James Allen Walker for WORLD

Out of the boat

Q&A | Journalist Joe Loconte on vocational life and a sense of calling

Issue: "Geo-gizmos," April 25, 2009

Joe Loconte is a 47-year-old journalist who has produced numerous articles and books on subjects such as provision of social services and the religious left's appeasement of Hitler-but, with graduation time coming next month, this interview is the fourth in a series on careers. For many years Loconte wrote journalistic articles under the auspices of the Heritage Foundation and then the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Now he is a visiting research fellow at The King's College, New York City.

Q: Did growing up Italian-American in New York help you to become a journalist?

We have some terrific storytellers in my Italian family, and I'd like to think there's a little bit of that in me. That lends itself to wild exaggerations; bodies winding up in trunks, faces winding up in the minestrone soup, those kinds of stories.

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Q: Beyond the minestrone, why this career?

In the 1970s a lot of young people, including me, were caught up in the idea of being a reporter and bringing down the Nixon presidency. I also had a journalism teacher in high school who encouraged me. He used to start the class out by reading excerpts from The New York Times and then throwing the paper up in utter disgust. So I went off to journalism school at the University of Illinois to change the world.

Q: You changed spiritually at Illinois. How did that happen?

Two people were very instrumental. One was a girl I was dating at the time who was getting serious about her faith. To her credit, she realized I wasn't and dropped me like a hot potato, which was the right thing to do-that got my attention. I also had a Muslim friend from Pakistan who had become a Christian. He wrote a long letter to me after I came back from drinking too much one weekend, which is what you did at the University of Illinois-he wrote about his relationship with Christ. The combination of those people who I really liked and respected really got me thinking. I embraced the gospel and became a Christian believer.

Q: Lots of students who will be graduating next month are wondering what to do next. Why did you go to Wheaton for a master's in Christian history and theology?

I wanted to help shape how people think about crucial issues, and I knew that as a young guy I didn't have the grounding in Christian theology to do that. So I decided to take some time, step back from the professional track, and get some good theology under my belt. I didn't want a seminary degree because I wanted to be more engaged in the political life and public policy issues-but from a position of intellectual strength. I wanted to learn what the Christian tradition said about certain issues over time.

Q: And after Wheaton you went to Washington. Would you recommend that for young evangelical conservatives?

The great thing is you have a lot of Christian churches, a lot of different fellowships going on, a lot of small group activity on and off Capitol Hill. One of the great things about Washington is that it's not that difficult to meet with people during the week in their homes. For example, I host a monthly discussion called "Lewis and Linguini": I cook a little pasta, we have people bring desserts and wine, and we have a good dis-cussion about a great C.S. Lewis essay that has contemporary application. That kind of thing goes on in Washington.

Q: You worked at the Heritage Foundation . . .

I worked with a great editor, Adam Meyerson, who gave me incredible latitude and freedom to chase issues where I could. If we violated conservative orthodoxy that was OK, as long as we did it with integrity. I had that oasis of protection for quite a while at Heritage-real freedom to say some sober things about the importance of religion in society, but also the importance of keeping government out of religion.

Q: Has it been hard being an evangelical conservative in Washington?

One of the untold stories in Washington, beginning with the Republican revolution in '94, was the significant numbers of Christian conservatives, a lot of them evangelicals, coming into government at high levels. They've been either in the Congress as legislative aides, legislative directors, communications people, or in various government offices in the State Department. There was a quiet revolution, a cultural change in Washington, with Christian conservative influence at the agency level, which really matters at the end of the day given how these government regulations play themselves out.


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