We all agreed to take a look at Jon Meacham’s lengthy mash note to the sainted Billy Graham. I alternately enjoyed the Newsweek piece and felt it went a bit over the top in luscious praise. But I’m pretty sure I would have hated it if I hadn’t read Meacham’s earlier pieces on the Nativity, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
By that I mean that it took me awhile to get used to Meacham’s style, in which he denigrates biblical literalism, shares his own opinion by quoting other people, and writes in a breezy, nonjournalistic style. He’s basically the ultimate Episcopalian. He understands Christian doctrine but just wants everyone to get along already. So he pushes Christianity’s inclusivity over its exclusivity. But the man can sure write in a lively manner, which helps when you’re reading a gazillion-word piece on someone who never really interested you that much.*
Anyway, there were so many fascinating portions that I hope others highlight, namely the Watergate/anti-Semitism and Two Kingdoms areas. But I thought I would highlight this passage from the piece:
Graham spends hours now with his Bible, at once savoring and reconsidering old stories and old lessons. While he believes Scripture is the inspired, authoritative word of God, he does not read the Bible as though it were a collection of Associated Press bulletins straightforwardly reporting on events in the ancient Middle East. “I’m not a literalist in the sense that every single jot and tittle is from the Lord,” Graham says. “This is a little difference in my thinking through the years.” He has, then, moved from seeing every word of Scripture as literally accurate to believing that parts of the Bible are figurative — a journey that began in 1949, when a friend challenged his belief in inerrancy during a conference in southern California’s San Bernardino Mountains. Troubled, Graham wandered into the woods one night, put his Bible on a stump and said, “Lord, I don’t understand all that is in this book, I can’t explain it all, but I accept it by faith as your divine word.”
Now, more than half a century later, he is far from questioning the fundamentals of the faith. He is not saying Jesus is just another lifestyle choice, nor is he backtracking on essentials such as the Incarnation or the Atonement. But he is arguing that the Bible is open to interpretation, and fair-minded Christians may disagree or come to different conclusions about specific points. Like Saint Paul, he believes human beings on this side of paradise can grasp only so much. “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror,” Paul wrote, “then we shall see face to face.” Then believers shall see: not now, but then.
I think this is trademark Meacham. I mean, I really (really) doubt that Graham used the AP or mainstream media to make his point about how he views the inerrancy, inspiration or authoritative nature of the Word of God. I would not be surprised if Meacham does when describing his beliefs to his friends. So he kind of gets to use Graham to make the point that he has been trying to make in all the pieces I’ve linked. It also manages to downplay exclusivity and literalism in one fell swoop. Finally, Meacham also shows his knowledge of Christianity by mentioning the St. Paul passage.
Like I say, I enjoy Meacham. When I read him, I see the dominance of his personal style and views. I actually think the pieces are better for it. But man if that doesn’t prove tmatt’s point about the need for newsroom diversity.
We tend to look at bias or impartiality when it comes to individual stories. But my experience in the newsroom is that the bias is hidden much more deeply. It’s all about choosing which stories to write and how the story is reported. Think about how a writer like Meacham — who frequently writes against literalism — responds to Graham’s statements. Think about how a reporter who doesn’t believe in God might respond to the statements. Think about how a reporter who believes the Bible is the literal, nonfigurative Word of God might respond. I think most reporters would ask different sets of follow-up questions based on their given biases, education and perspective.
This is why newsrooms today are in such danger. They are filled with people with narrow fields of experience and education. And it shows in the paucity and weakness of coverage in many fields, religion being prime among them.
Photo via ChadChadBinks on Flickr.
*I have to share that my mom “got saved” by Billy Graham when she was a teenager. Sure, she had actually been baptized as an infant at her Evangelical and Reformed church. But she went with a neighbor to a crusade and feared they wouldn’t drive her home if she didn’t walk down at the altar call. I don’t know why I love that story so much, but I do.