Lead Stories

The Christian journalist

"The Christian journalist" Continued...

More journalists came to see their duty as exposing and overthrowing purportedly oppressive external influences such as religion and free enterprise. Then, progress would come. For many, the journalistic mission became one of helping to do away with capitalism or churches or schools or guns or meat or … something. Then our lives would improve.

Over the centuries each overarching understanding had its years in the sun. In colonial days, journalists frequently produced “official stories” that promoted rulers. Then, during the first century of the American republic, “corruption stories” flourished, chastising rulers who did wrong. During much of the 20th century leading reporters wrote “oppression stories” that attacked American institutions.

In the second half of the 20th century, a strange phenomenon emerged: The long-forgotten official story form made a comeback and merged with the oppression story form. The original impetus for O & O (official and oppression) was the civil rights movement, where the federal government (prodded by journalists) overturned centuries of oppression and helped to bring about equal rights for African-Americans.

Mainstream journalists went from that triumph to seeing the federal government as the change-making agent in a vast array of endeavors. U.S. officials would fight a war on poverty and lead the way to a great society. U.S. officials would fund the creation and expansion of schools and colleges. U.S. officials would teach people in poor countries to reduce their population growth. U.S. officials would do “nation building” in anarchic societies abroad.

In the eyes of O & O journalists, Washington’s best and brightest should bowl over not only local and state governments but also business corporations, churches, and community groups that get in the way of “progress.” O & O proponents praise those government leaders who seek to overthrow institutions that purportedly hold us back.

The biblical base

Now let’s turn to the biblical warrant, as derived from both the Old and New Testaments. Ezekiel 33 lays out the calling of those who watch for trouble: “If [the watchman] sees the sword coming upon the land and blows the trumpet and warns the people, then if anyone who hears the sound of the trumpet does not take warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be upon his own head.”

Christian journalists are watchmen charged with discerning the times and showing the challenges. Ezekiel also warned about dereliction of duty: “If the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.”

Luke begins his gospel by noting the importance of eyewitnesses to Christ’s deeds. He then writes a job description of the long-term goal of a Christian journalist: “just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”

The Gospels are a news story, not an instructional manual. Luke and (at a far lower plane) Christian publications have the same goal: To proclaim Christ’s glory! They do that by not being surprised when bad things happen, but also not falling into hopelessness. They know that particular events are important because the world is important—but particular events are not ultimate. They are part of a bigger story of God accomplishing His will, so Christians can avoid panic even when things are bad.

Christian publications bake three-layered cakes—looking at events, reporting interpretations of events, and probing for deeper meaning—and in the process show people who overcome their circumstances because Christ gives them hope. Some journalists have contempt for ordinary folks, purportedly without imagination and trapped in dreams of materialist sugarplums. Christianity has a different view of human possibilities, one fully realistic but also fully optimistic: Jesus turned Simon, who dreamed of fish, into Peter, a fisher of men. He can do that to anyone, anywhere in the world, from any background, race, class, or ethnicity.

The common denominator in so many WORLD stories from Iraq to Iowa, stories about good programs and bad decisions, is that they all begin with the asking of questions about what’s going on at ground level in these locales. They start with interest in “ordinary” people. For a while WORLD had an annual feature, “No Little People, No Little Places,” taken from the words of Francis Schaeffer. We’ve continued that kind of reporting under different headlines: Our basic attitude is that every person and every place is important.

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