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This month concludes the God’s World Publications celebration of its 40th anniversary. For me, personally, the crucial numbers are 40, 35, and almost 30.
Forty, of course, commemorates Joel Belz’s conviction and courage in starting the GWP children’s newspapers. Thirty-five is when Joel started WORLD in 1986. God gave him the perfect background for reaching both children and adults: a love of printing, a master’s degree in mass communications, experience as a Christian school headmaster and a nonprofit leader, and above all a love of Christ.
Almost 30 years ago is when I started editing WORLD, and a story underlies that. Joel in 1990 had asked me to join the GWP board. At first, membership didn’t mean all that much to me. The magazine was small and struggling. I had tenure at The University of Texas at Austin and was writing books.
In 1992 WORLD was losing money. Two of the board members said the experiment had failed: time to give up. I had my It’s a Wonderful Life moment (when Jimmy Stewart’s character opposes shutting down the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan). I told the board, “You can’t kill this magazine. It’s the most important development in Christian journalism in the past 150 years.”
I was overexcited, but the GWP board did decide to keep WORLD going. Joel and members also said I should back up my words with deeds: get involved in the editing. So I did, and what started out as a sideline soon became the most long-term stimulation of my professional life.
Three P’s have made it all work: process, practice, and principles. We have fostered a collaborative process: We’ve disagreed at times, but we’ve talked things through and trusted each other.
We’ve tried to make our practice high on reporting, low on blustering. Instead of spinning theories we’ve ferreted out facts. Instead of publishing talking points we’ve talked with some of the least among us, including refugees and the poor.
Above all, we’ve tried to stand by our principles: Christ first and last, alpha and omega. We’ve tried to be flinty whenever the Bible is clear and squinty when the Bible leaves it up to us. We’ve tried to be cautious regarding proffered panaceas, whether liberal or conservative.
Can a Christian magazine of that kind survive in today’s media world? Last summer I visited Liberal, Kan., and learned the city derived its name from the compassion of 19th-century pioneer Seymour Rogers, who dug a well at his ranch and made it known that he welcomed thirsty travelers. Asked what he charged for the water, Rogers would reply, “That’s alright, water’s always free here.” Some of the surprised recipients of grace responded, “Thanks, that’s mighty liberal.”
The historical marker near Seventh and Western, right by Seymour Rogers Middle School, tells that story, but the “liberalism” it honors is gone. Liberals used to care about those without political power, the uns, but liberalism turned its back on the least among us half a century ago when it became pro-abortion. Instead of giving cups of water to the thirsty, sometimes the water pours out through fire hoses that cause more damage.
Sadly, conservatism is also in trouble. A quarter century ago conservatism seemed to be heading back to Micah 6:8—“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” But parts of conservatism have become a power religion like “progressivism,” and that’s not progress.
WORLD has drawn theological lines in the sand but not political ones. Abortion in the 21st century, like slavery in the 19th, may be an irrepressible conflict, but even on that we pray for persuasion. Some on both political sides now say: We’re heading toward social Armageddon. We are two nations. It’s them or us. Their marching orders: Do what you have to do to “fight the right” or “own the libs.”
And yet, many on both sides still share the hope of the Pledge of Allegiance: “one nation under God.” I’m on the one-nation team.