Ethics & Religion
A Column by Michael J. McManus
 

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October 28, 2000
Column #1000

MY 1,000TH WEEKLY COLUMN

     POTOMAC, MD - This is my 1,000th weekly ''Ethics & Religion'' column. Therefore, I've decided to write a personal column. You might wonder who is the person behind these words -- why did I start writing it back in 1981, what my goals are, and a bit about the results.

     What inspired me to start writing was a sermon! The Rev. Terry Fullam, a Baptist convert to the Episcopal Church, preached on the parable of the talents (Matt. 25). He noted the master gave the same praise to the servant who invested five talents, producing five more - as to the one given two talents, who generated two more: ''Well done, good and faithful servant.''

     ''The issue is not how many talents you have, but whether you are investing them for the Lord. Consider your own talents. What are you doing with them?,'' Terry asked.

     ''Don't tell me you are an usher. That is not significant Christian service. We will always have ushers. What I'm asking is what are you doing with the gifts and the experience that makes you unique as a person to serve the Lord?''

     His comments hit me on the head like a 2 by 4, for all I was doing for God was ushering! I then assessed my own gifts and talents. At that time I was writing and self-syndicating (selling) a political and economic column called ''The Northern Perspective.'' I began it in 1977 when the unemployment of the North was nearly 10%. Each week I suggested an answer. The column was in about 70 papers, some of which were major.

     What could I do with that talent to serve the Lord? Suddenly I thought of the boring religion page of most newspapers, which would not motivate anyone to go to church let alone do anything significant to serve Him, and thought, ''I bet I could write a column that would put some content on the page. And as an already a syndicated columnist, I'd have credibility in selling it.''

     But then I had second thoughts. I'd never gone to a seminary, nor even written about religion. With no training and no experience, it was arrogant to think I could start a nationally syndicated column on religious and moral issues! I was already working 60 hours a week and my wife thought I was already a workaholic. Finally, I knew that if I started writing about how faith  changes lives, I'd lose subscribers of my political column.

     My attention tuned back into the sermon, and Terry read my mind, ''Now if you are having second thoughts about what the Lord put in your mind, remember Moses had second thoughts! Turn to Exodus, Chapter 4.'' Moses told God why he couldn't go to the Pharaoh, ''O Lord...I am slow of speech and of tongue.''

     God thundered in response, ''Who gave man his mouth? Is it not I the Lord? Go and I will be with your mouth.'' I gulped and thought, ''Perhaps God will be with my typewriter.''

     I saw the sermon as a direct call of the Lord, and responded with a sense of trepidation.

     I call the column ''Ethics & Religion'' because I am struck by the paradox that America is the most religious modern nation, with 70 percent saying they're members of a church or synagogue and two out of five attending services in any week. Yet we are also the least ethical nation, with the highest rates of divorce, teen pregnancy, murder, etc.

     I pledged to editors I'd write about tough moral issues, but would always suggest answers. A recent column on AIDS in Africa pointed to some countries that contained the plague, and I ran 800 numbers of both a Protestant and Catholic relief group caring for orphans.

     One prediction proved correct. I lost many subscribers of ''The Northern Perspective'' as I wrote about religion. One editor said, ''Mike, if you have God you don't need our paper!'' While my new column was successful, losses equaled gains. My income remained flat.

     One theme from the beginning was on marriage. In my 8th column, I noted that Catholics did a much better job preparing couples for marriage than Protestants by requiring six months before a wedding could occur, giving couples a premarital inventory and having older couples in solid marriages mentor young ones. I wrote how my own marriage grew through attending a weekend retreat called Marriage Encounter.

     In 1983 the paper in Columbus, Ga. invited me to speak to local clergy. I suggested they consider working together to create a Community Marriage Policy in which each church would  implement such reforms with a conscious goal to push down the divorce rate. The speech had no impact, nor did others in Long Beach, Shreveport, or Biddeford, Me. When asked in 1986 by the Modesto (Cal.) Bee to speak, I began by praying aloud, ''Lord you know I have failed every time I've given this speech. Please give me the words or ears that could make a difference this time.''

     My prayer was answered. Divorces have since fallen 30 percent in that city. And my wife and I created a non-profit group called ''Marriage Savers'' that has helped start 130 other Community Marriage Policies that have brought down divorces by as much as a third in three years. More important, divorces in diverse churches have been reduced to near zero.

     Finally, I want to thank the newspapers that publish this column, and you who read it.

     If you'd like to react, my E-mail address is MichaelJMcManus@CS.com.

Copyright 2000 Michael J. McManus.  

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