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Mailbag medicine

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Every now and then, during the 33 years since we launched WORLD Magazine, I’ve thought it might be helpful to our readers to make an editorial confession. You may remember my telling you of the discomfort I have felt when we found it necessary to report on the negative behavior of some Christian leaders or organizations.

What may startle you a bit—as it did me when I first noted it—is the fact that through all those years we have also devoted no fewer than 1,800 of WORLD’s pages to frank and open evaluation and criticism of a single Christian organization we actually hold in some esteem.

Some of this criticism has been sharp. Our editorial staff, in fact, tells me some of it was so intemperate in its original form that it had to be toned down before we felt right sending it off to the printer.

If that strikes you as editorial overkill, keep this in mind: That organization is WORLD Magazine itself, and its parent company, WORLD News Group. Our “Mailbag” section has appeared in every issue since March 1986. You’ll find this issue’s installment of the continuing harangue on pp. 61-62.

Does this mean WORLD thinks it has some exclusive handle on God’s truth? Hardly. I mention it here because, as WORLD’s founder, I’ll admit I still sense a certain self-consciousness when we choose to report on the weaknesses and failures of other Christians. On occasion, those “other Christians” have been personal friends. But it’s not just a one-way street. The fact that we provide a forum in every issue where readers can lob rocks back at us demonstrates, I hope, a certain equity in the process.

Truth, by God’s order of things, always wins the argument with ignorance.

None of us, of course, enjoys bad publicity. We at WORLD aren’t thrilled when people point out that we dropped the ball in a certain instance. But we are still committed to providing a regular opportunity for people to make those points for a very simple reason: It adds to our overall credibility. In the end, it helps us earn your trust.

Oddly, many Christians (and the leaders of too many Christian organizations) believe an open forum for criticism injures their credibility. So they sit on the facts and suppress discussion. They clam up and shut off the flow of information. Such folks forget, however, that light always ultimately trumps darkness. Truth, by God’s order of things, always wins the argument with ignorance.

Yes, light and truth can sometimes hurt a little. But far better to endure that hurt for a brief time than to suffer the festering cancer of a dark cover-up or the enervating sickness of an uncorrected wrong.

Light and truth, of course, must be what they claim to be. To rush into print with shadowy rumors or with assertions unfounded in fact or in Biblical evidence is wrong. It is to hear the Apostle Paul tell us to “speak the truth in love”—and then immediately to strike out on both counts.

Yet, with appropriate safeguards, Biblically directed Christians should welcome a vigorous and sometimes feisty sounding board where we mutually measure how we’re doing. That’s part of what Hebrews means when it calls us to “provoke each other to good works.” Such provocations aren’t always comfortable, but they’re necessary for the ultimate good of the body.

Every ministry you support should be able to show you a mechanism—a built-in system—for self-criticism. And that system should be just as transparent and public as the ministry’s appeals for support.

Here at WORLD, we’ll continue to poke and probe and scratch and tickle—always trying to encourage the body of Christ in all its expressions to move closer to the Biblical model of what we’re supposed to be.

And we’ll encourage you to poke and probe and scratch and tickle back. Surveys tell us that Mailbag is among the best-read sections of the magazine, and that makes us sense our accountability to you just that much more. We won’t hide our editorial mistakes in a closet.

Some readers tell me that we hang out too much dirty linen. So keep in mind this old journalistic rule of thumb: For every negative letter you see, there are probably 20 other readers who’d be inclined to say the same things. But for every positive letter you read, there are probably 200 who agree. The reason? We all tend to sound off faster when we’re upset than when we’re pleased.

Joel Belz

Joel Belz (1941–2024) was WORLD’s founder and a regular contributor of commentary for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Radio. He served as editor, publisher, and CEO for more than three decades at WORLD and was the author of Consider These Things. Visit WORLD’s memorial tribute page.


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