An e-mail last week from a good friend in Indiana got right to the point. "I am going to Florida this weekend," he said, "to stand as a protest and witness against the state murder of Terri Schiavo. Will you join me?"
There were several reasons I was reluctant to say yes.
"I am a journalist," I thought to myself. Journalists keep their distance. They pride themselves on their detachment. Maybe I could go and write about what was happening as a news story. But to stand there and join the protest against what was going on? Wouldn't that simply prove to some readers that WORLD is ultimately a biased and opinionated pretender as a newsmagazine?
I was reluctant as well because I had already told my friend that I was not fully persuaded of his own position on the ethical issue of removing feeding tubes. My friend had written, for example, that he considers it sinful for a 90-year-old person, weary with life and seeing death as perhaps more attractive than a useless extension of life, to turn down food. I'm not sure I'd go that far-and I struggled with the wisdom of identifying myself on the protest line with someone who might embarrass me with what I thought were extreme ideas.
And I was reluctant because of logistics. It would mean traveling to Florida, finding a place to stay, and doing all that for an open-ended period of time. Was that good stewardship of my time and WORLD's resources? Was it even possible, given commitments I had already made? But if I stayed just a day or two, would that be seen as tokenism or grandstanding?
Pretty good reasons, wouldn't you say, for telling my friend no? So I hit the reply button, and told him instead to "Count me in. I'll see you in Florida." Here's why.
My friend in Indiana is Tim Bayly, a Presbyterian Church in America pastor of a vigorous independent church in Bloomington that ministers to the students and faculty of Indiana University. Tim's father was the late Joseph Bayly-one of the most principled and stalwart journalists of the last generation. You need to know that except for Joseph Bayly, WORLD magazine would never have been born. We had not published our first issue when he died unexpectedly in 1983-but he and I talked in detail about what WORLD should be. So even sentimentally, I had to say yes to Joseph Bayly's son Tim.
But much more than sentimentality was at work. Joe Bayly wrote nearly a dozen books, with unusual titles like The Gospel Blimp, I Saw Gooley Fly, and View from the Hearse. Yet Joe Bayly was never just whimsical. He was as rooted and gutsy as any journalist I have ever known. His regular column in Eternity magazine called "Out of My Mind" set a standard of integrity for all of us in the Evangelical Press Association, where he was long considered the dean of all that was right and honest.
It was one of Joe Bayly's last books, however, that left me no choice in honoring Tim's request. Published in 1981, Winterflight was a chilling, futuristic novel predicting America's love affair with euthanasia. Joe Bayly (a close friend of Dr. C. Everett Koop) had already been outspoken as a pro-lifer. But he saw, much more clearly than most, how closely aligned the pro-abortion and pro-euthanasia mindsets were. Winterflight's setting, predicted by Joe Bayly almost 25 years ago, was circa 2007. Admittedly, the harshest details of his fictional forecast have not yet come to pass-even if the worst happens to Terri Schiavo in the next few days and weeks. But 2007 isn't here yet, and with America's renegade court system at work, who can predict what might happen in just two years?
Amazon sells Winterflight for $8.99 and BookFinder.com lists a number of used copies, starting with an eBay copy for just 75 cents. If I could get a thousand copies reproduced at that price in the next few days, it would be quite a handout. For if I'm going to join the protest line outside the room where Terri Schiavo is destined to die, I don't want just to stand there silently. I want passersby to know straight-up that on this issue-even with some minor disagreements-a huge group of us have thrown journalistic objectivity right out the window.