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September 11, 1999
Column #941

''HOW CAN YOU BE A CHRISTIAN AND A JOURNALIST?''

     CHICHESTER, ENGLAND A decade ago, I began attending a monthly breakfast of Christian journalists in Washington organized by David Aikman, then a TIME correspondent. One of our prayers was for the freedom of Terry Anderson, AP Middle East correspondent, who was a hostage in Lebanon for 6.5 years.

    Recently I attended an extraordinary gathering of 160 Christian journalists from 32 countries in Chichester, England, also organized by David, where we had the privilege of hearing Terry talk about his captivity. He recalled fellow hostage Rev. Benjamin Weir saying, ''I don't understand how you can be a Christian and a journalist.''

     Has my profession fallen so far in public esteem that a Christian journalist is an oxymoron? Apparently so. A 1995 Times Mirror Poll reports that 79 percent of Americans said the media was no more ethical than the politicians they reported and 65 percent felt the alleged character problems of President Clinton had been overdone by the media.

     Terry had not been an active Christian before his capture. In his first 24 days, he was blindfolded and chained by wrists and ankles and not permitted to speak. Finally, he burst forth: ''I am not an animal. I am a man, a human being. I can not take this any more. I will go crazy.''

     His captors asked, ''What do you want?'' Terry replied, ''A Bible.'' They gave him one, but made him wear a hood, so he could not see the guards as he read it, many, many times.

     He told us, ''I can't explain to you the comfort and strength that Bible gave me. Nor how demanding the book was. Here I was chained by some semi-psychotic guard. It was hard to read, `Forgive your enemies. Turn the other cheek. Pray for them.'

     ''Excuse me, I am a little busy praying for me now,'' he said, sparking laughter.

     ''I was angry. I hated those men. They did bad things to me. The Bible said I must forgive them. What does it mean to forgive someone? I learned a few things. It is not something that you do and it is over. It is a process. It is a journey. It is something you do every day. I have gone back to Lebanon and interviewed the Hezbollah and asked them about the kidnaping: ''Was it wrong? Are you sorry?'' Their reply was that, `It was war.' It was not about me.

     ''My life is full of joy, and theirs is still dark and angry. I want more for them. I do not hate them. But I am only part way down the road. That circle you see on the back of my head is a bald spot - not a halo!''

     Upon reflection, he concludes, ''There is no inherent conflict of the journalistic ideal of the search for truth, with the truth I know as a follower of Jesus. My Christianity makes me a better journalist.''

     Jennifer Arul, one of India's best-known TV reporters, lives her Christian faith courageously amidst a culture with quite different values. A Hindu bride's family is expected to provide a dowry to the husband's family. One man's mother kept demanding added dowry payments two years after the wedding, but her family could afford to give no more. Result: The bride was raped by her brother-in-law and then killed by him and by her mother-in-law. Such ''dowry murders'' usually go unpunished and unreported.

     The killer stabbed himself, claiming an intruder was to blame, and was in the hospital. Jennifer tried to interview him, but he recognized her and pretended to be near death. Jennifer went to his home. Relatives offered her tea. ''I was afraid they'd poison it,'' she said, but prayed for the Lord's protection. After three hours, relatives told the honest story. By reporting it, a public outcry surfaced, resulting in the arrest and conviction of the killers.

     Jack Kelley literally risks his life by covering wars for ''USA Today.'' He's reported from 86 countries, spent 8 months covering the Persian Gulf War. He married June 4 and ten days later was in Bosnia. He told us, ''Journalism is a calling. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were four of the first journalists, designated by God.

     ''You can chose your profession, and God can choose you. We have an extra responsibility to excel, to go the extra mile because we are representing Jesus Christ and His Kingdom.''

     A Czech reporter said the conference was ''a great encouragement and a challenge to not forget my main purpose is to please God and to be light on the earth.''

     Want to join this journalistic fellowship? Click on http://www.gegrapha.org on the Web.

Copyright 1999 Michael J. McManus.

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