All the News That’s Civil

All the News That’s Civil June 4, 2019

In 1977 the magazine, Christianity Today, the flagship publication for movement evangelicalism, relocated from Washington, D.C. to Wheaton, IL. In a story about Wheaton in the New York Times, the move was not what some of the magazine’s founders had in mind:

The most important newcomer in recent years was Christianity Today, a conservative and literate weekly that had been based in Washington. When executives decided to move here in 1977, there was some talk of getting out of the amoral urban setting, into the real America. Some of its employees, evangelicals all, chose not to move.

“The decision to relocate seems to reverse the ideal of evangelical penetration pf secular society that motivated the founders of the magazine,” said Carl F. Henry, a former editor of the magazine.

Most people, however think Wheaton has just begun to blossom as an evangelical center; they expect other companies to be attracted by the $15.5-million Billy Graham Center being constructed on the fringe of his alma mater. The center can only enhance the college’s reputation for turning out devout, well‐educated evangelicals, who fit easily into publishing, missionary and church work.

The reason for bringing this up is that Christianity Today seems to be oblivious to a story that is raging up and down the northeast corridor. It involves the denunciation of David French-ism by Sohrab Ahmari, which came to the surface last week.

Practically, everyone is talking about it — Damon Linker at The Week, Michael Brendan Dougherty at National Review, Liel Liebovitz at The Tablet, Alan Jacobs at The Atlantic, and Rod Dreher continues to blog about it at The American Conservative.

And yet, Christianity Today has yet to comment on this contretemps between an evangelical Protestant (French) and a convert to Roman Catholicism (Ahmari).

This silence is all the more strange because about a month ago French was also in the news thanks to the American Family Association creating a petition for signers to support the organization’s opposition to French for criticizing Franklin Graham. French, who is very critical of President Trump, faulted Graham for selective morality — condemning lots of bad stuff but supporting the President. Nancy French wrote a column in the Washington Post that defended her husband and heaped further blame on Trump and evangelicals who support him for either immorality or hypocrisy. The new conservative (and anti-Trump) on-line publication, The Bulwark, was swift to take the Frenches’ side.

But again, nothing from Christianity Today on that controversy. In fact, another evangelical journalist who has regular access to network news shows and to political podcasts, Matt Lewis, never appears in Christianity Today. This is odd because the magazine seems to be particularly partial to writers whom many outside the networks of establishment evangelicalism do not know — such as Ed Stetzer and Karl Vaters. You might think that if the magazine wanted to attract readers in the Northeast, it might do more to cover people like French and Lewis, or even solicit articles from them.

Could it be that location matters, that having your offices in the suburbs of Chicago, isolates you and gives you a different idea of readership than if you go to work in an East Coast city?

Or could it be that the debate between French and Ahmari is significant here? Ahmari thinks French is too civil for the kind of politics that now characterize the United States while French insists on being decent as the way Christians should operate in the public square? Is Christianity Today itself so committed to civility, evangelicalism’s chief attribute for some, that it will not even cover an episode marked by incivility?

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