reporting. Ever a cautious conservative, he did it by the book, and he worked at getting it right. His journalistic ethics were shaped by Reformed faith. He believed in giving news subjects a fair shake, but wrong-doers and revisionists could expect discomfort." That's my recollection, too. It's easy for a brash, young journal to overreach. "Don't experiment in public!" Arthur would growl at us.
For a decade before his time with CT, Arthur was assistant editor of the Presbyterian Journal. He also served as press officer for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, traveling widely with Mr. Graham and members of his team. (Mr. Graham said last week: "I always thought a great deal of Arthur Matthews, who was such an excellent journalist and faithful to his calling as a Christian.") Then, for another decade, he was editor of the PCA Messenger, the magazine of the Presbyterian Church in America.
In all his roles, A.H.M. stuck close to his principles as an independent journalist. He disagreed vigorously with CT's decision to relocate from Washington, D.C., to Wheaton, Ill., believing that the magazine's independent perspective might be jeopardized by its proximity to the headquarters of so many evangelical organizations. (He also refused the magazine's new management policy of requiring psychological tests of all its employees.)
Similarly, after six fruitful years with WORLD, he resigned his position with us, warning me that our growing commitment to what he saw as "advocacy journalism" might put at risk our own reputation as a credible news source. Such commitment to integrity earned him the plaudits of journalists like David Anderson, now of Religion News Service and formerly of UPI, who last week said: "I always had the highest respect for his journalism." Gene Kucharsky, another colleague, wrote: "Arthur Matthews merits inclusion in Christian journalism's hall of fame for his passionate pursuit to 'get the facts straight' without compromising his conscientious devotion to God."
It would be easy to conclude-and some did after only superficial contact with A.H.M.-that here was a super-cautious, overly conservative, risk-averse fuddy-duddy. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. The one thing he never risked was marriage. Apart from that, his whole life was an adventure of the sort few people take on.
I remember, for example, last year's prayer vigil on a bitter cold morning at the local abortion clinic. Dozens of folks who I know see themselves as engagers of the culture chose not to come. But Arthur Matthews made the commitment to be there. As a journalist, he always wanted his facts to be right. But as a citizen of Christ's kingdom, he also wanted his actions to count on the side of right.
So now I wonder: Who will be there at next week's vigil at the abortion clinic? Who will be standing in for A.H.M.?